HC Deb 16 April 1947 vol 436 cc300-10

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

10.1 p.m.

Mr. William Wells (Walsall)

I wish to raise a certain number of questions regarding the selection and conditions of service of the British staff of the Control Commission in Germany. Before I reach those questions it will perhaps be desirable for me to outline the background against which they must be viewed, No hon. Member of this House, I am sure, would underestimate the greatness and the difficulty of the tasks which the staff of the Control Commission have been set. These tasks may be defined as to win the respect of the German people and to attract them to a peaceful and democratic way of life. The great demands, human and technical, which this task imposes cannot easily be overestimated. Quite clearly men who have to do work of this character must have the quality of leaders. They must be tactful, they must understand the character of the people with whom they have to deal, and they must earn their respect. They must, too, have technical competence in performing a great number of very difficult tasks in restoring the shattered economy of the defeated country, and in making life tolerable for its inhabitants before they attempt to teach the lessons which our occupation is intended to do.

The Government themselves have recognised the importance of these tasks and the importance of attracting to them the right type of men. Last summer a sub-committee of the Select Committee on Estimates, of which I have the honour to be a Member, went to Germany and investigated on the spot a number of points relating to administration there. I quote two paragraphs from its Report—Nos. 49 and 50—in which it said: The quality of the staff is at least as important as their quantity, and the Control Commission are fortunate in having a number of capable and devoted men and women at present employed, but the quality of the staff ultimately depends, to a very large extent, on their conditions of service. The chief obstacle to the building up of the proper kind of staff seems to lie in the sense of security due to the short-term engagement offered. Young, efficient men and women imbued with proper tradition of service and fired with the moral purpose required, cannot be obtained if their future is to be jeopardised by uncertainty as to their ultimate position. A decrease in number must also be balanced by a very high standard of quality. And the recommendations which the Committee ultimately made, in paragraph 59 of the Report were: That the general policy of the Control Commission should be to reduce the number of their staff, whilst taking every possible step to increase their quality. That, with the object of improving the quality of the staff, the following lines of action should be followed—(1) more careful selection; (2) the creation of a new branch of the public service, integrated as far as is practicable with the Civil Service, in order to offer better security of tenure; That a survey of the Control Commission be made by the Treasury through their Organisation and Methods division. Speaking in the Debate on this Report on 29th July last year my hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy said: Obviously I have not time to deal with the recommendations made with regard to the staff of the Control Commission, but I would tell the House that we are in complete agreement with the conclusions reached by the select Committee."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1946, Vol. 426, c. 641.] On that speech, I would ask the Chancellor three questions. First, what has been done towards the creation of a new branch of the public service? Second, has any survey been made by the Organisation and Methods division? Third, how is the present recruitment of the Control Commission Service organised? On pre- vious occasions I have put down several Questions in the House about question No. 1, the creation of a new branch of the public service. The answers I have received have broadly amounted to this, that the position is very difficult because we do not know how many staff we have to recruit, and how long we can keep them. I wish to urge upon the Chancellor that the situation is of a kind that calls for urgent action. It cannot wait whilst nicely balanced minutes meander through the registries of Whitehall and St. James Square. Eight months have elapsed since the Committee published its Report, and I would like to quote from an article in the current issue of the Fortnightly," written by Dr. Friedmann, who has just been appointed to the Chair of Public Law at Melbourne, Australia, after being associated with the military government of Germany for nearly two years in a number of capacities, and finally as director of the Organisation Branch of the Economic Sub-Commission in the British Control Commission. Speaking of the genera] problems of the occupation he says: For the first year of occupation the British alone seemed to have won the genuine respect of the Germans. They were, on the whole, reserved but humane and seemed essentially intent on keeping the rudiments of life going or restoring them. There was little corruption. The last year has brought a radical change; this is due to four factors. I need not deal with three of them, which are not relevant to the immediate question. Dr. Friedmann says: There is however thirdly, an undoubted deterioration in the British personnel, both civil and military. This is hardly so at the top level; but the trained military government officer and the disciplined veteran soldier have been replaced by a mass of second and thirdrate business men, and by young troops whose first period of active service means barrack discipline in duty hours and absolute power off duty. Lastly, initiative and improvisation have been replaced by an incredibly complex bureaucratic system handled by a conglomeration of people inferior in quality and integrity to the trained Civil Service at home. I understand that those words have been echoed by an hon. Member opposite to whom I am sure my hon. Friend will pay great attention. I understand that the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers) has said that the black market is due to the staff of the Control Commission. I would not for a moment associate myself, little though my knowledge is in comparison with that of the hon. Member for Orpington, with a statement of that kind. But I submit that there is a mass of evidence that the morale of the Control Commission is declining. Although I cannot pretend to assess for myself the value of that evidence, I suggest that remarks such as those of Dr. Friedmann require serious investigation and call for a serious answer.

