HC Deb 15 February 1971 vol 811 cc1356-73

11.10 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)

I wish to draw the attention of the House to the fact that Britons living abroad do not always get that protection from British officials to which they are entitled. I mean no attack on the Foreign Office. I am well aware that many thousands of officials give devoted service to British citizens living all over the world.

I believe, however, that in this country there are a number of people who are ashamed of our past Empire and of our present Commonwealth. Personally, I do not agree with them. I believe that our Empire did more good for more people than any other empire, even including the Roman Empire. It established the rule of law and an independent judiciary, it provided an incorruptible civil service, voluntary service in local government, and many other assets. Perhaps we can be accused of not establishing full parliamentary democracy, but—who knows?—this may well come later, when the new countries have more widespread education and more educated electorates.

I believe, however, that from the view certain people take of being ashamed of the past flows the belief that Britons really have no right to live and work abroad, particularly in the continents of Africa and Asia, and that those who do establish their homes on those continents are there on sufferance. I believe that this kind of feeling is sometimes reflected by British officials; or, to put it another way, I believe that, on occasions, British officials there believe that their main task is to keep good relations with the Governments to whom they are accredited, and if the rights of an individual British citizen interfere with that harmony, then the British citizen is regarded as a nuisance, and his rights are not upheld by the officials concerned.

I shall give some examples of what I have in mind. It will, of course, be a general picture, though I shall be citing certain specific instances. Naturally, I do not expect my hon. Friend, when he replies to this debate, to give me direct answers on the individual problems which I shall be raising.

I think that perhaps I should start with Kenya, for that country affords the best example of some of the problems I have in mind. The House will remember that there were about 80,000 British people in Kenya before independence; now there are about half that number. No doubt, those hon. Members who have been here a long time will also recall that both Conservative and Labour Governments here asked the British farmers in Kenya to stay in that country after independence in order to keep up the standard of farming and husbandry for which Kenya was famous, and to train Africans to take over from them. As the House knows, many English men and women did stay on in Kenya, and they took risk to the security from the African land hunger, and from general unrest due to a rising birth rate and unemployment.

In order to help over the problem of land hunger, the Government of the day instituted a resettlement scheme which became known as the million acres scheme. It lasted from 1962 to 1965. The British Government put into this scheme over £20 million. During those years 700 European mixed farms were bought out, and 32,000 African families were settled on those farms. Under the scheme, the valuations were agreed to be fair, particularly in view of the fact that those who were bought out could repatriate their money to this country.

The scheme rather tapered off at the end when the 01 Kalou salient was dealt with. I am afraid that some of the valuations were questionable as money available was nearly exhausted; but, by and large, the first of these major resettlement schemes, in which the British Government and taxpayer invested over £20 million, was a success.

I now turn briefly to the second scheme, which lasted from 1966 to 1970. That was known as the 400,000 acre scheme, because it was designed to buy up 100,000 acres of small mixed European farms each year for four years.

I understand, from an Answer I got the other day, that the British Government put in £6 million—I must admit that I thought it was more—and 200 small mixed farms were bought out. The scheme was, by and large, successful, except that the valuations were very much in dispute. There were only four British valuers to do all these valuations.

As the Minister and his predecessors opposite know, over the years I have had many complaints about valuations which were submitted, first, through the British High Commission, but with very little success. At that time the British High Commission seemed to display very little sympathy to these farmers. However, these matters were taken—

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

May I ask to what time the hon. Gentleman is referring?

Mr. Wall

I was referring to the 400,000 acre scheme from 1966 to 1970 —after the right hon. Gentleman had left the High Commission. I think it was during his second successor's period of office; but it was when the Labour Government were in office. The valuations were strongly questioned in the House; they were not nearly as fair as the valuations during the 1 million acre scheme. That deals with the past. I mention it to give the House the background.

The House will be interested in the future. Some of the main problems of British citizens living in Kenya are as follows.

