HC Deb 19 December 1960 vol 632 cc963-1024

7.3 p.m.

Sir Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House takes note of the Fourth Report from the Select Committee on Estimates in the last Session of Parliament, and the Fourth Special Report from the Estimates Committee, relating to the Colonial Office. It falls to me to move this Amendment in which we ask the House to take note of two Reports from the Estimates Committee relating to the Colonial Office. The right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) who initiated the last debate, said that it was without precedent, meaning that the affairs of the Public Accounts Committee had not been considered hitherto in a full-dress debate in the House. He also spoke of the devotion of the members of the Public Accounts Committee and of its non-party nature. All those remarks apply in equal measure to the Estimates Committee.

This may or may not be a significant and important occasion, but it is an historic occasion for the Estimates Committee, the younger brother of the Public Accounts Committee, for, as far as I can tell, this is the first time when a day or part of a day has been devoted to one of its Reports.

The right hon. Member for Huyton opened his speech by giving a short account of the work of the Public Accounts Committee, and I am afraid that I must do the same for a few moments in regard to the Estimates Committee. I do not think the public find much difficulty in grasping the functions or understanding the reasons for the existence of the Public Accounts Committee, but I do not believe that one in a thousand of the general public has the faintest idea what the Estimates Committee is or does. It is wrapped in mystery and the public mind is full of misconceptions. So far as they do think of it, they imagine it to be a Committee which studies the current year's Estimates, and with shears or a pair of scissors snips off bits of expenditure here and there.

Of course, the truth is very different. The Estimates Committee cannot hope to have any effect on the current year's Estimates; indeed, except for the subcommittee which was this year set up to deal with Supplementary Estimates, its relationship to the normal year's Estimates is rather tenuous. It deals with the future in rather a limited field. Each sub-committee takes or has allotted to it a definite Vote or collection of Votes to which it confines its attention. There are occasional exceptions to that. Sub-Committee D, with which I am connected, two years ago investigated the whole question of Treasury control. Apart from that, I think it is true to say that one sub-committee always deals with one confined and limited subject.

The Estimates Committee has two main lines of approach or function. The first is actual cuts or economies, recommending actual cuts in expenditure or reduction in the Votes. On the whole, that is not often a very fruitful field. I think its main function is in the direction of what I would call true economy, that is, in securing or trying to secure greater efficiency in the way of better value for money. In the concluding sentence of his speech a few moments ago, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury referred to that. I believe that the function of this House in the control of finance is more in the direction of getting more value in every direction, than in trying to secure actual cuts in expenditure to which, in many cases, a Department has already been pledged.

But this is a very delicate job. Before one knows where one is, one is involved in questions of policy. And the Estimates Committee is forbidden to involve itself in questions of policy.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

What is this Report?

Sir G. Nicholson

If my hon. Friend will listen, he will hear. The point is that there has never been any definition of policy. I have heard witnesses trying to claim that any act or intention of a Government Department is policy. That is a narrow definition, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is said that nothing is policy unless it has been definitely decided by this House. Let me give my personal suggestion for a definition of policy, which is anything with a political content. It is not an offical definition, and it is rather a dangerous one. We are properly concerned with what I may call administrative policy. It very often happens in the course of an inquiry that the whole inquiry and the recommendations of the Committee are meaningless unless some of the basic assumptions under which a Department works are reconsidered and questioned. It is a very delicate task, almost a tightrope performance. If we are successful, we can be very useful, but, on the other hand, if we overstep the mark, it definitely harms the whole reputation of the Committee and detracts from the services which it can render to this House. It is a question of the judgment of the Committee and that is obviously fallible. I hope to show that, in this particular case, we have not overstepped the mark, and I hope the House will think that we have done a useful service in making this Report.

I wish now to say a word about the machinery of the Committee. It used to have thirty-six members, but from the present Session it is to have forty-three. It used to be divided into five subcommittees of eight members each, and it is now to have six sub-committees of eight members each. The Chairman of the full Committee is automatically a member of each sub-committee, hence the discrepancy between the figures. I have been Chairman of Sub-Committee D for nine years. As to the modus operandi, the Committee makes inquiries, considers memoranda, examines witnesses, and then deliberates, and drafts a Report, which is adopted by the subcommittee, and is finally adopted by the whole Committee.

The only point I should like to make there is that the most important part of the Committee's work, namely, the deliberation and the drafting of the Report, tends to be telescoped, owing to the fact that we try to get our Reports adopted by the end of July, or in that part of the Session. If there is a great criticism to be made of the Estimates Committee it is that it does not have enough time to give that consideration to each subject which is its due. Finally, I remind the House that while a Report is the Report of the Committee as a whole, generally speaking it represents the work and views of the Sub-Committees.

As to the ultimate fruit of our labours, the Department into whose vote we are inquiring in the course of time produces a series of replies to each of our recommendations. Until recently, there used to be a considerable time lag, but this time some of the replies have already come in. The effect varies. Some Departments are more and others less responsive. On the whole, up to now it has been rather disappointing and rather difficult to assess, because the fruit of our work is largely negative in the sense that our work prevents things being done. It is rather difficult to assess the extent to which that is a real economy or not. I am satisfied that up to now the Committee has done good work and that under the new dispensation, that is, with debates in the House devoted to the Committee, it will do even better work.

With some nine years' experience, I have found the work interesting and satisfying. I know that I have contributed to the saving of public money. There is a sense of achievement in that which is heightened by the fact that, at any rate up to now, our work has been more or less anonymous. It is one of the few things which Members of Parliament can do—together with P.A.C. work—which gets no publicity and no credit. That heightens any sense of satisfaction. Above all, it is a non-party Committee and a happy Committee. I do not think that any witness has ever been able to tell to which party a Member belongs.

I must finally speak of the great debt which we all owe, particularly the Chairman of the Committee and the chairmen of the sub-committees, to the Clerks. I have learned to value the assistance, the loyalty, and the friendship of the Clerks assigned to the Committee and the sub-committees more than I can say, and I know perfectly well that I speak for all the Members of the Estimates Committee, past and present, in saying that.

The Fourth Report of the last Session and the special Report of this Session deal with the Colonial Office. I am very sorry that this debate has occurred at a time when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is overwhelmed with work of the utmost importance and significance. It is not our fault that we are very sorry about it. I venture to hope that he will not feel that it has been entirely wasted time. If he makes the sort of reply which I shall suggest that he should make, I am sure that he will not feel that the time has been wasted.

The Report is only fairly typical of the work of the Estimates Committee in that there are no recommendations for making actual cuts or direct economies. Financially, we gave the Colonial Office a clean bill of health. We found no actual waste or extravagance, and our financial recommendations cover only methods and not direct economies.

The first four recommendations are purely financial. The next ten cover what I call "personnel" at home and abroad, an extremely important subject at a time of considerable unease in the ranks of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service. I do not have time to deal with that matter tonight and I leave it to other hon. Members. Those fourteen recommendations have already been answered by the Department, not unsatisfactorily; at any rate, to my satisfaction. The full history of those recommendations and the Department's replies are open to hon. Members to read and digest at their leisure.

I shall direct my remarks to the last three recommendations, which are of much greater significance. They deal with the recommendation to set up an inquiry to consider the establishment of a Commonwealth Advisory and Technical Service and the recommendation that the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office should be merged. In fact, we recommend a fundamental change in the relations between this country and the Commonwealth, based on the simple axiom of our conviction that the Commonwealth is one and should be treated as one. This is not a proposal which we claim to have originated, but we hope to have given it added impetus and it is a proposal which may well have far-reaching results.

There are arguments for and against such a merger, many of which we have sammarised in our Report. What I call the "pros", the arguments for, are obvious and I will deal with them only briefly. As I have said, they are based on the fundamental consideration that there is only one Commonwealth, that we are all children of the same family in different stages of development. It is a source of pride to every hon. Member and to the whole country when one of our children attains its majority, by which I mean when a Colonial Territory becomes independent.

If I may be permitted a digression, I should like to refer to Nigeria. I had the very great honour of leading a delegation from both Houses to the independence celebrations in Nigeria, and I want to put on record—and I have some faint hopes that my words may be reported in Nigeria—not only our gratitude for the lavish hospitality that was placed at our disposal, but our emotion at the ceremonies which then took place. I was proud to be British, and proud of our colonial record, and proud that my country was now to march hand in hand with a free and equal Nigeria.

We believe that the dichotomy which is constituted by the division of our relations with the Commonwealth into the Commonwealth Relations Office and Colonial Office is harmful. The actual words of the Committee were: They believe that the continued existence of two separate Departments of State to deal with the affairs of a rapidly developing and changing Commonwealth leads to a dichotomy of thought and approach that militates against the unity of the Commonwealth. Those are very wise words. In fact, I wrote them myself. [Laughter.] Seriously, the whole Report is based on that conviction.

Then, the Colonial Empire is contracting, as is the work of the Colonial Office. We hold that a marriage one day between the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office is inevitable, and it is a marriage to which the Colonial Office will bring a considerable dowry. By "dowry" I mean the men, the experience, the expertise, the "know-how" and the traditions of what used to be called the Colonial Service and what is now called Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service. Every day that that marriage is put off, the value of the dowry dwindles. We say that if the marriage is inevitable one day and the dowry is dwindling, the sooner the marriage takes place, the better.

A new Commonwealth is emerging. To date, several emergent independent Commonwealth countries have been both politically and economically viable, but we feel that in the new Commonwealth which is emerging there may be States which are not entirely economically viable and it is those as well as existing independent States which need the sort of help which the Colonial Office can give and which the C.R.O. cannot.

The functions of the C.R.O. and the Commonwealth Office are already overlapping more and more. The Colonial Office is becoming quasi-diplomatic, while the C.R.O. administers some Territories as if it were the Colonial Office.

There are many more arguments in favour of a merger. I am not going to elaborate them. I believe that any Member of this House or any member of the general public who has given this subject any serious consideration knows these arguments and can study them and evolve them for himself. I repeat that they are all founded on the basic consideration that there is only one Commonwealth, not two Commonwealths; only one Commonwealth, and that the dichotomy is artificial and, we think, should be ended.

The list of pros, of arguments in favour, is formidable, but I am much more concerned with the main argument against—which, if sound, would be decisive—that the merger would be repugnant to the independent members of the Commonwealth. If sound, that argument is overwhelming and the Committee is the first to recognise this. I believe that the arguments for a merger represent, if I may put it like this, a very strong hand of cards, and that if the principal argument against is well founded, it is the ace of trumps which will take all the cards in our hands. I do not believe that it is, and I shall tell the House why.

First of all, I must admit that this is a most understandable argument. I have sympathy with those who put it forward, and with the people who feel these emotions. It may well be argued that there are independent territories, territories of long independent standing, which think that to deal with a Department which deals with the Colonies is for them a downgrading, and that the new ones may be tempted to feel the merger to be what the Report calls a subtle attempt to retain some measure of control over the affairs of territories that had been declared to be completely independent. Report says that that suspicion would be disastrous. Nevertheless, I believe that if the arguments in favour of the merger appear to us here to be valid, they will appear valid to reasonable people from whatever part of the world they come.

But clearly the Government are in a dilemma. I believe—I have reason to think, rightly or wrongly—that the Government accept the idea, and that in urging them to accept it I am pushing at an open door; but they naturally feel strongly that they must never jeopardise the unity of the Commonwealth by ignoring Commonwealth opinion. I ask the Government to say outright, do they want this merger or do they not?

