HC Deb 26 November 1947 vol 444 cc2011-25

Order for Second Reading read.

4.24 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Rees-Williams)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

As hon. Members will probably know, the system under which pensions are granted from the Exchequer in respect of service as a Colonial governor is laid down in the Pensions (Governors of Dominions &c.) Act, 1911, as amended by the Acts of 1929 and 1936. Briefly it is this: On retirement at the age of 60 or, in special circumstances, an earlier age, a governor who has served as such for 10 years or more, or for three years if, immediately before his appointment as governor, he was in the permanent Civil Service of the State, is eligible for pension calculated according to his length of service in the various classes of governorship. There are four classes of governorship and the rates of pension are £6, £5, £4, and £3 respectively for every month of service in those Classes—Classes 1, 2, 3 and 4. One of the special circumstances for retirement before the age of 60 is on the ground that further appropriate employment is not available. When that is applied the pension earned by the length of service is reduced to 1/240th for every complete month, every month that must elapse between the date on which the pension becomes payable and the time at which the governor to whom the pension becomes payable attains the age of 60.

As Members will see from the Memorandum accompanying the Bill, there are three respects in which it is proposed to alter this system. First, by changing the retiring age from 60 to 55; second, by increasing the pension rates; third, by removing the provision for reduction of pension on premature retirement. The great majority of Colonial governors are appointed from the Colonial Service. Of the 34 Colonial governors now serving, 29 were in the Service, and were appointed from it. In the Colonial Service itself the normal retiring age is 55. That is not merely for European officers, but also for local officers. This is the age which has been based on long experience in tropical countries. It has been found, not merely in the Government service, but also in other services—in business, at the Bar, and so on—that when a man has reached 55 in a tropical country, after being there for many years, his desire, as a general rule, has been to retire. The duties of governors are more strenuous today than they used to be; a great deal of work is imposed upon them, and the pace of life in the various Colonies has increased during the last few years, just as it has in this country. Therefore, there is a great desire in the Colonies now, and certainly it is the desire of the Colomal Secretary, that younger and more active men should, where possible, be placed in these responsible posts.

The reduction in the retiring age which Clause I seeks to effect will not prevent a governor from continuing in the Service after the age of 55, if it is in accordance with his own wish and the wish of my right hon. Friend. If it is in the public interest that he should continue there is nothing in the Bill to stop him from doing so, provided he agrees. The remaining Subsections of Clause 1 are consequential. Under the present law a governor who, immediately before his appointment, was employed in the permanent Civil Service of the State may, subject to satisfying the prescribed conditions, be granted a pension either under the Pensions Acts which I have mentioned or under the Superannuation Acts. Subsections 2 and 3 of Clause I seek to preserve these benefits notwith-standing that the governor retires before the age of 60. They are, as I have said, consequential.

The present rates were fixed in 1929. Since then there has been an increase in the level of salaries in the Colonial Civil Services and, more recently, postwar revisions have been undertaken in the Colonies. As the pensions of Colonial civil servants are calculated on salary, and not on flat rates, as in the case of governors, the result is that the rates of pension earned by governors are now out of scale with those earned by civil servants junior to themselves. For example, a governor who is shortly to retire, after 34 years' service in the tropics, is cligible for a total pension, in respect of his service as a Colonial official and as a governor, less than the pension which his own chief secretary, who is also shortly to retire, will receive. Another governor, also about to retire after long tropical service of which the last six years has been as governor, would, if he had been appointed instead Colonial secretary of the Colony of which he was governor—have been eligible for exactly the same pension as he will now receive in total—Colonial pension and governor's pension.

