HC Deb 11 July 1960 vol 626 cc1133-44

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Finlay.]

10.32 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)

I rise to make a plea and a protest. I wish to make a plea on behalf of Britain's forgotten men, the members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service. I wish to make a protest at the way in which neglect of this splendid Service is jeopardising much more than the careers of those in it—indeed, the key task of helping emergent nations to establish good administration and sound economy, without which, as we in this House all know, political independence, when it comes, must be a sham and a delusion.

There are some 15,000 members of the Overseas Service, of whom no fewer than 11,000 are in the African territories. Some are serving in independent countries, some are serving in countries which are soon to become independent and some are serving—quite a large number—in countries which are likely to remain under British control for a considerable time to come.

It would be true to say that upon this relatively small but select body of men depends in very large measure the success of everything that we are trying to do in the emergent countries. These men are much more than civil servants; they are teachers of the most important skill which our country has to impart to others—that of fair and just administration. They are much more than expatriates who find it congenial to live and work abroad; they are ambassadors for our way of life. Upon the quality of their service, upon the kind of confidence they inspire and upon the personal example they set three matters of great importance depend.

The first is the smoothness of the transition from colonial rule to self-rule. The second is the assurance that political independence will not be followed by a decline in the efficiency of government, by the impoverishment of the people and by the spread of injustice. The third is that upon these men will depend whether the new States elect voluntarily to maintain close and cordial relationships with our country, particularly in matters of trade, in the years to come—long after the power to compel them to do so has been relinquished.

That this is no exaggerated view of the value of the Service is borne out by the fact that a good many countries which have achieved independence have sought to employ their former expatriate civil servants as advisers. There are no fewer than 3,000 in Ghana, nearly 1,000 in Malaya and not far short of 3,000 in Nigeria, which already has regional independence and will become completely independent in October. It is an amazing tribute that such men should have been asked by those they formerly governed to stay on to act as advisers. What a sharp contrast this is with the relations between the Dutch and the Indonesians, with those between the French and Indo-China, and with the tragic spectacle now unfolding before our eyes in the Congo.

One would have thought that we in this country would have taken the greatest pride in seeing that men, who have created so much good will in so many different countries around the world, were treated generously in regard to pay and conditions of service and, perhaps far more important to them, in regard to continuity of employment.

One would have thought that it would have been recognised as a primary British interest to see that a stable Government and a sound economy were assured in these countries after political independence had been achieved, and to that end to see that they received all the financial, technical and administrative aid that we could spare. That means, in practice, helping them to keep the key persons in the expatriate Service for as long as they need them.

I am sorry to say that the reverse is true. I do not think it is a secret concealed from the Government that the morale of this splendid Service is already low and is now deteriorating rapidly. In Northern Nigeria, where there is a manifest need for the services of men such as these, there have been large-scale resignations. I am told that many officers are taking lump sums in compensation and leaving the Service. I am advised that almost a quarter of the pensionable officers who were expected to stay on have decided to leave. I am told—and I hope that I am wrong about this—that almost the entire medical staff has decided to go, and half the customs staff.

On the other side of the Continent, in East Africa, where independence is some distance off, dissatisfaction in all three territories is widespread. In Uganda there have been bitter complaints—no doubt many hon. Members have received letters about this—at the dilatory way in which a pay claim submitted about a year ago has been handled. In both Kenya and Tanganyika officers are resigning, preferring to forfeit their pension rights and take a chance of getting a job elsewhere while they can. This is because they say—in letters to me and no doubt to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) who wrote a compelling article in the Daily Telegraph on this subject some months ago—that they no longer believe that there is any future in the Service. The irony of this is that the Service still has a great future. Its experience and skill will be needed, albeit in changed conditions, for a long time to come.

Let me make it plain that the crisis has not arisen solely because of the rapidity of the movement towards self-government. After all, the purpose of the Overseas Service was to create the conditions under which it would be possible—perhaps at some time sooner than anybody expected—for the emergent countries to staff their own administration, and to recruit and train their own doctors, geologists, agricultural officers, and so on, out of their own resources.

