HC Deb 21 December 1961 vol 651 cc1585-606

12.58 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

We are proud of our colonial record—or perhaps I should say, in these days of so many independent States, of our ex-colonial record. We boast that we have done better in the colonial field than any other nation. I am, therefore, grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to draw attention once again to the sorry state of some of those who have made that colonial record possible.

We live in the day of the pay pause. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House pay frequent lip-service to the need to save money, but when their own pet projects come along they find some excuse for asking the Government to spend more money. I hope, however, to show the Financial Secretary that no extra money on overseas expenditure is needed if he will only listen to my argument.

In any case, it does not remove from us the moral duty to see that those of our citizens who have served the Crown well in days gone by are properly looked after. From colonial development and welfare funds we gave sums amounting to over £20 million last year. Each year, by way of inducement pay, educational allowances and other emoluments we are giving to the overseas civil servants in many territories about £12½ million. The Colonial and Development Welfare Act, 1959, provides for Government-to-Government loans, under which we are able to lend £25 million per annum. Perhaps the Financial Secretary will tell us whether any such money has been lent, or is in the pipeline.

Despite the pay pause, these are very big figures. But there are other kinds of figures—figures who have been responsible for law and order in parts of the Commonwealth where law and order did not always exist—figures who have taught technical skills and have administered vast areas. It is true that they had a little pomp and ceremony about them, but they have done a fine job without corruption and without personal gain, other than their salary and an occasional C.M.G. or K.C.M.G. thrown in.

These people are now living in retirement, and many of them are counting every shilling. In some cases they have been forced to apply for National Assistance, but in others they are too proud to ask. Some of them must be asking how we, as a nation, can afford some of the great gifts which I have already mentioned. Many, I fear, wish that they had never left these shores. I agree that, in effect, they were probably paid more than if they had remained in the United Kingdom. But one has to remember that the period of their employment, in the 1920s and the 1930s, most of them worked in the tropics.

They worked there before the days of mepacrin and paludrin for malaria; before the days of easy refrigeration, with refrigerators run on calor gas or something of that kind, enabling cold drinks to be made available; before the days when children could be educated and brought up in those territories, and long before the days when air conditioning made sleep or work reasonably comfortable.

I believe that I am speaking for all past overseas civil servants, whether they now come under the Colonial Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office, or, as in the case of those who worked in the Sudan and Somalia, under the Foreign Office. But my major plea is for some attention to be given to the needs of those who retired before the great uplift in salaries between 1946 and 1949 inclusive.

I think that the House may be interested in hearing one or two figures about pensions for particular jobs. For instance, a provincial commissioner in Tanganyika who retired in 1945 gets a pension of £1,200 a year. In his day he would have been responsible for 2,250,000 people. Yet a man who did the same job and retired in 1960 receives a pension of £2,417. A district officer in Tanganyika responsible for administering 300,000 people, who retired in 1945, gets a pension of £870. One who did the same job and retired last year gets £1,630. A district officer in Ghana, doing the same job, gets a smaller pension, one of £720 if he is married and £640 if he is unmarried.

I wish to quote now from a communication which I have received: Although the Secretary of State has frequently stated that officers when accepting transfers would never be financially less well off than if they stayed in the territory to which they were posted, this does not work out in practice. I know of one case of an officer who transferred from Tanganyika to the Gold Coast in 1929 and who, as a result of a refusal of the present Ghana Government to grant any increase over and above"— a very small increase which the writer mentions elsewhere— is now £60 per annum less well off than if he had stayed in Tanganyika, and this has been the case for the last ten years.… A similar state of affairs appears with regard to Ceylon pensioners with mixed services. Whenever they receive an increase from other colonies in which they have served, the Ceylon Government reacts by deducting that amount from the pension which they pay. In other words, it is using the funds of another country for its own use' This also applies in another case of which I am aware, of an overseas civil servant who spent half of his time in Nigeria and half in Ghana. Ghana is using the funds of Nigeria for her own purposes.

I know that there is a great difficulty about the comparability or parity—or whatever word is used—in relating pensions to the job, because of the great rise in salaries which has taken place since the war. But in the case of the Sudan an officer who retired just before 1950 gets a basic pension of £1,000 raised to £1,084 a year. Yet a man doing exactly the same job who retired eighteen months later gets £1,500. There seems to be little rhyme or reason in this.