The increase now proposed of £1 in Class I or Class II and 10s. in Class III or Class IV is regarded as, and, indeed, is, the necessary adjustment to balance the pensions in this respect. They will bring the new pension rates for Colonial governors into line with the new level of salaries in the Colonies and make allowance for the decline in the purchasing power of the pound since the rates were last increased in 192g. There is no provision to amend the present limit of £2,000 of pension from all sources. Clause 2 seeks to effect these increases and to apply them to those serving as governors at the date of the commencement of the Act. A serving governor will, on retirement, have the benefit of these increases in respect of his services as a governor prior to that date.

As regards the third point—the reduction imposed by the existing provision is, of course, substantial. It amounts in the case of retirement five years before the qualifying age to no less than 25 per cent. of the pension earned by service as governor. Experience of the application of this provision has shown that it is unsatisfactory since it tends to attach a quite unwarranted stigma on the retiring governor and very often causes him to feel embittered after a long life of service in various Colonial territories. It is an unusual provision, and there is no longer justification for retaining it or for requiring pensioner governors who now suffer a reduction on this account to continue to do so. Therefore, Clause 3 seeks to remove the provision, and also to provide for restoration, as from the date of the commencement of the Act, of reductions which have been made in pensions which are still in payment. There are four such pensions. I ask the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Oliver Stanley (Bristol, West)

This is a small but useful Bill, which, I think, will be welcomed on all sides of the House. It deals only, of course, with the limited class of Colonial governor, but I feel that the provisions of this Bill, when it becomes law, will be of considerable help to any future Secretary of State. I am sure that the present occupant of that position has experienced, as all his predecessors did, times when he felt that it would be in the public interest if the tenure of office of some governor was not prolonged, or if no further appointment was offered to him; and, at the same time, he was up against the fact that the conditions of pension would mean that a man who had given long, faithful and good service to His Majesty, often under very difficult conditions, was to be thrown on to the world very inadequately provided for.

It is wrong that the Secretary of State should have to weigh these two arguments—treating unfairly a faithful servant, or giving a job to a man of whose competence he is not quite certain. Therefore, I welcome any proposal which ensures that a governor—who by the mere fact of being appointed governor shows that he has for many years given valuable service—shall, when the time comes for him to retire, be adequately provided for. I have, therefore, nothing but support to give for the principles of the Bill. I have, however, two detailed points which I want to raise, and which I would like the Secretary of State to consider.

I am in this difficulty. After the Second Reading of this Bill, which naturally we shall not oppose, the Financial Resolution will be considered. I If the right hon. Gentleman will look at that Resolution, he will see that it is drawn in exactly those terms which Mr. Speaker has, on several occasions, condemned, as being against the proper practice of this House; that is to say, the Financial Resolution reproduces almost every detail of the Bill, which means, therefore, that, with the passage of the Resolution, we are unable to pass in Committee, or even to discuss in Committee, any Amendment which would have the effect of increasing the amounts set out in the Bill. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, in allowing the Resolution to go forward in this way, must have overlooked that point. If it is passed in that form it will prevent discussion, certainly of one, and probably of the two points with which I should not like to weary the House on Second Reading, but which I should like to discuss in Committee. I am not sure, in fact, that the right hon. Gentleman would have any objection to the points I have in mind.

The first point is this. I am not at all happy about the difference which has been made in the increase in pensions for governors in classes I and II and the governors in classes III and IV. The governors in classes I and II get £1 extra for every completed month, and those in classes III and IV get only 10s. I am not convinced that that is right, and that the proper thing—and not very expensive thing—would be to give them all £1. It is the governors who never get out of classes III and IV who are, on retirement, usually in the worse financial position. It is the governors who spend all their lives as governors in classes III and IV who, I am sure, provided the examples which the hon. Gentleman gave of a case where a governor was worse off than his colonial secretary. I should like to discuss at some length in Committee, with an open mind, whether it would not be preferable to give a flat rate of £1 to all Colonial gowernors in whatever class they are.

