§ 9.55 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development (Mr. Albert E. Oram)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 28, to leave out "person who" and insert "body which".
The extension of the Overseas Service Aid Scheme into the non-govern- 2082 mental field will involve the negotiation of agreements between the British Government and various employing bodies in each country in which the extension will operate. Authority for these negotiations is to be found in the latter part of subsection (2) which enables the British Government to make suitable arrangements with "the authority or other person who is the employer."
During the Committee stage there were criticisms from the Opposition of the words "or other person". It was suggested that, in so far as these would enable payments of taxpayers' money to be made to private individuals, they were undesirable and that it would be wrong to authorise payments to a private individual and risk the loss of public confidence which would follow, perhaps, a scandal involving aid misdirected into that individual's pocket. As I said in Committee, I very much doubt whether there was any real risk of any such misfortune. I think that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) will recognise that it was extremely unlikely that our Ministry would ever allow itself to get involved in this way.
Nevertheless, we have looked at what the hon. Gentleman said, as we promised to do, and we find that we can safely eliminate the reference to "person" but still preserve the desirable scope of agreement. We thought of the word "authority", but that is not wide enough in itself to cover the many employing bodies with which we shall be concerned. We felt that the expression "or other person" was a handy legal term covering everybody vested with a personality by law. But, recognising that there was the disadvantage to which hon. Members called attention if we used those words, I recommend to the House the substitution of the words "body which" for "person who".
§ Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)
In our many sessions in Committee upstairs the Parliamentary Secretary was charming and listened to our arguments. We appreciate that what appeared to be a very firm front has now dissolved, to some extent, as the result of the arguments which my hon. Friends and I put forward. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman has had a conversion to common sense.
We regret that the Minister, the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn 2083 (Mrs. Castle), was unable to be present during the Committee stage. We understand why she was away in the great sub-Continent of Asia and that when she returned she was ill; but we had hoped that she might have been present to ensure that this exciting barque of aid was launched on the sea to the benefit of overseas countries. We feel that this excellent figurehead which has appeared in so many of our deliberations should have been substantiated on the Government Front Bench tonight. However, I must say to my hon. Friends that the Parliamentary Secretary has been good enough to explain to me why the Minister could not be present tonight. She is engaged in conversations with some of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers, and I think that a record should be made of that.
Similarly, I should like to say how much my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr) regrets that he cannot be here tonight.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Question again proposed, That "person who" stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Tilney
I was saying how much my right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham regretted that he could not be present because he is in the United States of America. I am glad that his arguments have prevailed.
The Parliamentary Secretary will remember what he said in Committee, as reported at column 133 of the OFFICIAL REPORT. He said that the aid might, in an extreme case, be applied to an individual. My right hon. Friend said:we had the categorical statement that these words would give power to give money to individuals. I do not think that that is right or that Parliament should do it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 4th May, 1965; c. 136.]My right hon. Friend urged that we should not underrate the seriousness of the point and, above all, that the public, who pay the taxes which enable this country to grant aid, should not be sus- 2084 picious that aid is given possibly in the wrong direction and that false concessions could easily arise therefrom. Surprisingly, in answer to my right hon. Friend, the Parliamentary Secretary said that he did not expect that any change would be made in the drafting. I am only too glad to think that he has had second thoughts and that the Amendment is now before us.
We spent many hours in Committee upstairs. We on this side have been accused of arguing at length and of fili-bustering, but the example of the Amendment is enough to prove that the Opposition has shown great vigilance, which has caused the Government to alter their views. I only regret that Parliamentary time, which, I believe, is valuable to the Government, could have been saved if a change of heart had been shown much earlier than at this Report stage. At least, although this is such a belated conversion, we on this side welcome what the Parliamentary Secretary has said.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Tilney
I beg to move, in page 2, line 30, to leave out "no person" and to insert:not more than five persons in respect of any one of the categories set out in subsection (5) of this section".In moving the Amendment, I should like to assure the Parliamentary Secretary that we agree on the principles of good Treasury control and that we should give aid as effectively as possible. The Treasury must, of course, approve any agreement with any overseas Government and we hope that this will result in continuing expenditure of aid over a number of years. But we do not see why there should be minute, detailed Treasury administration.
