HC Deb 23 February 1965 vol 707 cc226-8
Q5. Mr. Fisher

asked the Prime Minister whether it is still his policy to merge the Commonwealth Relations and Colonial Offices next July.

The Prime Minister

It is our intention to merge these two Offices in due course. My right hon. Friends are already considering ways of integrating certain parts of their organisations which deal with similar work; but next July is too soon for a complete merger.

Mr. Fisher

Would the Prime Minister care to acknowledge that the delay in implementing this merger, which has been agreed for July and is clearly a sensible and desirable move, arises simply and solely from the fact that the right hon. Gentleman himself thought it expedient to appoint two Secretaries of State to do the work of one in the last Administration?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member is entitled to his opinion; he will not expect others to share it. The former Secretary of State was recognised by the whole House as one of the most hard-working Ministers whom one could possibly have and yet there were times, as, I think, the House will agree, when, because of his necessary preoccupation with one country which he had to visit, other important questions, either from Colonial Territories or from Commonwealth countries, had to be postponed and deferred for quite a long time, with a result that was not very helpful. If one takes the present situation, I am sure that the House will agree that it is vitally important that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations should be this week in Rhodesia. It is equally important that the Colonial Secretary should be handling the preparations for the Aden situation, which are equally urgent.

Mr. Sandys

While not accepting the Prime Minister's criticisms, may I ask whether he is aware that with the shrinking responsibilities of the Colonial Office there is considerable feeling of uncertainty and anxiety among the officials and that it is, therefore, extremely important to clear up their future careers as quickly as possible?

The Prime Minister

I thought that my remarks about the right hon. Gentleman were anything but critical. We are, of course, working towards clearing up the situation. When my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary was appointed, he was told that his job was to work himself out of a job, and that is what he is in process of doing. I am aware of certain uncertainties in this field, but, of course, the creation by the previous Government of a single Overseas Service is extremely valuable in this connection.

Mr. Chapman

Will my right hon. Friend make haste quite slowly in this matter? Is he aware that many of the smaller colonial dependencies are glad to have their own Ministry back again, because they have more direct access to immediate decisions by the Government? Will he, secondly, make haste slowly because many of us who concentrate on trying to help certain areas of the world are happy to have a Minister who is regularly in this country when his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations might well be abroad?

The Prime Minister

Without committing myself in detail to every word of my hon. Friend's advice, I would propose to make haste at what seems to be an appropriate speed.