One effect of this division between the sheep and the goats is to make a very wide distinction between class II and class III. I think that everyone who has studied these things knows that, in fact, this classification of governorships is pretty inadequate, and there really is not all that difference between the obligations and responsibilities, and, indeed, the expenses which governors in the various classes have to bear. I should, therefore, like to be in a position when we come to the Committee stage—this is wholly a non-party matter, and one which the Secretary of State on reconsideration might put before the Committee—to raise it, but unless we amend the Financial Resolution it will be impossible to do so.

The other point which I want to raise is about what is to happen to the provision in, I think, the 1929 Act of a ceiling. The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that in the 1929 Act there is a ceiling and that in no circumstances can a governor's pension exceed £2,000. Is that provision to remain?

Mr. Rees-Williams

That remains.

Mr. Stanley

Frankly, that is another point on which I should like to test the feeling of the Committee. Again, I shall be unable to do so if the Financial Resolution passes in this way. It does not seem to be right, if in the pensions as a whole we are recognising the changed value of money between 1929 and 1947, that we should not recognise the changed value of money in the ceiling which is put upon a pension which a governor may receive It happens that under the old provisions of 1929 this ceiling of £2,000 was hardly ever applicable. In other words, it was there merely to catch some quite exceptional case. I have worked out some instances of the new scale, including, of course, the new scale of Colonial Service pension which a governor will earn before he becomes a governor, and it appears that there will be a number of cases where the pension will come to over £2,000. The result of that ceiling is that if a man is wanted for his last four or five years for an important governorship, before he ever takes up the appointment he will have attained the maximum pension that the ceiling will allow. It will mean that the next three or four years of arduous work will not really count at all in an increase of his pension.

I wonder whether that is really an economy, and whether it is calculated to ensure, in fact, that the best man is got for the job. There is a great temptation when a man is reaching somewhere near retiring age, if he is offered a good job in outside life, to say, "If I take it now I can make a new career elsewhere; if I wait for three or four years I might not get a similar chance." There is the great temptation to take it, and the one way of putting something on the other side of the scales is to ensure that during those three or four years such a man can be doing something to increase the pension with which he will retire. It seems to me that the retention in 1947 of the ceiling laid down in 1929 needs some justification and is a thing which the Committee should be able to discuss, and about which they should argue in detail.

Unless the Financial Resolution is amended we shall be precluded from discussing either of these things, because they would mean an increase of payments for which the Financial Resolution makes no provision. I appeal to the Colonial Secretary, when he moves the Financial Resolution, to accept a small Amendment to leave out all the words after "Session" in line 6, for if we provided only for the general expenses of the Bill and left out the details, it would not limit the discussion. I am sure that would be for the convenience of the House. It would not detract from the general principle of the Bill and a further discussion of these points could very properly take place in Committee.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Creech Jones)

I am very much obliged for the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), and on behalf of the Government I should like to say that, although over a long period we gave very careful consideration to the Clauses in the Bill and the terms of the revised pensions, in the light of the criticism which has been made I suggest that we might defer dealing with the Financial Resolution when we reach that point on the Order Paper, and take it at a later date when the Committee stage is reached. That would in the meantime permit of the redrafting or reconsideration of the Financial Resolution and also enable us to study the two points which the right hon. Gentleman had raised.

Mr. Stanley

By leave of the House, I would like to thank the right hon. Gentleman very much for the accommodating way in which he has met us. I am sure it would be for the convenience of the House to discuss what is wholly a non-party matter.

4.45 p.m.

Mr. Gammans (Hornsey)

Like my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) I entirely support this Bill, and my only regret is that it is limited to increases in pensions for governors. There is an unanswerable case, in the light of the rise in the cost of living, for something to be done for governors, and there is an equally unanswerable case for a revision of the pensions of Colonial civil servants generally, because the cost of living has gone up very much indeed. I know from the many letters which I receive that many men who have served the Crown faithfully for many years in all parts of the world are suffering actual hardship today. It is true that there has been an increase in the lower paid pensions, but it has not been much, and it also carries with it the stigma of a means test.