It seems to us that once agreement has been reached on policy decisions, the actual organisation should be left to the Department concerned. We should get away from the candle-ends type of control. Nowadays, we have new management techniques. The whole scale of Government activity has grown. Government, overseas and at home, are one of the biggest employers of labour. They really are in big business. I cannot believe that the Treasury would wish to interfere in the day-to-day administration of the nationalised industries, so I do not 2085 see why it should interfere with the recruitment of single individuals, as is the case in the Bill as it stands.
I should like to quote part of paragraph 95 of the Sixth Report of the Select Committee on Estimates, 1957–58, which reads:Your Committee believe that one of the main objects of any 'system' of Treasury control should be to see that Departments have a proper 'system' of financial control within themselves.That is to say, there should be a proper system of decentralisation. The paragraph also states:Your Committee are not convinced that this principle is fully acted upon by the Treasury.I want to refer again, as my right hon. Friend did, to what is known as the Plowden Report—Command 1432. We read in paragraph 35:The primary responsibility of a Department is to conduct its policy effectively within the limits laid down by the Government. The Department is itself responsible for the efficiency with which it does its work: the Permanent Secretary, as Accounting Officer, is responsible for the financial management. It is important that these responsibilities should be clearly understood, fully accepted, and reflected in the Department's relations with the Treasury.That Report was published after the passing of the Overseas Service Act, 1961, but it seems to me that the Treasury wish to retain absolute control; that, according to the Bill, individual submissions have to be submitted to the Treasury for its consent. Yet we live in what we hope to be a modernising Britain. My fear is that the Treasury is still a little archaic in its views.
We on this side would like to see the mantle of Abraham falling on either the right hon. Lady or her successors, so that in communing with the Treasury and referring to the various categories set out in subsection (5) it might be said, "Peradventure, five shall be found. Can I not have my own way?" It seems to me that the Parliamentary Secretary, in almost a Russian manner, will say "Niet" and will back up the Biblical patriarch of the Treasury.
Not only is this a matter of modernisation and of bringing the whole Treasury system up to date, but it also has an effect on the thinking of the recruits. Surely speed in selection and appointment is very important. When we discussed 2086 this matter in Standing Committee, the Parliamentary Secretary said that simultaneous action on behalf of his Department and the Treasury would be taken, but that has not really been proven and there is a danger that many qualified people whom we want to recruit for the benefit of the overseas developing countries may go elsewhere if they in their turn think that there might be undue delay.
I do not quite understand why there should be this needless duplication. We have highly qualified people, from the right hon. Lady, the Parliamentary Secretary, the Permanent Secretary and his admirable staff. Why are they not qualified themselves to say that they have the right people to do the jobs which are required to be done in the overseas countries? If they are unable to choose, surely it is cheaper in the end to remove or change those at the top rather than have this unnecessary duplication. I cannot believe that the financial director of any group of companies would insist that the managing directors of each subsidiary company should have to report to him what individual recruitment should be before those individuals were recruited. Does this happen in the nationalised industries? Of course not.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr) pointed out the difference between the Colombo Plan and schemes for Commonwealth education and co-operation. He said that he was far from satisfied when he held the right hon. Lady's post. A limit to the money has been set and we agree that this is right and, of course, we support having strict accounting. But having agreed that, surely it is better to decentralise to the right hon. Lady's administration and to make her and the Parliamentary Secretary decide who should be appointed, relieving the Treasury of this unnecessary duplication.
§ Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)
In Standing Committee we on this side of the House urged that responsibility for designating posts such as are covered by subsection (5) should be given fairly and squarely to the Minister of Overseas Development. The Government have enhanced this Ministry and its range of responsibilities. It is a pity that having a fully-fledged Minister, if I may so term it, of 2087 Cabinet rank, the Government are tending to spoil the clear symbolism of the appointment. They surely have no need to mention Treasury control in the very Bill which sets out some of these extended powers. We all accept the need for the watchdog functions of the Treasury. It does not mean that those controls need to be bared to the public.
