HC Deb 16 November 1962 vol 667 cc765-77

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. van Straubenzee

This is such an important Clause that I hope that I shall be forgiven for detaining the Committee for a few minutes and giving it a very general welcome. I suspect that I shall not be the only hon. Member who will wish to do so. On Second Reading I was able to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, and so I do not need to reiterate the very special feelings of welcome for what many of us regard as a belated Measure but one which is none the less welcome for that.

We understand, because my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary was kind enough to explain this to us clearly on Second Reading, the very great complexities which necessitated the Government to proceed by way of regulations set out clearly in Clause 3 (1), but this is a method which otherwise many of us do not look upon with any great sense of approval.

I have one question. I raised this point briefly on Second Reading. I think that it would be for the convenience of the Committee to have it clear. My right hon. Friend will remember that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East and Christchurch (Mr. Cordle), who clearly represents a rather larger number of pensioners than many of us, was concerned on behalf of many of his constituents about what would happen in the event of sudden action by one of the overseas territories concerned. He envisaged what one might call punitive measures by an overseas Government. I should not have thought that this is very likely to happen, but my hon. Friend had it in mind.

This raised in the minds of hon. Members on Second Reading the question of precisely how the Treasury and the Secretary for Technical Co-operation proposed to work the regulations. My specific question is this. Is it proposed in the first instance under Clause 3 merely to make regulations for those territories which require them? Certain overseas Governments are very honurably fulfilling their obligations. Both sides of the Committee pay tribute to them. Unfortunately, there are others who, in spite of every pressure from Her Majesty's Government, are not doing so. It is because of this that we are now being asked to consider Clause 3.

Is it proposed to have ready regulations covering all possible overseas Governments, or is it proposed in the first instance to promulgate those which are necessary for the erring Governments? The point is of some importance, because the House is rightly jealous of its right to scrutinise regulations and pray against them. This is a process which takes time. There can be no possible complaint about that under our procedure. On the Chief Secretary's own admission, the regulations are of great complexity. Back benchers can well appreciate that. Therefore, there might be a very considerable time factor involved. It would be helpful if we could have a slight indication of how it is proposed that this shall work.

Secondly, it might be useful to have on the record that this topping-up provision for overseas pensions brings to the aid of the pensioners concerned not only the benefits conferred by this Bill but the benefits of previous Acts. That must be quite clear from the provisions of subsection (3)—I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations for indicating his assent to that. My hon. Friend has a very special responsibility here, and bears it enormously to his credit, and it might be useful to have it on record on his authority that this most emphatically is so.

Subsection (4) is not easy to understand. I make no apology for saying that when we secure an advance—I was about to say from the Treasury, but it is from the Government on the advice of the Treasury—we always look very cautiously indeed at the qualifying provisions. Therefore, when one reads in subsection (4) that No supplement shall be payable by virtue of regulations under this section … one is always anxious to find out whether what one has received with one hand is not being taken neatly in part from the other.

I am not quite clear about the combined effect of subsection (4). I understand that if the pension of such an overseas pensioner is payable in the overseas territory he does not get the benefit of this topping-up provision unless he is resident in the United Kingdom. If he is resident in the United Kingdom and his pension is payable in the overseas territory he does get it, but where such a pension is not payable in the territory in question—if, for instance, it is payable in the United Kingdom and he is resident in the territory paying the pension—he does not get the benefit of the topping-up.

An example might be helpful. A pension is payable by an independent former Colonial Territory which is now country A. It is payable consequent upon past distinguished service to country A. It is payable in the United Kingdom but, for his own reasons and purposes, that former servant has decided to remain a resident of country A which he has served with distinction over a great many years. That would be a perfectly reasonable thing to do. One can think of a number of distinguished former colonial civil servants who deliberately, on retirement, choose in their private capacity to remain residents in the country which they served with such distinction.

I may have missed the point, but it does seem to me that subsection (4, b) precludes a man in that position from benefiting from the provisions of this topping-up. I hope that I am wrong. There may well be a good reason for it if I am right, and I am quite sure that the Under-Secretary will guide the Committee if I am wrong. With those reservations, it should be placed on the record that this provision is a step forward that is warmly welcomed on all sides.

3.15 p.m.

Dr. King

I should like briefly to welcome the Clause as one who will be asking for more later in the Committee stage. I do not think that the country even yet realises the work done abroad by these men. In the cases we are discussing they make sacrifices beyond imagination. Those who have been abroad and have seen Her Majesty's consuls and representatives in the Colonies and Dominions know what a tremendous service they give to the country, and at what personal cost to themselves. When they are left high and dry by the march of events it is only right that we should accept responsibility for them, for no one else can accept it.