I know that India has been treated differently and I know that civil servants of whatever rank retired after a number of years service on a pension of £1,000 a year. In Victorian times—and there has not been a change since then—this was a very good pension. But, of course, money values have altered and Her Majesty's Government have taken over the job of topping up those pensions. They have done it four times, so that now the Indian civil servants get £1,328 per annum.

My plea to the United Kingdom Government, who have the responsi- bility, is to try to top up all these pensions paid from overseas. I wish to make clear that I am referring only to those who have retired in the United Kingdom. It is very difficult to speak of the large number locally recruited or who have retired in overseas territories.

It has been a matter of luck about where the civil servants have been sent. I wish to refer the Financial Secretary to Command Paper 306 of 1954, which states that all officers of the Colonial Service are servants of the Crown and the conditions of their employment are embodied in the Colonial Regulations. These Regulations constitute the Secretary of State as the ultimate authority for appointments, discipline, promotion and general conditions of employment. I agree that some countries have treated their pensioners well, particularly in the colonial sphere, including_ the Bahamas, Fiji, North Borneo, Sarawak, the Seychelles, the Falklands and Hong Kong. To a lesser extent, and partially, there is Cyprus, East African Railways and Harbours, Kenya, Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Tanganyika, Uganda, Zanzibar, Trinidad and the South African High Commission. The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies said in a Written Answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Sir Richard Pilkington), on 30th November: Only the Governments of Aden, the Gambia, the Leeward and Windward Islands and British Honduras provide increases generally inferior to those granted here."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1961; Vol. 650, c. 84.] The hon. Gentleman did not mention Barbados, Bermuda,—and Bermuda is rich enough—British Guiana, Gibraltar, St. Helena, Singapore and the West Pacific High Commission Territories, all of which provide pensions considerably below those granted here. I feel that a false impression was thereby created. If the Financial Secretary will look at the red figures on this sheet of paper which I have he will see that they outnumber the black figures.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Edward Boyle)

I am not at all sure that my hon. Friend is right about Bermuda. But rather than argue in detail about too many particular cases this morning, when we have little time, I will correspond with my hon. Friend later.

Mr. Tilney

I should be delighted to find that I am wrong. But some territories, of course, have done well even though they are not rich. I believe that they can never do very much, first, because of the poverty in many areas, and, secondly, because it is politically somehow necessary, in the party government which we have given to those territories, to create some sort of to the colonial past. It is very difficult for party politicians to stand up and say, "We must tax ourselves in order to provide money for pensioners living in the United Kingdom."

I am not saying that any of those territories will not fulfil their contractual obligations. I believe that they will. That is why I should like to hear of Her Majesty's Government being responsible merely for the topping up process, so as to bring the pensions of those who served overseas up to the level of those who stayed at home and benefited from the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959.

I believe that Her Majesty's Government should accept a measure of responsibility for our own internal inflation. I do not believe that the people of Ghana, India or Malaya are responsible for what has happened to our prices at home. I hope, too, that Her Majesty's Government will learn that in future negotiations about independence it is much more difficult, after independence has been granted, to make an arrangement with the Government which is about to become independent. The only Government—and this is a most honourable exception—that has increased the rate of pension since independence is the Government of Nigeria. Yet, over West Africa as a whole, the pensions of the intra-territorial civil servants, like those of the Medical Research Council, have still to be settled and are still causing a considerable amount of worry.

I suggest to the Financial Secretary that there are some glaring instances of wrong. I wish to quote from two letters. One says: … my wife and I are faced with the prospect of having to sell our small bungalow … we have exhausted our small capital, although we have been able to look after the garden and to carry out redecoration inside and outside ourselves. The time has now come that we feel that we must have help either inside or outside which we cannot afford.… We shall be very distressed if we are compelled to act in this way and discover later that owing to an increase in our pension we could have remained here … I was invalided out of the Gold Coast Colonial Civil Service in 1930 after 18 years' service, when I held the rank of Provincial Commissioner. I wonder how much help he had inside and outside his home, and how many tens of thousands of people there were, whom, on instructions of the Secretary of State, he helped to guide towards Parliamentary democracy.