I fully recognise that it is extremely difficult to enter into engagements of a fixed period when one does not know how many people one needs or how long one needs them for, but it is perfectly clear that the control of Germany will go on for a long time, and it is also perfectly obvious that second and third-raters will do more harm than good there. Only first-rate men will do. Therefore, the obvious conclusion must be that we must limit the functions which the staff have to perform, and give good conditions of service and a promise of some employment on the termination of that service to those whom we retain. The control of Germany is a matter of paramount importance to Britain and to the world. Its failure would be an international disaster, and the work cannot be done except by a staff that is first-class in quality and in integrity of spirit. I hope that the Chancellor of the Duchy will be able to answer the questions I have put, and to reassure the House that urgent action will now be taken to carry out the recommendations which he accepted so many months ago.

10.13 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Hynd)

I am glad that my hon. Friend began his remarks by recognising the greatness of the task that we are seeking to perform in Germany. In view of the fact that he was a Member of the Select Committee which visited Germany last year, and in view of the terms of the Report to which his name was attached, I was rather surprised at the terms of his remarks tonight in relation to the staff in the British zone. I would remind him that the Select Committee itself, in its Report, on page XVI, paragraph 47, made this very pertinent comment: The circumstances in which the Control Commission are at present working make it difficult to arrive at any proper estimate of the staff necessary for the efficient and economical working of the Commission. If I may elaborate that slightly, I would remind my hon. Friend and the House that the Control Commission for Germany, which began only in 1945, with a completely new task, whose dimensions, whose scope, whose period of life, etc., were completely indeterminate, had to be recruited very quickly, and from October, 1945, had to be recruited by a Department which itself was in course of recruitment and organisation.

It was, therefore, inevitable that the comment made by the Select Committee should have proved to be right, namely, that no firm estimate of the scope of the staff which would be required, or of the strength of the staff we would require at any particular stage of the operation, could be clearly defined at that time. Having said that, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's comments as to the type of personnel we require for this task. It is true that we need men with the quality of leaders, and with the necessary technical competence. That is precisely what we have consistently been trying to achieve. As my hon. Friend correctly reminds us, the Select Committee made several recommendations in regard to the tightening up of the staff side of the Control Commission and its improvement. These recommendations were, first, that we should seek to reduce the total numbers of the staff, largely by the rapid devolution of duties upon the Germans themselves. I think that it will be agreed that that has been done to a remarkable degree. I do not want to go over the history of it again. I have at different times in the House, in reply to questions and in Debate, explained the extent to which we have handed over a considerable amount of the executive work in the British zone to the German authorities, work which, until a few months ago, was being done almost in detail by our own Control Commission staff.

The second recommendation they made was that in reducing the staff we should seek to improve the quality. That, of course, is the key to the remarks that have been made by my hon. Friend tonight. There has been a considerable amount done in both directions, not only in the matter of reducing staff. I would remind the House that from the original rough estimate of the amount of staff we would require in 1945—a figure of 42,000—we came down in stages to an establishment of 26,000 in the Estimates last year, which was reduced by 1st April this year to 20,000. Of course, we hope that control will be a gradually dwindling process, assuming that the development of the German situation proceeds along the present lines. That is what I wish to say so far as reductions in the number of staff is concerned.

In regard to the quality of the staff, I am astonished to hear my hon. Friend suggest quite firmly that the quality has deteriorated during the last several months.

Mr. W. Wells

I was only quoting from Dr. Friedmann and asking my hon. Friend for his comments.

Mr. Hynd

I am very glad to have that correction. It is the first suggestion I have heard from an hon. Member of this House during recent months that there has been deterioration of the staff. The contrary has been the report that has been given by every impartial and competent observer who has visited the Zone during the last six, eight or nine months. As for Dr. Friedmann, I have not seen his comment before, or heard of it. Certainly he was not a director of organisation, so far as I am aware, and his competence to judge is a matter on which I can make no comment. The remarks with which he is credited by my hon. Friend are rather startling. He suggests that the competent soldiers are now being replaced by incompetent civilians and business men. I do not know whether I am misquoting. I think that approximately that was the wording.

The fact is, of course, that the soldiers were a necessary element of the Control Commission. They were necessarily the primary element in the Control Commission at the beginning, because it was then a question of extemporising, a question of getting a job done at all costs, ruthlessly perhaps, because it was an urgent job and conditions were desperate. The scene is changing. These methods would not do now. Since that period we have established some form of order in Germany. We have sorted out the population. In general, the Nazis have been removed from controlling positions and we have established democratic authorities of various kinds in local government, Land government and in trade union and other activities. It would not do now to have a Commission run on what are euphemistically termed the extemporising methods which were appropriate at the beginning of the occupation. Far from the civilians and business men being generally incompetent, I think there is sufficient evidence to show that they are becoming more and more of the efficient. capable type which it is so necessary for the Control Commission to have.

I think the reasons for this are fairly clear. The Control Office was established in October, 1945. We had to set up a staff, to organise a recruitment machine, and to set up all the necessary machinery for managing this very complex task in Germany. We had also to face the fact that the soldiers who were largely running the business at that time were running out under demobilisation, or were on shortterm extensions pending demobilisation, so that in a very short time we would find that, unless we replaced a very large staff very rapidly, we would be entirely unable to cope with the situation. Therefore, we had to get on with an improvised job of recruitment.