Nor has the crisis arisen purely out of complaints about pay. The average officer knew when he joined the Service that his salary would always be below that which he could command in business or industry. If I may paraphrase the great Lord Curzon in his speech to the Indian Civil Service when he laid down his Viceroyalty, an officer's satisfaction was to know that the Almighty had placed in his hands the greatest of his ploughs, that it was his task to push it a little further along the furrow in which the seeds of future nations were germinating. All he could ever do in his time was to ensure that he did all in his power to plough the furrow straight and true.

The crisis has arisen because, despite repeated warnings over many years from many of us, Her Majesty's Government have failed to provide reasonable guarantees of security and re-employment for those men who, through no fault of their own—indeed, as a result of the work they do—may find themselves out of a job in a particular territory. The crisis has arisen too—and I am sorry to say this but I must—because, though it now appears that the Government are beginning to realise that there is a problem, they are speaking about it in two voices, thus adding confusion to neglect. I shall say something more about that in a moment.

What I should like to emphasise is that this is not a new problem. Nobody can complain that it has suddenly arisen, or that it has crept on us unawares because of the rapidity of events in the Colonial Territories. About six years ago I conducted a survey into the prospects of the then Colonial Service to which several distinguished colonial governors, and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), who has taken a keen interest in this problem over the years, contributed. The results were published in New Commonwealth and were referred to in several debates in the House. We discovered a paradox. On the one hand, there was natural anxiety in the Service, as the movement towards self-government increased the pressure, to put local men into the jobs formerly held by our people and a fear that it would contract. That was natural enough.

On the other hand, it emerged that as the result of political, economic and social change the demand for good men was going to be not less but greater than ever before, and that this was likely to go on for a good many years to come. Indeed, the increased tempo of the development of these territories is still calling for more men with the right kind of knowledge to guide, enthuse and inspire those who must soon run their own country. The problem was how to keep good men in the Service, not to get rid of them, to encourage recruiting and not let the Service run down. In that sense the problem has not changed.

The answer of the Government was the Colonial White Paper No. 306 of 1954. The proposals in that White Paper included the changing of the name of the Service to get rid of the "trigger" word, "Colonial" and there were a number of promises made about re-employment. But, in the main, it was a timid and disappointing document. This is not my view alone—it is widely shared. As recently as 25th April one of our most distinguished ex-Governors, Lord Twining, said in a letter to The Times that the changes made in 1954 were regarded throughout the Service as a completely bogust, bureaucratic facade without foundation or any substance or meaning. In a letter I received only last month from a spokesman of the Overseas Civil Service in one of the East African territories the writer stated that Lord Twining's language whilst accurate was far too polite. H.M.O.C.S. in its present form is something without purpose or meaning; it is an example of the half-hearted, negative and uninspired effort made by a dying Colonial Office to provide a positive service which all developing countries need, and which I feel sure they would welcome. In its present form it was doomed to stillbirth the day it was conceived, and there appears to be no one who has the slightest interest in regenerating it. That is the opinion of a bitter, frustrated and angry man, but that is the kind of comment many of us have been getting in letters over many months.

The Colonial White Paper No. 306 went some way in the right direction. It stated: A serving member of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service, while having no claim to employment otherwise than in the office which he has been offered and has accepted, shall be eligible for consideration by the Secretary of State for employment in any post which he may be requested or authorised to fill, and may also be considered, as opportunity offers, for posts in Commonwealth or foreign territories for which Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom may be invited to recommend candidates. That did give some hope that an officer whose career was terminated in one territory might be re-employed by a grateful Government elsewhere.

On 26th May of this year my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations shattered all illusions on this subject. In a speech to the Royal Commonwealth Society he said that such a scheme does not match up with the way in which, in our experience independence within the Commonwealth works.…We believe that the right approach to the problem of emergent countries is, as far as possible, to make the moment of independence a clean break with the colonial past. I think I know what my right hon. Friend meant when he said that. I am not in any way wishing to argue the pros and cons of his speech; indeed, there was a lot in it with which I and others in the House would agree. But if the Colonial White Paper No. 306 had inspired no great hopes in 1954, after that speech it was shown to be a completely false prospectus. I say to my right hon. Friend whom I am glad to see here—I know that in this matter his heart is in the right place—that the Government must make up their mind whether they consider the morale and efficiency of the Service in the emergent territories now and after independence is important or not, and if they do then they must do something quickly about it.