I am glad that the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations is here this afternoon, for I think that I was with him in the Sudan "war" when it was merely a matter of Questions on the Order Paper some time ago. I am glad that he is the Minister who will have to make the regulations contained in the Clause. I hope that he will interpret his powers as generously as possible because inside the broad picture there are anomalies—I hate to use that word again this afternoon—which will, by that generous interpretation, be covered by the regulations.

Mr. G. R. Howard

While wishing to join with hon. Members in welcoming the Clause, particularly since my hon. Friend has done so much to bring it about, there is one point I wish to raise. Is it not a fact that in certain overseas territories these men would have their pension rights at the age of 55? As was said earlier, in certain parts of the world they would retire earlier owing to the climatic conditions.

As we all know, it is extremely difficult for men over 45 to find employment following their retirement and their return to our salubrious climate. When mention was made of this climate earlier I tended to think that the hon. Member in question could not have been outside the Chamber dulling the day or he would have seen the snow. If it were possible for some sort of concession to bring this into line with what they would have normally expected, that would take into account what their pension rights would have been from the age of 55.

Mr. Wade

I welcome the Clause. Most hon. Members have been pressing for its provisions for a long time and I am sure that we are all pleased that this relief is to be granted. I would supplement the closing words of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). I, too, have been somewhat puzzled by subsection (4) and I have been in correspondence with the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association about it.

It would seem, if my interpretation is correct, that as it stands a pensioner who retires to the country he served will not benefit but, to use the example of the hon. Member for Wokingham, if he served in country A and retired to country B he would get the benefit. The comment made on this by the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association is: The ill will which the retention of this Clause would engender far outweighs the infinitesimal monetary saving which the Treasury may hope to achieve. In any event, it is hardly in accord with the promise of 'generous treatment' for overseas pensioners made in the House of Commons in July. I hope that we have misunderstood the subsection and that these fears are unfounded. However, we should appreciate an explanation.

Mr. Houghton

On Second Reading, there were many speeches extending a warm welcome to the Clause and bestowing on the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, who will reply, well-deserved praises for his part in bringing it about. We welcome the Clause today as warmly as we did on Second Reading.

The Clause removes a grievance long held—and for long unregarded—by distinguished colonial civil servants who have probably done more to lay the foundations of the Commonwealth today than many people in this or any other country recognise. Perhaps the contrast between the experience of the United Kingdom in granting independence to former Colonial Territories and the consequences of similar steps taken by other countries shows what splendid work was put in by colonial civil servants, very often in very trying conditions.

This was especially so as nationalism expressed itself in more militant and strident terms and the colonial civil servants had to carry on their task as if they were there with the universal approbation of the people of the territories which they were serving. All that can be said on this Clause with sincerity and without exaggeration.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) asked a few questions and I do not know whether I am covering quite the same ground as he covered. Does the Clause now mean that the territories concerned are virtually exempted from doing any more to top up the pensions of their former civil servants? In other words, does the Clause relieve them of any further obligation, or are we still going to remind them of their obligations and hope that they will fulfill them?

I think it rather humiliating to Her Majesty's Government to have to make these representations to poorer countries, struggling in the first stages of independence, and to have to ask them to supplement the pensions of their former civil servants living in this country or elsewhere. One can have sympathy with a poor country like the Sudan which probably retorted, "Do you expect us to subsidise your inflation?"

I hope that this process will cease. I hope, nevertheless, that the territories concerned will continue to pay what they are paying. Presumably that is the intention. Presumably that will mean that they will maintain their payments at present levels and that, whether they have supplemented the pensions or not, they will carry on. Is it the Government's intention that existing payment should continue and that from now on Her Majesty's Government will be responsible for supplementing the pensions to bring them up to the corresponding point of United Kingdom pensions? If so, that would clear our minds. We should know where we are. The other Governments would know where they are and the pensioners would know where they are.

I assume, as I think the hon. Member for Wokingham did, that under Clause 3 (3) there is no doubt that the Secretary for Technical Co-operation will be responsible for bringing up the pensions to correspond as near as may be with the increases payable under any previous Pensions (Increase) Act and this Bill in the case of pensions to which these enactments apply. That seems to mean that it will be possible to go back and calculate from the beginning and say, "This is the point, as near as may be, to which the pensions would have been supplemented if these people had been United Kingdom servants." That seems clear enough, and it seems that the reason why this horrible job is handed over to the Secretary for Technical Co-operation is that it will be very complicated.

