HL Deb 25 February 1958 vol 207 cc913-22

2.46 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee on the said Bill.—(The Earl of Perth.)


My Lords, during the Second Reading of this Bill the noble Earl, Lord Perth, extended to me an invitation to supplement the criticisms I had made with some constructive suggestions of what I thought might be done on the next occasion on which this Bill came before the House. I have made inquiries and I am informed that this is the right moment to choose to do that, and with your Lordships' permission I should like to do so. If one is to put forward constructive ideas about the Colonial Service one must try to be clear on what one is talking about—


My Lords, on a point of order: the last thing I should wish to, do would be to prevent the noble Lord. Lord Milverton, from putting his case, but is this really the right moment to put forth arguments on this Bill—on a Motion that the House do resolve itself into a Committee? There are other opportunities. I am very interested in this novel procedure because if it is correct it is one which could be adopted on other occasions.


My Lords, I do not claim to be an expert on this subject, but I made inquiries and was told that it, would be correct to do so at this moment, I am quite willing to take any other moment if it is the wish of the House, or if it is so decided; but it is not for me to decide this question.


My Lords, I was warned by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, that he wanted to speak this afternoon. Advice was taken and I believe the advice given was that it would be quite in order. But whether it is so or not, may I ask your Lordships' indulgence that we go on to-day without this necessarily being taken as a precedent for the future, one way or the other, if that is satisfactory?


My Lords, all I will say is that this does create a precedent so far as the ordinary workings of this House are concerned, and we shall certainly make a note of it for future use.


My Lords, perhaps before going on I may be allowed to take this opportunity of expressing my gratitude to the noble Earl for his courtesy in doing what he also said on Second Reading he would do and writing me at some length on the questions I then asked. I thank him very much for satisfying at least my curiosity in so many respects. With all due respect to those responsible for this Bill, it does not seem to me that the reasons for it are very clear. Speaking on Second Reading, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, referred to the White Paper of 1956, and I gather that there are two proposals which can be disentangled from the general set-up: first, the building of a central register of those officers who are available and prepared temporarily to go overseas, and then, if the demand arose, building up a central pool of officers whose permanent job would be so to serve; and, secondly, establishing a Special List of officers of Her Majesty's Overseas Service who, while in the service of Her Majesty's Government, would be seconded to the employing Government.

In the first instance, as we know, this scheme will apply to Nigeria only. The scheme was intended to create conditions which would encourage officers to remain at their posts. The impression which I got from this is that the first proposal I mentioned was intended largely to refer to officers normally serving in the United Kingdom. The idea was to attract younger men serving here who would be prepared temporarily to go abroad. The second proposal—the Special List—does at least try to encourage officers to remain at their posts. But, of course, it does not begin to do so in so far as the Overseas Service is concerned, because it is limited to Nigeria and to a Special List. I submit that as soon as one couples a grandiloquent phrase like "Overseas Service" with limitations like "Nigeria only" and a "Special List," both of which deny the title all too clearly, one must create distrust, of which there is already plenty. Therefore, the prerequisite, I suggest, to any scheme of this kind is that it shall be simple and transparently honest. It must apply to the bulk of the existing service and not to a small section of it.

I have already dealt on Second Reading with the unhappiness in the Service and I shall not attempt to repeat what I said. One is discussing, after all, the Overseas Service, not any particular territory, and even though the Colonial Office did recruit the officers in question these officers have access to the news in the papers. They know that India enacted discriminatory legislation against its expatriate pensioners; they know what is being said to-day in Singapore; they know the financial difficulties which exist elsewhere. I suggest that, while it may have been advantageous to Nelson at Copenhagen to put a telescope to his blind eye, it is quite wrong for the Colonial Office to pretend to a blind eye in this connection. If officers are to be thrown out of employment in the Service they joined for a career they would like to know that something will be done to help them to obtain further employment. Everyone knows that, if there is sufficient determination, anything can be achieved, and the fact that after all these years so little has been achieved makes everybody wonder how great is the will behind it. It is clearly much easier for the Colonial Office to sit back and let people go, rather than sit up and do something very strenuous and definite to keep them where they are.

That preliminary sketch enables me now to make the proposals which I was asked to make. In the first place, I would ask this question: Why cannot everyone in the old unified Services be put into the Overseas Service on some such basis as the following? All colonial "establishments would be transferred to the United Kingdom and held in the United Kingdom for secondment to the Colonies. The pay for the establishment would be remitted in a lump sum to the United Kingdom for payment by the United Kingdom to the individual officers concerned. This would not cost this country anything, but it would make the officers feel that the United Kingdom was interested in them and their fate. If this were done, Colonies could pay the appropriate pension contribution at the same time, just as they do now in the case of seconded officers. It would probably be advantageous at this stage, also, to create a standard basic pay for the Service, and to augment it as necessary by allowances appropriate to the territory concerned.