First, the farmers. There are some 400 small mixed farms left, covering, as far as one can estimate, about 800,000 acres. I do not suggest that all the farmers want to leave the country, but a lot would like to do so if a new scheme could be instituted. For example, many elderly people, who went out there after World War I, live in areas which were not touched by the two previous resettlement schemes. They are now rather isolated. They find it difficult to get or to control their labour, and they would like to be bought out, if possible.

I believe that there have been discussions over the last 12 months by both the previous and the present Government with a view to instituting a new resettlement scheme. I do not expect my hon. Friend to give me much information about that tonight. However, I believe that it has run into a lot of difficulties—mainly in Kenya rather than here. I hope that my hon. Friend will do his best to see that the scheme is pushed to fruition, because these 400 farmers are looking towards this Government to do something to help them.

There are also the compassionate cases —people with little money left, too old to look after their farms, or in areas of security risk. Between 1962 and 1965 this House voted £1 million specifically to deal with these compassionate cases. But in 1968 the then Government announced that the compassionate scheme was ended.

What is happening to these cases? A large number of people who went out there after World War I, some wounded and still suffering from health disabilities, are in difficulties and still come under the compassionate category. I hope that these cases will be looked into and that money will be allocated to buy out these people who are either sick or in areas of security risk. This would obviously be to the benefit of the Government and the people of Kenya as well as to the farmers.

I mention only briefly, because I know it affects another department of the Foreign Office, the Agricultural Settlement Trust. The farmers concerned went out after World War II on a British Government scheme, and they had to sell up all their assets in this country to take part in it. They were told that they would have the option to purchase their farms when they desired to do so. It is very important to safeguard this option, because, unless they can purchase their farms, they could not fall within the ambit of these resettlement schemes.

In the summer of 1970, the Attorney-General of Kenya threatened to revoke this option. This would be a very serious matter, and I believe that there is a moral obligation on the Government to see that this does not happen. if these people have the option, they can buy their farms and sell them to a willing buyer, either direct to an African buyer or under one of the resettlement schemes or, one hopes, under a third scheme when it starts.

There are grave difficulties facing British farmers in Kenya. There is obviously still a great deal of land hunger and pressure by a growing population. A non-Kenya national now cannot buy or even rent land, and this obviously creates difficulties. There have been strong demands in the Parliament in Nairobi that the Kenyan Government should not pay for land acquired for their own nationals, but only for the improvements. Of course, the land was originally settled in 1919 or 1920, and the settlers developed that land from bush into good farming land. If they were not paid the value of the land as was agreed under the last resettlement scheme, it would be most unfair, and they would have no money to set up elsewhere.

One of the particular problems is that there are only four European valuers in Kenya. Two have now left, and I understand that the last two are due to leave this year. This also can present a problem, because valuation is the key to all these resettlement schemes.

The European community in farming areas is getting worried about this, so I hope that the Minister will do all he can to press on the Government the necessity of getting together with the Kenya Government to institute a new resettlement scheme as soon as possible, and also to do something about the compassionate cases and to give some reassurance to those still left in the Agricultural Settlement Trust.

I complained in the House some years ago that the British High Commission of that day was not very helpful in some of these questions, particularly the question of valuation. I am certain that this happened because the High Commission did not want to quarrel with the Kenya Government at a critical time after independence, but I hope that it will be made clear in general—I am not referring to the present British High Commission in Kenya, because I do not believe that this happens any more—that it is Her Majesty's Government's desire that British citizens should have their rights protected abroad, and that this is a priority task, even if it means sometimes having a row with the Government to whom they are accredited. It is the duty of British officials to see that Britain's rights are upheld.

I would go further than this—I think that my hon. Friend would agree with that—and say that Her Majesty's Government have other moral responsibilities, because, in the five years prior to independence, the British Government gave Kenya £46 million, in the five years after independence £69.5 million, and, in the last two years, another £24 million. This means that, over a total of 12 years, the British Government have provided £62½ million to Kenya in grants and £77½ million in loans, a total of £140 million over 12 years. I believe that this gives us some right to a hearing. I agree that some of these problems are difficult because the Kenya Government has the right in its own country to do as it wishes, but I believe that the British Government should make strong representations. Having put money into a partnership between Britain and Kenya, in order to facilitate better agriculture and the transfer from white to African of farming in Kenya, we could surely bring some pressure to bear.