The Ministry now has a Permanent Secretary, what some people have called "the Castle's other half". But surely this formidable set-up should be capable of exercising full responsibility for the task handed to this Ministry. Of course, they have to carry out these tasks in consultation with the Treasury and with many other Ministries of the Overseas Departments, but they are not mentioned in the Bill. Why was it necessary to mention this matter of detailed Treasury control in the Bill? The Amendment to which I am speaking is designed to give the Minister some additional formal responsibility. Far more, it is designed as a protest against the naked exposure of what I would call, for this occasion only "the dog beneath the skin."
§ Sir John Fletcher-Cooke (Southampton, Test)
I support the views put forward by my hon. Friends. I do not wish to rehearse all the arguments used at an earlier stage in support of the proposition that it is quite unnecessary that there should be this measure of detailed Treasury control. There is no difference of opinion between us as to the general control which it is appropriate for the Treasury to have and which it does have in the earlier parts of this Bill.
What puzzles me is that the Government have obviously accepted the principle that detailed Treasury control should be diminished, because we have a number of examples. I will quote only one to illustrate that they have accepted a change in this respect. I should like to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Museum of London Bill as it was then, which is now the Museum of London Act. When it was a Bill before this House the Government, in the name of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, tabled a number of Amendments proposing that the word "Treasury" should be replaced by "Secretary of State". 2088 Among other Amendments there were some which related specifically to the appointments of officers.
In other words, the Treasury's control over such appointments was removed and the control was formally placed where we on this side think it should be, with the Secretary of State. I therefore feel that if the Government are disposed, in other parts of their activities to accept the policies to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) referred in terms of the recommendations of the Plowden Committee and the Estimates Committee, then the Ministry of Overseas Development should also follow the same lines.
A little earlier the Parliamentary Secretary in rebutting suggestions that had been made from this side that the Ministry, if it was left with a piece of legislation containing the words "person who" might get into difficulties, said, "It is unlikely that our Ministry will ever let itself get involved in this way". This was in explaining the Amendment which has just been agreed to, in page 2, line 28. I accept that, but I also believe that the Ministry of Overseas Development is unlikely to get itself involved in any difficulties in the appointment of these officers, and that it does not need to be told by the Treasury whether it should or should not appoint them.
I therefore appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider the matter and to agree to accept the Amendment so that we can at least limit, if not remove, Treasury control in these matters of detail.
§ Mr. Henry Clark (Antrim, North)
The Amendment deals entirely with the question of Treasury control. As we have just finished the Committee stage of the longest Finance Bill in living memory, one would have though that this was the time when one could consider not only the interests of aid but the interests of the Treasury. Is it in the interests of the Treasury that every officer designated by a Cabinet Minister should have to have his designation approved by the Treasury? If Treasury Ministers had not had to waste their time answering questions like this, some of their staff might have been more ready to prepare the major changes which have been made in the tax arrangements of this 2089 country, and we might not have had the Government Amendments which appeared to the Finance Bill.
It is a well-known principle in business today that the time spent counting paper clips is time wasted. I believe that if we appoint a Cabinet Minister to a first-class Ministry such as this he should not have to run round to the Treasury every time he wants an appointment to be confirmed. I believe that the Treasury's time is being wasted by this sort of control and this sort of Clause in the Bill.
Aid today is still an art more than a science, and there is no question but that aid varies more in quality than in quantity. The giving of aid to underdeveloped countries is frequently a matter of a stitch in time, and giving it at the right time and finding the right man can make all the difference. The right man is frequently not prepared to hang about waiting while the Ministry sees whether the Treasury is prepared to give the O.K. to his appointment.
Only too often today the man with the qualifications which the Department wants has three or four commercial companies and possibly one or two other institutions looking for his services. If we are to get the right man to do the job, we must be in a position to offer him the job at once, and on the spot.
I wonder why the Minister and her civil servants have put this provision into the Bill. The obvious conclusion to be drawn, perhaps rather naively, is that they do not trust themselves, or perhaps it is that they know that the Bill will be operated largely by a Conservative Government, and they do not trust us. We, however, are prepared to trust the Minister, even in her absence, and the Parliamentary Secretary, and we feel that they might do the same for us.