I suggest that, as always, frankness is the best policy. I believe that there is everything to be said for the Government tonight coming out into the open and testing public opinion both here and overseas. They should say in public and now that they believe that the proper way for our relations with the Commonwealth to be conducted is through one single Department. I can see that my right hon. Friend tonight may be severely tempted to hedge, to hide behind the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, and to say that that is the place where the idea should first be adumbrated.

I say to him that if the Government do not agree with the merger then they should say so, and say so now; if they do agree with it, let them come out into the open, come into the open in public, because in the long run it is public opinion throughout the world that matters and not Governments; and to come out now, because I believe that public opinion here and overseas is ripe for a decision now and that there is nothing to be gained by delay.

After all, delay may be interpreted as merely meaning cold feet. Hedging and delay never helped reputation whether of a man or of a Government, and will not help the reputation of the Government now.

I repeat that the basic assumption which the Committee built upon in this case is that public opinion in the Commonwealth is just as capable of appreciating reasoned argument as we are. The Select Committee confidently made that basic assumption, but it gave much weight, I hope full weight, to the main argument against, and it concluded that the whole question is one of presentation, of how the idea shall be put to the Commonwealth.

I suggest that the way the Government should proceed is this. They should announce, genuinely and sincerely, that nothing will be done without the agreement of the independent members of the Commonwealth. That is basic and fundamental. They should state the pros and cons of the merger idea as we see them and clearly put to the whole Commonwealth the advantages. They should make clear that in any merged Department the Colonial Office would be the junior partner.

I want to go a little further than the Select Committee went, because we drew up our Report in July, and I certainly have been giving a lot of thought to it since, and I have two additional proposals I should like to make to the House.

I believe that there is room for an intermediate Department, a Department common to both the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office, which would cover all the services which the Colonial Territories and the new territories may require from this country, and, indeed, which non-Commonwealth territories may require from this country. I think that that Department should be set up at once. It may be regarded as a link between the Departments, or the nucleus about which the merged Department could coalesce. Secondly, I believe that we could do a good deal to set the apprehensions of independent members of the Commonwealth at rest by stating officially and formally, what already is in some measure a reality, and that is that in future the Commonwealth Prime Ministers should, as of right, have direct access to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and not have to pass through any Department, whether the Commonwealth Relations Office or any other.

We have time for only a very short debate and I do not want to make a long speech. This Report makes no claim to providing all the answers. Its real object is to direct attention to the problem and to cause discussion. That is being achieved tonight. The House may be relieved to know that I am not going into an emotional peroration about—

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

Before the hon. Gentleman comes to his peroration, may I ask him if he would deal with this point? He has outlined so far the administrative advantages and has described a number of arguments for and against this, and there is a lot in his case, but if he is going to put this to the Commonwealth itself he will have to go a little farther. A number of territories, we all know, I think, are opposed to the merger. Surely, to encourage them to change their minds he must show them what the positive advantages of this will be, which will accrue to them from this merger. I doubt if he will really carry conviction till he does that.

Sir G. Nicholson

I think that the hon. Member is on rather dangerous ground by automatically assuming that if the arguments appear to us here to be valid, and if they are put fairly and squarely to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, they will be automatically rejected by them. I should say that the first thing is to put the arguments fairly and squarely before them and to point out that we believe that in these fundamental facts, firstly that the Commonwealth is one; secondly, that it is changing and developing day by day, that the Commonwealth Relations Office is not really best fitted for rendering services to the newly emerging members of the Commonwealth which they will require. I think the first thing is to put the arguments as we see them. We do not have to sell the Commonwealth to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers. They do not need to have it sold to them. They believe in it. But we have to point out that in a changing world the Commonwealth must change and move with the times. I am not offering anything to the Commonwealth except better relations with this country, and a more direct approach to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Callaghan

I am sorry to persist with this point, but, with great respect to the Select Committee, this is not a new idea. To my knowledge, the arguments have in fact been put to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, certainly by many of us in private conversations, and maybe officially; but they persisted, however eloquently they were put, in saying that they did not want this. What I am saying is that if the Select Committee is to do a really useful job the positive advantages, the economic advantages, it thinks will flow from the idea should be put to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers to make them change their minds.

Sir G. Nicholson

I think that the approach must be not only to the Commonwealth Prime Ministers but to public opinion within the Commonwealth countries.

I have heard it said that the Prime Minister of Canada will not look at this idea. Yet I have seen in the Canadian Press articles praising the idea and agreeing with it completely. I believe that in so far as the Commonwealth Prime Ministers are opposed to the idea—I have no knowledge of private or public approaches to them—they may well be reckoning without their own public opinion.

What I am asking the Government to do tonight is to throw their hat into the ring and say, "That is what we want. If public opinion in the Commonwealth is against it, the Government will drop it. But this is what we think to be the best way for the Commonwealth to develop, and we ask the Commonwealth to consider it. We want it to become a matter of general discussion within Commonwealth countries. If they reach a verdict against it, the idea has had it." As I have said, I am confident that arguments which appear valid to us will appear valid to reasonable public opinion overseas. I appreciate the desire of the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) to be helpful, but I believe that he is, most unusually, showing a lack of imagination.

Mr. Callaghan

Perhaps I may make just one more interruption. I suggested this idea—I was not the first to put it forward—in a debate in the House about four years ago. It was shot down by the Government. I pursued it privately after that. I must say that it was not lack of imagination but lack of encourage- ment that altered my mind about some of these things.

Sir G. Nicholson

I did not claim to be the first to put the idea forward. In fact, I said that we were not the first to think about it. I should be delighted to think that the Select Committee has breached the shy and bashful nature of the hon. Gentleman and given him a little encouragement.

I repeat that this matter must be further discussed, and that is what I hope we shall be doing tonight. I was saying that I was about to reward the House for its patience by not making an emotional peroration about the Commonwealth. I say that because I feel too deeply about the Commonwealth to cheapen it by making a peroration about it. I will merely give the House just one quotation. It was by Mr. Nehru who said, "The Commonwealth has a healing touch." I would remind the House that never before in history has the world so sorely stood in need of one.

7.33 p.m.

Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)

As a new member of the Select Committee on Estimates, I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this important debate.

The hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) has just given the House a good exposition of the valuable work of the Select Committee on Estimates, and he has also advanced reasons for the decisions taken by it. I think that this is an appropriate time for us to extend our sincere acknowledgment for the way in which he has piloted Sub-Committee D through its deliberations as its chairman. I should also like to add my sentiments to those in which he expressed a tribute to the Clerk of the Committee, who gave us valiant service.

I shall confine my remarks to one or two aspects of the Report. As hon. Members will know, colonial development and welfare aid is granted to assist the economic development of Colonial Territories and the welfare of their peoples. The current Estimate provided for under this Vote is about £25½ million. The Committee was concerned principally with the effect on a newly-independent country of the cessation of colonial development and welfare aid on independence day, to the extent that the benefits of past colonial development and welfare aid should not be lost to these countries because of shortage of current funds with which to continue colonial development and welfare work.

At present, no aid is granted for purely development purposes after independence, although the Colonial Development Corporation is permitted to continue aid until an enterprise or project is completed. The Committee, therefore, viewed this problem from the angle of how aid already allocated to independent countries should be offered in order to encourage them to reap the benefits of past colonial development and welfare grants. The Committee believed that to cut off assistance for development projects in the new States might be false economy and that the apparent saving gained might be illusory, and to this extent attention is called to the need to search for a solution to this problem.

As the rate of achievement of independence accelerates, the position of staff in the Colonial Office becomes more and more uncertain. This was a problem which caused the Select Committee on Estimates some anxiety as reductions in the Office were expected in the near future. As one can see, the choice before the present staff is: first, to remain at the Colonial Office, which only a few can do; secondly, to transfer to the Commonwealth Relations Office and accept a new liability to serve overseas; and, thirdly, to transfer to other Government Departments.

On this point, the Committee recommends that future recruits should accept liability for overseas service, a recommendation accepted for a trial period by the Colonial Office pending a decision on whether the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office should be merged. The Committee also recommended that present staff should be asked whether they would be prepared to serve abroad, and the Colonial Office has accepted and implemented this recommendation.

It appears that the prospect of work in a drastically reduced office will probably not appear attractive to recruits of a suitable standard, although more candidates offer themselves than can be accepted at the present time. This factor led the Committee to recommend a merger of the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office in order to ensure a future for the office and for some at least of its present staff.

The Committee undertook its inquiry into the Colonial Office when the future of that Office was uncertain. As its tasks are diminishing, so those of the Commonwealth Relations Office are increasing, and this led the Sub-Committee to examine the functions and relations between the offices. This examination was carried forward in an awareness of the radical changes occurring in the structure and nature of the Commonwealth, particularly in Africa, and awareness of these changes encouraged the Sub-Committee to think in general terms of the future relationships between the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth countries.

Its conclusion was that, given the asset of independent Commonwealth countries, the most economical and practical instrument through which to conduct these relations would be a Commonwealth Office, formed by a merger of the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office.

In reaching this conclusion, it was seeking not only obvious economies of expenditure, such as would result from the elimination of duplication and overlapping of functions, but also the prevention of wasteful dissipation of trained and experienced men and women out of the public service. Further economies would result also from more effective administration of aid to Commonwealth countries.

No reply to the recommendations on a merger has been received from the Colonial Office. We hope that this implies that the Government still have an open mind on this subject and will take the view of the House into consideration before reaching a decision. Obviously the gathering of the views of the Commonwealth Governments will take some time, but the Report was published almost three months ago, and the Committee stressed the importance of achieving an immediate merger if the full advantages were to be obtained.

In reply to questions on 13th December, put by the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse), the Prime Minister said that he was considering, in consultation with his right hon. Friends the Commonwealth and Colonial Secretaries, the recommendations we are now discussing. We are reserving our thoughts in the hope of some decision being advanced shortly.

The arguments put before the Sub-Committee for and against a merger are summarised in paragraph 65 of the Report. The strongest argument against a merger adduced to the Sub-Committee was that independent Commonwealth countries would regard it as a reactionary step to be associated with a Department exercising direct responsibility for the Colonies.

The Sub-Committee took evidence on this very point, as it realised that the case for a merger must fall to the ground if independent, and particularly newly independent countries, feared that a merger would be used to cloak an attempt to retain control by the Colonial Office over their affairs. Such an important witness as Lord Twining expressed the opinion that the merger scheme could be presented in such a way that it would be difficult for even the most sensitive of newly emerged territories to have any responsible objection to it.

The Committee therefore adopted the views of most influential witnesses and concluded that the difficulty was almost entirely one of presentation. Such a visionary scheme of reorganisation, properly presented to all Commonwealth countries, would, in its opinion, evoke no serious opposition.

From the point of view of economy of expenditure, the Committee believed that a merger must have advantages. There would be a slight immediate saving in overall expenditure, which would be increased as the Colonial Office was run down. There would be a considerable, though not apparent, economy in the sense that the funds of experience, knowledge and understanding of the colonial staff and advisers would be available if required to serve dependent and independent countries, rather than being dissipated.

While the Commonwealth service would benefit from this, and the future of the colonial staff would be determined, the important point which we urge upon the House is that, failing a merger, the Colonial Office will continue to decline slowly, losing the valuable service of experts and advisers, while the Commonwealth Relations Office struggles to find new men to undertake its new responsibility.