A man who has served in the home Civil Service rightly considers he is in an equally serious position in many cases, but I suggest that the Colonial civil servant has an additional hardship for one or two reasons. First, unlike the home civil servant, who has been able to accumulate a house and furniture of his own during his service, the man who has been serving abroad cannot do that, so that when he comes back to this country he has to incur very great expenses in setting up home anew. Also he has the expense of the education of his children in a way which the home civil servant never has. The Colonial civil servant has to send home his children from a young age to be educated, and that puts upon him an additional expense at a time when perhaps he might otherwise be saving a bit of money. I regret that this Bill is limited to the pensions of governors, and I hope before long that the Colonial Secretary will tackle in some shape or other this problem of Colonial civil servants generally who are trying to live on a prewar pension.

With regard to the Bill itself, I should like to support the idea that governors shall retire at earlier ages. Not only is the service in the Colonies far more arduous than it ever was before the war, but also it will mean that men no longer have to be kept on merely because one does not want them to be done out of a proportion of their pension. I am sure it will lead to greater efficiency and a greater chance of promotion for the younger men. The other two points I wanted to raise I need not mention now after what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol, because they are Committee points.

4.49 p.m.

Mr. Skinnard (Harrow, East)

I rise only to add my welcome to this very short but very important Bill. My welcome is for somewhat different reasons from those of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley), because, as he has pointed out, there is little difference in the lower grades and between grades 2 and 3 in the duties and expenses of governors, but there is a big difference in the rating of men in the Colonial Service within those two grades. Grade 3 governors as a general rule want and expect to go to the highest possible positions, or at any rate have a chance to do so. The trouble is that those reaching the grade have generally had to wait until their physical and mental powers have diminished before they get one of the most important governorships which is usually most arduous. If this Bill will do anything—and I think it will—to help cutout the dead wood so that the younger men will get bigger chances of promotion much earlier in their careers, I shall welcome it.

There are many men who have had to pursue the line of promotion along the ladder of chief secretaryships for a very long time, and have reached the position of governor when their own powers of tackling problems are getting less. This Bill will give a chance of quick advance for young men who, in chief secretaryships, have proved themselves able administrators, excellent negotiators and acceptable to the colonial peoples, so that when their powers are at their greatest they can give their greatest service. I do not wish in any way to denigrate the service of men who, without particular genius or special aptitude, have proved themselves sound if uninspired officials, and in course of time have reached minor governorships at a comparatively early age. But one often finds them blocking the progress of the younger, abler men by a system of seniority which leaves them in Colonies for which they have no particular capabilities, except that they have had some experience gained in an entirely different capacity elsewhere. This provision for early retirement is an opportunity to retire with dignity, and with a great deal more financial ease than in the past.

It has been a very undignified thing to have governors in some of these Colonies looking round during the last year or two of their service for a suitably soft cushion on which to fall when they retire. It was not only undignified, but it led to a suspicion, probably quite unjustified, of the way they were conducting the affairs of the Colonies. You cannot blame a man, when his pension is going to be inadequate to his dignity and the life he has lived, if he looks around for something useful in the way of directorships. I sincerely hope this Pensions Bill will obviate the necessity for such looking round when retirement comes along. I am glad the right hon. Member for West Bristol has raised the question of the form of the Financial Resolution, more particularly because of the considerable difference in treatment between class II and III governors. I am very glad there is going to be no opposition to this Bill. I am convinced it is going to have a tonic effect on the young and able men in the Colonial Service who will see promotion come much nearer than it otherwise would have been.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Charles Williams (Torquay)

I heartily welcome this Bill. I am not speaking as an expert on Colonial affairs, but from the point of view of a person who represents a number of people who have served the Empire and are now retired. I know something of the position of these men who have given the best years of their lives to the service of the Empire, and I am sure they will welcome the fact that we are today improving the position of those who will serve in the future. These men have given everything to their service. They have played a very vital part. I welcome the Bill also from the point of view that we are encouraging the best type of civil servants to give their talents to the service of the Empire. There is nothing more vital than to get the very best type of man. I would like to support the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans). He took the point of view that this Bill did not go far enough. I do not intend to pursue that. I do wish it had gone much further—right outside the scope of governors—but that is a purely private wish and I will not develop it now.