§ Mr. Oram
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) reminded us that we had some lengthy debates on this point in Committee. He suggested that we complained about it. There was only one occasion on which I made a complaint, and the record will prove that I had some little justification for that complaint. I certainly made no complaint about the care with which we debated the principle of Treasury control in relation to the process of designation. I make no complaint, either, that, in a 2090 slightly different form, the hon. Member has seen fit to raise the matter again on Report. He will not be surprised to learn that the answer—although I will not say it in Russian; I will say it in plain English—is "No".
This provision is taken from the Act of 1961. That, in itself, does not give it justification, but we believe that there was full justification for including it in the 1961 Act and for carrying it forward into this Bill. The Opposition accept the principle of Treasury consent in relation to the conclusion of agreements. What they object to is the need for Treasury consent in relation to designation.
Here, I suggest, they miss a main point in the whole process of designating officers for service overseas. In this process the most significant financial act is not the conclusion of the permissive agreement in general with an overseas Government; the significant thing is the exercise of the Minister's discretionary power to designate officers who are eligible for benefits under this scheme. It is for this reason that the Bill provides that the Treasury can grant this consent not in relation to every individual but generally.
As I explained in Committee, in practice, officials—we in the Ministry of Overseas Development—agree with the Treasury general criteria for the designation of officers under certain agreements. Then individual cases are discussed with the Treasury—and I stress this—only when they fall clearly outside those general criteria and when new principles are brought up and need to be worked out.
The general criteria enable the process to work quite simply without—in the hon. Member's phrase—meticulous administration and without any delay, and I assure the House that the whole process works without the difficulties that the hon. Members envisaged.
§ Sir J. Fletcher-Cooke
If this procedure works so satisfactorily as an administrative exercise—and I have no doubt whatever that it does—why is it necessary to write it into the Bill? This creates the wrong impression. The Minister naturally consults the Treasury, as he consults all the other Departments involved. Why is it necessary to spell it out in black and white that the Treasury must be consulted by law?
§ Mr. Oram
I explained in Committee that on occasion one single act of designation can lead, in logic, to opening up the gateway to a vast category of other designated officers. It is for this reason that what may seem only a simple case may involve quite a huge financial expenditure as a result of one such decision.
In general, it is possible to do this in a straightforward administrative way without the detailed reference to the Treasury, but it is necessary in law to have this safeguard of Treasury consent in relation to cases of vast extensions with considerable financial implications.
§ Mr. Tilney
Surely any right hon. Lady worth her salt and any Parliamentary Secretary worth his would automatically get the Treasury to agree to any new development of this kind.
§ Mr. Oram
The hon. Gentleman recognised in his opening speech, as the Plowden Report—which he quoted—recognises, that it is right for the Treasury to have a final power in relation to large expenditures. It is because there is a possibility of large expenditures being involved in one simple-seeming act of designation that it is necessary, in our view, that this should be continued in the Bill.
That is why we propose to proceed by this means in respect of the extension of the scheme under the Bill. The Amendment accepts this general principle, but seeks to exclude the case of a handful of designations. I would suggest to the House that this Amendment is not defensible under the general principles which I have explained. In so far as this handful of people comes within the general criteria for designation, it would be unnecessary, in any case, to consult the Treasury, but in so far as they did not come within those general criteria, new principles, as I have explained, might be involved.
It is in such cases of new principles that consultation with the Treasury would be right and sensible. I can see no new valid point in the Amendment or in the arguments produced in its support. I advised the House to reject it.
§ Amendment negatived.2092
§ Mr. Speaker
It would, perhaps, be convenient to discuss with this Amendment the one following, in page 2, line 45.
§ Mr. Oram
That would be convenient, Mr. Speaker.
These Amendments were designed to meet the points raised in Committee. It was pointed out by the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr) that these words "in any capacity" occur in some of the paragraphs, but not in others. He said that he was not particularly concerned whether they were included in all or in none, but he pointed out the desirability of uniformity in this matter. It was a point which I was willing to accept. We have looked at the matter since and we feel that it is better to produce uniformity by leaving out this phrase. The acceptance of these two Amendments would affect that change.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In line 45, leave out "in any capacity".—[Mr. Oram.]