In addition to these facts I would only add that many strong reasons may be adduced for delaying for two or three years, but such reasons can always be found to justify delay in making changes. The advantage of a merger lies in administrative efficiency, the preservation of the services of experts in overseas countries and a unity of approach to the Commonwealth on the part of the United Kingdom.

We believe that there are great advantages which should only be permitted to be set aside if the Commonwealth countries are opposed to a merger. The Committee also believes that the form of presentation of a merger can ensure its acceptance or rejection by these countries. But we urge the Government to carry through an imaginative and forward-looking reorganisation which will win acceptance overseas and inaugurate a new period in relations between the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

7.48 p.m.

Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)

I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate, because I have a very deep interest in this subject. Until the middle of last year I was a serving officer in the Colonial Service, and the problems of that service and of those who are still serving in it are very close to my heart.

The main recommendations of the Committee—with which I agree—are for a merger of the Commonwealth and Relations and Colonial Offices, and the possibility of an Advisory and Technical Commonwealth Service, to be investigated by a committee. My only regret is that the Committee did not go a great deal further. In reading its Report, one can see between the lines that all the time its members were thinking in terms of a full-scale Commonwealth Service, which is what I should like to see, comprising all functions now carried out by the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office.

It would be a service which would include the High Commissioners and their staff, the officers now serving in newly independent territories in an advisory capacity, officers now administering the High Commission Territories in South Africa, and those who would continue to administer fortress Colonies and Colonies awaiting independence.

This service could be built up into an organisation with its own staff list, regulations, a unified salary system, esprit de corps and a sense of unity of object. It would have three branches. First, the diplomatic, with the High Commissioners and their staffs. Secondly, it would have an advisory branch and technical branch to advise the newly independent territories. As has been said, it could also advise other underdeveloped territories in the world. Thirdly, it would have the administrative branch of the old Colonial Office, which would continue directly to administer some territories.

One great advantage of a service of this sort would be that although its officers would probably continue in the Department to which they were first recruited it would be possible to cross-post and cross-promote them so that every officer in the service would have in his knapsack the baton of the Governor of St. Helena or a High Commissioner or a Governor-General. If a service like that were created the best interests of this country and of the Commonwealth would be served.

As the Report pointed out, there are three objects which we want to achieve. The first is the proper transaction of Her Majesty's business, and I am certain that Her Majesty's business with the Commonwealth today would be administered very much more efficiently and economically if it were administered by one and not two Departments, which at the moment duplicate many functions and between which there is undoubtedly jealousy and hard feelings at certain levels. The Colonial Office occasionally feels that the C.R.O. takes over too many of its functions, and the C.R.O. feels that the Colonial Office hangs on to its functions a little too long.

The advantage of a joint office would become much more important as the difference between a self-governing Dominion and a Colony grow less. That is happening already. It has been mentioned that many of the new self-governing countries are not fully viable, economically, and continue to need a great deal of assistance. A very good example exists in West Africa. There is Sierra Leone, which becomes a self-governing Dominion early next year and, not far away, the Gambia, which few people can see as having any prospect of becoming a viable self-governing country. It seems ridiculous that Sierra Leone and Gambia should be dealt with by two different Departments. It is obvious that they should be dealt with by the same Department. Some people in Sierra Leone may feel that there is a certain stigma about being looked after by a Department which looks after Colonial Territories, and some in the Gambia, which will certainly make a reasonable constitutional advance, may think there is a stigma about being looked after by a worse Department than the C.R.O. If we are to respect the feelings of Sierra Leone we should also respect those of the Gambia, and we should have a first-class Department to deal with them and at the same time deal with great countries like Canada, Australia, Nigeria and the Federation. This is a very important point. We must boost these small fortress Colonies by giving them a proper Department without that old and rather unpleasant word "colonial".

The second object mentioned in the Report is that of fostering and strengthening the very special ties which exist between this country and the Commonweath—and particularly between this country and the newly emergent territories in Africa. Those ties can be strengthened most by having a unified service made up of officers with experience gained from living in all parts of the territories in which they have served and who, over the years, have gained a knowledge of the language and made acquaintances and friends all over their territories. This country is unique in possessing these people, with a knowledge of the less-developed parts of the world, and unless a unified service, containing very solid prospects for them is formed quickly, they will drift away and their services will be lost to Great Britain.

The third and by no means the least important object of forming a unified service is to solve some of the problems of Her Majesty's Colonial Service, and to give it a square deal. It is in a very bad position at the moment. I belonged to that service, and I still have very close connections with it. I do not want to sound as if I am blowing my own trumpet—I am one of those who got out—but this country owes it a great deal. It has created independence, but when independence has come its officers have been pushed out, or if they have stayed on, their jobs have become stop-gap jobs and their career prospects have gone. An independent country will obviously always prefer a local man to an expatriate officer.

When the officers leave they receive a pension, and we hear a lot of cynical talk about people waiting for the lump sums and choosing territories which are soon to be independent. Lump sums are not much compensation for the loss of a career for which one has worked all one's life, and which suddenly disappears before one's eyes. The Colonial Service has been a pretty average Cinderella over the years. It has worked extremely hard, but its officers have not had remarkably good pay, and usually the only credit it receives is that meagre credit which is handed out rather tactfully to the man on the spot.

I submit that part of the answer, especially to those who want to stay on in the territories in which they have served, is to recruit these people into a unified Commonwealth service such as I have outlined, in which they can be promoted to High Commissioners' offices, act in an advisory capacity in another territory, or go to the High Commission Territories of South Africa or St. Helena. There should be a unified service, with career prospects. That would help to solve many of the problems of the Colonial Service.

Two arguments have been put forward, in the Report and elsewhere, against any union between the C.R.O. and the Colonial Office. They are arguments equally against a joint Commonwealth Service. The first comes mainly from spokesmen from the Commonwealth Relations Office, who tell us that they and they only have studied independence, and that they and they only can tend that fragile plant. I do not agree. The C.R.O. shudders at the thought of rough colonial officers trying to work in the newly independent territories. It thinks of those in the Colonial Service as people who have been working under palm trees and meting out rough justice for years and years.

There may be same truth in that argument. We have our Blimps in the Colonial Service as every other organisation has, and there are men whose arteries are hardened and are unable to learn new tricks; they are incapable perhaps of turning from proconsuls into ambassadors. This taint of colonialism, which colonial officers might have even if they change their name and job, can be exaggerated to a ridiculous extent. The Colonial Service has changed a great deal since the days of Sanders of the River. Its officers have prepared the ground for independence, and I am certain that they are not unqualified to help tend that fragile plant we hear so much about.

If the argument about taint has any validity it is completely wiped out by the advantages of having and using people with knowledge and experience, especially of the African countries. The C.R.O. almost destroys its own argument. In South Africa we have a High Commissioner who is also a Colonial Governor. How does the High Commissioner in South Africa escape the taint of colonialism when he administers Bechuanaland and Swaziland? The C.R.O. says that this is the exception which proves the rule, but that is a saying which I have never understood. It has never been an argument, to my way of thinking.

A further argument against a Commonwealth service is that it would be difficult to work out exactly what the demands on it would be, and what its scope would be. It is said that it would therefore be impossible to guarantee a career for a person recruited from the Colonial Service or the High Commission staff. The Committee has answered this argument more than adequately. At the present time we are quite incapable of guaranteeing careers for a number of people to whom we owe an obligation. We are incapable of guaranteeing the careers of a large number of Colonial Service officers, particularly those who will lose their jobs when independence comes.

It is not a problem which will be solved by the creation of a Commonwealth Service, but it is not the Commonwealth Service which makes that problem. The problem was there already. But I believe that to work it out within the scope of the Commonwealth Service is not impossible. It could be an expanding service and there could be fine careers for the people who enter it were the thing organised properly and plenty of initiative shown.

As well as the recommendations of the Committee on the merging of the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office and the recommendations about the Advisory Service, there are others regarding the future of the Colonial Service about which I wish to speak. I was a member of the Service, as I say, and I feel strongly about its problems.

I wish particularly to stress the problems confronting a mid-career officer who will soon lose his job. Such a man is probably in his thirties. He has a wife and family but no career before him. He joined ten or fifteen years ago when he thought that the Colonial Service would give him a satisfying and worthwhile job to do. He thought that he would receive a reasonable salary and would have reasonable prospects of promotion, but promotion prospects are being completely wiped out. He could have a stop-gap job, possibly for a number of years, in the territory in which he is serving. But any such officer has found that he is a good deal worse off than his contemporaries who decided to play safe and get jobs in this country. Members of the Colonial Service still work a six-day and sometimes a seven-day week. Their salaries do not compare with those of junior business executives in this country of the same age. I am certain that we must offer these officers something, because they have something to offer the country and we need their services.

So far, I have spoken only of the Colonial Service and I have deliberately not mentioned that other organisation, Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service, because I wanted to keep my terms clear. Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service is an institution which was started in 1954 and is more of a club than a Service. The Colonial Service is the body to which all Civil Servants in Colonial Territories belong. I joined it in 1951 and resigned last year. In 1954 I applied and joined the Overseas Civil Service. I received a cyclostyle chit, bearing a squiggly signature at the bottom which stated that the Secretary of State had taken notice of my application and was reviewing it favourably. Since then I have heard nothing.

So far as I know, I am still a member of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service. I never resigned, and certainly I was never kicked out. It is a service with no regulations, no staff list, and certainly no salary. All we have had is a lot of woolly promises and, to add insult to injury, quite a number of members of the Colonial Service have been told that they are not entitled to be members of the club. Particularly is this so in Kenya, where some officers are allowed to be members and some are not. If the Government cannot do the various things we want them to and form a Commonwealth Service, at least I ask them to create something a little less wishy-washy than Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service. Let us have some body which is really concrete and of which one can know whether or not one is a member. And let us make certain that it includes all the people who deserve to have implemented for them the promises which have been made—woolly as those promises are so far. If that can be done, some of the lost confidence will be restored.

If these officers are to continue in the territories where we need them badly they must receive better pay. There is a Salary Commission sitting in East Africa, and unless it produces recommendations for increases of salary by about 30 per cent., within a short period, more than half the officers of Her Majesty's Colonial Service will have left East Africa to take up personnel management jobs in this country, and their knowledge and experience will be lost.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker, three months ago the Economist wrote an article on the subject we are discussing and painted a picture of British colonial officers coming home and buying their bowler hats while at the same time commissars from Moscow were coming to London to buy khaki shorts and shirts. That was rather a fantastic picture. The huge influence of Great Britain in Africa still dwarfs completely all the efforts made so far by Iron Curtain countries. But if we do not take responsible and positive action as suggested by the recommendations of the Committee, it is very possible that commissars in khaki shorts will start to outnumber British officers in khaki shorts.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. John Dugdale (West Bromwich)

We all enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) and I think that none of us feels that he is either a "Colonel Blimp" or that he suffers from "hardened arteries". He appears to be an example of the type of person we are discussing in this debate.

I wish to refer principally to the people themselves and I shall strike a slightly different note, because I view with a certain amount of dismay the general idea of "Let us amalgamate the Services and everything will be all right." It may be or it may not, but I feel slightly hesitant about it, and I should like to voice my hesitation.

