§ 5.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Humphry Berkeley (Lancaster)
I am glad to have the opportunity of drawing to the attention of the House the Plowden Report on Representational Services Overseas.
I fear that I must start by delivering a word of mild rebuke to my own Front Bench, which, in the end of term atmosphere in which we find ourselves, I trust will appear to be benign rather than baleful. The Plowden Report is one of the most important documents to have been produced by a committee in this Session of Parliament. I cannot help feeling that it is a very great pity that the Government should not have found time for us to have a full day's debate on the subject. Over the past few weeks, we have had some knockabout debates, no doubt enjoyable, but some would have been slightly more appropriate to the Cambridge Union than to the House of Commons.
There is a case for arguing that if the House is to be taken seriously by the people we must be given an opportunity of having thoughtful debates on issues which have profound consequences for the whole status of the country abroad. I hope that after the election, when the Leader of the House is still the Leader of the House, he will give some thought to the ways and means whereby our debates can have more relevance to the contemporary needs of our society.
In most respects, this is an admirable Report. Its most far reaching recommendation is that there should be an amalgamation of what are now called the Foreign Service and the Commonwealth Service to provide one unified Diplomatic Service to represent the country abroad. I for one very much welcome that. It is something I myself 1457 have advocated publicly for the last three or four years. At a time when the Commonwealth Relations Office has had an unprecedented expansion in the number of its missions overseas and when it plainly did not have the manpower to fill those posts, it obviously made sense for the two services to amalgamate in this way, and for people to be cross-posted, as they now will be, between Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth posts.
I must confess that I am disappointed that no attention seems to have been paid to a plea which I made several years ago. It was not an original plea because it was referred to in some detail in the Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, which considered the Commonwealth Relations Office in July 1959. The plea was that during a period of decolonisation—very rapid decolonisation as things have turned out—we ought not to lose for the service of the country the immense reservoir of experience and talent existing in the Colonial Service. In 1959 the Select Committee on Estimates reported:… the C.O. should not miss the opportunity of strengthening itself by filling its vacancies … as far as possible from the Colonial Service officers … The C.R.O. does not, however, share this view. Your Committee therefore recommend that every possible advantage should be taken of this source of recruits, and that the C.R.O. should throw over its inhibitions concerning the unacceptability of these officers to the new Governments…In fact, we have missed a wonderful opportunity of recruiting people who have served in administrative posts in Africa, many with a lifetime's experience of working in that continent and who could have brought to bear experience which would have been invaluable in a diplomatic rôle. The Commonwealth Relations Office, as the Select Committee recognised, has had a wholly irrational prejudice against these people for many years.
The Civil Service Commissioners have not made life any easier by insisting that Colonial Service officers should sit for the home Civil Service examination before they can be accepted on transfer to other Government Departments. I have always thought that it is quite absurd to submit distinguished men, perhaps in their middle 40s, to the humiliation of sitting for an examination whose whole purpose is to ascertain qualities about them which are 1458 in fact already known in many reports from governors, chief secretaries and so on.
Largely due to the wholly irrational prejudice of the Commonwealth Relations Office and the inflexibility of mind of the Civil Service Commissioners, we have, unfortunately, lost for ourselves a treasure of knowledge of Africa which any other country would have given the earth to have possessed. I am sorry that even at this late stage the Plowden Committee could not have made a positive recommendation in respect of that class of person.
Where the Plowden Report seriously fails to pursue the logic of its own thinking is in recommending the continuation of the two offices, the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office, for the conduct of Britain's diplomacy abroad. As we know, it recommends the amalgamation of the Services, but also the continuation of the two separate offices.
I will quote from paragraphs 41 and 44 of the Report which get to the nub of the problem and produce unanswerable evidence in favour of the amalgamation of the Foreign and Commonwealth Relations Offices. Paragraph 41 deals with certain shortcomings in the present system It states:The most serious of these is that the division of the world for representational purposes into Commonwealth, non-Commonwealth countries impedes the development and execution of a coherent foreign policy. It cuts across every other kind of international grouping and association. Membership of the Commonwealth is only one of the factors which helps to shape the policy of any Commonwealth country and it is rarely the decisive one.The Report goes on, in paragraph 44, to say:The logic of events points towards the amalgamation of the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Foreign Office. The unified control and execution of our external policy as a whole which would result would be a rational and helpful development. This must, in our view, be the ultimate aim. However, to take such a fundamental step now could be misinterpreted as implying a loss of interest in the Commonwealth partnership.And then is added, as it seems to me totally going back on the previous argument:We therefore hesitate to recommend the establishment of a single Ministry of External Affairs … at the present time.1459 There are two points. First, the argument in paragraph 41 is, I think, absolutely valid and unanswerable. Secondly if, in fact, the only reason why the Plowden Committee decided against the amalgamation of the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Foreign Office was it might now be misinterpreted as implying a loss of interest in the Commonwealth partnership, I should like to know when there is likely to be a time which would be more acceptable. Would it be easier in five, ten or twenty years time? Why would it be easier? If it is the right thing to do, why should not we do it at the present time? I propose to say a few words about Commonwealth reaction to these proposals a little later on.
I should like to underline my own view that it is nonsensical for the external affairs policy of this country to be divided between two separate Government Departments, one of which is responsible for the diplomatic relations with the 17 other members of the Commonwealth and one of which is responsible for the 80-odd countries outside the Commonwealth. I do not believe that the existence of two quite separate Government Departments handling our external affairs in this way can prevent there being two separate views on many issues which arise in different parts of the world where there are Foreign Office and Commonwealth Relations Office interests. I feel bound to say that I do not believe that the Commonwealth Relations Office, which was initially created as a sort of liaison machinery between Whitehall and the White Dominions, has the capacity to act in the sphere of diplomacy with the same knowledge of world events and the same experience as the Foreign Office.
If one needs proof of this, one has only, to look at the events which took place at the beginning of the year in Zanzibar to see what can happen and what a Government Department which is not versed in the arts of diplomacy can do if it is in charge of a particular sphere of our interests. Our handling of the Zanzibar question was calamitous. I suppose that it was the Colonial Office which was responsible for giving independence to the wrong people. Where I think that the Commonwealth Relations Office must bear a very heavy 1460 share of the burden is in respect of the ludicrous delay of five weeks which took place between the revolution breaking out and recognition being granted to the Zanzibar Government; and of the humiliating position of our High Commissioner being expelled from Zanzibar and the even more Gilbertian situation of our granting recognition to the Zanzibar Government within 48 hours of our High Commissioner having been expelled. I do not believe that any problem could have been more maladroitly handled.
