HC Deb 07 July 1943 vol 390 cc2189-200
Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 13, to leave out from "thereof" to "is," in line 14.

In the Debate upon the Second Reading, I intervened for a moment to ask the Secretary of State whether there was any particular reason why the provisions of this Measure should be confined so definitely to first secretaries as a class. My right hon. Friend replied that the matter had been considered by his Department and by himself and that, on the whole, they thought there was good reason for restricting this provision to the rank of first secretary, and they accordingly inserted it in the Bill. In the ordinary way that explanation would have been good enough for me, since my right hon. Friend has much greater knowledge of these matters than I have, and, after all, he has to operate this Measure. He did also say, as it were on second thoughts, that there might be some case in which it would be desirable to apply the Bill to second secretaries, because it might not be desirable to pro- mote a second secretary to the rank of first secretary, in order to apply to him the provisions of the Measure and retire him from the public service. Because of that expression of opinion, and perhaps also feeling that the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward), who took part in that Debate, was not so far from the truth when she said that other influences than those of the Department concerned had been brought to bear in this matter, I thought it would be useful if Members came to the assistance of my right hon. Friend and pressed the matter a little further. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the Amendment in that spirit.

It is obvious that there may be many cases in which it it desirable to retire a second secretary from the Service without having to promote him to the position of first secretary in order to do so. Some members of the Committee may have read the observations on that subject in a book—the study of which should be made a compulsory subject for any applicant for the Foreign Service—written by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Nicolson) who is, I am glad to see, in his place. Possibly Lord Bognor would never have got as far as he did, if it had been possible to apply to him at an early point of his career the principles of the Bill.

Furthermore, there arises in this matter the question of Consuls. I understand that the Bill will apply to consuls as to first secretaries, but nothing is said with regard to Vice-Consuls. There is a widespread feeling that the Consular servisce needs to be raised in status and efficiency. Without lacking in recognition of the great services which the Consular Service has rendered in the past, I would not subscribe to the opinion that the Consular Service can be placed quite on all fours in prestige and status with the political gods of the Diplomatic Service. It seems to me there is a fair analogy with the Army's General Staff, and ordinary officers. The General Staff are concerned with long-term strategical planning, and that may endow them with a certain amount of prestige and status which cannot be enjoyed by people who are engaged only in the day-to-day work. In the same way the political gods in the Diplomatic Service are engaged in executing, and advising on, longterm political questions which do not fall to the lot of a consul. None the less, there is little doubt that the position of Consuls has not been as satisfactorily regarded either by the Foreign Office, by the public, or by this House as it is desirable it should be, and the power to remove a Vice-Consul on satisfactory terms is very desirable.

I am sure that it is not the intention of the Foreign Secretary to litter this country with retired diplomatists of any rank and that the Department do not intend to use the Bill indiscriminately. The Bill is certainly permissive. Not one person may be retired under it in the next few years, but the Amendment would make it possible to retire not merely first secretaries but second secretaries who are not as efficient in their job as they might be—and not merely a Consul, but a Vice-Consul whom it was desired to remove from that position. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, in spite of his somewhat austere demeanour, will find it possible to embrace this innocent and agreeable little Amendment and to accept on behalf of his Department a proposal which will add nothing to the expenses of the country but may, in certain circumstances, be a useful implement for the Foreign Secretary to hold in his hand.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Richard Law)

My hon. Friend, as he always does, has spoken most persuasively, and his final appeal was, I think, calculated to melt an even harsher exterior than mine. Nevertheless, I fear that I cannot ask the Committee to accept his Amendment, and that I must ask the Committee to reject his Amendment, not because I dissent from the arguments which he has put forward, but because I think we can meet those points without going to the extremes which his Amendment demands. My hon. Friend had in the main two points. He said that there might be occasions when there was a second secretary of more than 10 years' service who really qualified for retirement under this Bill, and that if cases of that kind were found—I think they have been very rare in the past, and I am sure they will be equally, I would hope more, rare in the future—it would be a pity if the Foreign Secretary were unable to exercise the powers which this Bill would give him. I agree with my hon. Friend on that.