There are today this large number of men—14,000 I believe, in the Overseas Service and 2,500 in the Home Civil Service, although these figures may have altered since I got them and I give them merely as a guide. The Report says: This change of outlook has been, in Your Committee's opinion, induced by the uncertainty in the minds of the Colonial Office staff regarding their future. The Office faces an inevitable decline in size and responsibilities and the capacity of the Commonwealth Relations Office to absorb ex-Colonial Office officers is limited by the need to safeguard the careers of Commonwealth Relations Office staff. That is a very interesting point. It looks as if the Commonwealth Relations staff will come first and the other people will have to be fitted in. It may not mean that, but it looks like it. What can we do for these men who, unfortunately, unlike the hon. Member for Antrim, North, are not able to get another job—even though the job of a Member of Parliament is surely no more secure than that of a colonial civil servant.

Mr. John Stonehouse (Wednesbury)

It is less secure.

Mr. Dugdale

It is our job, then, to get security for these people even though we have not that security for ourselves. What are we to do about it? Many of these men have shown great administrative skill in running outlying territories. In some cases they have been the only white man in the area and have administered justice and run a small territory on their own. Of what use is that experience if they are thrown out of work and come to this country looking for a job?

I recall the words of a man who was looking for a job on coming out of the Army. He said: "I know how to wash dishes and make fires when there are no matches. I know how to fight guerilla warfare. I know how to slit a man's throat, but where do I go from there?" Such qualifications are no use in ordinary business life as a general rule, and the qualifications of the people in the Colonial Service will not necessarily be the best for business. They will not all become Clores and Cottons, though they may in due course be responsible for setting up organisations in some free territories which will serve as a useful base for black Clores and black Cottons—

Mr. Stonehouse

We do not want black Clores and black Cottons.

Mr. Dugdale

Maybe not, but if the free countries have a capitalist organisation, that is what will arise from it. They have no business skill and they cannot, alas, do what the ex-Colonial Secretary has done, retire and manage very successfully a large firm.

But let us hope that they can become technical assistants. There are jobs in the United Nations Organisation and there are, or should be, many jobs in the C.D.C. I hope that when the Government are considering the overall question they will take note of the great importance of allowing the C.D.C. to function with no inhibitions at all in free territories so that the services of some of these men can be used in it. I welcome also, although I would be out of order to dilate upon it at great length, the proposals to grant £15 million to make up the differential and holiday pay for many who opt to serve with colonial Governments. We have, however, had some warning words by the Prime Minister of Western Nigeria, who seems to have grave doubts about having expatriate people working there. He appears to think that his first duty is to remove them all and fill the posts with Nigerians. I hope that he will pause a little before pursuing that policy too far.

It is almost a truism to mention it, but we have the example of the Congo and we know what can happen when people lack the political advice of civil servants with experience who can prevent a situation like that arising. We hope that will never happen in the British Commonwealth. I was once very impressed by seeing in Pakistan a school for the amking of civil servants. There was a British officer in charge of British civil servants and Pakistanis as well. They were trying to build the great traditions of the Indian Civil Service into a new Pakistan Civil Service. That is a very valuable thing which I hope could be done by our Colonial Civil Service if it were given the opportunity to do it. I also hope that we might be able to start some kind of schools in this country, as well as abroad, to which people might come as students to learn something about the British Civil Service and British administration which could be used in their own countries.

Mr. R. W. Sorensen (Leyton)

Or through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Mr. Dugdale

I have never been on a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit during the whole of my fifteen years' service in this House, and I cannot comment on my hon. Friend's interjection.

I turn to the main question, which is the amalgamation of the C.O. and the C.R.O. Is it too much for one Minister? From my experience I have had I should say that it is not too much. It is not more than the work of the Foreign Secretary. A very large amount of the work of the Colonial Office is in detailed administration. If we assume that more and more countries will become free, there will be less and less detailed administration and more and more general political work to do. I do not think it would be too much for one Minister provided that he had a Minister of State and an Under-Secretary to help him.

What about the susceptibilities of free countries? That seems a very vital matter which we cannot dismiss. If they feel that somehow there would be a loss in prestige for them to come under the Colonial Office we must find some method of getting round that feeling. I do not see how it could be done, but we must find some way of doing it.

Major Sir Frank Markham (Buckingham)

The suggestion was not that they should come under the Colonial Office, but under the Commonwealth Relations Department or a new Commonwealth Office.

Mr. Dugdale

I understand that, but there is a difficulty in personalities. If one sees a man who previously was one's Colonial Governor or Chief Secretary going out as a High Commissioner, one tends to say, "What is this man? Previously he was my boss. Is he really suitable to be the representative in this country? "I am putting the difficulties which I should like to see overcome, and I say that there is difficulty in the question of personalities.

Another point made by the hon. Member for Antrim, North was about the dichotomy in the position of the High Commissioner for the Union of South Africa, who also administers certain Territories. He therefore has double loyalties, which is quite fatal to any man and he is bound to suffer from that fact. What I am mainly concerned about, if I may reverse the Biblical story, is pouring old wine into new bottles. We are going to pour a large and well-run Colonial Civil Service into a small Commonwealth Relations Office which has very little experience. It may be possible to do so, but it is not something which can be done easily. Before any Minister decides to turn his Department over to a smaller and newer Department he should think very carefully to see that, in fact, the new Department can absorb it. It may not be easy. I do not know.

Interesting suggestions have been made by the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Colonial Office who, of course, has immense experience. I do not know whether the Colonial Secretary has experienced the same as I found at the Colonial Office. I found that it had an excellent organisation. When I began to think of methods by which it could be changed I found it impossible for I found that the organisation suited it and worked particularly well, especially in the division into (A) countries and (B) subjects. It seemed to work out well in practice, and I could see no way of improving it. I do not know how the Commonwealth Relations Office works. Its organisation might be excellent, but it is a newer body and a smaller one. It might not have quite so good an organisation as the Colonial Office has.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

This is one of the things we considered on the Estimates Committee but the (A) and (B) dichotomy of which my right hon. Friend spoke was something of which we were fully aware. As the geographical functions contract others—economic, advisory and so on—are expanding. On that ground we thought there should be the possibility, after some thinking and constructive advice, for this merger to take place. When one looks at it a little more narrowly one finds that the great difference between the old Colonial Office—a term I no longer like—and this new body which we should like to see set up is not so very much, but we are searching for an answer to the problem of this dichotomy.

Mr. Dugdale

I think we are all on the same sort of search. I can see many advantages, but I can also see difficulties. All I urge is a certain amount of caution. I generally find myself on the side of advance, but this time I am perhaps rather on the side of caution Colonialism has now become almost a dirty word—

Viscount Hinchingbrooke


Mr. Dugdale

—in the minds of many people, but that word never applied to colonial civil servants and they must not suffer by it. Nor must they suffer by the fact that they had tremendous success in building up territories which have reached the point where they can be free. Their punishment for that must not be that they are thrown overboard. I know the Colonial Secretary will bear that in mind and that he will see both that the best of the structure proposed and that the men who run it are not thrown overboard.

8.20 p.m.

Sir Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate and I will not detain the House for more than five minutes, I welcome the approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) and other hon. Members of the Select Committee to the problems which they have been considering. I am particularly interested in them because I have business interests in Australia, a very independent member of the Commonwealth, and also in the Falkland Islands, a Colony and not an independent member of the Commonwealth.

The Select Committee has said that a merger of the functions and responsibilities of the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office would be repugnant to the independent members of the Commonwealth. I do not believe that. I find that my friends in Australia, New Zealand and Canada are pretty adult in their thinking in these matters. They no longer think that there is anything dirty about the word "colonialism". They have listened at the United Nations. They know what is going on in West Africa. They realise, perhaps more clearly than we do, what a good job our colonial administrators have done, and they know perfectly well that if we were to merge these two Offices of State here, it would not be with any idea of putting the independent Commonwealth countries into any kind of leading strings. They would not stand for it for a moment, and they know that we are not so foolish as to imagine that they would. I think it is a little old-fashioned to parade the possible repugnance of the Dominions to our altering our form of administration.

A response by the Government and the Colonial Secretary to the anxieties of the Select Committee about the present position and the prospects of staffs serving in territories overseas is to be found in the White Paper, "Service in Overseas Governments", Cmnd. 1193. It shows a useful approach, and if we have the courage to go far enough with these proposals, when we come to legislation, this may be helpful not only to the men and women who serve the Commonwealth so well, far away from their homes, but also to the territories themselves. They will be able to keep, at any rate in the interregnum as they became independent and possibly for a good deal longer, men of experience who are respected in their areas and who can give a much fuller sense of confidence to the local people that there will be continuity of decent order and decent administration. I am sure that it is right to go all the way with this White Paper, and perhaps a little further.

I want to ask the Colonial Secretary to clear up a point which concerns little communities like the Falkland Islands. The Falkland Islands community is not pressing for independence; it is not emerging into anything. It is a sheep-farming community. But we want to provide good facilities, technical scientific and economic, so that this little community in the South Atlantic may share in the advances which we are making at home and elsewhere in the Commonwealth. Incidentally, this community of the Falkland Islands consists of white people, although that is not a point in this issue.

We want to enable these small communities to share in the advances which we make, for example in education and in medical services, and in the opportunities for a fuller life which we can offer. The proposals in the White Paper refer particularly to territories emerging into independence, and the intention is to ensure that the right men will be attracted to and will stay in the services of those territories. I hope that the Colonial Secretary will assure the House that these arrangements will also apply to the communities—I have mentioned the Falkland Islands as an example—which are never likely to emerge into independence or to coalesce with any other territory because there is no other territory near enough to join in a federation.

These poor communities still need good medical and educational services and dentists. We had great difficulty, as the Colonial Secretary knows, in getting a dentist to serve the children and the hospital in the Falkland Islands, because the pay which the Falkland Islands Government could offer was not enough to attract even the most junior, newly-fledged dental practitioner coming out of hospital here. The same difficulty applies in obtaining all medical staff and teach- ing staff in a little Colony like the Falkland Islands.

We want to treat them fairly, and I hope the Colonial Secretary has this kind of problem in mind and that we shall deal with these little dependent, often far-away, Colonies in the same way as we are dealing with the problems of the African Colonies emerging into independence. Independence is very much in our minds today, and it will be in the months ahead. There are many little communities which are proud to belong to the British Empire. I want to see the House treat them fairly.

8.26 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Creech Jones (Wakefield)

There is an opportunity tonight to discuss some of the problems of the Colonial Service, but as an Overseas Service Bill will be before the House in a few weeks time, I prefer to concentrate for a few minutes on the issue which has been dominant in the debate—the amalgamation of the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office.

I recognise that the term "colonial" is today a term of opprobrium. Few people like it, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) said, it has become almost a dirty word. We should, however, pay tribute to the extraordinary work which the Colonial Office has done. Particularly in the years since the war, it has shown itself an enlightened Office, pressing on with the needs of the overseas territories and performing extraordinarily important constructive functions. In education and in political advance, and in the guidance which it has given on economic problems—in a whole variety of spheres—it has done its work astonishingly well. At the outset, therefore, I pay my tribute to the enlightened administration of the Office over which the Secretary of State presides.

But time presses on, and it may be that there is now some case for a revision of the relationship of that Office to the Commonwealth Relations Department. Indeed, in general principle there seems only one answer—that an amalgamation should take place. But personally, I should regret such a merger as rather precipitate in present circumstances. The Colonial Office exists to do a particular kind of job, and I cannot see the Commonwealth Relations Office at present carrying the responsibilities which are demanded in respect of the Dependencies. As has been pointed out, a merger undoubtedly would bring certain gains in regard to economy. It would prevent duplication in some limited respects. There exists a further argument that with the changes which have come over the world, with the lessening of the number of territories for which the Colonial Office is responsible, there is a greater need for joint machinery in respect to the functions which are now discharged by the two offices.

