HC Deb 18 December 1963 vol 686 cc1399-408

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

11.22 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I am very glad indeed to have an opportunity tonight to say a few words about the provision which is being made for the Federal public servants. It is true that this matter was raised in yesterday's debate, but as the debate was really on the Order I thought that it was wiser to have my Adjournment debate tonight to get some additional information, because those who are interested in this matter are very anxious to have some further knowledge.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies made this observation last night: After considering the representations of the Staff Association, I am satisfied that there is not really any justification for reopening the inter-governmental agreement, and the five Governments including the Federal Government, all share this view. Nevertheless, the Staff Association has put forward certain proposals which, in its opinion, could be adopted without reopening the Agreement. These proposals will be considered in conjunction with the further detailed recommendations, which have now been received from the Inter-Governmental Committee in Salisbury. These deal with the treatment of hardship cases, the currency in which pensions are to be paid, and other related matters."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th December, 1963; Vol. 686, c. 1068.] Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretady kindly give a little more information about what was in my right hon. Friend's mind? Perhaps he will forgive me if I say that what I want to know is whether this means that there is a firm intention to meet the case which has been put forward by the Staff Association in relation to these matters, on which the Secretary of State I think intended to convey that he was reserving judgment. In other words, I want to know whether this was a firm action and not just a way of sounding conciliatory without really meaning to take action. I should like to be assured that in due course we may expect some real action after the proposals have been considered.

I want to refer also—because it is of great importance—to the statement that was made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary when he was Minister for Central African Affairs, in which he said categorically that on this very human issue of the treatment of the people who were concerned in the break-up of the Federation, we should be judged by our treatment of them. That, I consider, was a very important statement indeed.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-secretary of State will forgive me if I say that I do not consider that the arrangements that have been made are a sound prospectus. If my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary were the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I do not think he would consider that it would be in the interest of the nation as a whole to put forward a prospectus which was so indefinite and ill-drawn. It is not for Her Majesty's Government to present to the Staff Association a prospectus which has so many outstanding points which have not yet been resolved.

I am looking forward to hearing whether my hon. Friend can make a firm statement on the points which were raised by the Staff Association in the memorandum that it sent to my right hon. Friend on 5thDecember. May I briefly put on the record the points that were made in that memorandum. The memorandum from the solicitors representing the Staff Association said: We found the draft Order in Council"— as it then was— very unsatisfactory. It does not make it clear what the currency of the pensions is to be, and the position is pretty vague with regard to the question of making up the fund to the required amount, the location of the fund, the appointment of new trustees and the actual payment of the pensions. I agree with every word that is contained in the memorandum. One should not expect a body of public servants, who have served the Federation to the best of their ability, to regard as satisfactory a scheme designed to protect their interests which is so lacking in the fundamental explanations of what is to be the currency in which the pensions are paid, or of the details of how the pension authority is to be made up. This is not the kind of prospectus that ought to be issued by Her Majesty's Government. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will give some reassurance to those who rightly seek to preserve their position.

I think that a great deal of the anxiety which has been engendered by the unsatisfactory position of the proposals which have been put forward arises from the very real anxiety which those people have, and very rightly have, about their future. I am bound to say that when I attended the meeting at the Commonwealth Relations Office which was presided over by the Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations and I listened to the arguments advanced I did not think the spokesman for the Commonwealth Relations Department met at all the case which was put forward by the spokesman for the Federal public servants. I say again that I do not think that it is right that the Government should come forward with suggestions which give all the appearance of very immature consideration. To my mind it certainly does not add to the lustre of the administration of the Government, nor does it really carry cut the undertaking which was given by my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary when he himself was speaking about the judgment which would be ours, based on the treatment of these people.

If I may, I refer very briefly to the fact of one of the African Governments now independent making attacks, as the Ghana Government have done, on the pensions of the widows whose husbands died and who are now the responsibility of the Ghana Government. It does not, of course, add to the feeling of security of the people who are concerned with this scheme under the Federation. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give us much more convincing evidence that we have got a fair, honourable and proper scheme to put forward to these people for whom we have such real responsibility.

