HC Deb 29 January 1958 vol 581 cc405-15

5.12 p.m.

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out "Secretary of State" and to insert "Civil Service Commissioners".

It is always difficult to leave out the Secretary of State, but we will have a shot at it this afternoon. The Secretary of State will see that we do not want to leave him out altogether. The purpose of the subsection is to give him powers to make arrangements with other Governments for the employment of British or Commonwealth civil servants, and it provides that the Secretary of State shall be the appointing authority. The words are: …the Secretary of State may appoint officers to be available for civilian employment in the public services of those territories… I understand that this is a hangover from a long-standing arrangement under which the Colonial Service appointments have been in the hands of the Secretary of State. As far as I know, the system has worked in an admirable manner. Nevertheless, there is no reason why we should not look at the arrangements and decide whether in the changed circumstances it would not be better to amend them.

When my hon. Friends and I looked at the Bill, we could not see any reason why we should not in the changed circumstances invite the Civil Service Commissioners to undertake this work. They are responsible for appointments in the home Civil Service. According to their Annual Report, they examine or nominate about 100,000 candidates each year in the home Civil Service. According to that Report, they are also responsible for appointments to the Overseas Civil Service; and the number of appointments they recommended in the year 1956–57 was 724, so they have considerable experience of overseas appointments.

I notice that they also act as agents for cadets for the Navy—that is presumably Dartmouth—the Army and the Royal Air Force, and 1,150 such candidates were examined. They undertake arrangements on behalf of the Metropolitan Police for entry and promotion examinations. They are responsible for the examination for first and second-class certificates for the British Transport Commission police. They perform various other agency services.

Another argument in favour of inviting the Civil Service Commissioners to undertake the task is that they have a number of overseas offices, they do a fair amount of advertising overseas, and they have local examination centres overseas. Thus, they have, as it were, a skeleton of an organisation to undertake such a task. All these seem to be arguments in favour of concentrating in their hands the recruitment arrangements that we are discussing once arrangements have been made with the Governments concerned about pay and so on.

5.15 p.m.

There is a final reason which leads me to the conclusion that this would be a good idea. As the Secretary of State said on Second Reading, we hope that some of the emerging territories which become independent will wish to employ members of the Overseas Civil Service. There is something to be said, at any rate in terms of dignity, for the Secretary of State for the Colonies not being responsible for making the arrangements for the appointment of men who are to serve in territories which have become independent. The Secretary of State said that it might happen that he would have to do so if he had started the arrangements before the territories had become independent. On the other hand, he said that if the territories had already become independent the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations would undertake the task. Thus, in any case we shall have two authorities according to whether the territory is self-governing or a Colony. Consequently, the arrangement at present seems to be a rather vestigial tail, and so we seek to have the Civil Service Commissioners as the appropriate authority and ask the Secretary of State to hand over his responsibilities to them.

Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)

I approach the subject from a somewhat different angle. We are concerned with the method of appointment of these overseas servants, and it appears to me that the method of appointment must in the long run affect the future development of the Overseas Service.

I am anxious to see the greatest possible co-operation between this country and other countries of the Commonwealth, particularly the self-governing members, in creating what would eventually be a Commonwealth Service It is most important to consider not only the recruitment of administrators and technicians from Commonwealth countries such as Canada, but also recruitment by those Commonwealth countries.

I should like to see this as a great Commonwealth venture. I think it is for that reason that hon. Members have advocated a Commonwealth Service. During the Second Reading debate several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), referred to the need for a Commonwealth Service. In his reply to the debate the right hon. Gentleman referred to that suggestion, but he alluded mainly to the advisability of using the term "Commonwealth Service."

The main point is that we should widen the range from which members of the Service may be drawn and the method whereby they shall be appointed. I should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what progress, if any, has been made in the development of a Commonwealth Service and how the Bill and its proposals would fit into the wider picture. In any case, I should like to know what grounds there are for retaining the procedure whereby a Secretary of State, with the consent of the Treasury, shall make the appointments rather than have the Civil Service Commissioners do so. From such information as I have. I should have thought that, for psychological reasons, if not for others, it would be easier to bring about this co-operation with the Commonwealth countries if the appointments were made by the Civil Service Commissioners rather than by the Colonial Secretary. It is for that reason that I support the Amendment.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I have listened with great interest and sympathy to the arguments which have been put forward. Perhaps I might first address a word to the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade). I can assure him that many valued members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service come from Dominions, and they are making individual contributions of the very greatest value.

It is an attractive thought that if we had had a clean slate we might have been able to build an Overseas Service which would be in every sense of the word a Commonwealth Service. We should, however, be deceiving ourselves if we thought that that would be welcome in many Commonwealth countries themselves. While very ready to see individuals serving in Her Majesty's Overseas Colonial Service, if it came to the formation of a Commonwealth Service, I think that there would be a strong preference for the various Dominions of the Commonwealth making their own contribution in their own name. We shall not, I think, make much progress if we believe that we can substitute for the existing Overseas Civil Service a Commonwealth Service, though, as I say, we are delighted to welcome into that Service a considerable number of very valuable recruits who come from Commonwealth countries.