My apprehensions, however, are chiefly because I do not regard the work of the Colonial Office to have come to an end. It is all very well for us to argue that there has been considerable geographical restriction over the last few years. Among other territories, Cyprus, Malaya, Nigeria and Ghana have gone, and in the course of the next year or so other territories will also become independent. I remind the House that quite a number of considerable problems will remain for an office such as the Colonial Office to tackle in the immediate future. There are territories such as Central Africa. The future of East Africa has to be worked out. There is the future of Malta. There are the problems in Fiji. There is the future of Hong Kong. There are certain social problems in Mauritius. There is the question of the future of Uganda. There is a large variety of problems of very considerable difficulty which need to be tackled with great care and a degree of delicacy.

I do not join the chorus of denunciation of colonialism, although there have been innumerable abuses associated with colonial administration. I have always paid tribute to the high standard of British colonial administration and I feel that the administration we, as a metropolitan country can give to the territories which are still moving to independence—some of them at a very slow pace; some of them more rapidly—is still of vital importance. The services that we can render and the continuation of the protection of these Dependencies is of vital importance and I want to see that work well done. While I appreciate the arguments that may be advanced with respect to a merger between the two offices, none the less in the work which remains in our Dependencies I want to see all the resources, the skill and the experience which are accumulated in the Colonial Office at their disposal in helping them forward in the future. That means the skills, the techniques, the experience and the traditions which have been built up in the Colonial Office are still indispensable for the territories which continue as dependencies of this country.

There are more apprehensions which I want to express. First of all, the outlook of the Commonwealth Relations Office is fundamentally different from the outlook of the Colonial Office. The Commonwealth Relations Office is primarily concerned with relations of free and independent nations. It is perfectly true that there is an anomaly so far as the South African High Commission Territories are concerned and it may have been better if right from the start those territories had been under the direction and in the responsibility of the Colonial Office. The whole approach to the problem which the Colonial Relations Office has today is different from the Colonial Office, which is fundamentally concerned with executive action in building up the social, economic and political life of the territories in its charge. That is a responsibility which is not carried by the Commonwealth Relations Department. I think this difference in outlook is of very great importance in the consideration of this problem.

Moreover, I have a fear that if the two Departments were merged the Dependencies would always be at the end of the queue. Consideration would be given to them last. It is probable that the independent free territories of the Commonwealth would receive the Minister's first attention. I am so concerned that there should be continuity in helping forward the Dependencies that I do not feel inclined to risk seeing the Department make the Colonies a kind of Cinderella.

Another consideration should be noted. It is not only important to have a Minister in charge, but he should be a man of responsibility and experience. This is largely so because the duties of the Colonial Office are of a practical executive character, involving continuous remedial and progressive action in respect of the territories under the supervision of the Secretary of State. That means that there should be a Minister of Cabinet rank. That Minister finds himself at times in conflict with other Departments, because he has to maintain his special responsibilities towards the people of the Dependencies.

I will give one or two instances to illustrate the point. When the problems of Palestine were under consideration, there was sometimes a conflict between the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office. In the case of the Protectorates of South Africa, I again remember a conflict between the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office about the wisdom of the policy to be pursued on behalf of the inhabitants of the Protectorates.

I cannot imagine that the Colonial Office threw its weight behind the demand of the Federal Government in respect of the decisions taken in Central Africa a few years ago on the recommendations of the African Affairs Board. The natural reaction of the Colonial Office would always be how to ensure that the safeguards offered to the African people were properly operated. It is therefore important not only to have a Cabinet Minister, but to have someone who will stand up for his responsibilities in conflict with other Departments, which might make excessive demands.

Above all, it is important that there should be a tip-top Minister who is accessible to the representatives of the colonial peoples when they come to London He should be able to preside over their conferences and instill in them the confidence that their problems receive attention at the highest possible level.

We have reason to proceed with this proposal with great caution. The Permanent Under-Secretary of State suggested that three functions might be brought together in a single office. He suggested that there might be a tripartite arrangement. The Commonwealth Office might be responsible for the function of "relations", the Colonial Office work would continue, and there would be the function of maintaining the general machinery which has been created for the development of the Commonwealth countries

I would ask the Secretary of State not to take too precipitant action in this matter; not to concede, until he is fully satisfied that the utmost consideration can be given to the inhabitants of the Dependencies. The Colonial Office has carried a great and splendid responsibility, and it is discharging its duties with great skill and honour. Therefore, I would not like to see anything happen that would weaken the responsibility of the Government in London to the peoples who have the completest confidence in the work a British Administration is required to do.

8.41 p.m.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)

It was Dr. Johnson who said of a performing dog, "Madam, what is remarkable about your dog is not that he does not perform better—indeed, his antics fall very short of perfection—but that he performs at all."

I am sorry to break the thread of the debate for a few minutes to offer some fundamental criticism of the fact that the Select Committee on Estimates has reported in the sense that it has, but I have the introduction from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson), who detailed the characteristics and history of the Committee from the beginning. What is remarkable is not that the Report, and the speech of my hon. Friend, were not better expressed, but that they were made at all.

I have to read to the House the terms of reference of the Select Committee on Estimates. They read: Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed to examine such of the Estimates presented to this House as may seem fit to the Committee, and to report what, if any, economies consistent with the policy implied in those Estimates may be effected therein, and to suggest the form in which the Estimates shall be presented for examination. Of the recommendations in this Report, only four effect any economies at all. The remaining thirteen recommendations propose, if anything, increases in expenditure. I am amazed that the Select Committee has thought it to be its proper duty to engage in policy, and to desert its terms of reference. If, in this debate—which is the first debate on the Reports of the Select Committee on Estimates ever held in this House—we do not say that the Committee has exceeded its terms of reference, we may slide altogether into a new form of practice without knowing where we are going.

Of the twenty-eight subjects that have been inquired into in the last five years by the Select Committee, nineteen are subjects in which public opinion would, on the whole, regret any large-scale reduction of expenditure. I think that the Select Committee has neglected its opportunities in going for those Departments where expenditure is, by general consent, on an even level.

Five subjects out of the twenty-eight are those in which the public could, in all consciousness, he said to expect a vast expansion in expenditure: this Report, the Commonwealth Relations Office and Colonies; the Atomic Energy Authority in its Report for 1958–59; Trunk Roads, which sub-committee was presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson); the Development Areas for 1955–56; and Civil Aerodromes for 1955–56.

It seems to me to be outwith the general expectation of what the Committee's responsibilities are for it to proceed to make detailed Reports, examining into the questions which everybody in the country believes should be greatly enlarged. It is not giving the right representation of the devolution by Parliament to its Select Committee if that is done.

Per contra, the Committee has deserted certain fields where many people, certainly the Conservative Party which now has a majority in the Select Committee expect the State to retrench drastically. Such matters as arise under the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Inland Revenue, the Arts Council and the University Grants Committee are all subjects where, if State expenditure were reduced, the individual could by private payment very largely take up the loss created.

Looking at the recent record of the Committee—and, in my opinion, it compares most unfavourably with the Public Accounts Committee which we have been discussing earlier—one has to ask oneself where we are going with the Select Committee on Estimates.

Mr. Harold Davies

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is the noble Lord in order? I understand that we are discussing the Amendment That this House takes note of the Fourth Report from the Select Committee on Estimates … The noble Lord is running through all the Reports and the policy for the whole of the Estimates Committee. I submit that his argument is in order in so far as he keeps to the Fourth Report, but the rest of his speech would seem to me to be out of order.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

I think the hon. Member makes a point. It was occurring to me that the noble Lord was going too wide in discussing the whole range of the work of the Select Committee on Estimates.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I was making the point, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—and I can do so by reference to the present Report under discussion—that we must ask ourselves whether the Select Committee on Estimates is becoming a policy maker or whether it is going to continue with its duties as a watchwdog on public expenditure. If it is a policy maker, as this Report would seem to indicate, and if it deserts altogether any recommendations about the amount of public money which can be saved one way or the other, then the Estimates Committee ought to go for those Departments which are spending the money that the taxpayer could spend for himself, which is not the case with the Colonial Office.

Such things as the land-grabbing proclivities of local authorities, or the replacement of private and voluntary church schools by State schools, or the whole vast field of subsidies are things which the Select Committee ought to go for—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I hope the noble Lord will not proceed along that line, because we are discussing the Fourth Report from the Select Committee on Estimates and also the Fourth Special Report from the Committee relating to the Colonial Office.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I think I have concluded what I wanted to say on that subject, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.

The Estimates Committee, if it is to be a watchdog, which everybody expects it is, must inquire closely into what economies can be made in the various Departments selected for inquiry consistent with the policy which has been announced by the Government. I maintain that it has deserted that duty in this latest Report and in previous Reports to which I have referred.

Therefore, this is a waste of a Supply Day. On going into Supply, we ought to be discussing the Reports which deal with economies. If we are to discuss a policy suggestion emanating from Members of Parliament, it should be discussed on a Friday in Private Members' time. This is very largely an academic debate. But this is a Monday—the sort of day in the week when, on a normal Supply Day, we ought to be discussing value for money in the Department concerned.

Mr. Harold Davies

Because this debate has followed the trend of two points in the Report, the noble Lord has missed some fundamental points. I could refer him to Questions Nos. 705 and 695 concerning our watchdog functions. I wish that the noble Lord had taken the trouble to read the Report fully before making these criticisms.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I have read the Report as carefully as I could in the time since this debate was arranged. All our business is always notified to us far too late for any Member of Parliament to inform himself as fully as he would like to do. I have, however, done my best and I have read all the Questions and Answers which are under reference in the Report, and a great many others besides.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

On a point of order. Is this a Supply Day, Mr. Deputy-Speaker?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

My impression is that it is the Third Allotted Day.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

That is the point I am trying to make. Here we are wasting our precious Supply Days when we should be looking into the details of expenditure of the Government. These arrangements that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was so good as to make earlier this Session in response to the demand of many of us on this side are already beginning to break down, because this is a misuse of a Supply Day. I want the House to realise that completely.

Returning to the main current of the debate, I should like to express in a few words my opposition to the merger suggestion. The three most distinguished outside witnesses who came before the Committee—Sir Arthur Benson, Lord Twining and Lord Howick—all showed the most lukewarm interest in the whole thing. They spoke of the necessity for an adequate presentation of the matter to the older Dominions and, indeed, to the international public at large. They showed no enthusiasm whatever for the suggestions that were made. The Sub-Committee presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham, and about four other members of it, entered the inquiry with preconceived ideas.

Sir G. Nicholson

What does my noble Friend mean?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

They put questions to witnesses throughout the Report—it is all too apparent from reading it—in the sort of way which I used to recall from my Latin classes at school as "nonne" questions, questions expecting the answer "Yes".

My hon. Friend the Member for Farnham, in a brilliant passage in Question No. 1637, asked Sir Arthur Benson: … you want a big flash of vision? and then went on about the idea of a merger. The poor witness, Sir Arthur Benson, what is he to say, sitting there—

Sir G. Nicholson

May I—

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

No. What is he to say, sitting there partially terrified by this interrogation and at the same time exhilarated by the verbiage of my hon. Friend, except, "Well, yes, I suppose so, but it is a matter of presentation"?

