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Police (Clothing Coupons)

Volume 389: debated on Wednesday 26 May 1943

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [ Mr. Boulton.]

I desire to raise the question of clothing coupons for the uniformed police. I will endeavour to allow the hon. Gentleman who is going to reply just a minute or two in which to say "Yes" or "No." I hope he will forgive me if I do not do much more than this, because it is a little difficult when almost half the very brief time has been taken up in this necessary and important business for the Government.

There have been two Questions in this House lately on this matter, one put down to the Board of Trade by the hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. J. Dugdale) and transferred to the Home Office, and one put down to the Home Office by myself and transferred to the Board of Trade. This was not a case of simple "buck-passing." It was, I gather, because there are two aspects of the problem, first, the purely coupon aspect, and, secondly, the internal police administration aspect, and I am happy to understand that the hon. Member who is to reply will be able to deal with both aspects, if there is time. The situation is simply this: The uniformed police are required to surrender each year 18 of their clothing coupons, which is, so we were told by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, an estimate of what is spent by the "average sedentary worker" on "comparable working garments." When I asked the Parliamentary Secretary, in a supplementary question, whether he really regarded the police, especially the rural police, as merely sedentary workers, he said, "Certainly not," and then added a remark which has given me several sleepless nights, because I simply cannot understand what it means. He added:
"but in so far as they are not sedentary they are the more fortunate under this arrangement."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th May, 1943; col. 776, Vol. 389.]
I cannot help wondering whether the negative in that sentence was a slip of the hon. Gentleman's tongue.

:It was perfectly correct.

In so far as they are not sedentary, they are surely less fortunate than others, since the wear and tear of their clothes is more.

The mathematics of the situation are these. When clothes rationing started in July, 1941, civilians were allowed 66 coupons for a 12 months period. Of these, it was estimated that the police could reasonably be expected to surrender 18 coupons, thus leaving them 48 for the first year. In the second rationing period, that is to say, the current one, we get 60 coupons for a period of 14 months, but the police are still required to surrender 18 coupons for a period of 12 months—which seems to me to leave them proportionately somewhat worse off than other civilians. If you take 60 coupons for 14 months, that makes roughly, say, 51 coupons for 12 months, and if you deduct the 18 from that, that leaves the policeman, whether single or married, with a family or not, about 33 coupons for a year to cover his expenditure on civilian clothing, underclothing, socks, household linen and so on. It seems to me that, when the second rationing period was introduced, this should have been adjusted slightly, or at least— because this is another aspect of the matter—that the police should be issued with a uniform a year, approximately. I realise that this 18-coupon surrender is not directly related to the issue of uniforms, but I do think that there should be some compensation for the sacrifice of their coupons, because I can assure you that many police need a new uniform very badly and many have not had more than one pair of trousers in the last two years—since rationing was introduced. [Interruption.] That is so, and I can give the hon. and gallant Gentleman a number of instances.

I know we shall be told that there is an acute shortage of textiles, and I entirely understand that and sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's difficulty. Rationing is, of course, an endeavour to see that everybody gets their fair share: I am claiming that in this respect the police are getting rather less than their fair share.

But I hope we shall not be told that all civilians are suffering inconvenience and hardship, and that it would be undesirable therefore to discriminate in favour of particular classes of civilians; because such discrimination does, in fact, already take place, and very properly, since need has been the determining factor. In some cases, the Government actually allow extra coupons to certain classes of civilian workers who have particularly heavy wear and tear on their clothes. Also I should say that the police are disadvan- tageously situated in comparison with other comparable services. For instance, Civil Defence workers, firemen and the like, can and do wear their uniform when off duty, but the policeman cannot conveniently or comfortably wear his uniform, for instance, to go to the pictures in with his girl or his wife. It is not a suitable uniform for the purpose, and, indeed, it is against orders for him to do so. He has therefore to spend a certain amount on ordinary civilian clothes.

I wonder if hon. Members who represent urban constituencies have really a full idea of the scope and arduousness of the work of the police in remote rural districts,' especially in war-time? The policeman is not so much the father as the elder brother of the village, and, in addition to all his peace-time duties, he now has many extra things on his shoulders. Where A.R.P. is inadequate or non-existent, as it is in some villages, he has to be on duty during warnings for as long as they last, which happens quite a lot these nights in the Southern and Eastern counties. In many places you will find large numbers, thousands, of troops or airmen dumped down in a quiet rural area with all the inevitable little problems that arise from that. The average rural policeman has to cycle 30 or 40 miles a day on his duties. That again involves considerable wear and tear on his clothes. On top of that he has, of course, an enormous amount of paper work, writing reports and so on. He does not have a lazy life.