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that for the Secretary of State should be substituted the Civil Service Commissioners would not make it easier for individuals in the Service to serve in Commonwealth countries. We have expressly referred to a "Secretary of State" in order to provide that I or my successors, my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations or the Foreign Secretary could, within the meaning of the Bill, be the Secretary of State. The movement of individuals from a Colonial territory to a Commonwealth territory or to a foreign country, such as the Trucial States, would be more readily expedited by the fact that any one of the three Secretaries of State can, within the meaning of the Bill, exercise authority.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) advanced an argument about dignity, saying that territories would probably prefer the Civil Service Commissioners to replace the Secretary of State. On the last occasion he spoke about this, he said also that it was an untidy arrangement, leaving it a little uncertain as to which Secretary of State it would be. I then said, of course, as is true, that the Colonial Secretary—that is to say, myself—is the most involved, and that the majority of appointments will presumably be in territories in regard to which I and my successors will have responsibility. But, as I said, we hope that they will be appointed for service under the Bill in Commonwealth countries and, indeed, in other territories. I mentioned, in particular, the Trucial States as a possibility. I added also—the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East reminded us of it—that certainly during the currency of the Bill territories will pass out of the responsibility of the Colonial Secretary into a situation where the responsibility for relationships with them will rest with the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.

In the circumstances, I think that the present arrangement is really the best. For example, if somebody whom I, as Colonial Secretary, have recruited is serving in a territory which ultimately becomes an independent member of the Commonwealth, then, of course, further consultation on terms and conditions of service for that individual would be the responsibility of the Commonwealth Secretary; probably, the appropriate way for such consultation to take place would be for it to be between the United Kingdom High Commissioner in the Commonwealth country and the Commonwealth Government concerned. If somebody was recruited to a territory for relations with which the Foreign Secretary was responsible, it would, of course, be the Foreign Secretary who would negotiate the terms and conditions of service. But the list would still, in a sense, be my list, the Colonial Secretary's list; there would be an obligation on me, in the first case, if such a person lost his post, to do my utmost to see that he received further employment, although in a case of that kind—indeed, in any case—there would be the closest co-operation between the various Departments concerned and the various Secretaries of State.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said that he thought there was a strong case for changing the method of selection, although he recognised that the present system is working very well. If I may say so, it is no tribute to me, because it applies equally to the Colonial Service under all my predecessors, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones), that it works extraordinarily well, and the link with the Secretary of State himself as the authority responsible for the Service is one very deeply valued by the Colonial Service as a whole. In my many travels, for example, during the three months of last yeas when I was in Africa, East, West and Central, I have always found how particularly keenly colonial servants value their personal link with the Secretary of State, their right of access to him and their ability to be able to come and put their doubts, uncertainties, hopes and achievements before the Secretary of State personally.

I am in close touch, of course, as is my office also, with the Civil Service Commission. The Overseas Service Department of the Colonial Office is in constant consultation with the Civil Service Commission. In the case of administrative appointments, we have a full-dress Overseas Services Appointments Board which sits under the chairmanship of the deputy to the First Civil Service Commissioner. Recommendations come from that Board to me by way of the First Civil Service Commissioner, and with his approval. He is very much in the picture. In the case of other pensionable employments, submissions for selection are made to me through the First Civil Service Commissioner. Of course, there are also, as the Committee knows, very many valued appointments made by the Crown Agents.

It would really be inconvenient and wasteful if this perfectly successful system were changed and appointments to the Central Pool and the Special List were conducted by the Civil Service Commission, particularly as the majority of officers appointed under the Bill will already be serving members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service whose past records are available in the Colonial Office.

There is the final point that the Civil Service Commissioners are not really concerned with matters beyond initial appointments, whereas I, under the terms of the Bill—as I think the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East realised—have to deal with questions of transfer, repostings, and negotiations with overseas Governments about conditions of service.

I recognise that this is an interesting subject. I hope that the Committee, having ventilated it, will be prepared to leave things as they are in the Bill, and I believe that that would be most acceptable to the Service itself.

Mr. Callaghan

I can understand that an overseas civil servant, after listening to the Colonial Secretary's persuasions for half an hour, would value very much his close relationship with the right hon. Gentleman, but, if he will permit me to say so, that same persuasiveness is unlikely to beguile us into believing that his speech was either relevant or satisfactory. In fact, it was neither. So far as his arguments were directed to the fact that, of course, he has a responsibility, once servants have been appointed, for their conditions of service, that is true of every civil servant who is appointed by the Civil Service Commission, as he well knows. Indeed, the staff in his own office are appointed by the Civil Service Commission; they are appointed through the administrative class of the Civil Service. As he rightly said, in a brief moment of illumination when he was "on the ball", at the moment when the Civil Service Commission has appointed them, they cease to be its responsibility.

