HC Deb 27 February 1964 vol 690 cc629-33

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Prime Minister when he proposes to publish the Plowden Committee's Report; and if he will make a statement.

Q15. Mr. WALL

To ask the Prime Minister if he will now make a statement on the report of the Plowden Committee.

The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

With permission, I will answer Questions Nos. Q10 and Q15 together.

The Government are very grateful to Lord Plowden and the members of his Committee for their Report and for the great amount of effort and thought which they put into it.

The Report concludes that the division of the world for representational purposes into Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries has obvious practical disadvantages and that the logic of events points towards the amalgamation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Relations Offices. It recognises, however, the special nature of the Commonwealth relationship. It therefore recommends that the Foreign and Commonwealth Relations Offices should remain separate, but that a unified overseas representational service to be known as "H.M. Diplomatic Service", should be created. Her Majesty's Government accepts the views of the Plowden Committee and have decided that the unified Service proposed should be formed on 1st January, 1965.

The Queen has graciously agreed that it should be called Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service.

One of thee main purposes of the 1943 reforms was to enable the Foreign Service to seek recruits from the widest possible field; and to this end its conditions of service were designed to ensure that officers had no need of private incomes. The Plowden Committee has, however, been much impressed by the financial difficulties of members of the Foreign Service and of the Commonwealth Service, especially those with several children who must, because of their parents' peripatetic career, be sent to boarding schools in the United Kingdom. Its Report recommends improved conditions of service for the Overseas Services designed particularly for those with children. It also recommends a common system of foreign allowances for members of the Representational Overseas Services and members of the Home Civil Service when serving abroad. Her Majesty's Government have accepted these recommendations subject to a few minor modifications and propose to put them into effect as soon as is practicable after 1st April, 1564.

As membership of the Diplomatic Service will alter in important respects the conditions of service of Commonwealth Relations Office staff, the latter will be able to opt for transfer to Home Civil Service Departments. Members of the Trade Commission Service will be able to apply to enter the Diplomatic Service.

Though the future of the Colonial Office did not fall within the terms of reference of the Plowden Committee, the Government have had it under review and have decided that as soon as possible after the new Diplomatic Service is brought into being—which must be the first step—the Colonial Office should be merged with the Commonwealth Relations Office. It will take some months after vesting date to put into full effect the arrangements for the new Diplomatic Service, so that the merger of the Colonial Office with the Commonwealth Relations Office could not take place until the latter half of 1965, although it will be effected on the earliest possible date in that period and if practicable on 1st July, 1965.

This change in our arrangements for discharging our Commonwealth responsibilities continues the process of integration which my predecessor my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) began in July, 1962, by the appointment of my right hon. Friend to fill the office of Secretary of State for the Colonies in addition to that of Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.

In the implementation of the decisions announced in this statement, the staff problems involved will be worked out in detail in consultation with the staff associations concerned.

Mr. Mayhew

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in studying his long statement and the Report we shall want to be very much convinced that the administrative advantages of integrating these two Services, which I think are fairly obvious and are becoming increasingly obvious, are not outweighed by the possible weakening of the Commonwealth connection involved in what he has said? It is, after all, is it not, a very serious thing to lose an entire body of officials who have a specialised interest in the success of the Commonwealth? Therefore, the Report and the right hon. Gentleman's statement will need very careful study from this point of view.

May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman to say something about the Department of Technical Co-operation? I do not think that he said anything about it.

The Prime Minister

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman wants me to say about the Department of Tech- nical Co-operation, except that I would say that we hope that a number of the officers from the Colonial Service will be able to be absorbed by the Department of Technical Co-operation.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first supplementary question, this is a matter for debate between us and the balance of advantage and disadvantage, but the number of persons in the Colonial Service has varied so rapidly and the number of Colonial Territories has been decreasing so rapidly that there is a very strong case for transfer.

Mr. Wall

Is my right hon. Friend aware how much we welcome the Government's acceptance of this historic Report, which will bring up to date the machinery of external relations'? May I also ask what has been the reaction of Commonwealth Governments and whether any Commonwealth Government has objected to any of the main proposals?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; no Commonwealth Government has objected.

Mr. Gordon Walker

While we must wait until we have seen the Report, may I say that we welcome the general idea of a single Service, but that it is extremely important, as my hon. Friend has said, to preserve the distinction between Commonwealth relations and foreign relations? There is a distinction there which must be preserved. We are very glad to hear about the better conditions, which are long overdue. Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether legislation will be needed to effect these changes, and also whether, after a while, when we have studied these things, we might have a debate on the subject, because I agree that a very historic change is being made?

The Prime Minister

I should like notice on the subject of legislation. Meanwhile, I would say that these are proper matters for debate. I think that they should be debated.

Sir J. Duncan

Would my right hon. Friend consider renaming the new Service the "Ministry of External Affairs" rather than "Foreign Office" to avoid giving offence to certain members of the Commonwealth?

The Prime Minister

The members of the Commonwealth have been consulted, and there have been no objections to our proposals. "Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service" will cover both.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the Department of Technical Co-operation will be involved in the reorganisation of overseas departments that he has mentioned? Is he aware that the Department of Technical Co-operation is, at the moment, manned by an administrative staff which is to a very large extent on secondment from the other overseas departments, and that this is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs? Will he, therefore, bear this in mind in connection with the organisation which is being put forward?

The Prime Minister

We will certainly keep an eye on the organisation of these Government Departments all the time. If the hon. Gentleman would like any specific information about the Department of Technical Co-operation, perhaps he would table a Question.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Would my right hon. Friend say how he visualises the working of the machinery which is responsible for advising him on the higher appointments in this new Service? Will he bear in mind that after the 1944 reform, whereby the Foreign Service was separated from the Home Civil Service, the procedure to be followed in the case of the Foreign Service was different from that of the Home Civil Service and the Commonwealth Service? Would he say whether he visualises it on the old Commonwealth basis or on the new Foreign Service basis?

The Prime Minister

I should like to see that Question on the Order Paper.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this now.