I discussed this with certain officials in the Commonwealth Relations Office, and I was given what I consider to be a wholly unbelievable answer. I was told, "Of course, the Secretrary of State likes to deal with one problem at a time, and he was very busy over Cyprus." It seems to me that this exactly illustrates the amateurism which exists within the Commonwealth Relations Office and which, I think, stems from the fact that it was never intended to be the centre of this country's diplomacy. That precisely indicates why it is unsatisfactory that the Commonwealth Relations Office should be used in this diplomatic rôle. One has only to imagine what the world would have said if a Foreign Office official said, "I am awfully sorry, we have lost West Berlin, but the Foreign Secretary likes to deal with one problem at a time and he was frightfully busy over South Vietnam." It is inconceivable that such an answer could be given. Yet, owing to the fumblings of our policy in East Africa, we have seen in Zanzibar the first Communist foothold on the continent of Africa.
I believe this to be an immensely serious development and one for which the Commonwealth Relations Office must bear some responsibility because of its dilatoriness during this critical period when much could have been done to avoid the situation which arose had diplomacy been conducted more expertly.
In some ways it is a curious and rather worrying fact that so many of the trouble centres on the circumference—as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary called them in a recent foreign affairs debate—are places where, technically, the Commonwealth Relations Office is in charge. We have the war in Malaysia, 1461 which is a Commonwealth country. Relationships with Malaysia are conducted by the Commonwealth Relations Office. We have Cyprus, which I visited a few months ago, which again, oddly, is a Commonwealth country. There relations are conducted by the Commonwealth Relations Office and not by the Foreign Office. Although the Cyprus problem is a Mediterranean problem, a N.A.T.O. problem, a U.N.O. problem, so far as this country is concerned Cyprus is dealt with by the Commonwealth Relations Office.
Aden is a country in which there is a dual interest. There is the Foreign Office overall interest in the Middle East and the Commonwealth Relations Office interest in Aden. In British Guiana there is a dual interest—in fact, there are three interests; the Commonwealth Relations Office interest in the Caribbean, the Colonial Office direct relationship with British Guiana, and the Foreign Office relationship with the United States of America and the Organisation of American States. As I say, I do not believe that we can put out a coherent, purposeful foreign policy so long as this is being undertaken on our behalf by two Government Departments, and so long as in so many parts of the world where we are threatened with imminent wars, conflagrations and disturbances the vehicle through which we conduct our diplomacy is not the Foreign Office but the Commonwealth Relations Office, which I believe to be too amateur and inexpert to conduct this sort of diplomacy.
I want to say a word or two in elaboration of my view that the Commonwealth Relations Office is not the right Department to conduct this country's diplomacy. It seems that its members have now worked out in their minds certain completely mythical situations which bear very little resemblance to the truth. They talk about the very special family relationship we have. Of course it is a relationship of a sort, but it is not a relationship of such a kind that the traditional arts of diplomacy should not be used.
In some respects the Commonwealth Relations Office in its conduct of relations between this country and the Commonwealth is so frightened of putting a foot wrong and of giving offence that at times it is almost paralysed into inaction. 1462 I recall a case a few months ago when a British lecturer in the University of Ghana had been placed under preventive detention. Our High Commissioner had asked the Ghana Government for permission to visit this British subject, but he was refused permission to do so.
The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations—not my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Fisher), who is to reply to this debate, but one of the others—when questioned about it in the House confirmed that the High Commissioner had not been given access to the British subject who had been detained. He went on to say:the less said about it … the better."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1964; Vol. 688, c. 515.]I thought that a wholly deplorable answer, and I was very pleased to see that it was castigated in The Times in a leader the following day.
What kind of special relationship can it be if one is so frightened to make any protest at all that the least said about it the better? On the contrary, in a case like this the more one says the better. If it is a special family relationship, we should say that this is not the way to behave towards each other's subjects.
I have considerable doubts about the wisdom with which the High Commission in Uganda handled the episode of the rather ridiculous party there a year ago. I had letters from some who were involved in that party. It was made quite clear to me as a result of correspondence that the High Commission in Uganda had been of very much less use to the British subjects involved than any embassy would have been in a foreign country. If the Commonwealth Relations Office view of how to conduct its relationship with our Commonwealth countries is to keep quiet, to say nothing, to shut up and do nothing to cause offence, the sooner the more traditional arts of diplomacy as practised by the Foreign Office are brought to bear, the better it will be for everyone concerned.
§ Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)
I have just come back from Uganda. I found the British people there thought that in view of the unfortunate nature of that party on the whole it was dealt with in perhaps the wisest way. The unwisdom started with the party, not with the handling of it.
§ Mr. Berkeley
No one, of course, will defend the holding of the party. It was very foolish indeed, but the point is not what the people think there but what assistance was given to the people involved, by the British High Commission in Uganda. I have been in correspondence with some of those people. I am satisfied, no matter what other British residents who were not involved in the party may say, that the people who were involved who were very foolish but were British subjects, would have got more co-operation from any British embassy than they received from the High Commission.
The real question we have to ask ourselves, because this is the basic objection which the Plowden Committee had to the amalgamation of the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office, is: would the Commonwealth mind if they were merged? We are often told that this would be a great blow to the interests of the Commonwealth and that other Commonwealth countries would feel that we no longer took the Commonwealth seriously. I can speak only from personal experience. I have visited 13 of the 18 member countries of the Commonwealth, most of them several times. I have frequently put this question, in some cases to Prime Ministers and in some to other Ministers in those countries. I have never encountered any objection from anyone to the idea of merging the Commonwealth Relations Office with the Foreign Office.
We have to recognise that if we are to give new meaning to the Commonwealth and bring significance to the Commonwealth, which all of us feel desirable as a result of the Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference, what is needed is not a Commonwealth Relations Office which is merely a British Government Department, but an institutional organ for the Commonwealth itself. That is why I was tremendously encouraged by the suggestion put forward for the establishment of an international Commonwealth secretariat responsible to all the Commonwealth Governments.