Another district commissioner, who retired in 1949 and was granted a pension of £642 a year which in 1952 was increased by the Gold Coast Government by 10s. a week, has since had two jobs lasting for eight years in all. He writes: I am not alone in this black matter. Some, I know, have been driven on to the dole. A happy finale to years in the Crown Service! Others I believe have been driven to seek National Assistance.… Had I been sent to Nigeria—one had, and sought, no say—had I served there for the same length of time that I did in the Gold Coast, had I reached the same rank and retired on the same day, my pension now would be, as I understand it, three hundred pounds year greater than it is. This since 1959. … It is wrong that loyal servants of the Crown, after a lifetime in the Crown service should be driven to prop up their pensions with a second, a third, or even a fourth job…and… that they should be driven on to the dole. It is wrong … that Crown pensioners should be driven to beg cap in hand for National Assistance. Those are two of the many letters I have seen.

The size of the problem is not all that great. I am amazed how small it is. I have with me an official document from the Department of Technical Cooperation. That Department says: it is not at present possible to provide details territory by territory". I wonder how foolish many private enterprise companies would look if on a take-over bid they said they did not know how many pensioners they had on their books. The document says that the total number of pensioners is 11,000. The number receiving less than the United Kingdom rates is 2,900 and the annual cost of basic pensions is £5,300,000. That, I believe, will be paid by all countries. The annual cost of supplementing overseas basic pensions where they are less than United Kingdom rates—the topping is all I ask for—is £180,000.

With reference to the widows, the document says: there are slightly under 4,000 pensions in payment to dependents of overseas officers, of which about 2,300 are not receiving increases up to U.K. standards. So we are talking about only £300,000 a year, which would put this whole matter right.

I have not much time now, because I know that my hon. Friends want to refer to a number of specific points, especially about Malaya, where the widows have not had any increase since 1947. There there is a means test such as we abolished in 1956. I think that my hon. Friends will also want to refer to Ghana, to whom we intend to grant £5 million for the Volta Dam project.

It seems that, although Her Majesty's Government say that they will discuss these things and they have very rightly met the officers of the Overseas Service Pensioners Association and quite a lot has been done during the last six months, by the time every one has been looked after most of the would-be recipients will be dead. I agree with what the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) once said: "If the Government swindle people in this way they will not get the service." That is the ultimate sanction.

I know that there will be little local sympathy for putting up pensions. I can understand the Treasury outlook, but I think there must be some sort of sanction. I do not often agree with what the Sunday Express says, but I have some sympathy with what appeared in it on 10th December, pointing out that in the next two years Mr. Nehru is to get £70 million from us. I cannot help thinking about what many Goanese who served in Liverpool ships during and after the war may feel about that.

I also remember that we gave £5 million to the Sudan in 1958, yet nothing has been done by the Sudan to help pensioners. I am delighted that at least some action has been taken by the Government of Somalia. I heard only today that they have increased pensions by £3,200 per annum and that payment is to be back-dated to April, 1961. I suspect that the fact that there has been a substantial grant in aid to Somalia recently has had some effect on pensions from there. I hope this will be a good precedent but it is no good just waiting for something to turn up. I ask the Financial Secretary to tell us that when the principle of overseas Government responsibility rather than United Kingdom responsibility was first enunciated on whose authority that was, and whether it was made known to officials accepting employment with overseas Governments at the time.

I do not wish to argue that we should be responsible for the basic pension. I argue only for the topping up. I repeat that I believe the overseas Governments will pay the basic pension, but I cannot believe that Her Majesty's Government will not see the logic of my argument. A very slight decrease in the money given or lent overseas would look after this problem. The present position makes the worst of all possible advertisements for the service. Families all over the country would like to see a nephew or a son going into the Overseas Civil Service, but, if they hear of so many people who have been treated badly, they will advise those young people not to go. That, I regret to say, is what I have had to do when I have been asked my opinion much as I should like to see development in the Commonwealth as a whole. It is for these people that I make a plea, those who have made it possible to turn the Empire into a Commonwealth. I hope that they will not continue to be forgotten.

1.20 p.m.

Mr. John Strachey (Dundee, West)

I wish to speak for only a few minutes, because I know that many other hon. Members want to take part in the debate, to say that we on this side of the House have every sympathy with the plea that has just been made, and that we do not think that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) need make any apology for asking for this increased expenditure.

As the hon. Member emphasised, it is of a very different magnitude from the expenditure which we discuss for grants, running into tens of millions of pounds, to overseas territories. It is, however, an expenditure which, indirectly, is probably quite as important for the welfare of these territories, both those retaining colonial status and the newly independent territories of the Commonwealth.