There is, however, more in the argument than the Colonial Secretary has given us credit for, although we shall not press it this afternoon. It is something he ought to think about. We are about to set up a new Service. The Civil Service Commissioners have facilities for securing recruits which are not available to the Colonial Office, with all its efficiency. They have what is, practically, a world-wide organisation for this purpose. They are concerned with getting recruits, not with their conditions of service after appointment. I should have thought that there was every case for concentrating under the Civil Service Commissioners this particular form of recruitment. I imagine that this must be one of the last forms of recruitment to the Civil Service left under the patronage of an individual Minister, though I do not imagine that it is worth very much to the right hon. Gentleman. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there is much to be said for concentrating this procedure. Although we do not press the Amendment now, I am bound to say that it is not the eloquence of the Colonial Secretary which has persuaded us.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Norman Pannell (Liverpool, Kirkdale)

The purpose of my brief intervention is to enter a plea that in implementing the conditions of the Clause, special attention shall be given to the seconding of officers to the specialised branches of medical research. This is a feature of British colonial administration which is often overlooked and which, I certainly feel, is insufficiently emphasised.

When I was in Nigeria a little more than a year ago, I visited the research stations at Vom and Kaduna, in Northern Nigeria, both of them operating under the auspices of the West African Institute of Tropical Research. The main object of these research stations is to combat that dread disease with the very long name of trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness as it is commonly called, in regard both to man and to beast. The results have been quite phenomenal.

In regard to human beings, the records show that whereas in 1936 100,000 people were treated for this disease, the figure had fallen in 1956 to 5,000. When it is considered that this disease is more often fatal than not, it will be easily appreciated that as a result of the work of this organisation, hundreds of thousands of African lives have been saved.

The results in regard to cattle are also impressive. A serum has recently been developed—

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. F. Blackburn)

I find the hon. Member's speech very interesting, but I should like to know how he is relating it to the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill".

Mr. Pannell

I am trying to emphasise, first, the value of the service and then to call attention to the fact that there is great difficulty in recruiting officers to serve in the service; and I regard that as pertinent to the Clause. I wish briefly to state that in regard to cattle, the results have been very impressive. The results for the population of Nigeria will be enormous if, in fact, complete immunity from the tsetse fly is eventually achieved, and there are now high hopes of that.

In relation to the Bill, I wish to emphasise that these organisations, which are performing such magnificent work, are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain staff. The attractions of other areas in Africa such as East Africa, where the climate and salary conditions are more promising, are causing several people to leave the organisation in Nigeria and it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain recruits for these organisations. Indeed, when I was at Vom, the normal staff of twelve had been reduced to nine and several of them were on a temporary basis.

The trouble is that the Federal Government, under whose auspices these stations operate, is unwilling to improve the salary conditions of the Europeans on the ground that this would be prejudicial to the prospects of Africans entering the service. This is entirely fallacious, because Africans can acquire the necessary qualifications only by being trained by qualified and experienced Europeans on the spot. I sincerely hope that the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to ensure that the present employees remain contented in their job and that suitable recruits are forthcoming to maintain this splendid work in Nigeria.

If I may refer also to another aspect, it is in regard to the leper settlement at Oji, in Eastern Nigeria, which I also visited. I do not want to be out of order by going into that at too great length, except to say that the work there is equally magnificent and the patients—

The Temporary Chairman

I have been very patient. The hon. Member is giving a list of achievements in different sectors which has little to do with Clause 1, although we find it interesting.

Mr. Pannell

The purpose of the Clause, Mr. Blackburn, is to ensure that certain services in a civil capacity in Nigeria are maintained. But for the Bill, they might not be. I am trying to draw attention—

The Temporary Chairman

I am aware of the purpose of the Clause, which is to appoint officers to be available.

Mr. Pannell

Exactly. I hope there is no suggestion that I am resisting your Ruling, Mr. Blackburn. My purpose is to point out the services to which the Bill will be particularly useful. I am trying to urge on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that he should use the powers conferred upon him by the Bill to ensure that the services in these most valuable organisations are retained. It is impossible to get the services of Africans in the short term.

If I have made my point, I will no longer persist. I am sorry if I have been out of order in doing so, Mr. Blackburn, but I wished to draw the attention of the Committee to the magnificent work that these organisations are achieving and to the essential feature of the Bill—that of ensuring that these organisations are fully and efficiently staffed in the future.

Mr. Wade

I should like to make two brief points. First, however, I also applaud the magnificent work that is being done. I was very interested to hear what the Colonial Secretary had to say in reply to the Amendment which has just been debated. I think that the right hon. Gentleman realises as well as every one of us how difficult it is to find- suitable officers to fill these posts. I am quite convinced that greater efforts will have to be made to find persons in the Dominions who are willing to serve in these overseas services. I think it is no longer possible to find the men and women who are needed from this country alone.

My second point, with which, I am sure, the right hon. Gentleman will agree, is that we must give adequate consideration to security and pension rights. I fear that in the past sufficient consideration has not been given to that aspect. I hope that as the result of the Bill, the position will be rather better than it has been in the past.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.