My hon. Friend then went on to speak about the position of Vice-Consuls, and he suggested that it might be desirable for the Foreign Secretary to retire on pension Vice-Consuls who did not seem to have those qualities which fitted them for more responsible posts. There again I would incline to agree with my hon. Friend. He said he imagined that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had no intention of littering the country with retired diplomats. That is perfectly true. No more has he any intention of littering the country with retired Vice-Consuls. But there is this distinction between the Consular branch of the service and the Diplomatic branch of the Service. In the Diplomatic Service it is very unlikely that a man would have got to any position of responsibility before he had reached the position of first secretary. In the Consular branch, on the contrary, it might well happen that a man who is Vice-Consul would have been in sole charge of an office somewhere, and there one would have a much better idea of what he was worth and what his capacity for shouldering responsibility was. It would seem to me therefore reasonable that my right hon. Friend should have the power to retire a Vice-Consul who, though he had done excellent work in a subordinate capacity, had shown himself to be unsuited, perhaps by temperament or for some other reason, for a position of the highest responsibility. I think it is reasonable that my right hon. Friend should have those powers.

My hon. Friend in his Amendment goes much further than that, however. He does not want to limit my right hon. Friend's powers to second secretary and Vice-Consul, the two cases he mentioned. He wants him to have power—subject to the provision that a man has had to serve 10 years in the Foreign Service—to make, if he felt like it, a wholesale purge of the Service below the rank of second secretary and its equivalent of a Vice-Consul. I would like to make this suggestion to the hon. Member and to the Committee. If my hon. Friend would be prepared to withdraw this Amendment, and if the Committee were to concur in the course, I would move a manuscript Amendment substituting … a grade not lower than that of second secretary … a grade not lower than that of first secretary, as the Bill stands now. I think if we were to adopt that course we should get the objective at which my hon. Friend is aiming and for which he argued in his speech in moving the Amendment just now.

Mr. Martin

I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. That seems to me to cover the point I made. I take it that "Vice-Consul" will substitute for "Consul"?

Mr. Law

That is so.

Mr. Martin

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Law

I beg to move, in page 2, line 13, to leave out "first" and to insert "second."

I have just explained to the Committee the reasons for this Amendment, and I do not think I need detain the Committee with any further explanation now.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 25, at the end, to insert: Provided further that in the case of members of His Majesty's foreign service whose employment is terminated before the retiring age in a rank not higher than that of counsellor, pension shall cease to be payable after twelve months. I apologise to my right hon. Friend because of the fact that this Amendment appears on the Order Paper, as it would not have done had he been able to get his Bill through on the day he had hoped. But the more I study the Bill the more my doubts increase about the wisdom of some of its provisions. I hope at least that the effect of putting this Amendment down will be to make hon. Members, including myself, realise the implications of this Bill. It is rather appropriate that it should follow on the Third Reading of the Finance Bill, and I hoped that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Colegate), who has expressed his dismay that there is no support for the protection of the public purse, might have helped to protect the public purse on this occasion. What will happen under this Bill? A first secretary receives an initial salary of £800 a year. If he is retired after 10 years' service, that means that he will, get an annual pension of £100 a year and a lump sum of £300. In the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Sir M. Robertson), whose words are almost as authoritative as those of the Foreign Secretary himself, said: This Bill will at least give a man who has chosen the wrong profession a pension to carry on with until he can find something else to do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd June, 1943: col. 1077, Vol. 390.] Those words might give the impression that this pension is only to tide over the period in which the man retired from the Foreign Service will have to live until he can find another job—and of course persons of that age will probably find other jobs—but that is not so. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that the pension will not carry on for life. We may have, under this Bill, a young man of parts retired at the age of 33, having entered the Foreign Service at the age of 23, who 40 years hence will still be receiving with gratitude the £100 a year and remembering with affection the name of the right hon. Gentleman the present Foreign Secretary. I do not think that is a proposition which is fully understood by the Committee, or which would be tolerated by the country if it were really understood.