I would only say that the specific proposal of the hon. Member for Wavertree, which, as I understand it, is that Her Majesty's Government should in one form or another assume responsibility for what the hon. Member calls the "topping up", that is to say, the difference between the rates of increase in pension in these territories that have been actually achieved for these men and the pensions which they would be receiving if the Pensions (Increase) Acts were applicable to them, should be met by Her Majesty's Government. Unless the Financial Secretary can produce the most convincing arguments to the contrary, that seems to me to be a very strong case. We thought it right in the case of comparable pensioners in this country to enact the Pensions (Increase) Acts. If it was right in their case, surely comparable scales must be right in these cases.

There is, of course, the question of who is to pay. It would be fair and beneficial to Her Majesty's Government, wherever it was possible, to get a maximum amount of the pensions carried by the newly independent Governments, but, as the hon. Member for Wavertree has said, this is extremely difficult for them politically. He is not, I think, wrong in thinking that the matter ought at least to be mentioned in negotiations for grants or loans, but I do not think that we can make it a condition. But it could, I think, be brought into the discussions, quite properly, because I am quite sure, as the hon. Gentleman has emphasised, it is immensely in the interests of these overseas territories that these retired men should be well-treated.

These new territories will want to go on employing, in one capacity or another, men and women from this country, and it is crucially important, from the point of view of the calibre and the numbers of the men and women that they get, that retired men and women who have had experience in those parts of the world should recommend the younger generation to go there. That is a most compelling argument. I attach as much importance, I do not say more importance, to that, as to the argument of hardship, which is a very strong one.

The letters which the hon. Member has read out are very touching and compelling. Both arguments are of the greatest importance, and I think that the Government would be engaging in an extremely false economy if they did not endeavour to meet, in one way or another, the case of these very deserving men and women.

1.25 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I wish to support the speech which has been so well moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney). I think that we are all very glad to see him back in his place and using his usual, persuasive manner to continue this attack.

Being Christmas, it may be that one's mind turns to festivities and perhaps also to Dickens' "Christmas Carol". On looking at the Financial Secretary, who is to reply, it is very difficult to imagine him as Mr. Scrooge. On the other hand, I think that, as a representative of the Treasury, he will be seen in that light if he does not give what my hon. Friend requested, and he may have the same nightmares, and be haunted by the spirits of the past, present and future.

I have been, for a very short time admittedly, a civil servant of the Colonial Office in Malaya, and I can, therefore, confirm what my hon. Friend has said about the widows of those who served in that country. One has to remember that had it not been for the people mentioned by my hon. Friend we should not have the Commonwealth as we know it today, and we certainly should not have, as I am sure the right hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Strachey) would agree, the magnificent Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference that we saw in September in this House.

In thinking about the spirit of the past and of the things mentioned by my hon. Friend, we have to remember that many of these people went to these territories at a very young age and had to undertake enormous responsibility. In those days, there were practically no roads, there were no aeroplanes, and communications were very difficult—they had no telephones. They were in a unique position—a position which we shall never see again.

My hon. Friend has mentioned the lack of control over diseases in those days. He mentioned malaria, and I should like to include dysentery, which wrecked many lives, and the leprosy infections, as well as those who died from cholera. In many cases the climate was totally unsuitable for children. They had to go up to the hill stations, or to be sent home. Furthermore, they had to be sent home for their education. This was a very great expense. It meant that these people had no chance at all to save, a point which I regard as particularly important.

In more recent days, even in the overseas service, there has been a chance to save, but in those days there was not. Salaries were not high. When one remembers the privations which many of them suffered during the war through being in prison—again I am thinking of Malaya—one realises their difficulties. Many of them went back again and did service long before they were fit, as a result of which they have suffered for the rest of their lives. It is time that they were given consideration.

I want particularly to speak about the Sudan, because this is a case which the Government must consider. It is a very bad case and it affects a very small number of people. Altogether, there are 932 pensioners. They get only very small pensions. For instance, there are six receiving between £ 1 and £100 a year 165 receiving between £200 and £300 a year and only three receiving between £1,400 and £1,500 a year. There are also 192 widows. Of these, 89 receive between £100 and £200 a year and only one receives between £400 and £500 a year. In this category there are 32 children whose pensions are payable, in the case of males, only to the age of 18 and in the case of girls only to the age of 21. It is interesting to realise how old these people are. Out of the 932 I have mentioned, 325 are between 60 and 70, 132 are between 70 and 80 and 17 are over 80. Among the widows. 41 are under 60 and 15 are over 80.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Does not my hon. Friend agree that because of these ages and the climates in which they have lived, they need extra heat in the winter, which costs a great deal?

