HC Deb 09 July 1953 vol 517 cc1491-5
The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Oliver Lyttelton)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about the future of the Public Service in the Gold Coast.

I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT a copy of a statement which the Prime Minister of the Gold Coast made yesterday in the Legislative Assembly about the future of the Gold Coast Public Service, with particular reference to overseas officers. The statement recognises that, to maintain an efficient administrative machine, the Gold Coast Government will for some years to come need the services of overseas officers. The Gold Coast Government therefore guarantee to overseas officers pensions and terms of service no less favourable than those obtaining today, and the maintenance of the principle of promotion by merit alone.

The statement proposes the introduction, not later than July, 1954, of the first stage of a two-stage scheme of compensation, additional to normal pensions, for serving officers retiring before their time. It suggests that, after the scheme has been approved by the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly and by the Secretary of State, it should form part of any constitutional settlement reached between Her Majesty's Government and the Gold Coast Government.

I welcome this statement and the intention of the Gold Coast Government which it proclaims, to retain the services of overseas officers under satisfactory conditions of service. I also warmly welcome the ready recognition by the Gold Coast Government of their responsibility to compensate officers whose conditions of appointment may be affected by future constitutional changes, and their desire to work out a fair and reasonable scheme.

Mr. Attlee

We shall, of course, want to study the statement in detail, but I think that we would also wish to express our admiration of the speech of the Prime Minister of the Gold Coast. It seemed to me to be full of statesmanship and a recognition that this is a very difficult subject. I had some experience of it in relation to India and Pakistan. If the Gold Coast Government are to function in the future it is quite essential that the administration should be kept up to the highest pitch. I think that that can only be done at the present time by British officers being given confidence.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

To create that confidence among British officers is it not time that we built up steadily some form of Commonwealth service based on security of pension in this country, so that the long-term interests of these people should be safeguarded?

Mr. Speaker

I think that that is a wider question, and the statement which will appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT is very long.

Mr. Speaker, I seek your permission to make an important statement on the future of the Public Service with particular reference to overseas officers. The occasion for making this statement arises from the proposals in the White Paper, which envisage a change in the position of officers for whom the Secretary of State is responsible. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he is particularly concerned with two important aspects of this problem. First, how to help the successful development of the country by continuing to provide overseas staff as requested by the Gold Coast Government and by supporting the expressed desire of this Government to encourage overseas officers to remain in the Service for as long as they are needed. Secondly, he wishes to fulfil his obligations towards officers holding Secretary of State's appointments.

This Government, for its part, realises that it must have an efficient administrative machine to give effect to Government policy and it is at one with the Secretary of State in its desire to ensure that the responsibility towards officers holding Secretary of State's appointments is fully discharged. In this respect the Gold Coast would not wish to be any less conscious of its responsibilities than were the Governments of India, Pakistan and Ceylon

But having said this, I wish to emphasise that in the context of this statement the countries which I have mentioned do not provide an exact analogy with the Gold Coast. At the time they achieved independence all of them had a Public Service which was largely indigenous. In my October statement on constitutional reform, I remarked that in the Gold Coast political advance had outstripped the Africanisation of the Public Service. We find ourselves, therefore, on the threshhold of independence having to rely far more on the services of overseas officers than was the case in India and the other countries which I have mentioned.

The Africanisation of the Public Service has made great strides in recent times and the Government is doing everything possible compatible with efficiency to accelerate the pace of Africanisation. We have more than laid the foundations of the African Civil Service of the future. But the fact must be faced that for some years to come we shall have to continue to rely on the services of overseas officers. It is therefore imperative that we should make our attitude clear towards this class of officer, and that the officers themselves should know where they stand.

I am aware that on the eve of fundamental constitutional changes which inevitably involve a change of conditions of their service, there is a feeling of uncertainty regarding their future among serving officers. I want to allay this uncertainty by assuring overseas officers that a fully self-governing Gold Coast will need and want their services and that their interests will be fully safeguarded.

I will now outline the general principles which Government propose to adopt. At the outset, I would remark that one of the main considerations is to provide a breathing space during which the transition to a Gold Coast Local Service can be completed as smoothly as possible. We seek to avoid any sudden exodus of overseas officers and by safeguarding their future to induce them to remain

While appreciating the need for accelerated Africanisation, Government do not propose that this should be achieved at the expense of efficiency, or that promotion in the Service should be on the basis of colour. At the same time, changed conditions of service will be recognised by the introduction of a scheme for compensation. The timetable for this scheme is related more to the need for achieving a smooth transition than to the programme for constitutional reform.

Before I embark on the details of the timetable I should like to give certain general assurances. We guarantee pensions and reasonable terms of service which will be no less favourable than those obtaining today, and we propose to maintain the principle that promotion is by merit alone. This is without prejudice to a policy under which special facilities will be accorded to Africans to enable them to compete on merit with overseas officers. All overseas officers desiring to do so will have the right to join the Local Service.

I come now to the details of our proposals. A scheme will be introduced not later than July, 1954, under which serving officers will be permitted to retire, if they so desire, with a compensatory allowance in addition to their earned pension. This arrangement takes into consideration that the proposals for the next constitutional advance will result in a diminution of existing safeguards, but will not amount to a radical change.

I have in mind the possible disappearance of ex-officio Ministers; the consultations with the Prime Minister in regard to the filling of certain higher posts in the Civil Service and in respect of appointments to the Public Service Commission; the attachment of the Establishment Secretary to the office of the Prime Minister; and the proposal to create training posts in the interests of accelerated Africanisation. I want to make it quite clear, however, that these changes are in no way intended to prejudice the principle emphasised in the White Paper that the public service should be free from political control or influence.

There will be no supersession of serving officers on the grounds of race; the Public Service Commission, however, would have discretion to widen the field of recruitment to promotion posts if, in their opinion, there were not officers in the service of sufficient experience and of the necessary calibre to fill any specific appointment, or in the case of newly created posts to which special conditions apply.

Not more than two years after the introduction of the scheme of compensatory allowance, Government will introduce a scheme of lump sum compensation, as has been done elsewhere. The details of this scheme are still the subject of actuarial examination. At this stage, any officer who desires to do so would have the alternative of retiring with his ordinary pension and compensatory allowance.

In the case of African officers, it is considered that sentiments of patriotism will impel them to continue to serve their country and that they can look for a positive improvement in their prospects. Nevertheless, it has been agreed in view of the Secretary of State's responsibility for those African officers who have not opted to join the local service that any African officer holding a Secretary of State's appointment who can show to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that his position and prospects in the service have been prejudiced, or that he has legitimate cause for anxiety about his future in the service, should be permitted to retire under the compensation scheme. This is in accordance with the precedent afforded by India, but it is anticipated that such cases would be rare, if any occurred at all.

At the request of the Gold Coast Government, the Secretary of State has agreed that officers for whom he has a responsibility and who by the end of the transitional period join the Gold Coast Local Service will continue thereafter to be eligible for transfer within the Colonial Service. Officers accepting transfer without a break in service to equivalent pensionable posts elsewhere would have no right to compensation; but those remaining in the Gold Coast Local Service would have a continuing right to retire with either form of compensation.

The representatives of the Association of Senior Civil Servants have already been informed of these proposals and will be further consulted before they are finalised. It is intended that after finality has been reached on these proposals which are subject to the approval of this Assembly and of the Secretary of State, the arrangements will be confirmed in any Constitutional Settlement arrived at with Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. I trust that in the result the future of the Public Service in the Gold Coast will be assured, and that this country, whatever Government is in power, will be able to rely on the loyalty and efficiency of the members of that Service.