HC Deb 11 March 1970 vol 797 cc1344-9
The Minister of Overseas Development (Mrs. Judith Hart)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

Her Majesty's Government have recently given careful consideration to representations made by several Governments of developing countries which were formerly British dependent territories about the financial burden on their economies of their responsibility for paying pensions and compensation to expatriate officers who were in Government service in those territories before independence.

Having regard to these representations and to the views expressed by many sections of informed opinion in this country, including Members of this House, the Government have decided that as part of their policy of aid to development they are willing, at the request of any Government concerned, to consider assuming responsibility for the cost of pensions to expatriate officers in respect of pre-independence Government service.

The assumption of such a responsibility would be taken into account in determining the total amount of aid a country might receive for all purposes having regard to needs and the funds available in the aid programme.

In general, the Government would be willing to assume responsibility from 1st April, 1971. We could not contemplate reimbursement of expenditure incurred or due to be incurred up to that date. In broad terms, the officers whose pensions would be included in any arrangement would be those who are covered by a public officers' agreement, or would, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, have been covered if there had been an agreement, and who are not citizens of the country concerned. Outstanding commutation and compensation loans would also be covered and annual payments of principal or interest due after 1st April, 1971, would be waived.

The Government are also willing to consider entering into similar agreements with the Governments of dependent territories approaching independence. In the case of other dependent territories, account would be taken of their expenditure on expatriate pensions in assessing their needs for development expenditure, which we recognise as constituting a special and increasing claim on the aid programme.

I propose to lay before the House in due course a Bill which would enable me to assume responsibility, if necessary, for the payment of individual pensioners. Until there was such enabling legislation we could proceed only by way of annual reimbursements of the total amounts involved to the Governments concerned.

The Government's decision removes the impediment to a renewed aid programme in Tanzania and we shall be ready at any time to exchange views with the Tanzania Government on this subject.

Mr. Braine

I wish to congratulate the Minister on her statement. While, in principle, we welcome this new approach, we should like an opportunity to consider its implications. In the meantime, I should like to ask two questions.

First, assuming that all the Governments concerned ask Her Majesty's Government to assume responsibility for expatriate pensions, what is likely to be the total cost and what amendment, if any, will have to be made to the figures for future aid programmes which the right hon. Lady announced to the House last November?

Secondly, can the right hon. Lady give the House an assurance that no British pensioner will be worse off as a result of Her Majesty's Government assuming this new responsibility?

Mrs. Hart

I can certainly give an assurance on the second point.

It is difficult to give a precise answer on the first point. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the total cost each year to overseas Governments is about £12 million, but this does not necessarily correspond to the eventual cost to Britain because we cannot predict in advance of the discussions with the countries concerned, nor can we fully take into account in advance of such discussions, what consideration we should want to give to what we would now regard as being the aid requirements of the countries involved.

Mr. Oram

Will my right hon. Friend accept the congratulations of the whole House on having resolved a very vexing problem, which has often led to difficulties between developing countries and ourselves, not least in Tanzania? May we hope that relationships with that country will shortly be restored to normal?

Mrs. Hart

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, whose interest in this matter goes very deep. I hope that we can quickly move to resumption of a normal aid relationship with Tanzania.

Mr. Sharples

I very much welcome the statement made by the Minister. Could she say a little more about the position of pensioners from South Aden, including my constituent Mr. Salole, about whom we have had considerable correspondence? What will be the situation of those pensioners whose pensions were cut off by the South Yemen Government in 1968? Will they be entitled to back payments of pension?

Mrs. Hart

There are still one or two matters to be resolved, but I hope to be able to state quite shortly, probably next week, the situation as it affects South Yemen. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find that answer satisfactory. This particular arrangement would not apply to South Yemen.

Mr. Paget

Is my right hon. Friend aware how very pleased we all are that these people who retain their jobs and continue in their duties at the request not only of Her Majesty's Government, but of the successor Governments, should be regarded and that their pensions should be assured? It is important that this should be done. I congratulate the Minister.

Mrs. Hart

I am most grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. It is right that we should recognise the valuable service given in the pre-independence days by many of those who since have served as expatriate civil servants.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the Minister aware that in principle this change will be greatly welcomed by the opinion outside the House, and particularly by the World Development Action Group, which has made representations about the matter? Is she further aware that the details will depend very much on what proportion of the £12 million expenditure is assumed by Her Majesty's Government? What, in the Government's view, is the proportion to be borne by Her Majesty's Government to constitute an addition to expenditure on aid that is already being incurred?

Mrs. Hart

That is a reasonable question, but the hon. Gentleman will realise that the matter will have to be looked at case by case. In making allocations for aid from the aid programme, we take into account the total position in a developing country. To the extent that the income of a developing country is increased by the new arrangements when they come into force, if they are negotiated between us this makes a relevant difference. Although we would not wish to make precise adjustments, we would expect to make some adjustments to the aid programme.

Mr. John Lee

As one who enjoys a Colonial Service pension, may I add my congratulations to those which have already been offered to my right hon. Friend. Could my right hon. Friend explain the situation with regard to those pensionable officers who have retired and whose service has straddled the period of independence? I think it is true that the majority of those enjoying pensions are people who stayed on after independence. Does that mean that in certain cases part of their pension will be paid by Her Majesty's Government and part by the former colonial territory?

Mrs. Hart

That, in effect, would be the case in relation to somebody as described by my hon. Friend. The arrangements I have announced this afternoon relate to the pre-independence section of their service and not to the post-independence section, which would remain the responsibility of the Government concerned.

Mr. Maudling

Is not one of the great concerns of these people the effects on their pensions of a rising cost of living? Does this new arrangement mean that they will in future come under the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Acts?

Mrs. Hart

As I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have always taken great care traditionally to safeguard these pensioners against increases in the cost of living. We have already made appropriate adjustments in their pensions. We shall be anxious to give whatever protection we can in this new situation.

Mr. Judd

While congratulating my right hon. Friend on this move towards a rationalisation of the whole issue, is she aware that, if the Treasury makes no additional allowance for the extra cost on the aid programme as a result of it, there will be the most vigorous criticism from all concerned with the aid and development programme? Is she further aware that it is preposterous that payments of this kind should be regarded as part of that programme?

Secondly, will my right hon. Friend understand that those of us who welcome the possibility of renewed relationships with Tanzania would like to see an aid programme with Tanzania given the highest priority by Her Majesty's Government?

Mrs. Hart

I shall take account of my hon. Friend's views on his second point. I am anxious to make full recognition of the present progress that Tanzania is making in development. We should welcome that and give what assistance we can.

On the first point, I must in principle disagree with my hon. Friend. The service that many of these pensioners gave during the pre-independence period is to be regarded as service to development. I do not apologise for my attitude. I disagree with my hon. Friend on principle.

Mr. Allason

While it is clear that it is most welcome that the expatriate officers should be dealt with, is there not an obligation also to those locally enlisted Government servants of the late Aden and Zanzibar Governments who receive no pensions?

Mrs. Hart

This is a point which arose earlier, and on which I asked the House to be patient for a few more days.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a mass of business ahead of us.