I feel that there is some confusion about subsection 4 (a) and (b). We have all received the letter from the Over- seas Service Pensioners' Association, which contains the statement: As it stands at present it means that a pensioner who served, e.g. in Kenya and retired to Kenya, will find himself penalised by getting nothing. Had he served in Tanganyika or Uganda, and retired to Kenya, he would get the supplement. That is what is contained in the statement that I received this morning.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman's study of the Bill leads him to suppose that that statement is necessarily right. The wording is so widely drawn that might it not catch such a person so long as he resides in any of the territories affected by the topping up?

Mr. Houghton

What will be more welcome than my own halting interpretation will be a statement by the Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations who, I understand, is to reply. I say at once, however, that I do not think this statement is correct.

Clause 3 (4, a) states: where the pension is payable in any overseas territory … Paragraph (b) says: where the pension is not payable in any such territory … If it is not in any such territory I am not sure where it is payable, but we shall probably hear about that. It is payable somewhere.

It may be that it is payable in London. That may be the explanation, that if the pension is payable in London and if the person is for the time being resident in any such territory he will get a supplement, but if the pension is payable in Nairobi and he resides in Kenya, or anywhere else for that matter, other than the United Kingdom, he will not get the supplement. However, this point will be cleared up and I do not think that I had better confuse the Committee further by attempting my own version. The statement from the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association does not seem to me to make sense and I do not believe that that could be the effect of this Clause.

It has been represented to us from various quarters that it is unfair to confine the supplement to those who, under subsection (4, a), are resident in the United Kingdom. We were all the time thinking of people resident in the United Kingdom. That is really where we started from. They had come back to this country and they were having to live with other people who were conditioned to current prices and living standards, next door to United Kingdom civil servants who got a supplement under previous pensions increase Acts, and so on, and it seemed only reasonable that they should be put in a corresponding position. That was the sole purpose.

We have to beware not to do harm to those who, for some reason, are not resident in the United Kingdom but are temporarily or permanently resident elsewhere. It may be that the Minister decided that the line should be drawn thus, that in one category there should be those resident in the United Kingdom wherever their pensions are payable, and those whose pensions are payable in the United Kingdom wherever they may be resident, and on the other side those whose pensions are not payable in the United Kingdom and who are not resident in the United Kingdom and who are, therefore, outside the scope of the Clause.

Having qualified for admission to the bar, I will now leave the Minister to give his own version of this complicated matter.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. John Tilney)

As one who is not qualified for admission to the bar, may I say how particularly glad I am to have this opportunity, in the absence of my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Technical Co-operation in Australia, to thank hon. Members on both sides of the Committee for the very kind things they have said, both in the Second Reading debate and also today, about my efforts in past years. This has really been a joint effort from all quarters of the House, on the part of hon. Members both male and female. I am very grateful for what they have said.

I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) for giving such a welcome to this Clause, as have other hon. Members. He asked me what would happen if sudden action was taken by some Government—some punitive action by that Government. This is purely a hypothetical case, and I cannot believe that any Commonwealth Government or the Government of the Sudan would do any such thing and break their agreement, not only with Her Majesty's Government, but their moral agreements with the pensioners concerned. Therefore, I do not think that that matter arises. The regulations that are to be framed will cope merely with the present position, and not with what may possibly happen in the future, however unlikely that may be.

3.30 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham also asked me about the previous Acts, as did the hon. Member for Sowerby. I confirm that the increases under previous Acts will be taken into account when framing these regulations, which will be exceedingly complicated, because the pensioners themselves and the pension increases in different territories are all different, and, frequently, the actual individuals inside the territories receive different pensions. This is going to mean a very great deal of hard work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham asked me at some length about Clause 3 (4). I think that, for the record, it would be better if I rely on my somewhat copious notes, because I agree with hon. Members on both sides of the Committee who have said that this is a very complicated and difficult matter. This subsection introduces the necessary residential qualifications for the payment of the supplement under subsection (1). The effect of subsection (4) is to exclude from eligibility for the supplement, first, officers resident in the country from which their pensions derive. The exclusions apply equally whether the pension is paid in that country or in the United Kingdom. The officers re-employed on contract are eligible, provided that their pensions are paid in the United Kingdom, because we want to encourage people to go back on contract to the territories they know to continue serving those territories.

Secondly, in the case of officers whose pensions are paid in the country from which their pensions are derived and who are resident neither in that country nor in the United Kingdom, these tests are also applicable from time to time; that is, a pensioner ineligible at the effective date of the Bill can render himself eligible by altering his circumstances appropriately. As the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said, the reason for this Clause is to cope with the inflation that has happened in this country, and, largely, to help people who have retired to this country so as to bring them up to the same level as that of those who served at home. It is always possible for those who have retired overseas to arrange for their pensions to be paid in the United Kingdom, and there are, no doubt, double taxation agreements between the country where they are now living and this country.