Many young Europeans, even Kenya citizens, who have been trained for jobs in agriculture in the Civil Service and who have trained their successors in these activities are now being Africanised out of jobs. I understand that these young men have no right to come to British universities, and I know of two cases of young men who wanted to come to take agricultural degrees in this country but found difficulty in doing so because they had no prescriptive right to come here. It seems easier for one to get a Commonwealth scholarship at a British university if one is living in Africa and one has a non-white rather than a white face.

These young people have little option, having been born and bred in Africa, but to go south to Rhodesia or the Republic of South Africa. But what then happens to their parents, who probably were also born in Kenya? Their children have gone south. They perhaps wish to return to this country, but they cannot do that because under the exchange control regulations they are allowed to bring home only £2,500 per family, plus £1,000 per family during the next seven years, this being a concession rather than a right.

Considering that these people must, on returning, set up home again, how many of them are able to do this—including obtaining a mortgage and so on—on £2,500 per family? I accept that it is right for the Kenya Government to have their own exchange control regulations, but I suggest that if Her Majesty's Government are making large sums available to Kenya, it should be possible to negotiate better terms certainly for the elderly on compassionate grounds. I received a letter from a lady in 1968 which still represents the present position adequately. The lady wrote: Many people are now at their wit's end to know what to do. Our sons have been 'Africanised', whole families split up and scattered all over the world and we are being taxed out of existence here, but no one seems to care, least of all the British Government. Surely the British Government can prevail upon the Kenya Government to allow everyone over 60 years of age who cannot afford or do not wish to live here to be allowed to go wherever they wish and take, say, up to £10,000, which would be reasonable allowing for the fact that total clearance tax must be met, with fares, package and freight on one's worldly goods and the fact that one must set up home all over again in some other country. Cannot we be allowed to join our families, more especially when we are not wanted here and we will continue to pay tax on the whole of our pensions for the rest of our lives? There is the further problem that for many of those who go south to Rhodesia or South Africa, the Kenya regulations allow no money or goods to be exported to either country, except in relation to pensions earned under the East African High Commission or the Kenya Government. I hope that, again on compassionate grounds, Her Majesty's Government will be able to do something about this to help the elderly.

This extract comes from a letter which I received from a lady who went from Kenya to Durban, where her children are now working: I am writing to tell you that there are many ex-Kenyans living in squalid conditions here"— in Durban victims of blocked accounts in Kenya and hit again by devaluation or pensions from the United Kingdom. It is quite pathetic to see elderly people who have had good jobs and homes in the past living in shabby third-rate hoarding houses—all very bitter about the British Government. Hon. Members may say that this happens all over the world. That is true, but if we are providing large sums of money for Kenya, we might use our influence to see, as the lady who wrote that letter suggests, that at least people over 60 are allowed to export sufficient of their capital to enable them to live in peace for the rest of their lives.

I would go so far as to say that when aid programmes are being negotiated, Her Majesty's Government should give some consideration to the treatment of British nationals in the country concerned. This should be a factor in aid negotiations. I understand that there are certain other countries which say that if a Government nationalise or take over property without paying fair compensation, the assessed value of that property should be deducted from the next aid programme. This is a pretty drastic suggestion, and I would not go as far as that; but the treatment of British nationals should be a factor when aid programmes are being negotiated.

I turn to three other Commonwealth countries, and the first is Tanzania. As a result of a letter which I wrote to the Daily Telegraph in October, 1968, on the same topic as I am now raising, a Commander Low wrote to me, and told me that he had been resident in Tanzania since 1928. In 1961 he decided to sell his farm. Payments for the farm were coming to him over a period of four years. These payments were frozen, and while the payments were still being made part of the farm was sequestrated by the Government.