Miss Vickers

That is a very good point and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making it. They probably still have to have special diets because of the various illnesses which they have contracted in the past.

I want my hon. Friend to think of these people in the present, but what will the "Future Spirit" show him? He must also think of "Tiny Tim". We do not want to leave this until it is too late to act. I therefore suggest to him that this Christmas is the very moment at which action should be taken.

Furthermore, when these people received their pensions in 1938 the £ was worth 20s. whereas in November, 1960 it was worth only 7s. This makes it even more difficult for them to live.

I want to make three quotations about the people from Sudan, in whom I am particularly interested. The Earl of Kimberley, in February, 1900, said: There is also one other department of the Empire, as I suppose I must now call it, and not an unimportant one—the Sudan. He acknowledged in those days that it was the responsibility of the Government.

Austen Chamberlain said, in a foreign affairs debate on 15th December, 1924: His Majesty's Government have … direct responsibility to the people of the Sudan…We are there as trustees, and we insist that we shall have there for the future whatever authority is necessary in order to discharge our duty and our responsibilities to the people we govern."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 15th December, 1924: Vol. 179, c. 666.] He agreed that these people of whom I speak were in the Sudan on behalf of His Majesty's Government of that day and that we had a responsibility to them just as we had for other overseas territories.

Finally, may I quote from Sir Anthony Eden, in the foreign affairs debate of 12th February, 1953. He said: I cannot let this occasion pass without expressing the admiration which I, personally, feel and which. I am sure, the House will share with me, for the Sudan Civil Service.…Her Majesty's Government will certainly not forget what they have done, and will keep their interests in mind."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 12th February, 1953; Vol. 511, c. 605.] I suggest that it is time that we began to keep their interests in mind. The future for these people will not be very expensive for the Government because, since the Sudan Government British Pensioners' Association was formed, in 1952, 15 per cent. of its members have died. I gather that the total amount involved here would be only about £94,000 and that the application of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959, to these people would cost between £60,000 and £70,000.

These people are not asking for sympathy. They are asking for justice. I hope that my hon. Friend will pay particular attention to this section of people. They have been fortunate in the fact that the Sudan Government, despite the fact that we were only there working in the Condominion, have kept their word. We should be very grateful to them. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will see that these people do not suffer from the splendid service which they did in the Sudan and that they are given a guarantee of a better life in the future.

1.35 p.m.

Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)

I am delighted to realise that a number of hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. The more hon. Members who take part in the discussion the greater the impression we shall create on the Treasury. I say that advisedly, because so far it has been very difficult to make any indentation on the monolithic view of these matters taken by the Treasury.

Like the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers), I extend my congratulations to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney). We are not only delighted to see him back in his well-known form, but are glad that he has taken this opportunity to raise a matter which is dear to the hearts of hon. Members on both sides of the House and which worries them.

As far as I know, in this matter we have all hon. Members on one side and the Treasury Bench on the other. This is not a party matter. I should like to feel that at long last, especially as it is Christmas, we shall receive from the Financial Secretary a reply which is different from the usual reply we receive from the Government when matters of this kind are raised.

I do not want to repeat the figures which hon. Members have given, although I have them here. The amount is trivial, particularly when we remember what the Government do for what in my view are less deserving interests. Not long ago we passed an Act to give a considerable sum to the Cunard Shipping Company. The Government could find that money, but they cannot find a few hundred thousand pounds to do justice to these deserving people.

I thought that the hon. Member for Wavertree put his finger on the thing which bothers many of us when we consider these cases. We are not asking that those who have retired in recent years should have their pensions increased. We are speaking of those who worked in these outlying areas in years when conditions were very different from present conditions, whose salaries were less than salaries now are and whose pensions are less, too.

In view of the present high cost of living, these people have to live on a pension which is grossly inadequate to their needs. The hon. Member for Wavertree quoted one or two letters which he had received, and most of us could multiply the examples which he gave from correspondence which we have had. I assure the Financial Secretary that a large number of these pensioners are suffering great hardship. It is unfair to them and undignified for a great nation that we should permit loyal servants, who served the country well, to suffer in this way.