I want very briefly to deal with one or two specific cases because I think they are important. I have received a copy of the terminal benefits and arrangements for the Federal Supreme Court judges. I want to put this on the record because, again, I do not consider that it has been proper treatment of the judges. Presumably my hon. Friend has read this memorandum. If he has not I shall be indeed glad when he sees it on the record. It says: The first occasion the judges became aware of the proposals relating to them was on Monday, 25th November, 1963. It must be remembered that in 1955 the Chief Justice gave up a seat on the Supreme Court of South Africa where he was assured of his full salary until the age of 70, followed by a pension. He did so to serve the Federation. Similarly, Sir Vintcent Quenet in 1961 gave up a secure seal on the High Court of Southern Rhodesia where he was assured of his full salary until the age of 70, followed by a pension. Instead of being compensated on the basis oil salary lost when their present posts are terminated, the proposal is to compensate them on the basis of past service. It is extremely doubtful whether the judges will be offered comparable posts in other courts and it is also extremely doubtful whether they will be able substantially to mitigate their loss by obtaining other employment. It is, to say the least of it, most unfortunate that they should be put in the position at their time of life, 59 plus and 57 respectively, of having to seek employment. The worst feature of all, however, is that the judges have been denied an opportunity to put their case either to Committee A or to Governments, other than the Federal Government, and the latter has been baulked by the laying of the Order in Council. It is not clear why it was considered necessary to freeze the compensation terms for judges into the Order in Council. The Federal Government feels that they could have been left over with other matters for further consideration. This matter justifies the greatest condemnation of Her Majesty's Government for the treatment which has been meted out to these very distinguished servants. This sort of thing would never have been allowed to happen in this country. I am not in a position to say whether under the Order in Council which has now been passed it is possible to deal with the matter fairly and adequately, but, quite apart from the terms of the arrangements which have been made for these distinguished judges, I think that the memorandum adds substance to the point I was making, that the whole matter has been so hurried that there has been no proper consideration of the issues.

To revert to what I was saying earlier, it is now understood that the currency in which the pensions are to be paid has been referred to a sub-committee. At this stage, when the Order in Council has been laid, those of us who are interested in central African affairs would have preferred the Government to put off the matter until proper provision had been made for those who had served the Federation.

I want to raise one other specific individual point. This comes from the Ministry of Health in Nyasaland. It is a letter written to my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), and is signed by Mrs. Elizabeth Sword. It says: I understand that Mr. Sandys has agreed to look into the matter of compensation for those Federal Civil Servants who find it impossible to carry on after the break-up of the Central African Federation. Perhaps the following information in respect of two men, both of whom joined the Colonial Service, may be of interest to him. Case 1…A Nyasaland Government (Colonial) Administrative Officer has just left. He receives £11,000 compensation, plus a bumped-up pension, plus, to my astonishment, a disturbance allowance of £500. Case 2…A Colonial Medical Officer, whose post as Provincial Medical Officer has been abolished, gets a bare pension. Both these men have worked side by side mostly in the Central Province of Nyasaland. One began as an Assistant Administrative Officer, rising, in this case, because of his undoubted ability, to District Commissioner, Deputy Provincial Commissioner and finally to Provincial Commissioner. The second began as a fully qualified Medical Officer with valuable experience in medico-legal work and overseas experience during the war, becoming finally Provincial Medical Officer, Central Province. Whilst I admit that the work of the former was by no means easy, I claim that the latter had a far more arduous job, including much night work. He did not wish to leave Nyasaland and was seconded to the Federal Ministry of Health until 1958 when he had to decide either to transfer to the Federal Ministry of Health or leave the country. I have heard from the medical profession here that it fully supports the point of view put forward on behalf of those who were in the medical profession in the Federation.

I do not want to go further into this now, but I want to ask my hon. Friend if he is aware of the consternation with which this unsatisfactory arrangement has been received by many Hon. Members on both sides of the House. However unfortunate the break-up of the Federation may be, we are entitled, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary himself has said, to expect the Government to see that those who have served the Federation have adequate, fair and just treatment. From my little knowledge of these affairs—although I have taken some trouble to inform myself—I believe that we are entitled to expect some assurance that those who have now become the responsibility of the new pensions authority will not be subject to unfair treatment. If the pensions authority breaks down, there seems to be no provision for dealing with the situation if any of the Governments concerned default on their undertakings.

We have all these agreements and undertakings, but all of us living in the modern world of today have seen so many agreements broken and so many undertakings tossed aside that it would not be right to accept all these assurances, even when the Government are associated with the pensions authority, unless we are certain that if there is a fall away or lack of contributions by any of the Governments concerned, appropriate steps will be taken.

I have put the case frankly and, I hope, reasonably. When we are dealing with human beings, it is absolutely essential to protect their interests. It is true that we have an obligation to protect the interests of Her Majesty's Treasury and Her Majesty's Government, but I am more interested in proper treatment being accorded to individuals. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to give some of the assurances for which I have asked.

11.43 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. R. P. Hornby)

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has raised this matter and I entirely share the anxiety, which she has expressed on this and other occasions when public servants from this country and elsewhere have been concerned, that this problem should be regarded as a human one, and for that very reason it needs to be handled with the greatest possible care and concern. This is a subject which affects the future livelihood of some 35,000 Federal civil servants and I welcome the opportunity to say that the words spoken by my right hon. Friend the present Foreign Secretary, then in charge of these matters, were not idle ones when he said that it was a subject on which we must be judged and on which we had to take the greatest possible care in our decisions.