Sir G. Nicholson

May I ask the noble Lord to be a little fair in these things? I did not use the words he said. The answer to the previous question by Sir Arthur Benson was: In all these things I think it is the grandeur of the scheme and the presentation of them which is important. He stressed that, and I said: In other words, you want a big flash of vision? He said, "Yes." I suggest to the noble Lord that if he does not want to take part in the debate he should allow other people who do to speak.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I have not nearly finished, and my hon. Friend is going to get a great deal more from me.

Let us turn to the jejeune and very badly set out arguments in the Report.

Mr. Stonehouse


Viscount Hinchingbrooke

No, I cannot give way. There are too many others who want to follow, and there is only a short time.

Mr. Stonehouse

The noble Lord has done an injustice to Sir Arthur Benson.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

No, I do not think I have; I have a great respect for that great man.

There are eight short arguments given for the merger, elaborated a little in the Report, but not embellished in any way. The first argument is that there would be a net economy. In the questioning on that point, my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham admitted that the economy was chicken feed. What is the Select Committe on Estimates doing when it comes across a proposition from one of the Departments of State in which any economies are "chicken feed?" Most people would turn from that part of the inquiry and go in for something that would really save the taxpayers' money. The hon. Member for Farnham used it as an excuse for the brilliant flash of vision of combining the Commonwealth Office and the Colonial Office. The Report goes on to say that it would assure the future of the staff of the Colonial Office. The future is assured now. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is it?"] We had much evidence throughout the Report that whenever any particular Colony leaves its colonial status and becomes independent, previous to that, sections of the Colonial Office are trained to move over to the Commonwealth Relations Office to take them on as they arrive. The same thing applies in the case of the Commonwealth Relations Office— which would gain correspondingly, It is gaining now.

Fourthly, The functions of the two Departments would have close affinities. That is not an argument for amalgamation. The functions of the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office have close affinities, but nobody thinks that they should be amalgamated. The functions of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force have close affinities, but nobody suggests that they should be amalgamated.

Hon. Members

They are amalgamated.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

We are told in paragraph (e), as an argument for the merger, that— There are disadvantages in the use of the term 'Colonial Office'. I am surprised that a Select Committee of Parliament with a Conservative majority should echo the words that come from the other side of the House about colonialism being a dirty word. There is nothing wrong with the use of the terms Colonies or Colonial Office, except with people of the United Nations or Radically-minded type. Then, we proceed: The transition of dependent territories to independent would be facilitated. Why should it be facilitated? Why should it be facilitated by the merger of these two offices? If they are to be given independence, it will be from their own indigenous circumstances and the skill and wisdom of the officials, of whom my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark) spoke so brilliantly. It will be due to changing world circumstances, and it does not depend in the least degree on the amalgamation of these two offices.

According to recommendation (g)—merger would ease many economic and technical problems during the transition to independence and afterwards. That is already covered by what I said earlier about the future of the staff of the Colonial Office. Finally, in recommendation (h)— It would provide for unified representation of independent countries and dependent territories in the international economic field. Who says that the independent countries want a unified representation through the Commonwealth Relations Office? If anything, independent countries want that representation for themselves and are showing no anxiety whatever to come under a general British umbrella Department. I will not bother to deal with the arguments against the merger because the evidence which the Select Committee has adduced and presented as arguments for a merger are weak enough in themselves.

I find from the Report that while some of the minor recommendations, which, incidentally, save no money at all, are on balance worthy, I agree wholeheartedly with only one statement, that made by Sir Hilton Poynton, who in answer to Question No. 50 said: But the fact that more and more countries are becoming independent is having a very unsettling effect on the staff of the Colonial Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North indicated the unsettling effect of what is now transpiring on the people in the Colonies for whom he spoke.

I have just returned from a two months' visit to Africa and in 1,700 miles, from the Limpopo River to the sources of the Nile, I found that current British colonial policy was causing widespread dismay and apprehension, not only among moderate Africans who had already entered Government service, but right up the grades through district commissioners, provincial commissioners and chief secretaries themselves. Without the slightest hesitation and without fear of the consequences, they told me that never in all their careers had they been so appalled by the speed at which the Colonial Office and my right hon. Friend were forcing the pace upon them.

Money is leaving Africa today at the most alarming rate. The details are given in a leading article in the Financial Times today. In the old days the flag followed trade. It was the City of London and the resources of the nation which went first. The flag came in to buttress them up when they got into difficulties. My right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary has taken the flag far in advance of the battlefield. He is waving the Union Jack at half mast in the middle of Africa and he has no friends beside him in the economic and in the financial sense. They are desert- ing the field. Money is fleeing away from East Africa to India, and to the City of London from East Africa and from Central Africa.

Mr. Harold Davies

To take up what the noble Lord has said about the leading article in the Financial Times on the outflow of money from Africa; does he not see that the very policy consistent with the Report's recommendations—helping technical and other developments—is what he himself wants?

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

I am sorry I cannot deal with the hon. Member, but I have exceeded my time. I must draw to a conclusion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North spoke of what would happen if we withdrew prematurely. I came across direct evidence to show that both the Russians and the Americans were calling increasing attention to the disastrous dissociation between British political policy in the Colonial Empire and the willingness of the private investor and of the resources of the City of London to follow hard upon that policy. They said, "Wait for the day when you get your independence. We cannot act now because the British are still in charge, but wait for the day when you are independent and we will come in with very large loans and very large grants to assist you on your road." Each in their separate languages, that is what they said.

The Colonial Secretary ought to turn his attention immediately to what is happening in the City of London and organise as swiftly as he can the reflation of the economy, establish a central bank in East Africa, send out economic doctors, Keynesian expansionists, to try to recover the ground. Parliament ought to be voting vast sums of money today to increasing the salaries of the colonial administrators, and to enlarging development schemes, to try to overcome the inhibitions from which we are suffering.

Mr. Harold Davies

The noble Lord is contradicting himself.

Viscount Hinchingbrooke

That is why this Report is so inadequate and so untimely. At the very moment when we should be recovering by very large expenditure a position lost through mischance and indeed, mischief in past political policy, this Report comes out and attacks the Colonial Office instead of going for other Departments of State where great economies can be made for the public good.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

As I am probably the last Member of the Select Committee on Estimates to take part in this debate, I should like to thank the Leader of the House for having made this arrangement, and I think that the number of Members of the House who have been anxious to get in, even though they have not got in, shows how valuable and interesting has been this debate.

With the exception of the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke), I think that everybody has appreciated the subject. I rather feel that he would have appreciated it a little bit more if he had had time thoroughly to read the Report. The function of the Select Committee on Estimates is to examine the Estimates as they come, to see whether there is any administrative waste or extravagance, and to report to the House our findings. I noticed that the noble Lord chided us for having examined the Colonial Office Estimates, and he gave a list of other Departments whose Estimates he would have liked us to have examined—all of which we have either examined or are now examining, with the exception of the expenditure on housing by local authorities, which is not really within the function of that Committee.

I dismiss that argument of the noble Lord, if I may, and turn very quickly to what we were recommending. I want to mention in particular two parts of this Report which have not been mentioned today. I want to mention them because they affect the financial side. We found that there had been some deliberate underestimating of grants in aid, and we recommended that that practice should not be followed in future. I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary for having admitted frankly that that had been the practice in the past, and for giving us an undertaking that it would not be followed in future.

In the Supplementary Estimates in February this year there were three Supplementary Estimates for grants in aid, and it would appear that they were the result of the policy. As we are now examining the Supplementary Estimates, it will be the function of the Select Committee to pick out those estimates which are the result not of emergencies but of some looseness in financial control. This new change of policy will assist us in this work.

Secondly, I want to draw attention to the fact that in dealing with the grants in aid we found that the Treasury stepped into the arena very early and negotiated with the Colonial Office—sometimes jointly with the War Office—on a particular estimate. That means that the Treasury is not fulfilling the function which it should, that of a lay critic coming in after the Estimate has been built up by the accounting officer of the Department. We recommended that the Treasury should review and change that procedure. It has told us that it has reviewed it but will not change it. I hope that further attention will be given to this matter. I think it essential that the accounting officer of a Department should be given the right to examine his own expenditure and be made responsible for it, and the Treasury should come in as an informed lay critic afterwards and not take part in the negotiations; otherwise I do not believe that one gets proper control.

I turn now to the question of merger which has occupied the attention of the House. I think that what was made quite clear by the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) has been overlooked by many hon. Members, and that is that we are really dealing with a problem of an increase of staff where responsibility is diminishing. If I may give the House the picture very shortly: in the last six years, while the responsibility of the Colonial Office has been diminishing with Malaya and Ghana becoming independent and many other countries moving towards self-government, there has been an increase in staff in the administrative, executive and clerical branches of the Colonial Office of six at home and 133 overseas, a total of 139. Clearly, that is due a great deal to the fact that as one gets nearer to a merger the burden of work in that Office gets greater. If one looks at the other side of the medal, one finds in the Commonwealth Relations Office there has been an increase of 74 in the staff at home and 446 in the staff overseas, a total of 520.

I want the House to realise that one of the problems that we face with this division of responsibility is that as the responsibilities between the Departments are changing, so the number of staff is increasing. One is reminded of the celebrated phrase of Professor Parkinson, "the rise in the total of those employed is governed by Parkinson's Law and it would be much the same whether the volume of work were to increase, diminish or even disappear".

That is the point that I wish to emphasise here. A very good instance was given in Question 6 in the Evidence, when it was pointed out that when Malaya became independent we still had the same volume of work in the functional departments dealing with rubber and tin because Nigeria also produced rubber and tin. That is why I am sure there is a great economy in manpower and money in the idea of a merger. My hon. Friend the noble Lord said that the economy was mere chickenfeed. I feel sure from his attitude to this matter that he has never kept hens. If he had done so, he would know what a very great burden the feeding-stuffs for his poultry would be.

The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) has not really studied what we are recommending on the merger. I remind the House of what our recommendation is. It is that from the point of view both of economy and efficiency there should be a Commonwealth Office presided over by a Minister of very senior Cabinet rank. I have heard somebody outside say that the post should be described as "Chancellor of the Commonwealth".

The Minister would have three Departmental Ministers, one in charge of the dependent territories, one in charge of Commonwealth Relations, and the third dealing with technical and advisory services for the whole of the Commonwealth. That is the build-up. Just as the Minister of Defence looks after the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Ministry, so would the Commonwealth Minister be looking after these three Departments. We believe that that would mean a saving in personnel and a great increase in efficiency.

I say in reply to the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), who intervened, that there would be great gain for the Commonwealth countries. At the present time, as a Colony goes into independence it loses a great deal of technical advice and technical aid just at the moment when it most needs them. I believe that there would also be a great gain from the point of view of international economic conferences. At such meetings as those of the G.A.T.T. Powers, or other international bodies, help could be given by one Minister advising both independent and dependent countries of the Commonwealth. We received a mass of evidence that even when countries had become independent they had gone back for advice to the Colonial Office because there they had their friends and felt that they could rely on them.

I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary for the way in which his witnesses gave evidence before the Committee. I have never met a better example of the British Civil Service at its highest in their patience, their frankness, and their courtesy. Our Report shows how efficient this Department is in many ways, but we believe that if all that valuable work, both in the Colonial Office and in the Overseas Civil Service, is to be retained for this country, and if the great reputation which we have in the world for administration and technical advice is to come to fruition, this step of a merger and of creating a Commonwealth technical and advisory service should be taken now before it is too late.

