HC Deb 26 November 1968 vol 774 cc460-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Concannon.]

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Richard Sharpies (Sutton and Cheam)

It is appropriate that the House should turn from discussing the problems of the police in Lancashire to discuss the problems affecting those who have retired from the police in Aden. I am grateful to have the opportunity of raising the case of my constituent Mr. Salole, who retired as chief superintendent of police in Aden in 1963 after 25 years' service to the British Crown. I should perhaps tell the House a little of the career of this remarkable man.

Mr. Salole is a Somali. He looks, and I am sure he would not mind my saying so, like a Somali. His background is Somali and he does not speak Arabic. His connection with Aden was that he was born there in 1907 because his father was an employee of Cable and Wireless and was stationed in Aden at the time. He was educated in India from the age of 13 and he worked in India for a good part of his earlier working life. He returned to Aden in 1930 to join the Aden Police.

In the Aden police he had as distinguished a career as it is possible to imagine. He lost the sight of one eye in the riots of 1947, and for his part in maintaining law and order during the difficult period, which was marked by almost continuous rioting he was awarded the Colonial Police Medal for Meritorious Service in 1949. In 1961. he was awarded the Queen's Police Medal for Meritorious Service, one of the highest awards which can be made in the police service. In 1963 he retired, after 25 years' service, when he had reached the rank of senior superintendent of police.

At that time there were only two police officers superior to him. One was the Commissioner of Police and the other was the Assistant Commissioner, both British-born officers serving in Aden. For his long service to the British Crown he was awarded a pension of ?807 10s. which included an ex gratia payment of ?95 a year in respect of the loss of his eye. Mr. Salole now lives in my constituency. For reasons which the House will understand, it was impossible for him to remain in Aden after Britain had handed over to the present Government there. It is no exaggeration to say that had he remained in Aden, he who had been one of the senior police officers, and supported the British Administration throughout the whole of the difficult period there, he would not be alive today.

Mr. Salole's pension was paid to him through the Crown Agents, to his bank in. England. This situation existed from the time he retired from the police. On 29th March, 1968 he received a printed letter from the Crown Agents to the Colonies. It says: Dear Sir/Madam—with the "Madam" scratched out, and went on— We have to inform you that we received instructio is to cease payment of pensions from funds of the People's Republic of South Yemen and we regret, therefore, that we cannot continue payment of your pension. We will write to you again if and when we are in a position to resume payment, but in the meantime if you wish to pursue the matter we can only suggest that you write direct to

The Accountant General,

The Treasury,


People's Republic of South Yemen."

This was Mr. Salole's reward for 25 years of service to the British Crown. Mr. Salole wrote to the Crown Agents protesting, and there was a considerable amount of correspondence. Eventually, he received a small addition to his pension which was allowed by the South Yemen Government, but even that has now dried up.

Mr. Salole was advised by the Crown Agents to get in touch with the Ministry of Overseas Development, which he did. He received a reply dated 19th July, 1968, which contained these words:

With regard to the continuing payment of your pension I regret that I am unable to add anything further to my earlier letters."

This was from a civil servant whose name I will not mention. The responsibility for such payment rests with the South Yemen Government and you will have to look to that Government for redress regarding any loss of pension.

This correspondence continued, and the last letter which Mr. Salole had from the Ministry of Overseas Development was dated 21st August this year simply repeating the same sentence: The responsibility for such payment rests with the South Yemen Government…". At that stage I took up the case and wrote to the Minister of Overseas Development on Mr. Salole's behalf. I sha11 refer later to the letter which I received from the Parliamentary Secretary.

After 25 years of service Mr. Salole's pension has ceased. He has not received one penny of pension since 31st May this year. What is his position now? He is aged 61 and is losing the sight of the other eye which was not injured. He works as a storeman, from which occupation his total income is &£15 a week, out of which, together with his savings, which he is using up rapidly, he supports his wife and four children of school age.

Two major questions arise. First, what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government in cases where the successor Government have defaulted and we have an obligation to people like Mr. Salole who have spent their lives in the service of the British Crown?

