HC Deb 18 July 1968 vol 768 cc1646-8
21. Mr. Hooley

asked the Minister of Overseas Development which countries within the Commonwealth are paying out more in pensions or gratuities to former colonial servants than they are receiving in aid from the United Kingdom.

Mr. Prentice

In the year ending 31st March, 1968, only Bermuda and Hong Kong were in this category.

Mr. Hooley

Would the Minister agree that it is wholly unsatisfactory that any Commonwealth country should be in this category? What contingency plans is his Department making in the event of other Commonwealth countries following the perfectly reasonable example of Tanzania, and refusing to accept liability for the pensions of British colonial civil servants?

Mr. Prentice

I do not anticipate that other Commonwealth countries will follow Tanzania's example. It would not be in their interests or ours to do so. For reasons I have mentioned, it would be to their advantage if the present situation continues.

Mr. Fortescue

As a former employee of the Government of Hong Kong, may I ask the Minister if he would agree that it is wholly admirable that the Government of Hong Kong does not need aid from this country, but can afford to meet its own pension commitments?

Mr. Prentice

Yes. It is also to be noted that the vast majority of Commonwealth countries have met their pension commitments, whether they are relatively prosperous, like Hong Kong, or whether they are much poorer, as many of them are.

Mr. Braine

While agreeing with the right hon. Gentleman that the vast majority of Commonwealth countries meet their obligations, and there is no reason to believe that any of them will default, is it not clear, from repeated questions on this subject, that there is anxiety on both sides of the House about the security of colonial pensions? Can he at least say that he has an open mind and that his Department is prepared to look at this again?

Mr. Prentice

We have looked at it a number of times. I have indicated in my earlier replies that there is a lot to be said on both sides of the argument. After careful study I am convinced that the balance of advantage, for the developing countries themselves, lies in not altering the arrangements at present.

Dr. Gray

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Indian Government has been under constant attack by the Communist Party in India for paying out these pensions? Should he not ensure that this matter is discussed at the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, to take place in London?

Mr. Prentice

I realise that there is a lot of criticism, not only from Com- munists, about these arrangements. These are matters that I have taken very carefully into account. I beg hon. Members to recognise that if we were to make the change there would probably be a cost in terms of actual development and therefore the welfare of the people of the country concerned.

Back to
Forward to