HC Deb 06 November 1959 vol 612 cc1370-2

Order for Second Reading read.

12.28 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Robert Allan)

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

Up to 1943 it was virtually on medical grounds only that a Foreign Service officer could be retired early and still receive a pension. This meant that a man who was not considered up to his job had either to be retired without a pension or posted where he could do least harm. Loss of pension could be a very great hardship to a man whose age and specialised training would make new employment difficult to find. Foreign Secretaries were, therefore, inclined to adopt the second course of appointing these men to posts out of harm's way.

In 1943, this was recognised as being demoralising, inefficient and blocking the promotion of young men. Therefore, the Foreign Service Act of that year was introduced. That Act permitted a Foreign Service officer of Second Secretary rank and above to be retired and to receive the pension and lump sum which his term of service had earned him. It went further, for it provided that, if the Foreign Secretary recommended and the Treasury agreed, men so retired could receive a special increase both in pension and in lump sum. Although this was not written into the Bill, these special increases were intended to be granted, and, in practice, have only been granted, when men have been retired owing to circumstances entirely beyond their control.

For example, this provision was applied in many cases to those Foreign Service officers previously employed in the Chinese Consular Service and in other Far Eastern posts that have vanished since the war. It has also been applied to men whose health has not been up to the sometimes very exacting demands of certain overseas posts in the Foreign Service for which they were best qualified. Men in the same state of health would have been permitted to continue until retiring age had they been in the Home Civil Service. Foreign Secretaries have in this way been able to retire, without undue hardship, 76 men.

The 1943 Act fixed these additional payments at a figure of £100 for pension and £300 for lump-sum payment. These figures bore the relationship of one-twelfth and three-twelfths of the maximum salary then enjoyed by a First Secretary. Salaries have, of course, increased considerably since 1943. For instance, a First Secretary's maximum salary now is £2,120. As a result, the financial expectation of Foreign Service officers has been increased. In these circumstances, the payments of £100 and £300 no longer fill the need for which they were introduced. My right hon. and learned Friend is aware that by retiring Foreign Service officers under the 1943 Act now he is, once again, liable to inflict undue financial hardship upon them. The main purpose of the Bill is to remove that hardship.

Subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 1 are designed to restore and maintain the earlier position under the 1943 Act. This is done by establishing the permanent relationship of one-twelfth and three-twelfths between those special payments and the salary and emoluments enjoyed at the time of retirement. As I say, that is the main purpose of the Bill, but since we were seeking to introduce legislation on the subject we tackled three other small points. These arise from the effect of the 1949 Superannuation Act upon the 1943 Foreign Service Act.

Whereas the 1943 Act applied to the Foreign Service only, the 1949 Act applied to the Civil Service generally. In this Bill we are seeking to include the Foreign Service within all the provisions of the 1949 Act. That Act, as the House will remember, entitled all home civil servants to retire voluntarily after reaching the age of 50 without complete loss of pension rights. But only Foreign Service officers below the rank of Second Secretary have had this right of voluntary retirement. Clause 2 of the Bill, therefore, extends that right to anyone in the Foreign Service, and so brings that Service in line with the Home Civil Service in that respect.

There are two other smaller points. The 1949 Act enabled civil servants, for the first time, to obtain pensions for widows and dependants, subject to a contribution. Clause 1 (3) requires that the contribution of those retired under the 1943 Act shall be based on their special, as well as their normal, payments. Clause 1 (2) limits the special increase granted to an officer under the 1943 Act to the amount that would be payable had he continued in the Service until normal retiring age.

The Bill clears up certain minor anomalies under which the Foreign Service has been working. More important, it is a Bill that enables the Foreign Secretary to retire, without undue hardship, those whose services, through no fault of theirs, has lost its full value. Therefore, it is, in the general interest of the Foreign Service that the Bill should be passed, and I commend it to the House.

12.35 p.m.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)

I only desire to say, in about two sentences, that we are in agreement with all the principles of the Bill. We think it is desirable that the anomalies that the Under-Secretary of State has mention should be removed. We think it is desirable in the public interest that these changes should be made, and we shall therefore vote for the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).