An illustration of the speed with which this developed, and of the numbers that had to be handled, can he seen from the fact that in January, 1946, the number of applications that had to be considered was 5,000, by June, 1946, it was 15,000 a month, and it had dwindled by December to 2,000; and as we are overcoming the main part of that problem, the numbers, are, of course, falling very rapidly, and they are now, I believe, being dealt with at the rate of about some hundreds a week. The progressive reduction in the handling of applications since June last, indicates that we have been in a very much better position since last June to select our people. We have had fewer people to deal with, we have had a more experienced machine, and one which has had all the experience of handling these masses of people, filling the jobs, finding out how the situation developed, and, therefore, being able to foresee the type of officer required for a particular branch of activity. There is, therefore, a more efficient machine, having more experience, and with fewer vacancies to fill, and plenty of applications coming forward; and, therefore, we are in a position to be much more selective in the appointment of people to their respective jobs.

The procedure also has been very much improved. It can be imagined that, in a comparatively improvised Department dealing suddenly with this tremendous flood of applications, for rather vague contracts of service which could hardly be foreseen at the time, at the rate of 15,000 a month, the machine had no opportunities of building up a perfect procedure. Following on the Select Committee's recommendations, which, as I said at the time, we were preparing to put into effect, we have been putting the recommendations into effect in detail in this direction, as in others. We have now a regular system of selection and appointment to posts in Germany.

There is, first of all, a preliminary interview by the recruitment section at the Control Office. There is, then, an interview by the head of the appropriate division in Germany, or by a representative of the head of the division. The candidate then has to go before an independent selection board with a chairman appointed by the Civil Service Commission, a senior military officer, and an experienced civil servant, so that he has to go through a pretty close sieve before he is even considered for appointment. There is, then, the new factor in our recruitment, the operation of the training scheme, through which all our recruits have to pass, by which they are, as it were, conditioned for the new task in Germany, instructed in the problems that will face them, and in the type of reactions that will 'be found in the German people in different situations and in relation to the various activities going on, in the technical work which the person has to do within Germany, in the set up of the Commission, and so on.

That is something which did not exist before, and all the evidences we have are that it has been a remarkably fine contribution towards the improvement of the standard of our people in Germany. I should say that of course this does not include the whole of the appointments; there are certain special appointments at the top level which are personally selected or specially selected according to special qualifications, and they do not necessarily go through that procedure. Similarly with some of the junior grades, they do not have to go before the selection board, but they have to go through the rest of the treatment.

After that has been done, after all this processing and training, everyone now has to go through a period of three months' probation overseas, and I can assure the House that there is no hesitation whatever, now that we have so much material at our disposal, in dispensing with the services of anyone who proves either inefficient or unsuitable in any other way for the very responsible work that has to be done. Our problem today is not having too few but too many applicants for the posts that are available, and too many of a very good type in most cases; I can therefore assure the House that only the best are taken, and there are many disappointments.

In so far as the recruitment of civil servants is concerned, of course we are very conscious of the necessity for that. We have, as I have assured the House on many occasions, tried to work out some kind of a scheme with the Treasury which would give an assurance of long-term service by integrating the Control Commission with other branches of the public service. I am sorry that up to date it has not been found possible. We still have an establishment of 20,000 people, and on top of that other activities are going on in Germany which have been superimposed on the Control Commission, and the total numbers are rather larger, so it is just not physically possible to do it. We are, however, still examining the possibility of finding some kind of assurance that we could give, at least to those people who will be there for the longest time. As I have said, this is a job in which the staff will dwindle; we are withdrawing from the detailed executive work in Germany and will eventually be left, I hope, with a staff of highly skilled, highly reliable and responsible experts at the top who will carry on a purely supervisory function. We have to ensure that those men will be attracted to remain and will be of the very best quality we can find, in Germany or elsewhere. We must therefore offer them the most attracttive possible conditions. Those conditions have not yet been worked out and I am not in a position to state what they are likely to be. We are still continuing with that job.

So far as the rest of the staff is concerned, realising the difficulties, we have been recruiting as much as possible from the established Civil Service. A Treasury circular was sent out a little while ago to Government Departments inviting volunteers, and it produced over 5,000 applications, in spite of the fact that the clerical and typing grades were ruled out because those are now full up. So far as temporary staff of the Commission are concerned, they are in the same position as the temporary staff in the Control Office or of the Civil Service generally, and they have as their only avenue to the permanent Civil Service the various reconstruction schemes—if they are eligible for them. Beyond that it is difficult to see what more we can do in regard to security of service, but as I have said we are continuing to examine that possibility because we are so keenly conscious of the necessity of finding a solution.

One further point raised by my hon. Friend was the question of a survey by the Treasury Organisation and Methods Division. In that connection we have set up an inspection staff which now ensures that the numbers of the Control Commission staff are not excessive, and we are now proposing a new organisational advisory section which will work in the closest possible contact with the Organisation and Methods Division of the Treasury. I think, therefore, that my hon. Friend can rest content that the recommendations of the Select Committee have not been ignored, but that, so far as is possible within the bounds of this large, important and responsible task we have to perform, we are faithfully and diligently carrying them out.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o' Clock.