Another point to which I wanted to refer, but which I only mention in passing, because it has been satisfactorily settled, is the extremely unsatisfactory position in which we were placed by the Financial Resolution. I welcome most heartily the reference to that fact by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bristol, who is not only always interesting and generally amusing, but very industrious. If we are to have a Financial Resolution which tends to preclude Amendments in Committee, it does limit our powers. It has been settled in a friendly way on this occasion, but if there is a reasonably drafted Financial Resolution, and proper discussion is allowed in Committee, time is eliminated in dealing with the matter. I recommend the Chief Patronage Secretary to use his powers with his colleagues on the Front Bench to see that in future Financial Resolutions are not drafted in the way the present one has been.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. Mack (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I cannot speak with much knowledge about the position of governors, but nevertheless would like to ask that there should be a clear understanding from the Minister regarding the question of the retiring age. The life they live in parts of our far-flung Empire must be very severe if the relatively young age of 55 is considered a suitable retiring age. Bless my soul, it would be a terrible thing if that figure were applied to the House, although I am not so sure it would not be advantageous in some cases. Normally, at 55, a man is supposed to have reached the prime of life. It may be that active service in some unpleasant part of the world, where mosquitoes abound and where the water is not fit for human absorption and homes may not be up to the present sanitation standard, all these factors may tend to shorten the life of a governor or render less the ability necessary in such a position.

There does not seem to be any great deal of disparity, I should have thought, between 55 and 60 as regards the amount of money to be allocated. We are told that class I will have £6 a year for every completed month of service and class II £5 a year for every completed month of service. I would like to know something more about the status of the various governors. Who gets the £6 rate and who the £5 rate, and so on? I should have thought that in some less important areas of the world governors who have a more arduous and difficult task would deserve more money than some of the more cushy gentlemen residing in large white palaces in some of the larger areas, and attended by numerous servants. I should have thought that some of the lesser governors deserved higher salaries. In Clause I, the age 55 is substituted for the age 60, but the Memorandum attached to the Bill explains that there is nothing to prevent governors serving after that age, if it is in the public interest. Who determines what is the public interest? Why should some people be told to stay on the job after the age of 55? Is it because they have a peculiar aptitude for the work, because they are popular, because they speak the particular language, or have been in the territory for so long that they have qualifications for the job that would not be possessed by their successor?

Then there is a series of questions relating to the cost of living. I would like to know if the cost of living has appreciated in the Colonies as it has elsewhere? It seems to me that an increase of £1 for classes I and II and of 10s. for classes III and IV may probably prove inadequate. We ought to have more information about that point. What is to be the test of efficiency? Who is to determine what efficiency is required in a particular Dominion or Protectorate? Is the test to be years of service, the governor's ready acquiescence in the policy of a Government that has been in power, or what is it? Those are matters which ought to be known to all hon. Members, but at present they seem to be beyond our knowledge or even our capacity to ascertain.

I am standing here at the second Bench, and I have calculated that 44½ inches in front of me there is a difference of £4,000 a year in some cases, as compared with my own salary. That position has been accepted by custom, but to some of us it seems to be a fortuitous decree of circumstance. Members of Parliament do not qualify for pensions at all, whatever their rank, qualifications, or years of service. I would like to know a little more about the salary which is given to governors and upon which this £6 or £7 a year for each completed month of service is determined. If a man has served 25 years as governor, what is the relationship between the size of his pension after retiring with the length of his service and the amount of money that he has earned? I trust that these questions will be briefly dealt with. Apart from those points, I subscribe to the general principles of the Bill, which contains that element of humanity which always secures unanimity in this House.