I wrote immediately to the Foreign Office and the matter was taken up. The Bank of Tanzania said that full forms of application had not been made for the export of the capital. I am glad to say that after 18 months of correspondence the British High Commission in Dar-es-Salaam managed to get the money repatriated to Commander Low. The case started in September, 1968, and the money was paid in January of this year. That shows that when the Government take up cudgels on behalf of genuine British citizens they can achieve a result even if this takes time.

I pass to the problem of passports. A problem which has caused more trouble than almost anything else to the Foreign Office, and certainly to me, is the renewal of British passports from Rhodesia. Under the previous Government, British citizens with British passports, who had the right to renew those passports, had to make a very expensive journey from Rhodesia to Pretoria to collect their passports personally from the British Embassy. I am glad that the new Government have done away with that stupid, annoying and ridiculous rule which merely undermined the confidence of those in Rhodesia who were loyal to the British Government and who held British passports. Still, as my hon. Friend will know, there have been difficulties in Beira, and I am grateful to him for clearing up that problem.

I want to quote paragraphs from two other letters which are not directly the concern of the Foreign Office, and I must stress that passports have probably caused more heartburning among British subjects than anything else. The first is from a lady, again, and the paragraph is self-explanatory: My husband was born in India, as his father was in the Indian Army and our younger son was born in India during the war. When in 1952 we applied for passports to go to Tasmania, we got this reply. My husband was Indian, I was English, my younger son was an Indian! There was also the case of a friend of mine. His father was in one of the North African countries in some civil service job, long before the war. He was born there. Later on he became a tea planter in Assam. He came home on leave, married and went back to Assam. When they finally returned to England, he was told he was African, his wife British and his son was Indian! It is high time this absurd nonsense was put an end to. I have another brief quotation: I am also in touch with a couple in Kenya. He was born in Barbados, educated in Britain and served for five years in the forces. Now the British High Commission are attempting to take away his British passport and give him a West India one; consequently he cannot get a Letter of Intent to buy out his farm. That case has been dealt with, but I put it to the House that it shows that this difficulty over passports is not only personal but in some cases can have serious financial consequences. I hope that the Government will be able to give an assurance that they will assist British people as much as they can in tackling the complicated problem of passports. I greatly hope that the legislation which I understand is to be introduced in the not too distant future will clear up some of the appalling anomalies and complications.

My final case concerns Aden, now known as South Yemen, and a gentleman known as Mr. Peter Roy. He was the manager of a firm in Aden called Luke Thomas and Company. Mr. Roy served there as manager on a two-year contract. In July, 1969, his firm was sequestrated by the Government of South Yemen. In August—under a month later—the United Kingdom-based firm went into voluntary liquidation. Mr. Roy, however, was detained in Aden until November—that is, over three months.

I made representations to the Foreign Office, which managed to do something about it. In his letter Mr. Roy explained the details of how he was detained and the fact that his personal goods as well as his car were sequestrated. He said at the time: The British Embassy and the Foreign Office have not even asked the Government here why we are being detained and apparently do not want to get involved. I do not think that that is fair. I quote it only to show what people on the spot feel when they are surrounded by a near-Communist Government such as that of South Yemen.

When I took this case up, the Foreign Office dealt with it immediately and I am glad to say that Mr. Roy was able to return to Britain in November.

The next part of the story is particularly sad and though once again it is not the direct concern of the Foreign Office but it shows the problems facing our compatriots when they are working and living abroad. Mr. Roy submitted a claim for £5,000 because he had had no pay after sequestration, no compensation for the property which had been sequestrated, and he had lost his job. As I said, the company had gone into voluntary liquidation meanwhile. The letter from the liquidator of the company, which I hold in my hand is worth quoting to the House, because again it underlines the difficulties and, if we understand the difficulties, we can perhaps deal with them more sympathetically. The letter from the liquidator of the company says this: With regard to the position after that date"— that is, the date of sequestration— it seems, if I understand the position correctly, that there was very little, if anything, that he was in a position to do for the company during the period of his detention in Aden. Since, as far as I am aware, the custodian committee took over the conduct of the company's affairs, I have no knowledge of the extent to which Mr. Roy was consulted on the company's affairs by the custodian committee. The period of his detention extended beyond the date on which the company went into liquidation. I have no record of any service Mr. Roy was able to undertake for the company in Aden after that time. I take that to mean that, as the manager was detained after the company went into liquidation, the company washes its hands of him. This is grossly unfair. I believe that British companies have a moral duty to their representatives abroad, particularly when their representatives suffer under Governments such that in South Yemen.

