HC Deb 28 October 1943 vol 393 cc484-92

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Major Sir James Edmondson.]

Mr. William Brown (Rugby)

On list September last I asked the Secretary of State for War whether he was aware that Mr. Joseph Samut, a Maltese clerk on the War Department establishment of Malta, was being discharged at the age of 66½ years after serving for over 45 years, without a penny of pension. I also inquired at the same time whether he knew that Mr. Joseph Pisharello, another Maltese civil servant, was also being retired, after 40 years service at Gibraltar, without a pension? The Minister replied that under the terms of the agreement with the staff associations these men were not eligible for establishment and, therefore, could not be considered for pension. I then gave notice that I would raise the matter on the Adjournment, and I do so now.

In order that the House may understand this point, I should like to explain that in the English public service civil servants are divided into two categories, established and unestablished. The established men have a claim for pension. Unestablished men do not get a pension, but it is the essence of the Civil Service arrangements at home that unestablished civil servants are confined to temporary work. It is recognised that there may be need for a temporary fringe of unestablished officers, but where the work is permanent it is an accepted principle that the staff should be established. That principle has been reaffirmed over and over again by Royal Commissions which have inquired into the Civil Service. In Malta there are employed two types of civil servants. There are those who are sent out from England to serve in the Admiralty, the War Office or the Air Ministry, and there is also a substantial number of locally recruited Maltese clerks. The English civil servant goes out there as an established man and is, therefore, eligible for pension. But as regards the Maltese, that is not the case. Until 1939 there was a rule which laid it down that not more than 10 per cent. of the locally entered Maltese staffs could be established at any point of time. Ninety per cent. of them must remain unestablished, whether the work they were doing was permanent or temporary and whether they spent a life-time in the work of public service in Malta or not.

In 1939 a new agreement was made which represented some improvement on that situation. Under this agreement it was decided that a man might be established when one of two conditions, plus another, were satisfied. First of all, if he secured promotion from the basic grade—Grade 2 or Grade I—that would qualify him for establishment. Or alternatively if, without getting promoted, they put in 20 years' service, again they would have a claim to be established civil servants. But there was a third condition, which was that at the time when they were put forward for establishment after doing 20 years they must not be older than 55 years of age, and they must after establishment be able to put in ten years reckonable service for superannuation purposes. That last clause cuts across the earlier clause and would deny establishment to men who in other circumstances might obtain it. But, even if no difficulty arises, the net result of this 20 years' qualification is that to-day only a relatively small proportion of Maltese clerks are establishment, and the proportion must continue to be small just as long as this restriction lasts. I am a little sorry for the Financial Secretary, because I am confronting him with a child which is not wholly his. It is largely a Treasury baby, and, as I have said before, whatever issue you touch, you will find the evil hand of the Treasury behind it somewhere sooner or later, and the Treasury is really the blackguard of this piece and not the hon. Gentleman who is going to answer me.

This does not only affect Malta. The same thing arises at Gibraltar, Simonstown and Trincomalee, and the same problem will also arise before long in Cyprus. These are all key points of Empire, and Malta, in particular, is an island to which we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for the magnificent way in which it has resisted the efforts of the enemy in this war. I think the least the House ought to do when dealing with the Maltese civil servants is to apply to them the same principle as it applies when dealing with English civil servants. The principle is twofold. First, if the State keeps in its service for a life-time of service until an advanced age a civil servant, it does not turn him out at the end without a penny of pension, and, if that is proper for me as a civil servant, it is equally proper for my Maltese brother engaged on similar work in the same establishment. This disparity of treatment is responsible for a great deal of difficulty in Malta. They resent it very strongly. When I visited the island just before the war—I was the first British Labour leader to visit it for many years—I found that this unnecessary and indefensible regulation constituted a political problem. It exascerbated unnecessarily relations between the Maltese people and ourselves. When we sought to get better arrangements we were given a number of reasons why what was done was the best that could be done. One was that the future of Malta was uncertain, that the Navy might move away, and it might cease to be a great naval establishment. At a later stage we were told it was uncertain whether we could hold Malta and that it might cease to be an English possession. The second issue is resolved. Malta will remain a British possession, and there is no doubt that its geographical position determines that it must remain a great naval centre as well. So that element of uncertainty which was used as an argument against us no longer exists.