Events are moving in Africa at an astonishing speed and in an astonishing way. I find it well-nigh incredible that anyone in high authority in this country should be willing to risk the break-up of this unique Service, which is unrivalled in its African experience, at a time when the Soviet bloc countries are straining every effort to lay hands on anyone they can find to instruct in African languages and in knowledge of African culture in order to take over where we leave off. As the Economist put it neatly last week, The Communist powers are donning the khaki shorts as the Britons reach for their pinstripes. I hope that this is not because, as has been suggested to me, the Treasury is jibbing at a sum which I calculate to be about a quarter of the annual egg subsidy.

I know that my right hon. Friend has set up a Commission to inquire into pay and conditions in East Africa. Let me reveal in passing that this is in response to a claim which was tabled about a year ago and that even if the Commission moves with the utmost speed, at the present rate of resignations taking place as threatened it will have nobody to whom to make its awards. It may be that this will stop the rot in East Africa. I devoutly hope that it will, but I doubt it. It certainly will not stop the flood of resignations which is taking place in West Africa.

In any event, it does not go to the root of the problem, which touches upon the question of security and the need for continuity in employment. I ask my hon. Friend whether it is too late even now for it to do so. I hope that when he replies he will say that the Government are now alive to the gravity of the situation which I have described, that past neglect will be repaired and that the men of this great Service will at long last be treated with the honour and the decency which they deserve.


Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

I will take only thirty seconds to say to the Under-Secretary of State that I agree entirely with what has been said by the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine). I have remained here on purpose to support him in his protests. He speaks for me tonight in this matter.

If I were the trade union secretary of these civil servants I should bring them out on strike, if I could, because the meanness of the Treasury and the slothfulness of the Colonial Office is something which no decent trade union officer in this country would ever tolerate. I have had experience of this in connection with the police. The police in Cyprus were treated disgracefully. We had police in Berlin, and they were treated equally meanly. If ever there were an argument for trade unions and the proper representation of these men, here it is.

I am glad that the Colonial Secretary is here to listen to the debate. Those of us who receive letters on this subject, not only from the men but also from their wives, know the sentiments which they express and realise that they are decent men who are trying to do a good job for this country and the countries Which they are serving, but they now feel bitter and disllusioned. The Colonial Secretary should appreciate that this is a first priority for the Colonial Office to undertake. I hope that we shall hear tonight that they are going ahead with it.

10.49 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) and—something I do more rarely—the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) in what they have said. I think that the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East, however, was a little unfair to the Colonial Office, as I suspect that the real nigger in the woodpile here is not the Colonial Office but the Treasury.

Only last Friday a young man from the Kenya service came to see me in my office at Liverpool. He came from Yorkshire. He is 27 and he told me that he thought of retiring from the service, and he asked me what I thought he should do. I asked him to think again, although I am not sure that I was right in so doing. I told him that I could not believe that the Secretary of State and Her Majesty's Government would abandon the Overseas Civil Service, which has done such a good job in the past. I believe that much could be done to improve the morale of those in the service. I am not at all sure that some in that service should not be allowed to go now with partial pension. It may well be that times have changed and it is better for the younger men to come in and not those who have grown up used to other days and other commands. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into that problem.

I also hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear in mind that trade in East Africa has improved nearly five-fold in the last fifteen years. Is this country going to follow the example of some other countries and consider the pence and wrongly, in my belief, forget our duties and our destinies, both in Asia and Africa? One has seen the unfortunate result in various parts of the world.

I believe that the provision of help—be it technical help, be it administrative, be it teaching, be it in advice on farming or in other ways—should be a first charge on the aid that this country provides for the emerging territories.

I hope, too, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who I know has this matter very much at heart, will devise a scheme for the Overseas Civil Service which enables it to stay rather than to go. My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East has complained of so many people accepting the lump sum. Capital is very difficult to get in these days, and there is, therefore, an incentive to go in some cases. That is the fault of the scheme.

I hope, therefore, that whatever scheme is devised in the Colonial Office for the morale and for the future of the Overseas Civil Service, we will continue to give it the priority that a fine Service demands.