That would not be out of keeping with other international institutions. In N.A.T.O., for example, all the nations have a special relationship, but N.A.T.O. has a Secretariat and has a Council. In this country we do not have a Minister 1464 of N.A.T.O. Affairs nor a N.A.T.O. Ministry. N.A.T.O. is kept together through N.A.T.O. institutions. The Commonwealth can be kept together, not through a British Government Department which serves Britain and Britain's interests, but by Commonwealth institutions, by the Commonwealth conferences, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and a Commonwealth secretariat internationally served and responsible to all the member Governments of the Commonwealth.
When people talk about the abolition of a particular British Government Department, for that is all it is, affecting the whole nature of the Commonwealth they have not the least idea about what kind of organisms the Commonwealth needs in order to be kept together and to grow. The kind of organisation it needs is the kind I have described. Nor would anyone argue that only the Commonwealth Relations Office understands how to deal with the special relationship. After all, we have a very special relationship with the United States and we have had it ever since it became the United States. We have entrusted it to the Foreign Office, and very successfully has that worked. We have to clear our minds of some of these very woolly clouds which surround many discussions about the Commonwealth, and to try to comprehend the realities.
I should like to see a Department of External Affairs covering both the Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries with a Ministerial structure based upon geographical areas. How much more effective we could be if, instead of having two Ministers of State and Under-Secretaries for the Foreign Office and the same for the Commonwealth Relations Office, we had a Minister of State for African Affairs with the same detailed knowledge of African politics as Governor Mennen Williams has in the United States Administration. Would it not be a good idea to have a Minister of State for Far Eastern Affairs, a Minister of State for the Middle East, a Minister of State for Europe, a Minister of State perhaps for disarmament, and also, within the Ministry for External Affairs, a Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations who would be primarily responsible for personal contact and protocol rather than for policy? This is 1465 a much more sensible way of trying to build up an effective Ministerial responsibility for the conduct of our vast overseas responsibilities.
I have so far talked about the diplomatic rôle of this country, but the country has a much more important rôle than that. We are by far the richest country in the Commonwealth and one of the richest countries in the world and, now that we are no longer governing the Empire, we have a prime duty to inject aid into the poorer parts of the world. We have to set a lead in establishing a pattern of behaviour between the rich and the poor countries, and that is why it seems to me that the second most important single factor in our evolving relationship with the Commonwealth—this being our special responsibility—must be the establishment, with Cabinet rank, of a full Minister for Overseas Development. I am convinced that this is necessary.
Within its very confined limitations, the Department for Technical Co-operation does an excellent job. Many of us know Sir Andrew Cohen, and those who do, admire him. I have great respect for the enthusiasm which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of Technical Co-operation has shown since he took on the duties. But what a deplorable title for the Ministry. "Technical Co-operation" sounds dismally dull. What deplorable terms of reference the Department has. It is concerned mainly with getting people—getting experts. It is wholly outside its province to deal with any capital project of any kind. After the election, I want to see a Minister in the Cabinet with the title of Minister or Secretary of State for Overseas Development—a Minister in the Cabinet who will have the duty of pressing for money and trying to prise money out of the Treasury. We all realise that the Treasury will say, "No" most of the time, and that any Minister who is not a Cabinet Minister is not in a position to press for money.
No organisation exists in the Government at present which interests itself in development projects overseas and can give advice to developing countries on how their economy can be developed, which project to go for and which project we will finance. The Common- 1466 wealth Relations Office is frightened of interfering and frightened of appearing to be neo-colonialist. It is my belief that if we could produce substantial sums of money and if we could produce from a Government development department plans which could be followed, it would be widely appreciated throughout the Commonwealth and the under-developed world.
I also think that it is about time that we stopped this scandalous fraud of making developing countries pay for the cost of the pensions of their expatriate civil servants, frequently lending them money with which to do so and then calling that money, which we lend them, aid. It is not aid at all. I gather that in 1963–64, £12½ million was loaned to the under-developed countries to pay expatriate civil servants who had all retired to this country, and that £12½ million was included in the figure of overseas aid which we gave. In fact, it was not going abroad at all but was going to Somerset, Cheltenham, Bath and similar places.
I am the last person to complain at compensation being paid to expatriate civil servants. Of course they should be compensated—and generously. In the Zambia debate I attacked the Government for their thoroughly mean behaviour towards the Federal civil servants and towards the non-designated civil servants in Northern Rhodesia. This is an obligation which we should ourselves accept. It is humiliating for a country with a national income per head of the population as high as ours to expect Malawi to borrow money from us, with an income per head of population of only £18 a year, in order to pay their expatriate civil servants. It is a final insult to call these loans, made for this purpose, development aid. We should end this fraud and hypocrisy for ever.
I have spoken at some length, for which I apologise. It is an immensely important subject. We talk about modernisation and it is about time, first of all, that we modernised our diplomacy and the weapon which we have at our command in carrying out our diplomacy; and secondly, that we understood that our obligations to the poorer half of the world have not ceased since we ceased to have an Empire but, on the contrary, have increased. If we are to make that 1467 aid effective, we must have the machinery to do it. That is why I am sorry that the Plowden Committee's Report, excellent as it was, as far as it went, did not carry the matter further and recommend an amalgamated Commonwealth Relations Office and Foreign Office and, in particular, recommend at Cabinet level this all-important appointment of a Minister for Overseas Development, which would enable Britain to undertake to the full her obligations to the modern world.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Mayhew (Woolwich, East)
We are all grateful to the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley), first of all because he has raised the subject of the Plowden Committee's Report in the House when the Government, I think wrongly, declined to give any time to debate it, and, secondly, for a speech which showed what value can attach to the speech of well-informed and independently-minded Members when they take up a subject of this kind. I had expected his speech to be more geared to the Plowden Committee's Report and, in particular, to the main recommendation about the continuance of two Ministries, but he will command support on both sides of the House for a number of things which he said, for example his references to the need for a Minister for Overseas Development who would have Cabinet rank.
He will also command much all-party support for the strictures which he made on the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and his Department. If it is true, however, that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations has bungled a number of problems brought to him, and if it is true, as the hon. Member suggested, that the personnel of the Commonwealth Relations Office is amateur and inefficient, this is not necessarily a reason for amalgamating the two Ministries but a reason for getting a new Secretary of State and a new lot of officials at the Commonwealth Relations Office.