I hope that a message will go out from the House that we—certainly the new Government—believe in British investment abroad and will therefore protect, not only that investment, but also British subjects working abroad.

I say again that I do not intend to attack the Foreign Office. Most hon. Members have travelled all over the world and we meet Foreign Office officials in all kinds of places, and we receive the utmost help and courtesy from them. However, I believe that there has been a general feeling, certainly in Africa, that Britons who lived in Africa were there on sufferance. I believe that this was true under the last Government, who had very little sympathy with the white man in Africa.

I hope that the message will go out from my hon. Friend tonight that there has been a change of Government in Britain and that, whatever may have happened in the past, the present Government believe that it is the duty of officials to uphold the rights of British subjects even if it means having cross words with the Government to whom they are accredited.

I have quoted to the House before words used to me by an African Minister who said, "Mr. Wall, we will never trust the British, because they never back their own tribe". I believe that our officials should realise that the more they stand up for the rights of British people living abroad the more they, the British Government and the British people will be respected. I do not expect any direct answer to the various cases that I have raised, some of which are now about two years old, but which are I think good examples of the problem I have in mind. But I hope a message will go out from this House tonight that it is the Government's intention and desire to see that the rights of Britons abroad will be upheld.

11.40 p.m.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas (Kettering)

Although I often disagree with the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), I know that he is a kind and generous man. I am, therefore, very surprised that he should criticise British officials for not supporting the interests of British citizens abroad. The hon. Gentleman referred to East Africa. I served as British High Commissioner-Designate to a Federation which never came off, of Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and I served as the first British High Commissioner after independence in Kenya. It is unfair to criticise British officials for not supporting the interests of British citizens in that part of the world. My staff were most concerned in protecting British citizens, and if the hon. Gentleman wishes to criticise what happened, it is the British Government here, whether Conservative as it was when I served there, or Labour, or Conservative again, but not the officials. They worked hard and really did their job in supporting British citizens who were in their country.

11.41 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Kershaw)

I wish to make one or two remarks in reply to the debate which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), and in so doing I shall not differ very much, if at all, in principle from what he said. He recognises, as we all do, that one of the difficulties in dealing with some of the countries to which he referred is that the sovereign status of those countries which has fairly recently been acquired is very much cherished by them, and we all recognise that they face problems in their countries different from those here—problems which are common to developing countries everywhere, but nevertheless are found in acute form in the countries to which he has made reference.

I do not think my hon. Friend has detected, nor can I, any discrimination by those countries against British citizens as such. The fact is that the British are more numerous in that part of the world so that anything which may happen is more likely to affect them than anyone else.

In general, there are two forms of difficulty which arise. The first is the expropriation of property, and the second is personal difficulty such as expulsion, difficulty with passports and so on. As regards expropriation, it is the custom of Her Majesty's Government to ask, according to international law, for prompt, adequate and effective compen- sation. This we always do, but I must note in passing that adequate is often the enemy of prompt, because if negotiations are necessary in order to find out what is adequate they do seem to drag on for a very long time. However, we do our best in that regard.

Our policy, on the whole, which is sometimes a little misunderstood, is to let firms and individuals make the running themselves in negotiating with the Governments or their former employers because, for the reasons that I have given, Her Majesty's Government have no real status. We can, of course, and do, intervene where we think some unfairness or injustice is being done, but by and large we recognise that these countries are acting according to their own laws and have a legal right to do what they have done, and therefore we hesitate to throw our weight about generally. Nevertheless, I think we get a certain number of results. and fairly satisfactory ones, and the situation, considering the tensions to which both they and we are subject, has not been unsatisfactory.