The second argument implied that there was some doubt about the loyalty of the Maltese, and therefore one had to be much more careful about establishing a Maltese civil servant than establishing an English one. The short answer to that is that if there was the slightest doubt about the loyalty of a Maltese in a great naval establishment he ought not to be there, on security grounds, but I imagine that neither my hon. and learned Friend nor anybody else will any longer question the loyalty of the Maltese. They have demonstrated their magnificent loyalty and magnificent tenacity during the war. The third argument used against us was that the Maltese clerk, in contradistinction to the English clerk, was immobile, that is to say that while you could transfer an English civil servant where you liked it was much more difficult to transfer Maltese civil servants, because they were recruited for local service. That argument has now gone by the board, for we have during the war transferred many Maltese to Alexandria at the time the Fleet had to be moved there upon naval grounds.

I want to leave my hon. and learned Friend time for his reply, but I want to draw this contrast. In England after the last war we were left with a very large number of temporary civil servants to whom subsequently we gave establishment, a proper thing to do and I am not criticising it; but the time came when we had to decide what length of temporary service should qualify a temporary clerk in Britain to be transfered to the established ranks. It was not I who laid it down or the Treasury, but the Tomlin Commission on the Civil Service, a Royal Commission which sat in 1929–31, which made a recommendation that four years should constitute the necessary period of service to qualify for transfer to the establishment. It seems to me to be wholly indefensible to make it four years for the English civil servant and 20 years for the Maltese. There is no rhyme or reason about the 20 years. What it really represents is the least the Treasury thought it could give at the time, and it does not correspond with any fact or factor of the situation in Malta or elsewhere.

In this House we have paid great tributes to Malta. They have fallen from the lips of the First Lord of the Admiralty, from the Prime Minister and I think from the Secretary of State for War, and in any case we all know the debt we owe to Malta. By all means send them George Crosses, by all means pay them tributes; but the best sort of tribute we can pay to the Maltese is to stop doing them an obvious injustice. So I ask my hon. and learned Friend for two things. I ask him first to give an assurance that these two men, Mr. Joseph Samut, 66½ years of age, with 45 years' service, shall not be allowed to depart from His Majesty's service without a pension, and similarly that Mr. Joseph Pisharello, with 40 years' service, shall not be allowed to depart without pension. Secondly, I ask my hon. and learned Friend not only to put those concrete cases right, but I ask him, in common with the other Departments concerned, to impress upon His Majesty's Treasury that it is vitally necessary that we should approach the whole problem of the establishment of locally entered staffs in the great naval bases of the Empire from a different point of view, and lay it down that in the same way as an English civil servant who is engaged for permanent work is given permanent status and establishment so the Maltese civil servant who is engaged in His Majesty's establishment, or those at Gibraltar, Cyprus and elsewhere, shall be treated on the same basis and not differentiated against solely on the ground, and this is the only ground, that he is of slightly different blood from our own and therefore ought to be treated in a different way. The level of educational tests for entry is high in Malta, and higher in some respects than in this country. These people have rendered magnificent service, and I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to put right these two cases that I have brought to his notice and to make the most energetic representations to the Treasury to ensure that establishment arrangements in Malta are brought into line with those applying to the Civil Service here.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir Walter Smiles (Blackburn)

I saw this Motion about Malta on the Order Paper, and I particularly stayed behind that I might say a word or two in support of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown). I visited Malta about a year before the war, and a good many of the injustices which the people felt there that they suffered under were brought to my notice. I made a mental promise that whenever Malta or Maltese affairs came to be discussed here, I would do my best to be present. About a month ago I put a Question down to the Prime Minister asking him about the injustices suffered under by the Maltese who wished to enlist in the Army, Navy or Air Services. Those injustices are felt very keenly.

This is only another of the injustices under which the Maltese suffer at the present moment, and I am going to say, as the hon. Gentleman did: Do the Maltese deserve some improvement in their conditions? From their record, I say, Most certainly they do. When I went to Malta I met a good many of the admirals and senior naval and military officers, and I came to the conclusion that Malta would never hold in this war. It was a continual surprise to me, the gallant battle they put up when they held out. Instead of giving the Maltese pats on the back, crosses and paragraphs in the newspapers, let us do something in this House now. There is nobody who can do it except ourselves. I give my hearty support to the hon. Member who has spoken in support of these civil servants who have spent their lives in the service of the Crown.