§ Mr. Oram
I beg to move, in page 3, line 1, to leave out paragraphs (d) to (g) and to insert:(d) he is employed by any authority, organisation or institution established for public purposes in an overseas territory, including any marketing board, co-operative society or other body providing benefits primarily for a particular section of the public, or(e) he is employed (otherwise than by any authority, organisation or institution established as aforesaid) in any service provided, or in any other activities carried on, for public purposes in an overseas territory.This Amendment is also designed to meet a number of points which were made in Committee. We had a long and protracted discussion on the question of the description of the organisations with which agreements might be sought. I think that it was in this connection that I was provoked on one occasion to suggest that we were being a little too meticulous.
I am satisfied that the wording of the Clause, with the inclusion of an Amendment which I moved in Committee, was sufficient to cover all the classes of people 2093 we ought to help. Nevertheless, hon. Gentlemen opposite raised some criticisms and we have produced this Amendment with the object of covering the whole sphere we have in mind and, at the same time, meeting their criticisms.
The main objection was that paragraphs (d) and (e) were unnecessary, because anything within them was covered by the general provision. The argument was that the general term "public services" must surely cover universities, education generally, health services and so on, and that it was unnecessary to have some of those public services especially mentioned in an earlier part of the Clause. There was no objection to the inclusion of the particular occupations mentioned in paragraphs (d) and (e), but it was suggested that in any Statute the inclusion of specified items inevitably tends to throw doubt on the generality of the later sweeping-up provisions because some meaning must be attached to the earlier specific references.
It was suggested, for example, that if it was necessary to mention doctors, it might be equally necessary to mention agriculturists. The argument was more sophisticated and architects and other categories came into the discussion. There are a number of sound reasons why the Clause was drafted in its original form, but I will not go over the arguments again now.
We have been able to redraft the provision in general terms which I hope the House will find acceptable. I am sure that the Amendment is free from the criticisms which were advanced, particularly by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney). It covers the whole scope we wish to have covered. It gives us the full powers we seek and, therefore, in this spirit of cordiality which now prevails after the long Committee stage of the Finance Bill, I hope that the House will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Tilney
My hon. Friends may wish to comment on what the hon. Gentleman 2094 said at the beginning of his remarks. We believe that our long and protracted debate, to which he referred, has had an admirable result. We are pleased that the Government have had a change of thought. We believe that the complaints—only once, I think, from the hon. Gentleman but more than once from some of his hon. Friends—that we were filibustering and speaking for too long have been shown to be untrue. Indeed, the Bill has been improved remarkably by this Amendment. The Opposition should take credit for the long debate we had on the Clause.
I have only two questions to ask the Parliamentary Secretary. Possibly he can expatiate on the words, "particular section of the public". The Amendment says:primarily for a particular section of the public.Does this include any help which may be given to a company in which the Commonwealth Development Corporation has a share? We would be grateful if he can comment on that.
§ Mr. Oram
I speak again with permission of the House.
The hon. Member will recall that we had discussions, for example, about co-operative societies and marketing boards. There may be some doubt whether the purposes they are serving are for the public as a whole. They are serving public purposes. Co-operative societies are serving a very wide membership who are members of the public and their purposes are to serve the public generally, but it is necessary to have this kind of wording to make sure that that kind of undertaking is included.
I can assure the hon. Member that operations under the auspices of the Commonwealth Development Corporation would be included.
§ Amendment agreed to.2095
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Oram
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Since the Second Reading, the Bill has been subjected to an examination in Committee more detailed and protracted than any similar Bill has ever experienced. I accept the points of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) that the discussion has led to improvements in drafting, although I think he was inclined to exaggerate the amount of credit due to him and his hon. Friends; but I accept that one or two of those minor Amendments have made improvements.
The Bill is to provide means of furthering our overseas aid in directions to which both sides of the House attach a great deal of importance. The first Clause provides for further assistance towards Colonial development and is the latest stage in our long and continued contribution to the economic development of teriritories which are our direct responsibility. The period for which the present Bill provides money overlaps that for which the previous Act provided, and this is fortunate since already some three months of the first year have elapsed.