I therefore hope that the Financial Secretary will throw his brief away, will let his heart for once rule his head and will tell us he has been greatly impressed by what has been said—because so far only facts have been dealt with in the debate—and that he will do what he has been pressed to do for so long, namely, help those pensioners who have had to retire on pensions which are grossly inadequate and are based on salaries received many years ago.

There have been three or four Pensions (Increase) Acts and none of them, as far as I know, has helped any of the people for whom we are pleading. I am glad to think that others have been helped, although not to as great an extent as many of us would have wished. But nothing has been done for the people for whom we speak this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Devonport quoted from a speech by Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was. She did not quote the whole of it. I am tempted to do so, but because time is short I shall not. However, I should like to quote something the Prime Minister said only last year: to the Overseas Service he would say that they were happy and proud to remember their services in the past and were mindful of their welfare now and in the future. Their problems were constantly in all their thoughts. If this is true and their problems are constantly in the thoughts of the Government, the Treasury, being part of the Government, should surely consider it time to take action to translate thoughts into something more tangible.

The Secretary of State for the Colonies made a speech on the same occasion. He was much more forthcoming. The quotation I have from his speech is much longer, so I will not weary the House with it. I could quote statements by other Ministers, many of them still in the Government, who have committed themselves more than once to the assertion that we owe an enormous debt to those who go abroad on our behalf and serve in the Colonies, under grave difficulties and suffer hardship. The least the Government can do is to recognise this and do something to ameliorate their lot.

The cost would be negligible. In respect of Sudan it would come to about £150,000 all told—£90,000 initially, and £60,000 or £70,000 to be added if the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959, were put into effect. What is called "topping up" the other overseas pensions would cost about £240,000. These are very small figures in comparison with the gross income of this country. This amount is nothing to the Government, but it would make all the difference in the world to the people for whom we plead.

I hope that the Financial Secretary will remember that it is Christmas. I hope that he will forget that he is Financial Secretary. Instead of giving us the speech which I expect from him, I hope that he will deliver a speech which we shall be all delighted to hear. If the Government acceded to our request, no harm would be done, but much good would result from it.

I want to refer to the plight of the Indian civil servants, who, in 1947, because of the constitutional changes in India, lost their jobs and their careers and were very properly given compensation. Some of them found employment elsewhere. They took their compensation, and nothing more need be said about them. Some, after a good deal of effort, obtained positions in the Home Civil Service. They entered the Civil Service as temporaries. Some of them, in fact, went to the Colonial Office. They have been temporary civil servants ever since.

It was then decided—a statement to this effect was made from the Dispatch Box by the then Financial Secretary—that, if they obtained a permanent and pensionable post within two years, they should refund their compensation. That was just and proper. In about 1950 the Treasury officials went to the Staff Side of the Whitley Council and suggested that that time should be extended and that, if any of these people obtained permanent and pensionable posts, as a result of the examinations held in 1950, the new rule should not apply and they should refund their compensation. The Staff Side agreed, but to the astonishment of many of us, we have found that, although the Staff Side agreed on that occasion, their aquiescence has been taken to be for all time.

The result is that today, about twelve years after the 1949 statement, the Treasury is still implementing that decision. It insists that anyone who obtains a permanent and pensionable post should refund his compensation, which I imagine all of them—certainly a large number of them—have already spent. This action is very low down. I hope that in this respect also the Financial Secretary will have some good news for us and will be able to tell us that the new rule shall no longer apply.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Devonport mentioned the position of the pensioners who served in the Sudan. Like other hon. Members, I have constituents who are now in receipt of pensions after a period of good service in that country. I had intended to talk about their position, but, as the hon. Lady has done it so well and as other hon. Members wish to speak, I shall not say more. I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to give us some news about the former Sudan civil servants. If ever a body served this country well, it was those who went into the Sudan Civil Service. At the time they were greatly complimented on their work. Nothing tangible, however, has come of it. It is about time that something did.

1.48 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Sir Edward Boyle)

I should like to join in the congratulations which have been accorded to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney). I also want to thank the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in this necessarily short debate and to say that I know that a number of other hon. Members from both sides of the House would have wished to take part in the debate if time had permitted.

