Orders of the Day — POLICE AND FIREMEN (WAR SERVICE) BILL [Lords].

– in the House of Commons on 7th September 1939.

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Order for Second Reading read.

4.9 p.m.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This Bill, though formidable in appearance and containing 16 Clauses, many of them of a technical and complicated character, has a purpose similar to that of recent emergency legislation that we have passed affecting the making up of the pay and the preservation of the superannuation rights of local government staffs and teachers. It enables the appropriate authorities to supplement the pay of police and firemen, while they are serving in any of His Majesty's forces, and it makes provision for the continuity of their superannuation and pension rights. The machinery necessary to achieve these results is somewhat complicated, and the first seven Clauses of the Bill are devoted to this.

Clause 1 enables the authority to supplement the pay up to the figure which the constable or fireman would be receiving if he were not serving in the Forces, and that provision may be continued by the authority for a period not exceeding one year after the termination of the war. That, of course, is to cover any hiatus which may occur between the discharge of the reservist from the Forces and his resumption of his occupation as a policeman or fireman. Under Clause 2 the period of war service, as extended, if necessary, under Clause 1, is to be reckoned for superannuation purposes. Under Clause 3 a man whose pay is supplemented under Clause 1 has to pay the appropriate contributions towards the fund from which his pension ultimately will be drawn.

Clause 4 is exceedingly complex. It deals with grants to be made either to the widows and dependants of police constables or firemen, or to the men themselves in the case of incapacity as a result of war service. The Clause is complicated because the existing statutory provisions are different in respect of police constables and firemen respectively, and because, in the case of the police forces, there are already three different scales upon which pensions are calculated, those scales depending, in the first instance, on whether the injury is received in the course of the man's duty as a policeman or under ordinary civilian circumstances; and, secondly, if the injury is received in the course of a man's duty as a police officer, whether the cause is accidental or otherwise. It is because there are these varying scales of pensions, and because the positions of firemen and of police constables are different under Statute, that Clause 4 is so cumbersome. Clauses 5 and 6 merely provide machinery consequential on the preceding Clauses.

Clause 7 exempts from the provisions of the preceding Clauses certain firemen who have exercised an option which they possess to be treated as local government staff. Those firemen, of course, will be covered by similar legislation which was passed in respect of local government staffs a few days ago. Sub-section (2) of Clause 7 operates so as to take out of certain Clauses of the Bill certain firemen for whom special schemes are already in existence under local legislation. In London, Birmingham, and certain other places there are in existence schemes providing, under local legislation, for superannuation. Clause 7 requires these schemes to be amended so as to conform with the preceding Clauses.

The remaining Clauses of the Bill do not in any way touch the question of police officers' or firemen's pay during war service, or the question of superannuation and pensions, but deal with quite other matters. Clause 8 provides that a policeman who is on probation at the time he is called up for military service shall continue to serve the remainder of his probationary period when he resumes his occupation in the police force. Clause 9 provides that re-attestation shall not be necessary on completion of war service. Clause 10 is an important Clause. It operates to prevent either a chief officer of police or a constable or fireman retiring in the ordinary way on pension as long as the war continues. Retirement will be possible only, in the case of a chief officer, with the consent of his authority, and, in the case of other ranks of the two services, with the consent of the man's chief officer. I would draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that under this Clause any pension rights which have already accrued are preserved from possible forfeiture during the remaining period of police or fire service.

Clause 11 is a little technical, but what it in fact provides is that injuries received by police constables or firemen serving on what we may call the home front will result in the man drawing pension at the highest of the various scales. Clause 12 is a small piece of machinery, and extends to firemen the right, already possessed by police pensioners, to undertake temporary service under local authorities during a war without forfeiture of a pension of which they are already in receipt. Clause 13 brings within the scope of the Bill any police constables or firemen called out under the Reserve and Auxiliary Forces Act or undergoing training under the Military Training Act. The remaining Clauses do not, I think, need any detailed description, but I shall be pleased to answer any questions on any of the Clauses during the further stages of the Bill.

.4.19 p.m.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dalton Mr Hugh Dalton , Bishop Auckland

We have not had time, of course, to study the Bill in any proper fashion, but the hon. Gentleman has given an account of it from which I may draw general conclusions. I think there "may be particular points, however, which should be looked at more closely. My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) has had more experience of these matters than I have, and he may follow me to put some questions. One question which I should like to ask is whether I rightly understand that the additional financial obligation provided for in the first part of the Bill will fall partly on local authorities and partly on the police themselves? Will any of it fall on the Treasury? Perhaps the hon. Member will give an answer to that question.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

The additional charges, as far as supplementation of pay is concerned, and, I think, as far as any additional charge is placed upon the funds for pensions purposes as well, will be borne in the same way as all other police expenditure, that is, divided equally between the Exchequer and the local authority.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dalton Mr Hugh Dalton , Bishop Auckland

We may ask a little more about that later, and I wanted to get the facts clear. For ourselves, after listening to the hon. Gentleman's exposition, I find nothing to which any objection can be taken except and in so far as hon. Friends who have given close study to these matters have some points readily at their fingers' end and might wish to raise those points now. We have no objection to the principle of the Bill.