We shall, as soon as we are in a position to do so, tell the territories how much money they can expect from us for development over the next few years, and we shall then do all we can with the resources of our Ministry and of the Colonial Office to assist them in planning their economic development.
My right hon. Friend on 21st June announced her intention of making interest-free loans to selected overseas countries and the Colonies will, of course, be eligible for these on the same criteria as will be applied to other countries. As my right hon. Friend said, these criteria will have regard to the economic position of the territory and its capacity to achieve balanced and effective development. Already, the mixture of grant and loan in order in our aid to our colonies has resulted in their paying a very low interest rate on their development money looked at overall. In many cases already we have provided money only by grant, and this further concession will make development cheaper even in the territories which are able to borrow.
2096 I need not spend long on Clause 2, because it, too, was very thoroughly examined in Committee and we have had further close examination of it this evening. I should, however, again draw attention to its main purpose. The Clause supersedes the Overseas Service Act, 1961, but it retains the Overseas Service Aid Scheme for which that Act provided. The scheme continues to ensure at the expense of the British Government satisfactory emoluments, salary, education allowances, overseas passages and, where necessary, compensation for over 10,000 expatriate officers still in post under 41 different Governments and Administrations.
It is because the scheme has been of so much value and its work is now well understood, that we propose under this Bill to extend it beyond the central public services of Governments to which so far it has applied, to the many non-governmental bodies performing public or social services in overseas countries.
In moving the Second Reading of the Bill my right hon. Friend said that for financial reasons we should not expect to be able to offer assistance to all the bodies that might qualify for it under the Bill and we should, therefore, in due course attempt to establish priorities for this assistance. Consultations to establish these priorities are beginning. We estimated in the Explanatory Memorandum that, having regard to our financial position, we should expect this extension of the Overseas Service Aid Scheme to rise in cost to an ultimate total of about £1½ millions a year, and this continues to be our estimate.
My right hon. Friend also said that she intended to use this extension of the aid scheme as the means of discharging the undertaking given by the previous Government at the Ottawa Conference last year, that financial help would be offered towards the conditions of service of British expatriate staff in overseas universities. This, too, remains our intention and we hope to be able to give effect to it soon after the Bill becomes law.
It is natural that Clause 2 should have aroused interest and awakened anticipation in some of the bodies potentially eligible for the financial help which it 2097 contemplates, and in the British expatriate staff of those bodies. While, therefore, our help must still be limited by the general financial considerations that I have mentioned, we know that this help will be welcomed by many bodies, and we are anxious to get on with the job of providing it as soon as we can.
I am happy to know from the previous discussion of the Bill in the House and through our work in the Committee that while there has been most careful consideration of the detailed wording of this Clause, its general purpose is welcome on both sides of the House.
I am grateful for the understanding and detailed examination that the Clause received from both sides of the Committee, and I hope that the House will now be prepared to give the Bill a Third Reading. We hope that it may also be possible for it to have a speedy passage through another place so that the Government may soon possess and be able to use the powers for which the Bill provides.
§ 10.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Tilney
We on this side of the House agree very much with what the Parliamentary Secretary has said. We had many long sittings in Standing Committee—in fact, there is quite a tome in HANSARD of our discussion—and the Chairman once had to use her casting vote. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that there was really no repetition of argument. We on this side did try to improve the Government's Bill. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the 10,000 expatriate officers. I believe that in this country we are inclined to forget, when we read about America's Peace Corps and what is happening about the help given by other countries, the wonderful work that is done overseas by Her Majesty's overseas civil servants, and those who are recruited on contract, in helping the developing countries overseas to try to improve their well-being and their overall happiness.
We on this side have tried to ensure greater flexibility. We have not always managed to succeed in our arguments with the Government. We never really wanted to spend more money. We hoped that we might get the Bill amended, so that when we on this side of the House 2098 are on the Parliamentary Secretary's side we shall have greater scope for manoeuvre. But, of course, we agree that this is a good Bill. This is an agreed Measure overall. It follows the policy whereby we on this side of the House for 13 years managed to expand, and, in fact, I believe we doubled the aid over comparatively few years. I only wish that we could have done more.