10.52 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Julian Amery)

The House will not expect me to accept all the strictures which have been passed on us. I certainly do not quarrel with the strength of feeling with which my hon. Friends the Members for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) and Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) and the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) have spoken. The importance of the subject and the urgency of the problem confronting us fully justify it.

I do not think that there is any great difference in our approach to the problem. We are all agreed that strong, efficient and honest administration has been the greatest contribution that we have made to the development of the Colonies and that one of our main tasks is to leave a strong local administrative service as one of our main legacies.

The question is how to build up strong local services imbued with strong local loyalties. This is partly a matter of establishing proper principles governing the local administrative services, of taking them out of politics, and of making appointments the responsibility of Public Service Commissions. It is also, as my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East emphasised, a matter of retaining the services of expatriates for many years to come.

In passing, I wish to say that my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East is not entirely rightly informed about the situation in Nigeria. He was quoting figures published in the Economist recently which did not take account of the degree of Africanisation which has already taken place in both the medical and customs services there.

Coming to the main principle, our problem is to discover ways and means of encouraging the expatriates to stay and to go on serving. How is their service to be sustained? In the past, the Secretary of State in recruiting officers for the Colonies has been in the position that he could foresee the number of jobs open and plan a career structure, with definite promotion prospects for them. That is no longer the position. As power is transferred, so the Secretary of State no longer has in his gift jobs which he can offer those whom he recuits. He can no longer give the assurance of a career structure and promotion prospects. He cannot guarantee jobs overseas. There are less and less in his gift. Nor can he guarantee jobs at home for those who have served overseas, since the requirements of the Civil Service at home are unlikely to keep pace with redundancies overseas.

There will be chances—in our view, good chances—of employment overseas, not only for the first tour of duty but beyond it. There will also be some prospect of employment at home for those who become redundant, but there is no certainty. No guarantee can be given. There is a great work to do overseas, but those who undertake it under present conditions undoubtedly run a risk. Therefore, if they are to be encouraged to undertake that work there must be special inducements to serve, and there must be special compensation for loss of office, if and when it comes. This is the fundamental basis of any solution to the problem. We have to find special inducements to serve and to run the risks that overseas service today involves, and we have to provide special compensation if those risks eventuate.

Let me say just a word about the size of the problem. As my hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East mentioned, there are at present some 15,000 pensionable members of the Overseas Service, including 7,000 in East Africa, 1,500 in Nyasaland and Rhodesia, and still 2,000 in West Africa. In addition, there are more than 10,000 on contract. These are quite large numbers, and it is interesting to remember that the Administrative Class branch of the Overseas Service has almost exactly the same numbers as has the Administrative Class in the Civil Service at home, so that there are not many prospects of vacancies here for those who become redundant overseas.

I think that the House will see that this is not an easy problem to solve, but it is our duty and our interest to solve it. It is our duty, because the transfer of power would be a mockery were there not decent administration to carry it out. It is our interest, too, since our prospects of co-operation in the political sphere, and of expanding trade in the economic sphere must depend on the economies, as they move to independence, having an administrative structure within them which will enable them to maintain stability and to achieve some economic and social expansion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East and some of his hon. Friends have done a good deal of constructive thinking on this subject, and a good deal of thought has also been given to it in Whitehall. I have been prevented by other preoccupations from taking much part in this, but before this Debate I have taken a good look at some of the work that has been done, and I can assure them that a detailed study is now in progress, taking full account of the kind of views that have been aired tonight.

This is a very complicated matter. It is not one to be decided very quickly. It is a matter on which my right hon. Friend will wish to consult governors overseas as well as his colleagues, and that all takes time. I am not, therefore, in a position to make a statement tonight, but I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend regards the problems raised in this debate as of the highest importance and calling for urgent solutions.

Mr. Callaghan

Will the hon. Gentleman also look at the French method? We had some very interesting letters by Miss Pelham and others in The Times the other day.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

And will my hon. Friend also look more widely at this, beyond his own Department, and consider the possibilities of combining not only with the Commonwealth Relations Office but also with the Foreign Service? That might help to solve the problem.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Eleven o'clock.