Mr. Stonehouse

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With great respect, may I draw your attention to the fact that no hon. Member has been called from this side of the House who is not a member of the Estimates Committee or a former Minister in the Department concerned? May we ask for more time for this debate in order that there can be greater participation by back benchers?

Mr. Speaker

I regret that it has not been possible to call every hon. Member who wished to speak. The question of whether more time is available is not one for me.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)

The hon. Member for Farnham (Sir G. Nicholson) and his Committee deserve the thanks of the House for providing us with this debate on the future of the Colonial Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and indeed of our whole relationships with the emerging Commonwealth. If I needed any evidence that he and his recommendations were on the side of the angels, it was provided for me by the speech of the noble Viscount the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke).

Having paid this compliment to the Committee for its labours, perhaps I ought to say that there seems to be one major defect in the immense amount of valuable work done. I am sure that the Committee is conscious of it. It took no evidence from any African or Asian witness. It heard no evidence from spokesmen of under-developed territories as to exactly what kind of aid they want, and how it can be given in a way acceptable to them.

Perhaps this is an inevitable defect. I do not know what the rights of the Committee are in calling for that kind of witness but I should have thought that it would have been possible, and certainly interesting, to hear evidence, perhaps, from Mr. Mordecai, the head of the Federal Civil Service in the West Indies, or from Sir Solomon Hochoy, the new Governor of Trinidad, to mention only two. However valuable the labours of this Committee may be, it is as well to bear in mind that there are severe limitations to the effectiveness of a group of white people sitting in London discussing what their attitude to Africa should be. The important aspect of this problem is what the Africans themselves want.

I hope that this Report will be regarded by the Government as only the starting point for wide discussions with the leaders of the independent and emergent Commonwealth on the complex problems of granting, receiving and organising aid.

Sir F. Markham

Surely the hon. Member is aware that the Select Committee on Estimates has no right to call witnesses from outside this country. It is a Committee of Estimates. I would have expected that the hon. Member would have looked this matter up before he made his speech.

Mr. Thomson

I am sure that if the Committee had cared to invite some of the people I have suggested there would have been no objection to hearing evidence from them. It may be true the Committee has no right to summon them.

This is partly a problem of money—and the Committee had some interesting things to say about handing money out to the under-developed countries of the Commonwealth—but it is even more a problem of men. Money can be found quickly enough if there is the necessary political will, but it is impossible to conjure up the men required overnight. The kind of men the Service requires build up their experience over a lifetime. Expert knowledge of the problems of Africa and similar areas is built up painfully, out of experience. It takes years to accumulate, as it has accumulated in the service of the Colonial Office, but it can be lost and dissipated very quickly. Unfortunately, a good deal of that precious and unique experience has already been lost to us, partly because the Government have not been quick enough in dealing with the problem. On page 46 the Committee says: this problem might have been largely solved had the foundation of the Overseas Civil Service in 1954 been more than just a change of name. Hon. Members on this side of the House give a general welcome to the new arrangements announced by the Colonial Secretary in Cmnd. 1193 for assisting overseas Governments to continue to employ members of the Overseas Civil Service. This seems a particularly useful and acceptable way of giving aid to the emergent nations of the Commonwealth. But I hope that the Government will take up, as a matter or urgency, the recommendations made by the Estimates Committee in connection with a Commonwealth and Technical Advisory Service. This should not be seen simply as a British-based scheme but as a piece of Commonwealth mutual aid. I take as my example the Commonwealth education plan, in which there is active participation from other Commonwealth countries. Any such scheme should be linked closely with similar United Nations bodies. This would have a number of advantages. It would allow countries like the United States to be closely associated with the project and would increase the number of openings for those in the Service. It would help to meet the fears of the newly independent countries of neo-colonialism. I think that this sort of service ought to be used as a centre for a secondment scheme to encourage private and public employers in this country to send people out for a period of a few years and to ensure that such a period of service is counted for promotion purposes when they come back to this country.

A great deal more needs to be done in terms of providing training for administrators in the African Territories. In dealing with the Commonwealth Technical and Advisory Service it is easy to fall into the error of believing that there would be more openings for administrators as such than is likely to be the case. I think that the opportunities for administrators from this country are probably limited in time to a few years. The need over a longer period will be for specialists. But, again on the analogy of the Commonwealth education scheme, I should have thought it well worth while to get some of the administrators now finding themselves redundant to go out to the African Territories and there set up emergency schools of administration, and take an urgent and active part in training as many African administrators as quickly as possible.

There is a good deal of evidence in the proceedings of the Committee about the inadequacy of the arrangements made by the Government for the difficult transition from dependence to independence. Mr. Kenneth Younger, the Director-General of Chatham House, told the Committee that his information was that nobody in Whitehall knew in advance how aid given before independence was to be given after independence. I must confess that anyone concerned about this would not get a great deal of reassurance from the evidence by the Treasury witness to the Committee. He said, bluntly and in the best Treasury manner: I am being a bit obstinate about this, I am afraid, but I do feel rather strongly about the responsibility for running government services. If that is not a mark of independence, I am not clear what is. The Treasury witness was being questioned about Tanganyika, a country which is very close to independence and where at present there are 2,000 overseas officers and only 350 locally recruited officers.

Last year, the Committee was told that in Tanganyika, with a population of about 8 million, only 273 boys and girls reached school certificate standard so that there will be a great deal of need for continuous assistance to a country like Tanganyika beyond the point of independence. Yet the Commonwealth Relations Office, in its evidence, told the Committee it regarded the point of independence as being the absolute watershed between the previous colonial status and the new status that was acquired.

I think that in this case the C.R.O. takes too much of a black and white view of the matter. It reminds me of the complaint which George Bernard Shaw used to make of people in the early Socialist movement whom he called "purists and impossiblists." Their view was that we could have capitalism in full swing on Friday, bloody revolution in full swing on Saturday and the millenium in full swing on Sunday. It seems to me that the C.R.O. believe that we can have colonialism in full swing up to one minute to midnight on the date of independence and full independence from a minute after midnight. The Minister of State nods his head and I realise the difficulties about his position. I understand that the situation changes in a significant way at the moment of independence, but I should have thought that it was now common ground that independence came to countries at a time when they were not necessarily yet fully independent in the economic sense or in the sense of being able to maintain their own public service. That is the problem to which we must address ourselves.

The job of the Government is to try to maintain some sense of continuity in the social and economic planning right through the process of reaching independence. Yet as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), the Colonial Development Corporation is considerably restricted. It is not allowed to engage in any new projects in countries which have become independent. I hope that the Colonial Secretary will pay attention to the views of the Committee on this and that the Corporation will be able to carry on new operations in independent countries. On this point may I say, in passing, that there have been disgraceful delays on the part of the Government in dealing with the future of the Colonial Development Corporation.

The Sinclair Committee published its recommendations about its future as far back as the summer of 1959. The Government have still not come to final conclusions on this. In so far as we have information on those conclusions they look like being the wrong ones. We must try to make institutional arrangements in this country and with the rest of the Commonwealth that will allow the kind of scarce expertise, which is the real importance of a body like the Colonial Development Corporation, to go on being used, especially in countries which are coming towards independence at the present moment.

That brings me to the question of the merger recommended between the Colonial Office and the C.R.O. The real test is not our administrative convenience and tidiness nor even economy in this country because, of course, it is possible to save some thousands of pounds in administrative economies in a matter like this and in the long run to lose many millions of pounds in terms of our relationships with the new Commonwealth. What is important is to do the kind of thing that will best assist our future relationships with the new Commonwealth. There is not great vision in itself in reuniting two Departments which were finally separated only as recently as 1947.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) spoke out of immense experience of this subject, both as an occupant of the Colonial Office and as someone who has been a student of these matters for a long time. He urged caution on us and we are bound to take a great deal of account of what he said out of his experience. I thought, however, that it is important to realise that there are three distinct groups of countries involved. My right hon. Friend was particularly concerned about the future of the dependent territories which are likely to go on being dependent for some considerable time. Certainly any changes which are made must ensure that their welfare is absolutely safeguarded. The services built up for them must be preserved intact.

Then there is the question of the attitude of the independent Commonwealth countries, both the older Commonwealth countries and the newer Commonwealth countries. That is a very important consideration. But what the Committee was particularly concerned about, and I certainly would agree, was the middle group of countries—Tanganyika, for example—which will achieve independence very soon, but which are not going to be in a position fully to stand on their own feet in terms of providing themselves with administration. There is a need for an imaginative concept to provide them with some of the kind of services which up to now have been associated with the Colonial Office. I hope that in discussing this matter the Colonial Office and the C.R.O. can get together and that there will not be a tug of war between them, nor too much lobbying from one side or the other. I hope that the C.R.O. in particular will take a positive view of this matter.

In reading the evidence I sometimes felt that when the C.R.O. referred to what is called the "Colonial Office people" it was using the tones of an anthropologist discussing a backward tribe with somewhat embarrassing rituals. Whatever arrangements finally emerge, I think it beyond doubt that the Commonwealth Relations Office itself has to make very big changes to meet the needs of the newest members of the Commonwealth. It has got to do more than it has done in the past. Sometimes it has seemed to be a sort of cross between a post office and a finishing school in diplomacy for Afro-Asian students. I understand that the Commonwealth Relations Office has to deal with the psychology of independence here, but I hope that it will be possible for it to approach these problems in a much more positive and constructive frame of mind than it sometimes seems to me to have used in the past.

Some of the divisions which are put forward between the Colonial and non-Colonial Territories are somewhat artificial, as one sees in the case of the High Commission Territories. The C.R.O. has taken over from the Colonial Office, on independence, such people as the information officers and the British Council officials. I do not see why it cannot take over the educational and agricultural advisers and use their services fully. Indeed, it sometimes seems to me that the divisions between the Commonwealth and the Foreign Office are no longer as definite as they used to be. The C.R.O. has a Foreign Office man in Delhi and the Colonial Office has another Foreign Office man as Governor in Aden. And the Foreign Office will badly need the Colonial Office African experts to help deal with the Congo or the new African nations of the former French Empire.

This Report has raised one of the most important problems that faces us today—how we adopt our Governmental machinery to meet the needs of the end of Empire and the birth of a real multiracial Commonwealth. In the Congo we have seen how a Western nation can go about the problem in the wrong way. There we see only too clearly today that the price of failure in Africa may be the creation of a second Korea. We are rightly proud of the fact that at the time the Congo was slipping into administrative chaos, Nigeria was becoming independent in peace and friendship. But it will not be so easy in some of the countries which are coming up in the queue for independence. I hope that the Government will take up with vision and imagination at the forthcoming Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference the very fruitful ideas which are contained in this Report.

9.37 p.m.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Iain Macleod)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) had to cram into such a short time what he had to say on this extremely interesting subject, and I am even more sorry that other hon. Members who would have liked to contribute to our debate were not able to do so. I am afraid that it will also be necessary for me to try to do a great deal in a very short time, but may I first say how delighted I was by the very generous tributes, and I like to think well-deserved tributes, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) paid to the officers of the Colonial Office who gave evidence in this matter. As I am sure those who are members of the Committee know, 1960 has been a very difficult year for us, and this was an additional burden, but it was one which we shouldered gladly, and it makes it worth while to have such a Report as this and to have such a heart-warming tribute paid in the House.