4.21 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

Like every other hon. Member of this House, I have not had very long to look at this Bill. As the Minister says, Clause 4, which is one of the most important Clauses, is exceedingly complicated. That may be the reason why I fail to appreciate all the provisions. The Bill deals with a policeman or a fireman who, while serving in His Majesty's Forces during the period of the present emergency, either loses his life or is so incapacitated by wounds or disease that he incurs that he is unable to resume his service as a constable or fireman. It is provided, in the first place, in the case of a policeman who is incapacitated, that the appropriate authority might increase the amount payable up to a certain maximum. Where the man has died, and it is a question of paying a pension to his widow such pension may be paid if the appropriate authority thinks fit. The maximum is the amount that the man could have received under any scheme if he had remained in his ordinary employment and had been killed or injured in that employment. Why is this part of the Bill left optional? I can see in the earlier part of the Bill, when it is a question of making up a man's salary, that there are good reasons for leaving it optional. We did it with regard to local government officers. Where a man has been incapacitated because of war service or loses his life through war service, surely he or his widow should have an absolute claim to pension, without leaving it to the option of any employing authority. Why has the Bill been drafted in that way, and why cannot we see our way in this case, where the man makes the great sacrifice, to give the pension rights and not leave it to discretion whether or not pension is given?

4.24 p.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Ammon Mr Charles Ammon , Camberwell North

I understand that the Bill concerns the regular members of the police and fire services and takes no account of the auxiliary services, and that it embraces a question which has been before the House on many occasions known as "war services to count." A man may serve in the Army or Navy, as the case may be, and on his return to civil life the actual service in the Army or Navy is allowed to count towards his Civil pension.

No doubt the hon. Gentleman will make that point clear in this connection. If that is so, it will take into account that which would be due to a man in his ordinary progress in the service and what might accrue to him with regard to promotion. If the Bill does not do that, it will not fulfil what it sets out to do, and what the hon. Member, in introducing the Bill, said it would do. The pension fund at present is a limited one. Within a certain time a number of men will fall due for pensions. There is a fund to meet such an emergency, but what will happen if there are increasing and abnormal demands. This is a tripartite contribution, and I should like to know whether the fund will be maintained and kept in sufficient strength by contributions from the Treasury alone, or will there be an increased demand made upon other contributors to the fund? Unless something of the kind is done, it cannot be long before the fund will be bankrupt.

Does the Bill also mean that dependants of such men who come on to the pension fund will not come under the Ministry of Pensions? Is the Ministry of Pensions to be relieved of responsibility at the expense of funds raised by various authorities concerned with police forces? That is a point of some moment, and particularly will it be so when, we hope before long, things return to normal, and people have to consider their pension rights. There is the question of the person who will not be allowed to retire when he has reached pensionable age until after the war period. In certain departments of the Civil Service a man very often reaches pensionable age before he has been able to put in the maximum period of service entitling him to full pension. I suppose that the man who has reached pensionable age and has been asked to stay on will be allowed to count the extra service for pension, so that he can possibly receive the maximum. If there should be an abnormal number of people coming on to the fund at a more rapid rate than otherwise would be the case, it would throw upon the local authorities a much larger expenditure than would be the case under ordinary circumstances; and I think that the State ought to take over a very much larger share of responsibility in this matter.

4.30 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin

There are two small points which I wish to raise. One is that I think it will be necessary, sooner or later—if not in this Bill, then elsewhere —to provide for some form of arbitration or some outside authority where local authorities have contracted out of their responsibility by insuring themselves against accident with some industrial insurance company. The contract of insurance cannot possibly coverall the contingencies which are bound to arise, as contemplated by the Bill, and it seems 1o me that the Home Office should take powers, either direct or through some third party, for arbitration to consider the point.

A further point is the relation of the Minister of Pensions to such cases as these. It is most important that the Minister of Pensions should have full control, if by any means possible, of all pensions which are payable on account of war injuries. The Ministry of Pensions have an unrivalled system of looking after the pensioners, of providing them with artificial limbs, and various aids which are necessary on account of their injuries, and also for their rehabilitation. It would be a disaster if the thousand odd local authorities had to look after war pensions locally, with no centralised arrangement, and I would urge on all the Government Departments concerned that they should see to it that there is a link between the local pensions which are payable, from whatever source, and the Ministry of Pensions, for the purposes of administration.