The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have explained the Government's position about expatriates. I make no criticism of the Parliamentary Secretary. He wrote me a very full letter. Having been in his position, I can appreciate that he probably disliked having to say what he did just as much as I disliked having to do it on occasions. I will refer only to the parts of the letter which are relevant. In writing about the arrangements which were made to give loans against future payments of pension to those who were expatriates, the Parliamentary Secretary said: The loan advances are being made to former expatriate officers only, i.e. those who were designated under the Overseas Service Aid Scheme or who were non-designated/nonindigenous officers and who were not regarded by the South Arabian Governments as being of local status. Your constituent"— I will not mention the other person who is named— was regarded by the local administration as being of local status and therefore he does not qualify for the grant of loan advances from British funds.

This is where the Government's case rests. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies, he will probably rely on those words.

As there is no point in going over the ground again, I trust that the Minister will give some straight answers to some important questions. First, who decides whether or not a person is of local status? I have sought to explain that Mr. Salole is of Somali origin. He is not an Arab. His connection with Aden is that his father was employed there when he was born. Secondly, is the place of Mr. Salole's birth important in this matter? We need a clear answer to this question because I have details of other cases. Thirdly, has this difficulty arisen because he was recruited in Aden; because he joined the police there and did not join, as some others did, in India, then to be sent to Aden? Fourthly, has it anything to do with his terms of reference. I have in mind the Parliamentary Secretary's letter and other correspondence.

If it is to do with his terms of reference, was it made clear to Mr. Salole when he joined the police force in 1938 that he was joining on terms different from those applying to other people? There was no question in 1938 of handing over the government of the territory to a successor Government. Unless the Minister can produce proof to show that the position was made clear, I very much doubt whether Mr. Salole was given any indication in 1938 that he would have to look to anyone other than Her Majesty's Government, whose crown he wore on his cap, for his pension rights when he eventually came to retire after a distinguished career.

Does the decision whether or not he is entitled to be treated as an expatriate depend in any way on whether he retired before or at the time of the handing over of government to South Yemen? We need a clear answer to this question, because I have details of other cases affecting people who are very much in the position of Mr. Salole but who are in receipt of this concession, having retired after he did.

This case raises wider questions of principle. The issue is simply whether Her Majesty's Government can abandon their responsibilities to people like Mr. Salole after they have given their lives in service to the British Crown. I do not know how many people may be in the same position. There are probably not many. In any event, few of them can have had such a distinguished career. It is no good telling Mr. Salole, as he was told by the Ministry of Overseas Development, that he must make his own arrangements with the Aden Government. One cannot imagine a more heartless piece of advice. Whoever wrote that letter must have known perfectly well that there was no possibility of the Aden Government replying to Mr. Salole's letters; and he has written time and again.

We will, no doubt, hear the usual arguments from the Parliamentary Secretary. However, in the absence of a satisfactory reply from him tonight, I assure him that the matter cannot end there. What is to happen to Mr. Salole while representations are being made to the Aden Government? Is he to go on living on the savings which he accumulated during his 25 years' service? As I explained, he is receiving not one penny by way of pension. The House knows that the representations which Her Majesty's Government are now making to the Government of Aden have little or no chance of success.

Mr. Sabole and people like him are being used as pawns in a game between two Governments. In this case the honour of the British Government is at stake--the honour to look after those who served it well. I hope that the House will take to heart what I have said because this cannot be the end of the matter. One simply cannot abandon people like Mr. Salole who have given their lives and their health to the service of the British Crown.

11.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development (Mr. Albert I. Oram)

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) has spoken in eloquent and forceful terms on behalf of his constituent. I can understand the depth of feeling to which he has given expresssion, because I do not for a moment dispute the unfortunate situation in which his constituent and some others find themselves as a result of the repudiation by the Government of the Republic of South Yemen of their pension obligations.

As the hon. Member was speaking I felt that, perhaps understandably, he was directing his words at me as a representative of the British Government, but to a large extent they ought to have been directed—and perhaps he was hoping to direct them—through me to the Government of South Yemen. I am grateful, however. to the hon. Member for raising the case of his constituent, because this gives me an opportunity of explaining where we stand on the pension rights of local officials who were formerly employed by the Government of the Republic of Southern Yemen and its predecessors.

My right hon. Friend answered a Question on 24th October when he gave the House the general background to this Question and went on to deal with the particular problem of expatriate pensioners to whom we have important responsibilities. The local pensioners are a different matter. I am not fully convinced, despite the correspondence he courteously acknowledged, that the hon. Member has been really seized of the difference between expatriates and local officers. I have a great deal of sympathy with cases like Mr. Sable's. The circumstances in which he finds himself are not, unfortunately, unique, and they illustrate the problems which arise from the Southern Yemen Government's repudiation of their obligation to indigenous pensioners.