The main point of the Plowden Committee's Report which is controversial concerns the question whether we should merge the Commonwealth Relations Office with the Foreign Office. I agree that administrative logic seems to point in that direction. If it is generally 1468 agreed, as seems to be the case, that, on grounds of easier recruitment, easier cross-posting, easier administration and a number of other grounds, we should merge the two overseas services, then at first sight it seems to a tidy mind that the two Ministries should also be merged. On the other hand, we should be very cautious about this kind of logic, for logic has not always been successfully applied to Commonwealth relations. I am not sure where the Commonwealth would go if we all applied too rigid standards of logic to it.
We are in danger on this point of confusing the ends with the means. We must ask ourselves what our objectives are in relation to the Commonwealth. What do we want to do in the way of Commonwealth trade, Commonwealth development, Commonwealth connections, and the Commonwealth Secretariat, to which the hon. Gentleman referred? We must get clear in our minds what we want to achieve and then design the administrative machine to forward our policy. It would be a great mistake, by taking what looks like a tidy administrative decision, to undermine the possibility of building up the unity and importance of the Commonwealth in the modern world.
Hon. Members on this side of the House will broadly agree that, if we believe that the Commonwealth has a great future, if we believe that it is more than a gigantic farce and that the talk about it is more than woolly and cloudy phraseology, which the hon. Gentleman described it as, we must ensure that we have the administration for our Commonwealth relations that they deserve. In spite of merging the two overseas services, we must surely agree that diplomacy in a Commonwealth country and diplomacy in a foreign country are not the same thing. The problems are not identical. Questions of history and of special relationships make a great difference. Above all, there is the point that we wish to increase the strength and the unity of the Commonwealth in a special manner which distinguishes our objectives with many other countries.
Therefore, there is a strong need for maintaining a group of powerful and influential people in London who have a vested interest in the success of the 1469 Commonwealth. One of the first principles of administration is that, if it is desired to make something succeed, one should gather together a group of influential people with a vested interest in its success. Thus, I think that the existence of the Commonwealth Relations Office could have a constructive effect in the long term on our Commonwealth relations.
A strange point made by the hon. Gentleman was that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations could not, according to his officials, deal with Zanzibar because he liked to deal with one problem at once. What is the consequence of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion—that all the things which the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations cannot deal with should be pushed as an even greater burden on the shoulders of the Foreign Office Ministers, whom the hon. Gentleman assumed are not busy enough? This is very doubtful indeed.
§ Mr. Berkeley
I should like to make it clear that I envisaged that in an expanded External Affairs Office there would be an increased number of Ministers. I specifically said that I wanted there to be Ministers of State for definite geographical areas. This would lessen the Ministerial burden.
§ Mr. Mayhew
I shall come later to the question whether very tricky questions such as Zanzibar should be decided at Minister of State level. This is a very important point which must be considered. In any case, the burden already on the Foreign Secretary and, I would say, on the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, is excessive. Whatever faults we may find with the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, none of us complains that he does not work hard or that he does not have heavy responsibilities. Many of us would agree that some of his decisions may have suffered as a result of the work burden. Therefore, it is a very questionable proposition that all this high level decision should go on to the shoulders of the Foreign Secretary who, Heaven knows, is already heavily loaded with decisions.
I cannot believe that it takes the right perspective of Commonwealth relations to suggest that they should be in the hands of a Minister of State just as 1470 some other region of the world or just as some other problem like disarmament. Important as these other regions of the world are, it must be agreed that we have a special policy towards the Commonwealth countries and a special objective. To institute a Minister of State for Commonwealth Relations who—I quote the hon. Gentleman—would deal mainly with protocol and personal contacts would, I believe, depreciate the whole conception of the Commonwealth in a most dangerous fashion.
Why does the hon. Gentleman suppose that a Minister of State will be a proper person to make the personal contacts throughout the Commonwealth? I doubt very much whether Commonwealth Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers will be content to make their contacts in London with anyone except someone at the top Cabinet level. We shall not keep the burden of work off the top level Cabinet Ministers by appointing a Minister of State to deal with contacts within the Commonwealth.
The policy must be co-ordinated. This is vital. It is a question not whether we can co-ordinate but at what level we want the co-ordination to take place. If the two Ministries are merged, there will be co-ordination at a lower level than there is at present. This stands to reason. At present, such co-ordination as there is often takes place at Cabinet level. In recent years we have noticed failures in co-ordination. If the two Ministries are merged, coordination must take place at a lower level. There are great dangers in this, because any point of contact between the C.R.O. and the Foreign Office by definition involves a conflict between our relations with a Commonwealth country and our relations with a foreign country. These are not problems which should be settled at a low level by officials and brought to Ministers as an agreed policy. They are often much too important for that kind of decision to be taken at that kind of level.
It must be noted also that, if they are taken at the low level, there is a strong probability in a merged service that the Foreign Office view will prevail over the C.R.O. view. It must be borne in mind that the Foreign Office is much stronger in numbers—the hon. Gentleman said that it was also stronger in 1471 talent—than the C.R.O. I ask the hon. Gentleman to imagine some difficult question in which Commonwealth and foreign interests had to be balanced being discussed by officials at a comparatively low level, especially if the officials from the Commonwealth side were of the calibre of which the hon. Gentleman spoke. At every stage it would be the Commonwealth interest which went under. We on this side see considerable difficulties about that.
In my view, these two Departments can co-ordinate as two different Ministries. They live in the same building. The same appalling inefficient building houses both the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office. The officials trip over the same coal scuttles and empty milk bottles in the corridors. There is no real reason why when they come together they should not adequately co-ordinate policy, but these arrangements often need to be adjusted at the top level and there is, therefore, a need for a Cabinet Minister specifically involved in Commonwealth relations.
I hope that I have made the point clear. I do not say that a situation will never arise in which it might seem to be in the interests of the Commonwealth to have a single Ministry, but to abolish the Commonwealth Relations Office now, after a successful Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, especially for the kind of reasons advanced by the hon. Gentleman, would seem to be most unwise. It seems that the case of the Plowden Committee is made out for retaining the two Ministries at present.