4.32 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Gallacher Mr William Gallacher , Fife Western

I can well understand the necessity of passing these Bi11s in emergency, but it is unfortunate that a Bill like this should have to be rushed through. I am very deeply concerned about Clause 4 and the implications that may arise out of it. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) has referred to the permissible character of that Clause with regard the grant of pensions or allowances to the widow and the children under 16. It is obvious that if a man has been a policeman or a fireman and he becomes a soldier and loses his life as a result of the war, his widow and dependants will be entitled to pensions and. allowances through the Ministry of Pensions, and anything that is provided for in this Clause will, presumably, be a supplementary grant. There are, however, certain local authorities that are in a condition of the most extreme poverty, while other local authorities are better situated. It might easily transpire that one pension was being supplemented by a grant from one local authority while another pension was not being supplemented by another local authority. That would be a very undesirable position of affairs to happen in any part of the country. It seems to me that Clause 4, in particular, and the Bill in general require much more consideration. The Minister has referred to Clause 4 as being very complicated, and it certainly needs more consideration.

I am also concerned with regard to Clause 8, which refers to a policeman who is on probation. He may have only three months still to serve on probation at the time that he is called up or joins up to serve in the Forces, but according to this Clause, after he comes back he will return to the same position in regard to probation that he was in before he joined the Forces, and will have his period of probation to complete. In many cases the experience that he has gone through in the armed Forces will have fitted him, on return to civil life, for going into the police force, without having to serve any further period of probation. The Clause says that: he shall serve on probation for so much of his period of probation as was unexpired at the time when he ceased so to serve. I do not like that provision, and some Amendment ought to be made. I am, however, particularly concerned about Clause 4, and I suggest that the Minister should agree that even after the Bill has passed, he should appoint a small committee of those who have very wide experience in these matters, and authorise them to examine the Bill carefully to see where its weaknesses are and how it can be strengthened, and whether it is possible that, instead of the local authority having this permissive Clause in connection with the grant of supplementary pensions, it could be made obligatory on local authorities. Perhaps the Minister could make a statement of that kind. It might be made a condition in the Act that the local authorities could get a return from the State of the cost of these particular pen- sions or allowances. I would urge the Minister to consider the setting up of such a committee, to consider whether the Bill will accomplish all that is desired, and to decide whether or not it may be necessary to bring in amending legislation.

4.37 p.m.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

I will deal with the points that have been raised, in order that it will not be necessary to raise them on the Committee stage. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) both raised the question of Clause 4. That Clause provides, in Sub-section (1), that if a constable is serving in His Majesty's Forces and he loses his life under the conditions contemplated in the Sub-section, it would be obligatory upon the authority to pay a pension to the widow and dependants at the lowest level of the scales which are provided, but they have in the proviso permission to increase the pension beyond that figure. If the hon. Members will turn to Sub-section (4), they will see that the maximum pension which may be granted is the highest of the police scales, when aggregated with the amount of any grant which is also payable to that person out of any naval, military, or Air Force funds, in pursuance of any Royal Warrant or other instrument. The assumption is that in every case the Service pension will be received, and the appropriate authority has to supplement that pension. The maximum would be the highest of the scales at present available, and the minimum would be the lowest of the scales at present available; but what we should find in practice would be that the addition of the war pension would bring practically all the pensioners on to a scale very nearly approximating to the highest scale at present in force. I am afraid this is rather a complicated matter, but that is the position so far as police constables are concerned.

There is a difference in regard to firemen, who are provided for in Subsection (2), because the Fire Brigade (Pensions) Act does not provide for a widow's pension or gratuity in a case where the fireman dies otherwise than as the result of injury incurred on duty. Whereas the widow and dependants of a police constable receive a pension irrespective of the circumstances under which the death occurs, the widow and dependants of the fireman receive pension and allowances only if the fireman dies in the discharge of his duty as a fireman. But, where war service is concerned, the appropriate authority may grant the pension appropriate in the case where a man dies on war service in supplementation of any service pension which his widow or children may receive.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

Surely, if the authority does not exercise its discretion in favour of the widow, she will be left worse off if her husband has died on active service than if he died while serving as a fireman.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

That might be so, if the rates of service pension were lower than the rates of fire brigade pension existing at the time, and it is because of that contingency that this provision is placed in the Bill to enable the appropriate authority to supplement the pension and bring it up to a fair figure.

The hon. Member for North Camber-well (Mr. Ammon) asked me whether increments of pay would be taken into account in reckoning the supplementary pay which may be granted while these men are on active service. The answer is, "Yes." As regards maintenance of the pensions fund, there again the provisions are somewhat complicated. In point of fact the police authorities do not set aside a separate pensions fund. The rateable deductions are made from the constable's pay, and the pensions are paid out of the general fund.

Photo of Mr Charles Ammon Mr Charles Ammon , Camberwell North

In drawing up its budget for the year the local authority takes into account the number of people, and, therefore, more or less there is a time limit.

Photo of Mr Osbert Peake Mr Osbert Peake , Leeds North

That is so, and the additional police expenditure, if there is any, under Clause 1 will fall to be divided between the local authorities and the Exchequer. I rather think that the replies that I have given cover the questions asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hitchin (Sir A. Wilson) and the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher).

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Resolved, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill."—[Captain Dugdale.]

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]