The Financial Secretary to the War Office (Mr. Arthur Henderson)

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown) raised two specific cases. I think he would be the first to agree with me when I state that the 1939 agreement to which he made reference was not directed towards the Maltese only. It was an agreement which, rightly or wrongly, was reached in August, 1939, by the National Whitley Council official and staff sides, regarding the establishment and pensionability under the Superannuation Acts of locally entered clerks, employed by the Defence Departments at stations in Europe, Bermuda and the Cape, including, of course, Gibraltar and Malta. That agreement was entered into and is operating to-day. Two questions have been addressed to me, first as to the necessity for altering the agreement, and secondly whether something should not be done for the two men to whom my hon. Friend made reference. I personally fully appreciate the claims of men, such as Mr. Samut, who have rendered continuous good service to the State over a long period of years. I would go further and say that I think it is common ground in this House that the Maltese have made a signal contribution to our war effort and that the defence of Malta, which I think will be regarded by historians as something in the nature of an epic, was shared in by those for whom my hon. Friend speaks; but that does not alter the fact that there is this agreement operating to-day. I am sure that my hon. Friend does not expect me, at this juncture, to rise and say that we are not going to implement that agreement, whatever may be the merits of particular cases. When my hon. Friend asked his question originally, as a supplementary, he said that if the Treasury were bound by the agreement, none the less it had unlimited power to count as established service periods of unestablished service, at least to the extent of half the unestablished service.

That is quite correct, but I am informed that the Treasury take the view that it is the intention of the Superannuation Acts that pensions should not be granted in cases where all or almost all the service has been on a non-established basis. The Treasury, I am told, has therefore had a very old rule which I am unformed also is well known to the staff side, that staff who have attained the age of 55, or exceptionally 60, cannot at that point come forward for establishment and consequently pensionable status. The hon. Member knows well that that rule applies to the staff of all Departments. All I can say that if he desires to have the rule or the agreement to which he has referred altered, it is obviously not the responsibility of the War Office but of the Treasury and must be done, I suggest, either by direct approach to the Treasury or through the medium of the Whitley Council. May I come to the two specific cases?

Mr. W. Brown

Before my hon. and learned Friend leaves the general point, may I say that while certainly we will do that, his Department has great power of recommendation to the Treasury, and I hope he will back us up.

Mr. Henderson

I am quite sure that this discussion will be duly recorded and will be read by those who will be concerned with, the problem to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention. May I just deal with the two specific cases which gave rise to this discussion? In the case of Mr. Joseph Pisharello, he, on 7th July, 1942, completed 20 years' reckon-able service in a clerical capacity. On 15th February, 1942, he attained the age of 55 years. He was therefore still ineligible for establishment under the agreement. It has been decided however that a special exception can be made in his case, and steps are now being taken to establish him on his actual clerical service since 7th July, 1922.

In the other case, that of Mr. Samut, this gentleman, as my hon. Friend said, is 66 years of age to-day and was 63 years of age on 1st August, 1939, when the agreement was entered into, and establishment was limited to those under 60 years of age. He was clearly not eligible for consideration. He was not debarred by reason of insufficient service but by reason of the fact that he was 63 years of age at the time the agreement was entered into. As the House has been told, the age limit accepted in the agreement was 60 years of age, and consequently I am afraid that in his case it is not going to be possible to have him established under the agreement.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree that taking these two cases together the case of Mr. Samut is really a more monstrous injustice than the other?

Mr. Henderson

I cannot legislate on the basis of the fact of an injustice but on the fact of the agreement.

Mr. Smith

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give us an expression of his opinion?

Mr. Henderson

It is not my function to express an opinion but to state the facts to the House so that they can make up their minds.

Mr. W. Brown

Is it not possible to go better than the agreement where justice requires it?

Mr. Henderson

I have suggested that the method of altering it is by agreement through action by the staff side of the Whitley Council.

Mr. Jennings (Sheffield, Hallam)

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that this has disclosed some gross injustices in Malta and Gibraltar? I am amazed if a man can work for so many—

It being the hour appointed for the Adjournment of the House, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.