With regard to detentions and expulsions, and that kind of personal difficulty, here again mostly they are governed by the law of the country concerned, and we have no right in law to intervene. But again where injustice to some person results, the High Commissioners have made representations, and not always unsuccessfully. I join the right hon. Member for Kettering (Sir G. de Freitas) in saying that those on the ground have always done their best to make represenations where personal cases are involved.

The use of aid as a lever or punishment in regard to countries that have not behaved as we would wish in their treatment of British subjects or property is a matter of some difficulty. My hon. Friend referred to this, and qualified his remarks in a most sensible way. A policy of using aid as a lever or some kind of retribution may seem attractive at first sight, and I agree that the hostility of a country may be such that no one could contemplate giving any aid to it. But in the cases that we have been considering tonight, and most of them elsewhere as well, that is not really the position.

We are often asked to decide whether it is appropriate to reduce pro tanto aid already promised, to secure the payment of a debt, pension or compensation. At first sight this seems easy and fair, but on closer examination it is not always seen to be so, and it may be counter-productive. For example, assumption by the United Kingdom of a debt or a pension can lead to other debts being repudiated by the country concerned, to our ultimate loss. We must also bear in mind that a small payment by Her Majesty's Government to one wronged individual may open the way to compensation having to be accepted for a huge mercantile enterprise whose property may be counted in millions of pounds, but over whose conduct and policy in the country concerned Her Majesty's Government have had no control.

Assumption of responsibility may lead at least to delays in the settlement of other cases, or may even provoke the other Government to acts of retaliation against other firms or individuals. In such a case, those firms or individuals might reasonably argue that it had been the action of Her Majesty's Government that had led to their expropriation, and they could therefore the more convincingly argue that they should be compensated as well.

Nor must we forget that a large part of the aid that we give results in increased activity in our own factories and for our own producers in the United Kingdom, and that all that also would be at risk.

With regard to aid not yet promised or allocated, slightly different considerations arise. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in answer to a Question on 5th November, 1971, reported at column 1258 of HANSARD of that date, whilst the criteria remain the same, political considerations do arise and always have done.

My hon. Friend referred to one or two particular cases. I should like to give not perhaps a very complete reply but some reply to the very cogent points he made.

With regard to the land resettlement in Kenya, I can give some details of the new scheme that is now being negotiated. I understand that about £3¾ million is involved. Agreement in principle to this payment for buying out farms has been reached. The details are, however, proving rather troublesome, and that is why it has not yet been possible to announce a final solution. But I do not think that it will be delayed too long. The prices that it is envisaged will be paid are based upon what is said to be the price reached between a willing buyer and a willing seller. I hope that they will be regarded as fair when they are arrived at.

I have noted what my hon. Friend said about the lack of valuers. I will certainly take up that point and write to him about it. In addition, I noted what he said about the compassionate cases, about which I will make inquiry, and also his important point about the future of the agricultural settlement trust, in particular the options to buy which arise under it, which obviously must be an important point in the negotiations.

With regard to the elderly people to whom my hon. Friend referred who are having difficulty with exchange control, I am informed that at present it is easier to get capital into this country by people like them. I will, however, inquire for full details and write my hon. Friend and let him know. He will understand that with regard to those who have chosen to go to South Africa from Kenya, political considerations arise in which it is not easy to see how Her Majesty's Government can make forceful representations. Nevertheless, I note what my hon. Friend says and I will see what can be done about it and let him know.

My hon. Friend mentioned the case of Commander Low. I understand that, as my hon. Friend said, Commander Low sold a farm for £6,000 and he wished to transfer the money to the United Kingdom. This became known in September, 1969, to the High Commissioner in Dar es Salaam, who caused someone to go to the Bank of Tanzania, which informed the High Commissioner that it saw no reason why permission should not be given if Commander Low's agent were to apply in suitable fashion for the money to be transferred.