I turn to some other aspects of the Report. I congratulate the Government on the speed and generosity with which they have carried out the recommendations on foreign service allowances. This was a tremendously important point, particularly in relation to the children of foreign servants overseas. I have often thought with some dread of the possibility of making a study of neurosis and divorce in the families of foreign servants overseas. It is a very human, and indeed administrative, problem. The fact that children will now be able to travel at least twice a year—I am not sure why it 1472 should not be three times a year—overseas to see their parents is a vitally important matter. Also important is the fact that foreign servants can afford, if they wish, to send their children to boarding schools, which is a very practical important point for them.
One of the most interesting parts of the Report was about the sources of recruitment for the Foreign Service. On schools the trend seems to be in the right direction. It is true that 70 per cent. of applicants for the senior branch still come from the public schools, 8 per cent. from direct-grant schools, and 20 per cent. from State schools, but the trend is at least in the right direction, namely, towards a broader area of recruitment.
The universities, on the other hand, are fantastically dominated by Oxbridge from the point of view of recruitment for the Foreign Service. At present, 57 per cent. come from Oxford, 35 per cent. from Cambridge, something over 5 per cent. from other universities, and just over 1 per cent. from no university at all. The Committee state that there is no weighting of the scales by the Civil Service Commission in recruiting methods. It attributes it partly to the fact that the arts are identified with Oxbridge and science with the new universities. I consider that this is a prejudice which, in relation to the Foreign Service, should be broken down. There is no reason why the arts, rather than science, should qualify a modern diplomat for his work. Whether he is dealing with trade, aid, disarmament or anything else, a scientific background today is in some cases indispensable and, I should have thought, equally as valuable as an arts education at a university.
Because of this, I urge the Government to comment on the recommendation of the Plowden Committee that the appointments board should do more to sell the conception of careers in the Foreign Service to the teaching staffs of universities as well as others. There should also be achieved a better bridging system between the executive and administrative class inside the Foreign Service and greater facilities made available for over-age entry.
I must say a word about women, because I married a woman diplomat, one of the first to enter the Diplomatic Service. My wife and I were thereby presented with the choice that either she 1473 should leave her career or I should follow her from place to place with the chance of becoming the husband of one of Her Majesty's Ambassadors. It was a stark choice, one which is bound to be faced by many women diplomats. The Plowden Committee suggested some relaxation of the marriage bar in the Foreign Service, and I would like to know whether the Government propose to take action on the recommendation that women diplomats in this situation should have the chance of opting for home service. Women employed in this sphere tend to be highly talented, highly trained and useful individuals, and I fear that the Government will continue to lose a considerable source of talent if they fail to take a generous line on this recommendation.
I hope that the Minister will comment on the Committee's recommendation about the level of work in overseas missions. My impression is, from having visited a number of these missions, that some are doing a great deal more hard work than others. I fear that work goes on when it is useful but not essential and that work continues to be done on things which were once essential but which are no longer so. I very much like the recommendation that the heads of missions should report annually on the work being done in their missions so that priorities can be laid down in London for staffing and responsibilities.
These are some of the points that come to mind arising out of the Report. I wish to express my congratulations to the Committee on producing a thoroughly readable and well-informed document. I realise that several hon. Members played a part in its production and I hope that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to its recommendations.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe (Windsor)
I must begin by declaring a personal interest in the subject under discussion, because I was a member of the Plowden Committee. I would also like, at the outset, to pay tribute to Lord Plowden for his extremely able chairmanship of the Committee.
This is not the occasion for a full-scale debate of the Report, which, the whole House will agree, is an important document, because it makes some far reaching recommendations, so I will content my- 1474 self by commenting on what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) and the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew).
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that better use might have been made earlier of some of the extremely able Colonial Overseas Service officers who, through no fault of their own, found themselves unemployed when the territories which they were serving ceased to be Colonies and became independent Commonwealth countries. He is probably right in saying that in certain quarters there was undue sensitiveness about their employment. One could not, of course, re-employ, for example, district commissioners in the same territories when those territories cease to be Colonies, and became independent Commonwealth countries. Nevertheless, more of these could have been employed in another capacity elsewhere with great benefit.
One of the earliest problems we discussed in the evidence we received on the Plowden Committee was that since, jointly, the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Relations Office now have a responsibility for the whole of Africa, there is a singular shortage of personnel who have any intimate knowledge of the African languages. This is a point which we had very much in mind when we made our recommendations about training in difficult languages for entry to the new Diplomatic Service.
I appreciate the feelings of my hon. Friend when he said that the Committee had not gone far enough in its conclusions. I see the force of his argument that we had not gone the whole hog, as it were, and recommending a single Ministry of External Affairs. I admit, if he wishes, that that was in one sense the automatic and logical conclusion of certain of our recommendations, but that is not quite the whole story.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East put his finger on the problem when he said that while, logically, we might have gone the whole way and recommended a single Ministry of External Affairs, to have done so might have resulted in misunderstanding. Indeed, it might have been thought that in some way this was a kind of wind-up of Commonwealth interest by Her Majesty's Government, 1475 which certainly would not have been the case. Nevertheless, it could have been misunderstood, and such misunderstanding might have caused unnecessary offence and ill feeling.
That is what I would call one of the psychological points to arise from our recommendations, but there are also certain practical difficulties, to which reference has been made. Our Report was unanimous, I think that we were right, and I defend what we recommended. On this basis the remedy is to do what we suggested, remembering that we recommended that in the first stage we should merge the Commonwealth Relations Office and Foreign Office personnel overseas into a single overseas service. Having made that recommendation, I am sure that—taking this to its logical conclusion—it would be wise to see just how that amalgamation settled down, what sort of unseen problems arose, how to cope with them and so on before going any further. It would be wise, I suggest, to have a longish pause to see how the overseas amalgamation goes and what sort of problems arise before deciding anything further.
It must be remembered, too, that three services are affected, because the trade commissioners come into this. This means that the personnel of all three services will in one form or another be amalgamated into a single overseas service, although the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Relations Office will retain their two separate Departments of State in the United Kingdom. I believe that to have recommended going the whole hog at once would have been impracticable and would have caused a good deal of misunderstanding.
No one would seriously deny that the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations do not have colossal burdens resting on their shoulders. To put the two Departments together under one man seems to me to be very unwise—
§ Mr. Berkeley
After all, the American Secretary of State is responsible for the whole of the external affairs policy of the United States, and Mr. Gromyko has the same responsibility for the Soviet Union. I cannot see why it should be 1476 beyond the bounds of a British Minister of External Affairs to do the same.
§ Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe
If I may say so, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union have quite the same historical problem of merging a Colonial Territory into a Commonwealth Territory, with all the very special traditions and techniques needed in dealing with growing Commonwealth countries. Their problem is not quite the same. I am not sure that we can argue this purely on a geographical basis and say that they can all be adequately dealt with by a single Department of State. We have to proceed carefully. I agree that the logic is there, but I think that it would be wise to follow our recommendation to merge the overseas services as a first stage, and then wait quite a considerable time before deciding whether or not to go further.
The hon. Member for Woolwich, East is perfectly right in what he says about allowances. In my view, the increase in the allowances is long overdue. I am very glad that the Government accepted the recommendation about the children's holiday journeys; that in two holidays out of three the children should be able to see their parents is very important. When people in the Foreign Service marry, and go to a distant post, when their children are of school age they have to be sent to a boarding school. They have to be left at school in England, because educational facilities for children of boarding-school age do not exist in Jakarta, Santiago, or Lima. It is a tremendous strain—financial, moral and psychological—if Foreign Service officers and their wives are separated for very long periods from their growing children. There is an additional difficulty if children are ill—it is extremely expensive to fly from the other side of the world to see them.
I do not quite agree with what the hon. Gentleman said about recruitment. He is quite right in saying that there is no discrimination between the redbrick universities and Oxbridge, but the common experience is that it is extremely difficult to get candidates from the redbrick universities to sit for the Foreign Service examinations, and one cannot get entrants from nonexistent candidates. The Service can only choose from those candidates who 1477 offer themselves for selection, and the fact is that at present over 80 per cent. of the candidates offering themselves come from the two older universities.
The Foreign Service must have the best; to assume anything else would be unwise. It is equally true, though controversial, that if we want the best we need a very large proportion of candidates with a good arts degree. There is scope for those with a science degree, but I am not sure that it is not a limited scope. If we want those with a good arts degree, it is unquestionable that the best of them come from Oxford and Cambridge—that is all there is to it.
As a member of the Plowden Committee, I thank the Government for accepting our unanimous Report. We, for our part, are very happy to feel that we have done something to improve the pay, conditions, allowances and general structure of our very important Diplomatic Service, and its function in the future.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and for the Colonies (Mr. Nigel Fisher)
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mr. Berkeley) for raising today this very important matter of the Plowden Report on our Representational Services Overseas. It is certainly right that the House should debate this Report; it has surprised me that it has not done so before.
The Government very much welcome the Report, and we are very grateful to Lord Plowden and his colleagues for the immense amount of work and thought they put into it, and I am fortunate to have the support and advice today of my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe), who was a member of the Committee.
As the House knows, the Government accept, and intend to implement, the main recommendations of the Report, and we are now making the administrative preparations that are necessary to establish a single, unified Diplomatic Service on 1st January next year. We are also preparing for the merger of the Colonial Office with the Commonwealth Relations Office on 1st July next year, if possible.
1478 Most of the Plowden Committee's recommendations on conditions of service for the Diplomatic Service have already been brought into effect for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Trade Commission Services and, except for some really very minor modifications, the rest, relating to the rather complicated structure of allowances for officers serving overseas, will be introduced as soon as possible.
On one very important aspect my hon. Friend goes much further than Lord Plowden. He asks for the immediate merger, in effect, of the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office in the form of a single Ministry of External Affairs, and as everyone who has taken part in this short debate has made this the main theme—and it is the most important aspect—I will come directly to it.
It is argued, as I understand it, in favour of this course that if we have two Cabinet Ministers with two different Departments engaged on external affairs we are likely to have conflicting external policies. I quite understand that argument, and it would be idle to deny that in any Government there is sometimes a different angle or emphasis, as between one Department or Minister and another, on the same subject or about the same part of the world. But, with respect, I think that the argument involves a misunderstanding of our system of government.
To begin with, there are not just two Departments and two Ministers involved—the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and the Board of Trade all have a very important say in our external policies. Secondly, it is the function and purpose of the Cabinet system of Government to take account of all departmental interests in formulating a single line of external policy. I think that it is conventional not to name any particular Cabinet Committee, but one can say that that is really what Cabinet Committees are for.
Nor is it only a matter of Cabinet structure and of Cabinet Ministers. Officials of all Departments in Whitehall are in constant touch with each other, explaining, arguing and discussing all issues at all levels, and I should think that these contacts are closest of all between the Foreign Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office—which are, 1479 as we have been reminded, housed virtually in the same building.
I do not pretend, and would not dream of doing so, that there are not disadvantages in having two Departments. There are, and we are trying to minimise them all the time. But they are usually exaggerated, and I am sure that they would be outweighed by the other disadvantages of trying to merge the two Departments at the present time. One cannot possibly foresee the future—least of all in politics—and I do not rule the idea out for all time, but it is fair to say that our Commonwealth relationships today are rather different from our relationships with foreign countries—and different in ways that call for special attention in London, where Commonwealth links, in practice, converge.
It would also be difficult, in practice, for one Minister to discharge adequately the duties of Foreign Secretary, Commonwealth Secretary and Colonial Secretary. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Woolwich, East (Mr. Mayhew) for his support on this and, indeed, on other points. It is exactly the point to which there is the strongest practical objection in this whole argument.
It is within the recollection of the House that my right hon. Friend is subjected to constant criticism from the benches opposite, and not least from the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Bottomley) because it is said that my right hon. Friend has insufficient time to deal with Commonwealth and Colonial subjects, let alone anything else. I assure the House, and I think that everybody agrees, that whatever criticism they may make of my right hon. Friend no one whom I have ever known who has had experience of the work of the Secretary of State would ever say that he was not one of the most hardworking men one had ever come across.
Both his own and the Foreign Secretary's commitments are often dictated by Commonwealth and international crises, and by combining the two offices we should run a grave risk of losing, by sheer pressure of events, the constant informal, personal contacts at the highest levels which are the essence of modern Commonwealth relations, and, I believe, 1480 one of the most helpful influences in the world today. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster has said that he thinks that the difficulty can be overcome by appointing a large number of Under-Secretaries of State and Ministers of State on a regional basis, but this is how the C.R.O. and the Colonial Office are already organised. We each have a region, and this works well and efficiently.