I wanted to give my hon. Friend that assurance about the anxieties which are shared by all concerned. For reasons which I shall later explain, I cannot at this stage give her all the details for which she rightly asked, and which it is proper that we should examine, as indeed we are doing. In that connection, perhaps I should say a word about the timetable, as my right hon. Friend did yesterday. I freely admit that there has not been time for as carefully prepared a statement as we should have liked. The main reason, as my right hon. Friend explained yesterday, was that the decision of the Victoria Falls Conference imposed a very tight timetable once the decision on dissolution by 31st December had been made. It is inevitably, therefore, to some extent an interim statement that one is making, but I think it is better that one should have all the available knowledge before one, even though it does not represent the complete picture.

As the House will recall, details of the settlement on terminal arrangements for the Federal Public Service were announced on 18th September, and were the result of prolonged discussions between the five Governments concerned. The public service staff associations were given the opportunity of putting their views to the Dissolution Committee while this settlement was being worked out.

The House is familiar with the main details of the settlement, provision for which is made in Part II and the Second Schedule of the Order in Council, and I do not propose to go over those details. I think, however, that the House may like to know the latest assessment that I have been able to obtain of the prospects for future employment.

The most up-to-date information was given very recently by the Federal Minister of the Public Services. He said that of the 21,000 established officers in the Federal Service only 257 have so far been advised that the Territorial Governments are unable to offer them employment. The Federal Minister went on to estimate that it was very unlikely that the number of officers for whom the Territorial Governments could not find employment would exceed 400. He also said that fewer than 900 officers and employees had refused to consider offers of further employment.

So far as unestablished employees are concerned, the Territorial Governments have assured the Federal Public Service Commission that all 15,000 of these em- ployees will be absorbed, almost to a man, and I think my hon. Friend will agree that in terms of jobs available this is encouraging.

I now turn to the main points made by my hon. Friend about redundancy compensation and security of the pension funds. Again I think that the details are fairly well known to my hon. Friend, namely, that officers for whom work cannot be found in their home territory will receive their earned pension plus an additional one-third.

I come next to the question of security. It has clearly been a matter of concern to the Federal Civil Service that there should be the maximum possible security for these terminal benefits, and also for future pensions, and for that reason it has been decided that the existing Federal Tension Fund, with assets amounting to approximately £17.6 million, largely invested in Federal stock should be taken over by a new Fund. Provision for this new Central African Pensions fund is made in Clauses 24 and 25 of the Order in Council, and the Fund will be administered by trustees domiciled in this country and initially appointed jointly by the Governments concerned.

It has been said that the settlement is ungenerous in one of two respects, and I should like to comment on that. The main ground for criticism has been, I think, that the treatment proposed for former Federal officers seems to compare unfavourably with that which has been accorded to ex-members of the Overseas Civil Service. I should like to reiterate, as I am sure my hon. Friend knows, that the Federal Public Service is, and always has been, a locally recruited service. None of its officers has the status of Overseas Civil Servants, and this was made clear at the time of recruitment. I think my hon. Friend will also agree that it would have been impossible to make distinctions, so far as terminal benefits were concerned, based on an officer's race or country of origin, or for that matter country of recruitment.

Perhaps a further point which my hon. Friend and others might have considered is whether Her Majesty's Government ought to have provided additional compensation beyond what has been agreed with the Territorial Governments. There are two reasons why one cannot accept this principle. First, I emphasise again, this is and always has been a locally recruited service, and, secondly, it is simply not possible to distinguish in terms between ex-members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Servants and other Federal officers.

I freely admit that there are certain points which are giving cause for anxiety. My hon. Friend referred to the meeting which she had with my hon. Friend the Minister of State. Since then, as she will know, a number of recommendations have been made by the Dissolution Committee in Salisbury, and also by the staff associations, which were told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that although he could not go back on or reopen the settlement between the Governments concerned he did understand that if there were particular points which the staff associations put up to him which seemed to avoid reopening the intergovernmental settlement these points would be carefully considered. I can give my hon. Friend an assurance that these points, some of which she mentioned, are being most carefully considered. They include such subjects as the currency in which the future pensions will be paid and any possible deficiencies in the pension fund.

I hope, therefore, that what I have said, somewhat briefly and admittedly hurriedly in the time available, will indicate that everything possible is being done to reach a fair and satisfactory settlement of what is a very complex problem, affecting all the Governments concerned, not just the British Government, and that in arriving at a final agreement with the Territorial Governments full account will be taken of the views expressed by the public service associations to my right hon. Friend.

If I may summarise the position, this is a problem of a locally recruited service which, in our view, can best be dealt with in conjunction with the Governments concerned.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at seven minutes to Twelve o'clock