In a sense the Amendment we have just accepted makes the position worse because although the amount of pension payable will be lower with the age at which it is granted, probably it will bring in more persons. If a man is retired in a higher rank the amount of pension payable will, of course, be greater still. Let us assume that a man is retired in the rank of counsellor, in which the initial salary is £1,200 a year. After 20 years' service he will receive £300 a year, and a lump sum of £900. It is, of course, open to the Foreign Secretary in all cases to bring up the pension to £300 a year, with £900 as a lump sum, but, apart from the manuscript Amendment which has just been accepted, it would be inevitable that any young man retired under this Bill would get £100 a year for life, together with a lump sum of £300. At a time when we have been doing our best to wring out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few coppers for the soldiers, the old age pensioners and the blind, it would be very difficult to justify such a proposition. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) on the Second Reading that the Treasury had resisted this Bill. I hope that, at any rate, it has resisted this proposition. It would not be doing its duty by the nation's finances unless it did. The Amendment does not resist the payment of a lump sum. I think that would be right, for the man who has to settle down in another job. It would allow him pension for 12 months. We must expect that a man in his thirties or forties could settle down in 12 months. He must have been a man of some parts to get into the Foreign Service at all. In the Foreign Service he will gain experience which will fit him for other positions. In these circumstances, it seems to me quite unjustifiable that he should for the rest of his life draw a pension of £100 a year.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

In case the right hon. Gentleman intends to put in another manuscript Amendment, I would like to say, with great respect, that I am at variance with my hon. Friend. I do not think his proposition is a very good one. I have always understood that pensions in the Civil Service were part of pay, and that people got lower pay because they had expectations of pensions. [An HON. MEMBER: "And security."] And security, as the hon. Member says. It would seem to me that if the Amendment were agreed to, people whose employment in the Foreign Service was terminated by the Foreign Secretary would be financially penalised. I understood that the whole object of the Bill was to see that people could leave the Service without being penalised, except 'in so far as it is penalising them to make them leave the Service at all. For that reason I think it would be very unfortunate if the Amendment were passed. It would have the effect of making the Foreign Secretary withhold his powers, because he would be afraid of unduly penalising these persons.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)

It seems to me that this matter affects the whole Civil Service. I cannot see why there should be this special arrangement for those in the Foreign Service. I know from experience that in order to get any kind of pension in the Civil Service, you have to serve for 40 years. It is obvious that the same reasons which may make it advisable to dispense with the services of those in the Foreign Service are equally applicable to the Civil Service. Therefore, if you make an arrangement of this kind for the Foreign Service, something of the kind must be done for the home Civil Service. That would lead to a great change in our present arrangements. It might be advisable to start such a system, but it seems to me somewhat unfair to the home Civil Service that there should be this special arrangement for the Foreign Service. I should be inclined, if it came to a Division, to vote for this Amendment, because I think it is a matter which requires more consideration than has been given to it. I do not think it necessary to go to a Division but I think it necessary to draw the attention of the Government to a very strange state of affairs, by which you have one system for the Foreign Service, and another for the home Civil Service.

Sir Malcolm Robertson (Mitcham)

I have listened with great interest to the three speeches on this very important subject—for important it is. As regards the home Civil Service, I hope that if that question is raised again, it will be very fully considered. As for conditions in the Foreign Service, there are members of it who have given more than 30 years' service and who are retired without pensions. That is most undesirable. This Measure appears to me to be worthy of full support on two grounds: firstly, national, and secondly, humane. It surely cannot be in the national interest that a man should remain indefinitely in a career for which he has proven himself unsuited. We have to remember that a young man when he chooses his career, may choose a wrong one. It is not his fault. If in a few years it is proven to be wrong, he will under this Bill have a chance. He will serve for 10 years. During that 10 years he will have proven himself suitable or unsuitable. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, as he has said, will not take it upon himself, nor will his successors presumably take it upon themselves, to decide upon a man about whom they know very little. It is proposed to set up an organisation, which will, I imagine, keep a full record of every man in the Service. I think that the hon. Member who moved a previous Amendment failed perhaps to realise that we are dealing with two different periods, the present moment and the future, when the Consular and Diplomatic Services will be completely amalgamated, and when, therefore, a counsellor or a first secretary may be employed in a Consulate or a Consulate-General.

When it comes to confining this pension to one year, that surely is not humanly fair. The man joins the Service, and in 10 or more years he is proven to be unsuitable. No Foreign Secretary would turn a man out on the streets on payment of a lump sum of £300 and a pension of £100 for one year. The man may be married and have children, and it would not be fair. You must provide for his future. A pension of £100 a year is not very much, but it will help him to keep the wolf from the door until he can find another job. That is the human purpose of this Bill. It is no good keeping people in the Service if they are unsuited to it. They might be brilliant for other work, but for the Foreign Service they are failures. The Foreign Secretary is not going to judge that himself; he is going to have an advisory board, which will tell him, "We have tried this man in the Foreign Office, we have tried him as third secretary at an Embassy, we have tried him as vice-consul in a Consulate or a Consulate-General, and he is not suited in any of these positions, and therefore we think he had better be retired." Surely the Committee will agree that it is highly undesirable, in the interests of the country, that a man should be kept on as a public servant in a service for which he is unsuited and his unsuitability for which he was unable to foresee when he entered it at a young age. The rank of consul brings a man to the age of 40 and when he is in the forties it is far more difficult for him to find a job and I am afraid that I must oppose the Amendment.