I regret that it is necessary for me to rise so soon, but I must do so in fairness to the hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Mr. Elwyn Jones), who has the next subject for debate. It is certainly a change for those of us who have been here during the last day or two to take part in a debate in which not one point of order has been raised and in which the difference of opinion, instead of being between the two sides of the House, is between the whole House of Commons and the Treasury, as often happens on days like this.

I entirely agree with all that has been said about the importance of the service which many of these overseas civil servants have rendered. I always think that even in this country we sometimes take too much for granted the services of many professional people without whom our present civilised society would not be possible. This is even more true when one is considering the service of people overseas, and I entirely agree with all that has been said on this subject.

I must tell the House quite frankly today—I do not want in any way to prevaricate or try to suggest that the plain meaning of my words is not what I am trying to say—that the Government take the same view as their predecessors and consider that, just as in the United Kingdom the responsibility for increasing pensions falls on the employer, so the cost of any increase in overseas service pensions is the responsibility of the employing Governments who pay those pensions.

That is the principle that has been expressed in this House on a number of occasions; for example, by my predecessor, the present Solicitor-General, during the passage of the 1959 Pensions (Increase) Bill and, more recently, by my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster during the Second Reading of the Overseas Services Bill on 24th January of this year. That principle applies equally to the basic pensions and to any pensions increase that may be paid.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree asked, quite fairly: when did this principle start? To answer that question fully one would have to go into a lot of past history of the Colonial Empire but, very briefly, I think that the answer is this. In the overseas colonial service, selection was the responsibility of the Colonial Office but the appointment was the responsibility of the Government concerned. Even if we go back a long way, I do not believe that we will find that that principle was ever really questioned or doubted.

Just what are the reasons why many successive Governments have adhered to this policy? There can be no question at all of the Government's being indifferent to the fate of these pensioners. The Government believe that the course they have followed in what is a very difficult matter is, as far as can be seen, the course best calculated to serve the interests of all those concerned. The pensions which form the subject of the debate are the responsibility of the relevant overseas Government.

It is not hard to imagine what would happen if this principle were breached on the initiative of the United Kingdom Government. Not only would it be a matter of the United Kingdom giving pensions increases in the place of Governments which, for one reason or another, had for the time being felt unable to do so but, what is more important—and this is the point I want to stress—it would be very likely that the overseas Governments which have so far cheerfully accepted their responsibilities in full would consider themselves unfairly treated when increases due to be paid by other Governments were made by the United Kingdom. This is the great difficulty which I do not, with respect, think that any hon. Members—and I do not blame them for it—have met in this debate.

It seems to me that there is a very real chance that the end result would be that no other overseas Government would, in future, be ready to give a pensions increase and, without appearing alarmist, I cannot help feeling that this assumption of liability might even be regarded as betokening a lack of confidence in the good faith of the overseas Governments concerned to go on paying, not only the pensions increase but the basic pensions themselves, and the effect might well be to call needlessly into question the security of the basic pensions themselves.

I do not expect all hon. Members to accept that argument but I hope that they will consider it seriously, because I think that a change in Government policy here might not only result in a financial liability for the United Kingdom Government, but have repercussions that would redound to the disadvantage of exactly those people for whom the House is showing concern—

Mr. Tilney

I understood that that had already been accepted for some years in the case of Pakistan.

Sir E. Boyle

If there is time, and if I have the leave of the House, I want to say something especially about Pakistan and India. That, I think, is rather a special case.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

It would help the House to know what other Governments besides that in the Sudan are in the position to which the Financial Secretary referred a few moments ago. The Sudan was a Condominium, and I agree that it employed other civil servants besides British. It is the argument of the Government of the Sudan, and a very strong argument, that if they let us do this, others would feel aggrieved. What other areas are in the same position?

Sir E. Boyle

I agree that the Sudan is, in a sense, in a special category. On the other hand, I think that it would be quite impossible for us to think that we would—if I may use the term—"get away with it" by treating Sudan pensioners in the way we treat other overseas pensioners.

I shall not give to the House a precise estimate of the amount of public money concerned, because I think that it would be misleading. All I can say is that I do not believe that, in practice, the amount of public money at stake could possibly be limited to the few hundred thousand pounds the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. We would have to consider possible repercussions over a very wide field, and while I do not take, and have not today taken, my stand purely on the amount of money involved, I think that the right hon. Gentleman's estimate is optimistic.