Mr. Rees-Williams

Perhaps I might, with the leave of the House, reply to the various points which have been raised. I am very glad that the Bill has met with unanimity and has received such a warm welcome on all sides of the House. Some hon. Members know very well the conditions under which governors have served and have rendered most disunguished service to the Territories they governed and to this country. The points raised by the right hon. Member for West Bristol (Mr. Stanley) have already been dealt with by my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, and, therefore, I will not deal with them at this moment.

Mr. Stanley

I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he was going to deal with them later.

Mr. Rees-Williams

My right hon. Friend has dealt with them, so far as. was possible today, and he has promised the right hon. Member that he will take them into consideration for the Committee stage.

The question of increases in the Colonial Civil Service pensions, which was raised by the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Gammans) is very big. It is far too wide to be gone into on the Bill. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the pensions of Colonial servants have been improved as a result of increased salary scales in various Colonies. Those pensions, differing from the pensions of governors, depend upon salaries and are not, therefore, on a flat rate. There are provisions in most Colonies, but not in all, for a supplement to be paid in the case of most pensions, in accordance with the Pensions (Increase) Act. My hon. Friend the Member for East Harrow (Mr. Skinnard), who is out of the Chamber at the moment, was quite correct in saying that the Bill will have a tonic effect upon Colonial servants generally.

I have tried to take down the various points that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Mack), and I will now try to answer them. With regard to the tempo of life, it is a fact that a man who has spent many years in the tropics—not all the Colonies are tropical, of course—or in the equatorial zone and who has arrived at the age of 55 is often glad to retire. Life in those zones is such that, after a man has spent 30 years in a place like Malaya, to take a case in point, he is usually anxious to have a few years in which to enjoy himself before becoming incapable of taking an active part in life. I know many men, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Hornsey has too, who have been anxious to retire at 55, but that age is not obligatory. If a governor wishes to stay on and if the Secretary of State wishes him to do so he can stay until the age of 60.

With regard to the classes of Colonies, there is a classification according to size of population and the responsibility which the office of governor entails. There are four classes that have been in existence for a good many years and are well understood in the service. Naturally, a governor is paid according to the class of Colony in which his governorship is served. The decision as to what is the public interest—this point was also raised by my hon. Friend—is a matter for the Secretary of State. He is responsible to Parliament, and in this instance to the House of Commons, for the decision which he makes. In the final analysis, therefore, the public interest is safeguarded by the Members of this House.

I did not quite appreciate my hon. Friend's point about the relationship between cost of living in the Colonies and increases in pension. The cost of living in the country in which a governor serves does not affect the position at all. As a general rule a governor does not retire in the country in which he has served. It is most unusual for him to do so. Therefore, it does not matter whether the cost of living in the territory has increased or not. His pension will be enjoyed not in that territory but, as a general rule, in this country, or in countries like South Africa. As to salaries, I cannot give the figures off-hand of the salaries which are paid to governors. They range between £1,800 and £4,000 a year. In one case, Nigeria—I am speaking from memory—the salary is as much as £5,000 a year, but that is exceptional.

Mr. Mack

Will my hon. Friend tell me whether there are emoluments and allowances in addition to the salary?

Mr. Rees-Williams

Of course, there are allowances of various kinds, an entertainment allowance and others, which are paid to the governor as he has to maintain a considerable household and to uphold the dignity of his office, and is responsible both to the people of the territory and to the Government.

Mr. Dodds-Parker (Banbury)

Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that these allowances are sufficient in view of the tremendous increase in travellers by air who treat many of these Government Houses more or less as Government hotels?

Mr. Rees-Williams

That is another matter entirely. We are only dealing with the governor after he has retired and not while he is still in office.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for Monday next.—[Mr. Richard Adams.]