The High Commissioner had no reason to think that the application was not made and that the money had not been sent, but the next that he heard of it was in September, 1970, when my hon. Friend raised the matter again and it was discovered that the money had not been received at this end. Thereupon, the High Commissioner contacted the bank again and was told that the reason was that the agent had never applied. The agent, apparently, did apply and the money, I am glad to say, was notified to have arrived sometime at Christmas, as my hon. Friend said.

As to the passport question, I think that it would be impossible for anybody, perhaps even my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, to give an off-the-cuff interpretation of the British Nationality Acts and who is what and why. I would not, therefore, venture to do that. I must, however, say that during my comparatively short time at the Foreign Office, I have discovered that anybody who, by and large, thought that he was British is usually allowed to prove it somehow in the end. That is probably the way it works. Nevertheless, if there is any difficulty which my hon. Friend wishes to put forward, I will certainly have it looked at in detail.

In regard to Mr. Roy, who was the manager of a lighterage company in Aden, I imagine that the reason why the lighterage company fell on hard times in the summer of 1969 can easily be guessed: there probably were not a great many ships in the port for the company to work. Therefore, the enterprise was taken over by the South Yemeni Government and accountants were appointed in London to try to disentangle the financial position. It was not easy to do it at that distance, and it took time.

During the time that that was being done, Mr. Roy was compelled by the local law to stay in Aden. He was not confined in any way in Aden, but he was not allowed to leave. I think that the amount of payment which he had to make was quite large, due partly to the pensions or redundancy payments which the company was obliged by the local law to make to the former servants who worked for it. I can quite understand that, during the hot summer months that he stayed in Aden with nothing to do and nowhere to go, he must have got very fed up. I am surprised that he did not write to more hon. Members than he did.

At any rate, the High Commission tried to do something for him, even giving him a Christmas drink, although it was stimulated by a director of the firm who pressed £5 into the hand of a Foreign Office official and asked him …to see that the boy got a glass of beer at Christmas. However, he is back now. I am sorry about the difficulties that he had, but there was nothing much that the High Commissioner could have done to make matters easier for him at the time.

How far our representatives abroad should press matters when British subjects are in danger for distress is a difficult problem. Naturally, as my hon. Friend says, the staff in missions abroad wish to be in good standing with the Governments to whom they are accredited. But I agree that their standing will not be made any worse by sticking up for their fellow citizens as robustly as they can. They are there to represent British interests and the interests of British citizens, and I know that they will do what they can.

How hard they press any matter to achieve the best results must be a matter of judgment, and we are not always the best judges on our own personal cases because our enthusiasms are engaged. I hope that I do not sound complacent when I say that, while I cannot prove a negative, I am inclined to believe that our officials abroad exert the most effective pressure that our often delicate relationships with emerging countries can sustain.

It is right that any British citizen who suffers wrong must be able to make his representations, and my hon. Friend's debate will have made it clear that this House is the place where, in the last resort, such representations should be heard.

Sir G. de Freitas

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree, contrary to the view of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), that criticisms of what our officials abroad do are criticisms of the Government rather than of the officials themselves? They act under the general direction of the Government of the day, whichever party is in power. Members of the Diplomatic Service abroad will find the remarks of the hon. Gentleman extremely offensive when he suggests that they do not press matters on behalf of British citizens abroad. They must take their line from the Government of the day, and it is the Government who are to be criticised, not the officials.

Mr. Kershaw

The right hon. Gentleman says that they take the line from the Government of the day, but they have a very clear idea of their duties and do their best to represent the interests of British citizens. To a large extent, we must leave to their personal judgment how far in individual cases they press the Governments to whom they are accredited. On whether it should be done from London at high level, or whether they should do it, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, very often we take their advice. In general matters such as aid and those of more Governmental concern, I agree with him that those are for central decision here and the local officials only have the task of giving the message at the other end.

My hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice went out of his way to say that he did not wish to denigrate the keenness and efficiency of local officials all over the world, and I am sure that they will be heartened by what the right hon. Gentleman has said.