Oddly enough, the debate has not concentrated on the fourteen recommendations to which I have replied, I hope adequately, but on the three recommendations about which I have said nothing. I could not help feeling that my noble Friend the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke)—I am not sure whether he was in order or not—had a point in this matter; if he will allow me to say so, it was almost the only point in his speech with which I agreed. I think that we may need a definition of policy at some time because if those last three recommendations, particularly centering on merger, are not policy, I cannot see what else they are. But I will do my best to meet the wishes of the House and to reply upon these matters.

Before I come to them, there were a few matters about the other recommendations with which it would be right to deal. My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton referred to the first recommendation and the undertaking which we have given that we would try to make more accurate assessments of income and expenditure. I should like to make it clear, as I think our observations made it clear, that there is not a policy of deliberate underestimating, and the evidence quoted from a Colonial Office witness is directed to the point that sometimes from experience we find it necessary to deflate the figures which are given to us because of a tendency in the Colonial Governments to overestimate, in particular, the work which they can achieve on their works programme.

Mr. Dugdale

When the Labour Government left office there was an Economic Advisory Committee in existence. It was scrapped by the present Government. Is it possible that they will reintroduce it?

Mr. Macleod

I will look at that point. I had no idea that a Committee of that nature existed. If it is valuable I will certainly consider the possibility of resuscitating it.

The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) mentioned recommendation No. vii. That recommendation is that for a trial period only staff who are prepared to serve at home and abroad should be recruited to the Colonial Office. It was also recommended that a questionnaire should be taken from the present staff of the Colonial Office as to whether they would be prepared to do service abroad in the event of their being transferred to a Commonwealth office.

That questionnaire is now complete and I have the results. There is a small overall majority willing to accept liability for overseas service. There is, in fact, a majority prepared to do overseas service in every age group except those between 30 and 40 years of age. That age group, naturally, is one when education and other matters weigh most heavily. If the House is interested in the detailed figures of that questionnaire I will make them available in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

One more, but important matter, was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) when he asked, in effect, if this great new scheme—Command 1193—which I agree was conceived mainly with an eye on East Africa and other African Territories—will be of real benefit to smaller Territories. The hon. Member instanced the Falkland Islands. The answer is, "Yes, I am sure that it will be." That was one of the matters I had very much in mind. We will have the report of the East African Salaries Commission within the next few days and that will give us a guide as to salaries. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. H. Clark), that it should be not only for East Africa but that it should serve as a yardstick for other teritories as well.

What the Government will try to do, to take the specific example of the dentist in the Falkland Islands, which the hon. Member for Newbury mentioned, will be to try to make up to the dentist, in what might be called pocket pay, a reasonable salary. It will not then fall heavily upon the resources of these small Territories, and they will not have to distort their whole salary structure by raising salaries for two or three jobs beyond what is justified by the local market and local resources.

I hope the answer is clear that, apart from being of great benefit to the Territories where there are so many officers, this will be of very real value indeed to the outlying territories which find it so hard to get the services they require.

I turn to the recommendations proposing the establishment of a new Commonwealth Office to replace the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office, and a Committee of inquiry into the establishment of a Commonwealth Advisory and Technical Service. I am not going to give the advantages and disadvantages of the merger in detail except to make a couple of points on it. I think one thing is clear, and that is that our present policy of leading the dependent territories to full independence as early as is compatible with their educational, political and economic development, is bound, before long, to lead to a stage when there is no longer justification for a separate office headed by a Secretary of State to conduct our relations with the few small remaining dependencies. The hon. Member for Dundee, East is quite right, that it is a matter to which the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference will wish to return, and it will not surprise me if it figures regularly on the agenda for some time.

It is some way from the main stream of my argument to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North on the desirability of a Commonwealth Service, which is a different thing, but I think that if the hon. Member will study his speech, he will find it contains the seeds of its own destruction, because he suggested—and it sounded very attractive, that cross-posting and cross-promotion could take place in such a service. That is precisely what cannot be done. The Government cannot cross-post, because they do not control the establishments. They cannot promote, because they cannot control the career system in independent countries. That is what independence is about. All the independent countries have set up their own methods of recruitment.

My hon. Friend used another phrase which, on consideration, he will again see has a destructive effect on his argument. He said that independent countries naturally always prefer the local man to the expatriate. If that is so, it would not be possible on that basis to build a Commonwealth Service.

I am more concerned with answering the points made about a merger. I have said that there is no question that the time will come when the Colonial Office will in effect disappear. In the short run, there are two arguments which we must consider, which seem to us of real, and perhaps overriding, importance. First, the burden of work which at present falls on my right hon. Friend and myself in our respective spheres is too great to enable it to be put on the shoulders of one Secretary of State.

The right hon. Member for West Bromwich (Mr. Dugdale) said that the appointment of more Ministers of State or junior Ministers might help to lighten the load to some extent. In practice, the politicians in the dependent Territories—I am speaking for the moment of my own sphere—rightly expect that the important decisions and the conferences which lead towards independence should be taken by and attended by the senior Minister of the Crown responsible for their affairs.

I will tell the House, as an example, what has occurred today. I do not do this because I am in any way motivated by self pity, because I have enjoyed today. I spent the whole of the morning at Lancaster House in the chair at the Northern Rhodesia Confernce. I spent the whole of the afternoon in the same pursuit. I have spent the whole of this evening without pause listening to this debate. In what the I.T.A. call "natural breaks", if there are such things, I have managed or tried to see a great number of people and carry out the ordinary work of the Department.

At present I do not believe that I could add to that. To put it the other way round, I do not think that my right hon. Friend could add to his enormous burdens those of the other Secretary of State. I do not think that there is at present a practicable way of reducing that burden of work.

The hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) made a very good point indeed. It is true that geographical responsibilities contract, but that does not mean that now or for at least a year or two ahead the volume of work in my Department contracts. On the contrary, as countries go towards independence it means a very much increased volume of work.

The second consideration relates to the future of the staff of the Colonial Office and of the services which the Office at present renders to dependent members of the Commonwealth. Many Territories are becoming and will become independent in the next few years. They will continue to require in their Government services expatriate officers from this country in professional, technical and administrative posts. This is the idea behind the White Paper, Cmd. 1193, to which reference has been made this evening and which we shall shortly debate in the form of the Overseas Service Bill.

The supply of such officers concerns not only the Colonial Office but also the Commonwealth Relations Office. Similarly, the continuing needs of Territories which are becoming independent are becoming increasingly apparent in fields where the Colonial Office has built up splendid services of technical assistance and advice—for example, in the sphere of education, research and surveys.

I would therefore put the matter in this way. We think that we are faced with a position in which, ultimately, the solution of these problems may very well lie in the bringing together of the two offices which the Select Committee recommends, but in our view it is clear that that cannot be done now; that in certain fields of activity the two Offices are already engaged in similar tasks, but that there are, at the same time, very compelling practical arguments against an immediate merger.

What, then, should be done now? I have talked about the long run, and I have mentioned the problems that we have in common. The Government have come to the conclusion that we should look most closely at the field of technical aid because, after all, it is here through the White Paper that we have recently made a very great contribution indeed. We have, therefore, initiated a study of the possibility of creating a joint Department under a Minister who would be responsible to myself, to the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, and that this Department could bring together under a single direction many of the forms of technical and advisory assistance which this country can provide to overseas countries, whatever their status. It could serve, that is to say, not only our dependent territories, but the independent countries of the Commonwealth, and foreign countries as well.

Examination of these matters is still in progress, and I cannot tonight define the scope of the proposed new Department more exactly than I have done, but it is the Government's intention, if the outcome of the examination shows that it is practicable to establish a joint Department of this nature, concerned with these problems of technical aid, to lay our detailed proposals before the House in due course.

What I am really saying is that we should carry forward into the field of technical aid what is described in the White Paper as … a vast scheme of technical assistance. that I mentioned a short time ago. Although we may not be as wealthy as some other countries, we have one priceless asset, and that is the experience and "know-how" of our men and women—and the best of all forms of technical aid is people. I am certain that it is in this sphere that we can and should make an important contribution.

I should like to turn to the recommendation of the Sub-Committee that a Committee should be set up to examine the possibility of establishing a Commonwealth Advisory and Technical Service. In view of the announcement I have just made of the study that is being undertaken, I am sure that the House will feel that while we are engaged in that examination we should defer further consideration of the proposal to set up the committee of inquiry that the Report envisaged. The way in which technical and advisory services can best be provided for overseas territories will manifestly be influenced if we can manage to concentrate into one Department the efforts that are now dispersed in several Departments—

Mr. Turton

Before my right hon. Friend leaves that topic, can he say whether it is his idea that some of the functional departments of his office and of the Commonwealth Relations Office should be hived off to form a new Department; or will a new Department be created and, therefore, add to the number of people doing this work?

Mr. Macleod

No. I can speak only for my own office. The examination of this is not complete, but many of the functional, as distinct from the geographical departments would become—my right hon. Friend is quite right—members of this new Department. Thus, we would be able, I hope, to do something that the House has always wanted to do; to preserve the very special character and abilities of so many of the advisory services that we have.

I should like to say just a word about the officers of the Overseas Service. I must say that I disagree flatly with some of the things that were said about the Colonial Service and colonialism. However misguided other people may be about the achievements of British colonialism, I do not think that we should lend our countenance to that in this House, because the officers of the Overseas Service are doing a grand job, often under very trying conditions. I am sure the whole House is with me in saying this.

We all deeply regret that many of them will no longer be able to complete in the Overseas Service the full career which they have so richly earned. But it has always been a policy of all Secretaries of State of all parties to lead our territories forward in this way. It is no cause of regret that we are seeing the fruition of this policy over the years. But it does mean hardship for many people. It means that there is a great duty on us to make certain that we do everything we can to minimise this hardship.

In particular, I have heard it suggested that the employment of these Overseas Service officers in other parts of the world may be difficult because it is said that they are "tainted" with colonialism. I use that word with the most emphatic inverted commas that I can express, because this is nonsense. These men and women and their predecessors, many of whom have lost their health, and many, indeed, their lives, in the service of the Colonial Territories, have a magnificent record of service of which we can be truly proud. It really would be a tragic waste if the experience of the present generation could not be used elsewhere under similar conditions whenever the opportunity offers.

The function of the modern Colonial Service is not one of Imperial domination. It is the constructive and the practical task of helping countries forward in their development towards nationhood. I claim that we have the finest organisation in the world for providing professional and technical assistance to under-developed territories. In fact, we already have the kind of service for which the United Nations is now groping in handling the problem that has been thrown up in the Congo. I am sure that, whatever we may disagree upon, we should at least agree that we should send to those people a message of our pride in the work that they do.

I hope that the House will take not only the White Paper which will come before us in the form of legislation, but what I have said today, as an earnest of my determination and the determination of Her Majesty's Government that all their needs will be understood and will be met. They ought to know, as I think the new scheme which I have outlined tonight should show them, that we are continually seeking to improve the means whereby, through technical assistance, we can bring help to the under-developed countries not only of the Commonwealth but of the world as a whole.

Sir G. Nicholson

Before seeking leave to withdraw the Amendment, I should like to thank my right hon. Friend for his speech and to express the hope that he has thought the debate worth while, as I am sure the House does.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question again proposed.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Martin Redmayne)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee Tomorrow.