These reforms reflect the basic principle that Her Majesty's Government are prepared to accept responsibility for supplementing the pensions of overseas officers, but not the pensions of local origin. The exclusion on the first point effectively rules out most of the local pensions. They also rule out the overseas officer who, on retirement, elects to settle in the country from which his pension is derived, since that officer has elected to share the fortunes and the standard of living of that country, and, by corollary, to receive such pension increases as that country may decide to grant. Residence for this purpose does not, however, include residence primarily in discharge of a contract of service with the Government paying the pension provided the pension is paid in the United Kingdom, since there is need to encourage officers to go back and serve.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) also welcomed the Bill and referred to possible anomalies. The regulations are very complicated, but one hopes that they will be so formed as to be reasonably generous. Certainly, I think that Her Majesty's Government and the Treasury have shown very considerable generosity in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard) referred to retirement and the receiving of a pension at the age of 55. No doubt he was thinking of the Palestine pension. But one must bear in mind that there was no successor Government to the Palestine Government. There are pensioners who are paid by the Governments of Jordan and Israel who live in Jordan and Israel, but the other pensioners who live in the United Kingdom have been able to receive in the past increases under past pensions increase Acts but they will not under this Measure receive increases until they reach the age of 60 unless they are ill or incapacitated in some way.

Mr. G. R. Howard

I did not mean Palestine. The case I referred to was Ghana.

Mr. Tilney

The main object behind the Bill is to treat those who have served abroad no less well than those who have stayed at home. That hope has been expressed on all sides of the Committee in past debates, and that is what the Bill seeks to do. I believe it would be wrong to treat those who have served overseas slightly better than those who have stayed at home.

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

I want to supplement the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. G. R. Howard). Commercial companies accept the fact that, because of the circumstances, people working overseas may retire at an earlier age. Should not that be taken account of in dealing with this matter?

Mr. Tilney

I do not think that the rules that commercial companies follow can be followed by Her Majesty's Government. Many people who served overseas and have come back with a pension are able to get other jobs. After all, 55, Which is my age, is not all that old; one is still capable of doing a job from time to time.

The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Wade) referred to subsection (4). I would ask him to remember that there are double taxation agreements with most countries to which our overseas civil servants have retired.

The hon. Member for Sowerby paid a very fitting tribute to Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service. He asked whether the Clause relieved countries of their obligations to "top up" pensions if there is a further increase in the cost of living. The answer is "No". I know that in the past When I was not where I am now I used his argument, but it is only fair to bear in mind that all overseas countries are not poor. A great number are quite rich enough to "top up" pensions, and have done so, and they are rich enough to continue to do so. The hon. Gentleman also asked about overseas civil servants who have served in Kenya and then retired to Tanganyika, or vice versa. I hope that he will bear in mind that such a pensioner can always, if his pension is paid in Kenya, transfer it back to the United Kingdom where he will then get the benefit of the pension increase. That I believe is the right way for such a pensioner.

I want to say how much I agree with the hon. Member in the tribute he has paid to the Overseas Civil Service. I hope that this Bill will not only satisfy those who are on pension but will boost the morale of those who are still serving.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I apologise for intervening again or for seeming to inject a note of disagreement into a Clause which has had the warmest of welcomes, but I listened to my hon. Friend with a note of regret when he dealt with subsection (4). I should make it plain that I have had no representations from any association of overseas pensioners I had to do my own homework so, unlike the distinguished persons who lead the Labour and Liberal Parties, the credit is entirely mine.

Are we not being unnecessarily cheese-paring? The numbers involved must be infinitesimal. It must surely be of benefit to these countries that men of distinction are prepared to spend their lives there, and they should not be penalised. I am not awfully happy about the solution my hon. Friend has proposed in his anxiety to be helpful. I understood from him that it was the view, that a pensioner resident in one of these territories should have his pension transmitted back to London so that he would not be caught by subsection (4, b).

But a person still has to live, so his pension will be transferred back to London and then his aunt will make an allowance out of the kindness of her heart to him in Kenya. If a man came to my office and asked me for expensive legal advice on this matter, that is the kind of advice I would have to give him, but it is what I call legally breaking the law.

My hon. Friend has not got a back bench rebellion on his hands early in his Ministerial career—that will probably come—but on this limited question there is at least one hon. Member who has a sense of regret that we must restrict what is a wonderful step forward because of what I am sorry to have to describe as cheeseparing.

Mr. Tilney

I hope that I am not the poacher turned gamekeeper, but we have thought this problem out with great care for many months and I am afraid I cannot hold out any hope to my hon. Friend of the Government changing their minds.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.