§ Mr. Fisher
The right hon. Gentleman, from a sitting position, chortles away. I do not know why he objects to that statement. Perhaps I can amplify it.
It works perfectly well and efficiently for some territories—the smaller ones—and for some problems—the less controversial ones, but in the end everyone's problems are very important to him and, in the end, everybody wants to see the boss. There are simply not enough hours in the day for one man to do these three jobs. This is not a starter in practice, in my opinion. I have tried to save my right hon. Friend a certain amount of work in so far as my responsibilities are concerned, but if the problem is important people, rightly, want to see him.
The Foreign Secretary and the Commonwealth and Colonial Secretary must also travel as much as possible. They must know these countries and must be free to visit them in time of crisis and even in times of quiet. In my experience, and I think that everybody with experience of Government would agree, one cannot take out of files important decisions affecting people's lives. However good the Civil Service advice, it is never the same as having been to the country, having experienced the atmosphere and the problems and having talked to people on their own ground.
I do not think that I have heard it seriously advanced today, but it is often said in this context, and it is not a fair argument, that other Commonwealth countries manage very well with one Ministry of External Affairs. I expect they do, but the external and the inter-Commonwealth relations of Canada or Australia, for example, to take the largest, do not compare in extent and 1481 complexity with those of Britain. It can be argued that one could have two Ministers, both in the Cabinet, one to look after the foreign side and one the Commonwealth side in a unified office, but I cannot see it working very well.
Someone would have to be the boss. This is the essential question. I suppose that it would have to be the Foreign Secretary. I do not think that that would be a particularly easy arrangement, or necessarily very acceptable to the Commonwealth. But if no one is the boss—if they are co-equals, joint Secretaries of State and in the Cabinet, we have the same position as we have today. The Prime Minister or the Cabinet have to decide between them if there is a difference of policy.
As the hon. Member for Woolwich, East has said, the truth is that although it may be logical to have one Minister instead of two it is not very practical, and there is no point in a theoretically logical solution if it does not work out well in practice. I was surprised to hear my hon. Friend advance the argument that the new Commonwealth Secretariat could replace and make redundant the Commonwealth Relations Office. If he really believes that, he misunderstands the work and purpose of the C.R.O. A Commonwealth Secretariat will act as the servant of all Commonwealth Governments equally. It will not be a British institution, purveying the policy of the United Kingdom. I am quite sure that that was not at all the concept of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers who proposed it.
§ Mr. Berkeley
This is exactly the point that I made. I was careful to say that the Commonwealth Relations Office is a British Government Department and that the Commonwealth Secretariat would be an organ of the Commonwealth as a whole and that the abolition of a British Government Department could not affect the future of the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. Fisher
If my hon. Friend agrees that there are two quite different functions, I do not know why he thinks that the creation of a Commonwealth Secretariat is relevant to the functioning of the Commonwealth Relations Office. The one will act for all Commonwealth Governments, the other is an instrument 1482 of British policy. It is a British Department of State. These two organisations are quite different in their purpose and function.
It is true that the C.R.O. has hitherto organised things like the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference and has always tried to help other Commonwealth members by supplying them with factual information, especially to those countries which have fewer diplomatic resources than we have. But these are comparatively minor functions of the C.R.O. Its main responsibility has always been to ensure that Britain's policies are understood and, where possible, supported by other Commonwealth Governments, that British interests in Commonwealth countries are safeguarded, and that British policy takes account of Commonwealth relations. Therefore, the functions of the Secretariat and the C.R.O. are quite different and distinct, one acting for all Commonwealth Governments, the other acting for the British Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster also stressed the importance of some aspects of recruiting, and having had to disagree with him on some matters I am glad to say that I agree with him that these are important. I know that he has taken great interest in recruitment to the Commonwealth service from the Colonial service over a considerable period. We welcome such recruitment though doubts have been expressed about employing former Colonial officers in new Commonwealth countries where people may be suspicious of neocolonialism. That factor can be exaggerated, but it is an aspect which we should take into account.
The real answer is that most of the extra recruitment to the Commonwealth service since 1957 has come from the Colonial service. Including officers employed on temporary service, rather more than a quarter of the administrative staff in the Commonwealth Service is drawn from the Colonial Service, and their numbers will be increased shortly. This is much the largest single source of recruitment to the Commonwealth Service.
My hon. Friend raised the question of examinations for the overseas service. It is true that hitherto candidates for the Civil Service have normally had to take a written examination, but, in the new 1483 Diplomatic Service, Commonwealth candidates have no longer to take a written examination. Lest my hon. Friend should think that I was unfriendly in the earlier part of my speech, I should now like to pay tribute to him. This important change is at least partly due to the views which he so forcibly expressed two years ago, and with which I had at the time, and still have, great sympathy. Instead of the written examination, the examinations now consist of 2½-day tests of initiative, intelligence, administrative capacity, judgment and character and, of course, they include personal interviews. They are also influenced by the confidential reports on candidates arising from their earlier Commonwealth or Colonial careers.
This aspect of recruitment is in the hands of an independent Civil Service Commission, and I am sure that that is right. Different Departments cannot adopt their own standards of recruitment in isolation from one another in the case of established civil servants. We can take on temporary overseas civil servants if we need them—people who have not passed the tests—and we have done so, but they cannot become established civil servants with assured permanent employment and full pension rights, because to become established, candidates must be able to attain as high a general standard as their colleagues in other Departments, and this, I think, broadly speaking is right. I hope that the House will agree that the acceptance of this principle, coupled with the more flexible approach which I have tried to describe, is the correct way round the difficulty which my hon. Friend has mentioned.
My hon. Friend mentioned development aid which, he suggested, should be administered by a single Ministry, and he put forward his interesting suggestion about the organisation of this work in the context of his proposal for a single Ministry of External Affairs. Suggestions for the concentration of responsibility both for our technical assistance and our capital aid programme in one agency have often been made before independently of the question of creating a single Ministry of External Affairs. I hope that my hon. Friend will not think that I am dodging the issue, but I must refer him to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to a Question by the hon. 1484 Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), last month. I know that my hon. Friend will not expect a junior Minister, speaking on the Consolidated Fund Bill, to enter into the sphere of Cabinet reconstruction, which properly concerns my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
The next point my hon. Friend made related to retirement benefits for overseas service officers. He may think it wrong, but we have been quite consistent. These officers have throughout their careers been employed by one overseas Government or another and never by the British Government. That may have been a mistake, but it is the fact. The terms of service of these overseas Governments include the provision of pensions, and pensions, therefore, have throughout been the responsibility of those overseas Governments. The British Government, therefore, have not transferred their responsibilities to overseas Governments, as I think my hon. Friend implied. They have simply looked to those Governments to discharge the obligations that they already have.