I want to make it quite plain that it is not true to say that the Government have taken no interest in the conditions of overseas pensioners. In fact, very many efforts have been made, and still are being made, to persuade the Governments of the dependent territories concerned to increase the pensions they have awarded by amounts comparable with those under the United Kingdom Pensions (Increase) Acts. As to the independent countries, it is, of course, for their Governments to decide whether to grant corresponding increases, but we always bring United Kingdom legislation which increases pensions to their notice, and take all other steps possible to ensure that the pensioners' case receives consideration.

Most Governments have responded well—and that should be remembered. Of the 49 concerned, 31, including a large number of the bigger ones, have pensions increase Measures which are, on the whole, at least as favourable as those in the United Kingdom. Of the remainder, we know of three at least where improvements are currently being considered. I shall not read out the list, but if the House ever desires the information it is quite possible to publish the "state of play" at any give time in a Written Answer.

It is estimated that there are about 13,000 overseas service pensioners of various kinds—excluding India, Pakistan, Burma and Palestine, which are rather special cases—and I shall say something in a moment about India and Pakistan. About two-thirds of those 13,000 are as well off under the present arrangements—many, indeed, are better off under them—than they would be if United Kingdom Pensions (Increase) legislation applied to them.

As for the remaining one-third, some fall only a little below the United Kingdom level, and some may well move up to it as a result of the improvements now being considered by the Governments concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree mentioned Somaliland. He had a Question down, and received an Answer only this morning, and I hope that that is a sign of the Government continuing to apply pressure.

It is important to remember that, apart from the actual amounts, most overseas Governments do not specify an age restriction under their increase schemes, which means that the great majority of pensioners can receive pension increase at age 55 and, in a number of cases, at an even lower age. In this country, pensions increase is not payable, save in special cases, until the pensioner reaches 60 years, irrespective of the normal pensionable age of his employment. Roughly speaking, about 50 per cent. of existing overseas pensioners are receiving increases that are higher than the United Kingdom rate and, excluding widows, about 40 per cent. of existing overseas pensioners are under 60.

I can promise the House that the Government will continue their efforts. In October, Ministers of the Colonial Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Department of Technical Co-operation told representatives of the Overseas Service Pensioners Association of the progress made by overseas Governments in this direction since the passing of the last United Kingdom Act in 1959, and a further meeting to review progress will take place in the spring, probably in April.

I want to repeat that most of the overseas Governments have responded well to our approaches, and I think that, on the whole, the record is a good one. I hope that this debate will have served a useful purpose in drawing attention to what I quite agree is a subject of very great importance.

Because the hon. Member for Waver-tree made remarks concerning India and Pakistan I shall deal with this briefly and, in doing so, I apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Ham, South for delaying the House. The special arrangements for basic pensions for Indian pensioners stem from the Pensions (India, Pakistan and Burma) Act, 1955. The purpose of that Act was to enable the Government to take over, from April, 1955, the control administration and payment of the pensions of persons who served the Crown in India and who were living outside India, Pakistan, Aden or Burma.

These arrangements, which were agreed with the Government of India, revised those made in July, 1948, by which the Government of India purchased from the United Kingdom Government certain annuities for the purpose of meeting their sterling pensionary obligations. In return for the assumption by Her Majesty's Government for the responsibility for these pensions, the Indian Government renounced so much of the proceeds of the annuities as corresponded to the estimated cost of the pensionary obligations to be transferred. Similar terms were proposed for the pensions being paid by Pakistan, but difficulties arose over the financial aspects and no agreement has yet been reached. Thus, the Pakistan Government are still paying pensions to their own pensioners and so are the Burmese Government.

India discharged her responsibility of paying basic sterling pensions by the other arrangements; the payment of a capital sum to meet the annual liability. It was these special arrangements which justifies the assumption by Her Majesty's Government of the responsibility for paying the basic pensions. This point is often raised by hon. Members and I wanted to explain these special arrangements which, in our view, justify this treatment of these particular pensioners in this case.

In general, the Government have given a lot of thought to this subject. We should hesitate hard before changing our policy both because of these possible repercussions and also because we must think of the effects of a change of policy on the territories which have already behaved well in respect of overseas pensioners. There is a danger, if we made a change of policy, that we should not be acting in the best interests of those on whose behalf hon. Members have so rightly spoken this afternoon.