But I regret that in the atmosphere of the Finance Bill the private investment overseas may come down; and, therefore, that the Government have declined the chance that we endeavoured to give them, of giving themselves greater scope for using public aid in a particular year, either to help our own exports or to help overseas countries in what may be a limited period of difficulty. However, that has been the Government's decision and they have decided against our wish to give them greater flexibility.
Mr. Speaker, there have been many sittings in Committee and I believe that that has shown that the opposition has been worth while, in that the bulk of our points have now been met and the Bill has been very substantially improved. It carries on the policy of 13 fruitful years. The Parliamentary Secretary has referred to free loans and lower interest rates. We on this side are aware of the great difficulty of many of the developing countries in servicing the loans that they already have to service. It is not easy for some of these poor countries to raise enough money, in currency which to them is hard, to meet interest and repayment of capital. We on this side only wish that we were richer and were able to help them more.
We like to remember that it was in the very dark period of the war that the first of these Measures was passed by this House. I believe that history will say that we have, as a country, a great record. We have tried to help the poor countries. We are not as rich as we would like to be, but we are a resilient nation and we are determined, if possible, to close the gap between the rich and the poor nations. This is agreed between all parties in this House.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that he thought that this Measure would be welcomed by many. I suggest that it will be welcomed by all.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Henry Clark
The Bill is welcomed throughout the House. But there are two points which the Parliamentary Secretary will not be surprised that I raise. I want to deal, first, with the recently announced granting of interest-free loans. We welcome this move. It gives the Minister increased flexibility in the way in which he can help countries.
There are many countries which are amazingly naive about world economics. It is no good suggesting to them that we are so rich that money is lying around and can be given away or lent free. I ask that when these loans are being given, every possible step should be taken to make clear to the recipients that we have to pay 6 or 7 per cent. or more for the capital that we have and that when we give them interest-free loans, we here are paying that percentage. It should be made quite clear that this is the case.
The other matter about which I feel strongly is that in Clause 2(1,a) the Minister is given power to compensate designated officers. The job of the designated officer of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service is nearly over. A considerable number of these officers serving in various territories will in due course find their territories becoming independent and will largely have lost their jobs. I am happy to say that in the past the vast majority of officers who have served this country and the other country were fairly, justly and even, in some cases, generously compensated.
But the Parliamentary Secretary knows from the correspondence that I have had with him that there are a minority of cases of men who have served this country, Her Majesty the Queen and the other country with great loyalty, but when independence has come they have found that they have lost their promotion prospects, their employer in the other country and, largely, their careers. Because some precedent or strange criterion was built up, they received no compensation whatever from this Government.
In Committee, I went to some length to demonstrate how this rather false criterion about compensation for these officers had been built up—officers who were never allowed to become 2100 members of H.M.O.C.S. The criterion was built up in a false way, and we now largely pay compensation on what might be called the accident of recruitment. Whether an officer gets compensation when his career, promotion prospects and, often, his way of life are taken away by a declaration of independence—though we welcome theindependence—often depends on the minutial of appointment years before. There are hard cases, and hard cases may perhaps make bad law, but I ask that when this provision is applied the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will remember that the real criterion is whether an officer suffers because of a grant of independence, and if he has suffered in the career that he was led to suppose that he would have when he entered the service, he is entitled to fair compensation.
Whether these officers were appointed by a special commission sitting in a foreign country appointed by the Secretary of State or the Crown Agents, whether they were appointed locally, whether they were appointed in any of the various ways in which officers may be appointed, if they were led to believe that they had a full career in front of them and if that career is taken away, they are entitled to compensation. That is the only criterion on which we can honestly and fairly administer the system of compensation.
I will not labour this, although I myself missed compensation. The vast majority of officers have been fairly and generously met, but the hard cases spoil the record, and I honestly feel that it will be the hard cases which will be remembered in the years to come and not the generosity.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
I should like to reiterate and support what my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North (Mr. Henry Clark) has said. Hard cases make bad law, but we are dealing here with a number of people who had intended to devote their lives to a certain field of work and, because of changes in the Commonwealth and the Colonial Territories, they have found that work coming prematurely to an end. Some are in jobs where it is difficult to say that they 2101 qualify for compensation, but as this is a problem which is becoming smaller and smaller and is almost certain to come to an end in the foreseeable future I think that it is one of those situations which any Government, of whatever political party, should look at with sympathy and generosity.