I can appreciate that Mr. Salole feels, as the hon. Member expressed it, that he was serving the Aden Government. I do not dispute the facts the hon. Member put forward, or the distinguished nature of his constituent's career. I can understand that both the hon. Member and his constituent feel that Mr. Salole was ultimately serving the British Government. I am greatly concerned that he and others are denied the pensions they have earned and which they should be receiving from the Government of Southern Yemen.

But however much sympathy we may have for the plight of Mr. Salole and others like him and however much we appreciate the nature of that plight, it is impossible for Her Majesty's Government to ignore three essential features of our relations with the Southern Yemen Government, and with former British Dependencies generally.

The first of these principles is that overseas civil servants, whether expatriate or local, were employed by the overseas Governments concerned and not by Her Majesty's Government. Their pension rights derive from legislation passed by those Governments, and their pensions are awarded and paid by those Governments. On 26th July my right hon. Friend went into this question. I will not now go into it again. There is no doubt that that is the position upon which the Government's case in this instance rests.

The second point is that we must regard the independent Governments who have succeeded the former colonial Governments, as inheriting all their predecessors' rights and obligations and these include liability for the public service pensions. It is true that, in the circumstances leading up to the independence of Southern Yemen, our attempts to negotiate a public officers' agreement with the successor Government were unsuccessful. The fact that there was that kind of difficulty does not relieve the Southern Yemen Government of their responsibilities in accordance with the principle that I have just described.

Thirdly, however, we have recognised a special obligation to safeguard the pensions earned by expatriates who were selected by a Secretary of State for appointment to Government posts overseas. This obligation is explained in the White Paper, Reorganisation of the Colonial Service—(Colonial No. 306—and it was supplemented by the right hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), when he was Secretary for Technical Cooperation, when he gave an assurance to the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association. My right hon. Friend referred to that assurance in the House on 30th January. This undertaking covers those who were designated under the Overseas Service Aid Scheme, or who were non-designated non-indigenous officers but I emphasise that it does not extend to pensioners who are not expatriates.

Here, I should describe the situation which has arisen in Southern Yemen. My right hon. Friend explained on 24th October that, although the Southern Yemen Government paid public service benefits until 31st May, 1968, in accordance with the agreement negotiated at Geneva, they have declared their intention to default on payments falling due since then, and we have accordingly implemented our undertaking to expatriate pensioners. But—I regret this as much as the hon. Gentleman does—those who must be regarded as local—this is not disputed in the case of Mr. Salole—are excluded from this undertaking. Mr. Sable's status has been classified as South Arabian.

Mr. Sharples

This is the whole point. Mr. Sable disputes this. I tried to make that clear.

Mr. Oram

It was not made clear in the correspondence, and, in our judgment, it is certain that he is a local officer. The definition of local status, South Arabian status, is contained in the regulations under the Aden Constitution Orders of 1962 and 1964. I shall see that the hon. Gentleman has copies setting out the definition. That is the reason why the arrangements which I have described do not embrace Mr. Sable's case.

Although the South Yemen Government have made payments after 31st May to some locally recruited pensioners resident in South Yemen, and they have done so on a scale below the legal entitlement, they have not done so for pensioners like Mr. Sable who are resident outside that country. So far as we know, there are nine pensioners of South Arabian status living in Britain, some of whom have never received any pension at all from the South Yemen Government.

Our ambassador has made representations to the South Yemen Government about these pensioners. The hon. Gentleman spoke of letters to Mr. Sable which referred him to the South Yemen Government, implying that that was as far as we went. If that were what we had done, we should be open to criticism, but it was paralleled by representations which our ambassador has been making on behalf of these pensioners. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that, if those letters are read with knowledge of the representations which were being made, the matter is put in a different light. I regret that we have not been successful in persuading the South Yemen Government to honour their obligations.

I recognise the difficulties and. indeed, the hardship which the situation has caused. But hardship and sympathy are not in themselves a justification for our assuming, whether in South Yemen or elsewhere, a responsibility towards those who are local officers in respect of the country which they served. We have the greatest sympathy, and we have done all we can. But the principle must remain firm, in our judgment, that they must look to the Government which employed them for redress. Only in respect of expatriates has help been possible, and it is necessary to draw a line between the two classes of pensioner.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Twelve o'clock.