On top of all that has lately been added to his duties another which I think he should not have. The Post Office have taken to ringing him up at night and asking him whether he would mind delivering a telegram for them as their local sub-office has shut. I know cases in which a policeman has been called out of his bed at 3 or 4 a.m. and asked to cycle several miles on a cold wet night. [Interruption.] He is not bound to do it but he does not like to refuse, because very often the telegram concerns a Service man's leave or recall from leave. I do not think the onus should be put on him of refusing to do that job. This, too, increases the wear and tear on his clothes, and he must have warm underclothing if he is to keep healthy and therefore efficient. You cannot wear a heavy police overcoat if you have to cycle three or four miles through a North Sea gale.

I am sorry to keep the House so long, and to give the hon. and gallant Gentleman so little time to reply, but there are several other points I want to make as briefly as I can. The first is this: in many cases the police are getting into arrears with their coupons. They have spent coupons which they are supposed to have surrendered.

It may be, but it is rather an unfortunate situation that arises, I maintain, from the excessive demand for coupons from them—[Interruption.]—I want to get through this as quickly as possible, if the hon. Member will allow me. It is a situation, at any rate, which is not good for discipline. There is a second point, and another offence might come in here. I know of a young policeman who was recently able to acquire several sheets of black market coupons at 2s. a sheet. Being, of course, like the rest of the police, completely scrupulous and honest, he took the right course about them, and I believe that a prosecution is pending. But think of the temptation to a policeman in such circumstances—a man with one or two young children, maybe overtired by sleepless nights and hard work, with a wife at home saying, "I don't know what we are going to do about the baby. She does grow out of her clothes so." Think of the temptation you are putting in the way of a young man by this excessive demand for his coupons. I agree that temptation is given to us in order that we may learn to resist it, but I do not think that it is the job of administration to make the way of resistance inhumanly hard.

I have not left the hon. and gallant Gentleman much time to reply. I do not expect complete capitulation, but I do ask him even if he cannot give an all-round increase of coupons, at least to consider these rural and strictly non-sedentary police, and also to see whether it is possible in the Home Office to issue uniforms slightly more frequently, before the old ones become quite threadbare. I would merely remind him in conclusion, to parody Gilbert slightly, that:
"With constabulary duties as they are, as they are,
A policeman's coupons don't go very far."

I am not at all impressed with the final argument of the hon. Gentleman about the temptation to which the policeman is open. If there is one class of people in this country who can and who do withstand temptation, it is the police.

I feel that certain police forces would not thank the hon. Gentleman even for making the suggestion that they could yield to such a temptation.

I did not say that they would. On the contrary, I said that they were scrupulously honest.

The hon. Gentleman did not understand my reply to his Question. I was talking about the surrender of coupons, not the receipt of coupons. If a man in a sedentary occupation surrenders 18 coupons, a man who has greater wear and tear on his clothes and surrenders only the same number is better off. All these things are extremely difficult to work out. At one extreme there is the man in the Armed Forces, who has no coupons at all and gets all his clothes found for him. At the other, there is the sedentary worker, who has no addition to his basic ration and has to find all his clothes, working and otherwise. We have made a calculation to see how people actually spend their coupons on working clothes. The calculation shows that the ordinary sedentary worker spends, on the average, nine coupons a year for a coat or trousers, three for a greatcoat, and six for boots, making a total of 18. We, therefore, say that in so far as people are supplied with their outer garments, they must surrender an equivalent number of coupons. That applies not only to the police, but also to firemen, postmen, A.R.P. personnel, and so on—all these categories are on the same scale, except for the postman, who surrenders only 12 coupons, but he does not get boots given to him.

There are various scales laid down for police. In the Metropolitan area the policeman gets an additional allowance which is equivalent to 123 coupons when he joins, and he gets a replacement allowance which is equivalent to up to 69 coupons per year. If one deducts the 18 that he gives up, he is better off by 51 per year. He gets a jacket, two or three pairs of trousers, a greatcoat, and a cape every three years. In the County of Essex —which, no doubt, interests the hon. Gentleman—every policeman has the right to one pair of trousers and two or three pairs of boots per year, and his other clothes are given him as they wear out. He gets the equivalent of at least 29 coupons. Deduct 18 from this number, and he is 11 up. There is some slight hardening of his lot through the fact that the basic ration has been reduced from 56 to 48, but we think that at 48 the allocation is a fair one. It may be that, far from there being any increase in the allowance made to these uniformed wearers, the exigencies of the supply position will-make a general review necessary, and that that review will tend to a decrease rather than an increase in the allowance. Therefore, far from giving the hon. Member any assurance, I can only say that, in the position as we have to meet it—and it is a very restricted one—these policemen, making allowance for the hard work they have to do, are no worse off, and in many ways are better off, than the average outdoor worker in this country.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.