I am not certain that there should not be a commission appointed to assess the hardship which these people have suffered, even if they do not legally qualify for compensation and pension, and that on that assessment the State should be recommended by the commission to recompense them to a certain extent. As for interest-free loans, I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, North said about the naïve attitude of mind of some countries overseas where it seems to me people believe that money grows on trees. They do not understand the market. They do not understand that money which is loaned to the State in this country and then loaned overseas is still money loaned by individuals who expect some return on it.
Since we are trying to lead these countries to a responsible form of government it would be far better if when we give an interest-free loan that that loan was made at present market rate from the point of view of interest but that we then waived the interest to the country concerned. This would enable us to make clear to the people of that country that the loan was not only being given by this country but that somebody here was having to pay the interest. It would then be understood that this was a deliberate act on the part of this country in waiving the interest, which we were paying. By this means we would build in those countries a greater sense of responsibility.
It will not be long before many of these countries will have to finance their own loans and, therefore, it is not helping them to be responsible if they think that they are getting money without somebody having to pay the interest on it.
A criticism of these interest-free loans is that we are helping to create the impression that there is some sort of milch cow which provides this money. The country concerned should know that the interest on the money is being paid—however much we like to ignore the fact—in many cases by people who are not 2102 very much better off than the people of the country to which we are giving the loan. The sooner the people of these countries realise that somebody somewhere is paying the interest the better for their own future development and responsibility. What I am saying is in the long run for the benefit of these countries.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Sir G. Sinclair
At this stage, after our very long consideration of the Bill in Committee, I make three points. First, we had a long debate in Committee, trying to induce the Government to accept a slightly higher limit on their grants and loans for the territories to which Clause 1 applies. We did this because we thought that, in the light of the Finance Bill which was declared to discourage overseas investment, there should be a compensating rise in aid through grants and loans. The figures were slightly bigger than before, and we felt that the scope ought to be enlarged a bit more.
We thought this particularly important at a time when we ought to be attracting private capital to the smaller territories. It is always difficult. There has been a good deal of disinvestment in recent years, and this is the very time to try to encourage more. Since that encouragement had been withheld we felt it important to do what we wanted the Government to do, that is, make a symbolic raising of the limits for grants and loans. We were reassured by the Parliamentary Secretary that there was plenty of scope within the figures for giving the grants and loans which the smaller territories, under the Colonial Development and Welfare Act, would be able to use.
Secondly, the matter of interest-free loans. This is a debatable subject. It is most important not to overburden small territories which, in many cases, are already carrying a bigger burden than they can repay in the way of loans. Very often, they cannot even service their loans. Our Government have, on the whole, given a great part of their aid to territories in the form of grants, and they have done much better than many of the continental countries whose low rates of interest are always quoted against us. But we must be very selective in giving interest-free loans. There is room 2103 in nearly every territory for quite hard loans for specific projects which can be expected to carry the servicing of a loan within a short time. It is important that these loans should be made on hard commercial terms because, if they can be made in that way, it becomes far easier to get money for Governments or anybody else.
I want great care to be taken to ensure that we have hard loans available for projects which can carry the repayments even in quite small territories. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend have this very much in mind. I beg him not to use soft loans without very careful consideration. Each one should be considered in the light of the total economy of the territory. I welcome the flexibility that these new interest-free loans give but I ask for very serious consideration to be given to the hard loans for projects that can carry them.
Thirdly, there is the question of Clause 2, concerning the extension of facilities to people from this country serving overseas who are outside what was known as the old establishment of the Civil Service. The most important form of aid we are giving to overseas territories is the trained manpower in technical assistance. This departure of being able to help people engaged in technical assistance in universities and para-governmental bodies is a real advance and a real service to those territories and I think that all of us on this side in the Committee welcomed it as a great help to the territories that need technical assistance.
All of us, although we have some points of detail over which we have argued, welcome the intention behind the Bill. I welcome the fact that the Bill is in the hands of an enhanced Ministry with enhanced hitting power.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.