HC Deb 04 April 1935 vol 300 cc664-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Viscount WOLMER

The Secretary of State has more than once laid great emphasis on this Clause, and I would like to ask him whether, when he received the deputation representing the Civil Service, they expressed themselves as satisfied with this Clause as it now stands.

10.22 p.m.


I wish to raise the point whether this Clause is adequate to cover the question of officers who feel themselves aggrieved on the question of orders as to leave. Leave is a very much more important thing to officers serving in a country like India than it is to, let us say, civil servants here at home. To British officers serving in India leave is an extremely precious thing, a thing which is mentally essential as well as physically essential. In fact they cannot carry out their duties efficiently without a certainty of receiving that leave at the correct time or as near the correct time as possible. Even in the case of the Indian Officers I can see occasions arising, with the increased Indianisation of the Service, when leave may be just as precious to them as to the British officer. It is quite possible that in some inter-racial or inter-religious turmoil trouble may arise which it is rather beyond the power of a Minister to deal with. It may affect the officer and may compel that officer to be retained under the Minister's instructions long after his period for leave is due.

I am not sure that all the Committee realise how much that may mean. It can only be realised when one has been in the State, within three months of one's leave, of aching for it to come, and then realising how appalling it is when it does not come. I have, I regret to say, had the experience myself. When I was actually due for leave on one occasion I received orders to transfer myself to another station, which meant postponement of leave for six months, and I very nearly laid my head on the table and wept. That may happen to many officers and I wonder if it would be possible for the Secretary of State to give an assurance that on the Report stage he will move this question of leave into the province of the Governor-General or the Governor. I think to do so would give serving officers greater assurance that they were not likely to be unduly delayed in getting leave and I do not think it would be detracting from the responsibility of the Ministers. It would give a certain heartening to men who are a little apprehensive because they know the physical as well as the mental results of leave being delayed. India is a long way from this country and officers who serve there give up a great deal for very inadequate wages. I do not think that in this country we fully realise how cheaply we get our Colonial and Imperial administrators. This one gesture that I suggest, would inspire them and give them a comfort which they lack at the present time.

10.26 p.m.


In supporting my hon. Friend's plea may I point out that in Ceylon this question has become one of acute importance to British officers. It is noteworthy that the State Council there on numerous occasions recently have raised this whole question of leave and endeavoured to make difficulties with regard to leave warrants and so forth. This is therefore not a question which has never arisen in practice and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give consideration to it

10.27 p.m.


I think the position is quite safe. If my hon. Friends will look back at Clause 236, Sub-section (1, a) they will find that there is an obligation on the Secretary of State to make regulations about leave. The Secretary of State in regard to other matters of detail can delegate the power of making rules but he is not to delegate those powers as regards leave. It is he who will have to make the conditions of leave. Then if hon. Members refer to Clause 237 they will find that members of a service can complain if they consider that their conditions of service are disadvantaged. Leave is included in those conditions of service. Therefore, in the first place, the Secretary of State makes the rules and in the second place officials who are aggrieved can at once make complaint and I should have thought that that made the matter quite safe. My noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) asked me a question about a deputation from the various service associations. They made no criticism of Clause 237. They raised a. point with which I have already dealt about suspensions and upon that point I met them. Otherwise, they made no complaint at all.

10.28 p.m.


I do not wish to be obtrusive but I would point out that while under Clause 236 the conditions of leave are laid down as the right hon. Gentleman has described, it is the actual application of the orders for leave which is really worrying me. Perhaps I may give an example from my own service. The conditions of leave in the East African service were that an officer was entitled to leave after a turn of duty of from 20 to 30 months. In fact no officer ever got leave until he had served at least 30 months and he was very lucky if he got leave after he had served 33 or 34 months. The exigencies of the service very often required a man to delay his leave. I realise that the actual conditions of leave are safe in the hands of the Secretary of State, but what I fear is the application of those conditions and the control which can be exercised over officers when their leave becomes due. If the exigencies of the service require a postponement of leave an officer is always prepared to sacrifice a good deal, but the question of the application of the conditions is a very important one and that was why I originally wanted to raise the point on Clause 235 and bring this matter into that Clause dealing with reserved posts. I hope the Secretary of State will do what I have requested on the Report stage because I do not think that Clause 236 sufficiently covers the officer against all possible difficulties in this respect.

10.30 p.m.


I have an Amendment down in page 131, line 26, after "Governor," to insert, "in his discretion." I put that down with a view to getting an interpretation of some rather curious wording. We have to realise that in this Bill we are doing something rather novel. When we say that the Governor-General or Governor is to do something and we do not qualify it we mean that he has to do it on the advice of his Ministers and that he has to take that advice. When we insert "in his discretion," we mean that the Governor-General or Governor can do as he likes subject to consultation with the Secretary of State. When we insert the words "in his judgment," we mean that he must listen to what his Ministers have to say and then take his own decision after, where he thinks it necessary, consultation with the Secretary of State. The end of Sub-section (1) of the Clause, which deals with complaints by civil servants, says that— the Governor-General or Governor, as the case may be, shall examine into the complaint and cause such action to be taken thereon as appears to him in his discretion to be just and equitable. In other words, the Governor-General or Governor, after the complaint has been examined, acts without reference to his Ministers and only after reference to the Secretary of State, where it is necessary or desirable. It is not clear whether he can examine the complaint if his Ministers advise him not to examine it. I do not want to be pernickity in this matter, but we are setting up a Constitution of a rather novel character, and it is important that we should be clear. I am inclined to think that any action that the Governor-General or Governor takes shall be without reference to his Ministers after he has examined the complaint, but as these words read it is conceivable that his Ministers might be able to stop the Governor-General or Governor examining into it. I am not raising this point with any desire to obstruct, but in order to make sure that from the point of view of legal drafting there is no doubt that the words "in his discretion" in this place not only govern the action he will take, but also govern whether or not he is free to examine the complaint. It is of the utmost importance to civil servants that not only should the Governor-General or Governor, after having looked into the complaint, be free to take action, but also that he should be free to examine the complaint if it is made.

10.34 p.m.


The matter is, I think, completely watertight in this Clause. It says that complaints shall be examined. That examination would be with the Ministers and it has to take place. There are provisions in another part of the Bill whereby the Governor-General or Governor can see that all proper information on proper matters is reported to him. Having examined a complaint with his Ministers, he acts in his own discretion. The action is taken after the joint examination, and it is taken in his own discretion. The hon. Member fears that the Ministers might stop the procedure going forward by saying to the Governor-General or Governor, "Do not examine it." That cannot take place under the Clause.