Mr. Law

I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) will not feel bound to press his Amendment because I do not really think that it would be for the good of the Foreign Service, nor do I think that all the financial horrors which he envisaged would really amount to a very great deal. The purpose of the Clause in the Bill is to enable my right hon. Friend to retire on pension those who have shown themselves unfitted for the highest posts. During the Debate on the Second Reading, I endeavoured to support this proposal by two principal arguments and both of them, I think, were sound. The first was that if we give this power to the Foreign Secretary which he does not possess today, we would be altering the terms of service of the Foreign Service officer without his consent and therefore we are entitled, indeed we are bound, to give him some compensation.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Surely the Foreign Service officer is like all civil servants. He serves at His Majesty's pleasure and can be turned off without pension.

Mr. Law

Yes, theoretically his services can be terminated and my right hon. Friend has the power to terminate it in case of gross inefficiency or gross misdemeanour but it is another thing to determine a man's employment not because he has been inefficient or disloyal but merely, for want of a better expression, because he has become middle-aged. That would be unfair and therefore my hon. Friend's proposal would act unfairly. The second argument I used, and which I still think is sound, is that it is really impossible for my right hon. Friend to dismiss men of that kind who have committed no crime without giving them pensions upon which they can exist.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) explained just now—I think quite rightly—that the pension which a civil servant earns and which he gets, is something he has been earning during the years of his service and I do not think it would be right for us to deprive him of something that he has already earned. My hon. Friend said it was wrong for any young man who retired under this Bill to get a pension for the rest of his life. I think he is under some slight misapprehension in that. Though the Bill allows the Foreign Secretary to retire a man who is second secretary or Vice-Consul, in fact it would be extremely unlikely in the diplomatic branch of the Service that a member would be retired until he had been first secretary for some considerable time and had had a chance of showing whether he was fitted for a post of responsibility or not. It would not be the man, normally, who had to years' service who would be retired under this Bill, but the man who had had 10 years' service and had come to a position of responsibility and had then, for a period of years, shown that he was not fitted for that responsibility. I would ask my hon. Friend not to press his Amendment for these two reasons. It cuts right across the two arguments with which this proposal is supported.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Sir C. Headlam) asked why this should be applied to the Foreign Service when it is not applied to the Civil Service as a whole. My hon. and gallant Friend is probably aware that some time ago the House debated very fully the White Paper which contained my right hon. Friend's proposals for the reorganisation of the Foreign Service and approved these proposals by a very substantial majority. It is a fact that, rightly or wrongly, the House approved the proposition that the Foreign Service should be regarded as a service distinct and separate from the home Civil Service. I do not see that there is any reason why the Committee now should wish to go back upon the decision of the House but it is reasonable that a provision of this kind should be applied to the Foreign Service, and for this reason. The Foreign Service officer has pursued a highly specialised career. He has probably spent most of his period of service abroad. If he is unsuitable for service abroad, it is very difficult to find another place in the Government service into which he could be fitted, whereas the home Civil Service is very much bigger, and if a man does not fit into one Department, or one office, he can very often be transferred and admitted into another. I would again say that to accept my hon. Friend's Amendment would be to destroy in effect the whole purpose of this Clause, and I would just put this to him. It might be an extravagance to pension a member of the Foreign Service, as indeed it might be to pension anybody else, for a period of years but I do not think the extravagance is anything like as great as the extravagance of keeping and maintaining in the public service somebody who is not fitted to perform the function of his rank and who is only cluttering up the avenues of promotion for younger and abler people who are coming behind.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

I beg to ask leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment, but for a different reason than that given by the right hon. Gentleman. This is a temporary Measure and we are promised a comprehensive Bill, and I hope that by that time the question will have received the consideration hon. Members desire.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3, 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.