The public officers agreements which are negotiated when the overseas territories become independent do not provide any fresh obligation on the part of the overseas territories, but simply provide for the continuation of their existing obligations. Through the O.S.A.S. agreements the British Government contribute substantially towards the cost of retirement benefits of overseas officers but we see no justification for transferring to the British taxpayer a recurring pensions bill which would amount to £10½ million a year, especially as in the case of some independent territories this would not be necessary.
We help the poor ones already, not only in general but in this particular respect, through the O.S.A.S. arrangements, but in a matter of principle like this we cannot easily differentiate between the richer and the poorer, because it is also always a matter of degree and would lead to endless argument and controversy in the Commonwealth, which would, in itself, be bad for Commonwealth relations. We take into account the financial needs of individual countries in the aid that we give them in this and other respects.
So far as diplomatic experience in the C.R.O. is concerned, I must remind my hon. Friend that many members of the Commonwealth Service have spent all their careers in diplomatic work, both 1485 those who originally joined the old Dominions Office and those who have been recruited directly into the Commonwealth service since its formation. It is equally true—I concede my hon. Friend's argument—that many of them have less experience, in relation to their age, than those in the Foreign Service, but this is the reverse side of my hon. Friend's advocacy of the need to make use of the experience of the overseas civil servants employed by my office. I do not think he can have it both ways. A young and growing service, the Commonwealth Service, has taken in former members of non-diplomatic services like the Overseas Civil Service, the Indian Civil Service, the Colonial Office and other Departments of the home Civil Service, too. They are all knit together into one service, and it seems to me to be quite a healthy line of development.
As for my hon. Friend's outburst—I cannot describe it as anything else—about Zanzibar earlier this year, and his quotation of an apparently jocular remark by a C.R.O. official, in a private conversation, to the effect that the Secretary of State liked to deal with only one problem at a time and that he already had Cyprus, I do not think my hon. Friend should quote publicly a private conversation of this kind. In any case, he must know that it is totally untrue. At any rate, I know that it is untrue.
One only has to take this last couple of months, when the Secretary of State has had on his plate at one and the same time the Aden and South Arabian Conference, the Malta Conference, the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, all very difficult and time-taking indeed, quite apart from British Guiana, Southern Rhodesia, Cyprus and all the other problems. [An HON. MEMBER: "Far too many."] I agree that there is much more in the argument that there is too much for the Secretary of State to deal with—which supports my argument that he should not also be Foreign Secretary at one and the same time—than there is in the criticism of my hon. Friend.
I should now like to turn to the point raised by the hon. Member for Woolwich, East concerning recruitment, which is very important. The Plowden Committee went thoroughly into this question. It was particularly anxious to 1486 establish whether recruitment is sufficiently widely based, and it had no hesitation in stating that there was no bias in favour of what one might call Oxbridge. At the same time, the Committee made recommendations designed to widen the basis of recruitment still further. I quite agree with the hon. Member's own wish to develop closer contacts with university teaching staffs generally—it is important—and to encourage university graduates to compete for entry into the executive branch of the service as well as the administrative branch.
On the question of public school bias, I should point out that the Oxford and Cambridge entry has been radically widened in recent years to include students of every possible social origin on a basis of merit and ability. Although in the 10 years from 1952 to 1962 the proportion of successful non-Oxbridge candidates for the Commonwealth Service was about one in eight, the extraordinary thing is that the proportion of successful candidates from State and State-aided schools was one in three—very much better.
As to women diplomats, I had not realised that the hon. Gentleman had such a personal interest. We accept in full the recommendation of the Plowden Committee on this matter. The point will be covered in the manner recommended by the Committee and in the new regulations for the Diplomatic Service which are now being drafted.
The first review of the work load in missions overseas on the lines recommended by the Plowden Committee, I believe in paragraph 204 of their Report, is now in progress. It is intended that a further review should take place in the diplomatic Service on similar lines.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor for their support over the matter of children's education and travel allowances. In the old days, when I used to go round the Commonwealth, I heard, as others did, the most pathetic cris-de-coeur. They were not complaints or criticisms, but people did not see their children from one year to the next because they could not afford to travel, and wives used to have either to come and see their children in Britain or remain with their husbands overseas, being 1487 unable to go freely from one to the other because of the fares. It was a very serious matter, and I fully agree, as do the Government, with the Plowden improvements, which will be a great help and easement to many in our overseas service.
In conclusion, I return once again to the basic justification, as I see it for separate Departments and for separate Secretaries of State, as this has been the main theme of our short debate. The Commonwealth association is different from our relationship with foreign countries. Foreign countries may be friends and allies, but they are not members of the family. I believe that there is a special relationship within the Commonwealth, and it is this relationship, difficult though it may be to define which holds the Commonwealth together. If we treat Commonwealth countries as foreign countries, we shall, in my view go far towards making them into foreign countries, which would be the very last thing I should want to see happen.
If I may finish on a slightly personal note, in this House and in politics generally, the Commonwealth has always been my main interest, and I have always wanted, in a small way, to try to do what I could for the Commonwealth idea in theory and in practice. This is why I was absolutely overjoyed when the recent Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference came out so well. I know that this is not a party point and that hon. Members opposite were just as pleased. It was a risk to have held it at all, but it was more than justified in the result.
I believe, and have always believed, that, just as the Empire had a great past, the Commonwealth has a great future. It is a really remarkable thing, this multi-racial association of independent English-speaking States, often critical of each other and of us yet held together by a common heritage and institution, by—let us face it—mutual self-interest but also by their own pride in and affection for the association. Like many hon. Members on both sides, including, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster, I am myself genuinely "colour-blind" and I believe, quite simply, in the brotherhood of man. The Commonwealth is a reflection of that 1488 belief and an example of what it can mean in the world. We should be thankful that it exists and we should be determined to preserve it.