My Lords, I do not want to interrupt my noble friend, but I think we have to be a little careful. We have no procedural Rules in this House, but in the normal course of events I think that a speech such as my noble friend is making would be more appropriate to the Third Reading. If we are to use the Committee stage for making long speeches, I think we shall get into difficulties in this House in future. I do not want to interrupt my noble friend. I did not know that he was going to do this, and I believe the House would wish him to proceed, but I think that in future it would probably be the wish of the House that on Committee stage we should confine ourselves to the comparatively short arguments of a Committee type.


I am sorry to have transgressed in this way: I did make inquiries as to what I should do. If the House would allow me to proceed, perhaps I may finish—or, if necessary, I will postpone what I have to say until Third Reading.


Perhaps noble Lords would prefer my noble friend to continue, but what I have said might be borne in mind for the future.


As I was saying, it would probably be advantageous at that stage to create a standard basic pay for the Service, and to augment it as necessary by allowances for each territory. That would overcome the difficulty of expatriation pay, which is so detested by the Colonies. One might even use Colonial Development and Welfare money to assist in getting staff, because, after all, it is no use spending Colonial Development and Welfare money on, say, building new hospitals if the hospitals will stand empty because there are no doctors to walk them.

If a territory becomes independent, and if the Colonial Office cannot find jobs for the officers in it, compensation, as now, would be paid, but again in a lump sum payable to Her Majesty's Government for subsequent payment to the officers concerned. Pensions are taken care of, to some extent, by this arrangement. To the extent that they are not taken care of it would be quite simple to get actuaries to provide the figure required to clear the Colony's books in that respect. I could quote an instance in my own experience. In my early days I was seconded to work under the last of the charter companies as their Governor in North Borneo, and arrangements like that were made. The charter company paid these sums periodically to the Malayan Government, to whose service I returned.

Regarding the employment bureau, I suggest that this ought to be set up at once. It should consist of Colonial Service officers who have retired, and it would be quite simple, I think, to get such officers to serve on a voluntary basis for the sake of helping officers who were in need of employment. Such an office should be attached for organisational purposes to the Colonial Office. One might well ask, "Why the Colonial Office?" If the Overseas Service is to have a future it should go, I suggest, to the Commonwealth Relations Office where it would have a chance of expanding, as envisaged in our debate. The Commonwealth Relations Office would then lend officers to the smaller Colonies, rather than the reverse process as at present. In addition to the setting up of an employment bureau, action, I suggest, might be taken to put a high and interested officer into the Federation of British Industries in a parallel position to that recently given to General Dove.

Incidentally, it seems in this connection that perhaps some of the thinking behind this Bill has a wrong orientation. I see no sign that the Colonial Office is contemplating its own disappearance. There is no Suttee passion to immolate itself on the funeral pyre of the expiring Colonial Service. On the contrary, as the Colonial Empire contracts it would seem that the staff in Whitehall multiplies. Surely the Commonwealth Relations Office should be contemplating a future in which it will take over most of this work as a minor offshoot. I look forward to a time when the Colonial Office, or such function as is left to it then, will be a small appanage of the Commonwealth Relations Office.

I suggest that the process followed should be revised: that instead of its being as it has been up to the present, the promotion of Protected Territories to the status of Colonies, the Colonies who are left over after the bigger ones have obtained independence may well be promoted from being Colonies to the position of Protected Territories under the Commonwealth Relations Office. It may be that they would be poor relations, but at least we should get rid of the term "Colonial", which has been so misused and which now has such a bad meaning. I commend this suggestion also to those who toy with the idea of a Commonwealth Service as an alternative method of approach to that idea. If the smaller dependencies cease to be called Colonies and become Protected Territories, with wide local government powers, they could fit into the Commonwealth Relations Office and perhaps could attract an attention and possibly a financial assistance from members of the Commonwealth other than the United Kingdom which would be withheld from them as Colonies under the suspect control of the Colonial Office.

That is all I have to say on the way in which this Service, in the circumstances now confronting it, might be dealt with. There is so much in the proposals in the White Paper, which is the basis of this Bill, which remind one (if I may use such a flippant reference) of the faith healer of Deal, who said that Though pain isn't real, When I sit on a pin And it punctures my skin I dislike what I fancy I feel". That is the position in which the Colonial Service is to-day.

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, if the House will allow me, I will try to answer briefly one or two of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, has made in so far as they are related to the Bill. I agree with the noble Earl the Leader of the House and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, who also made the point, that perhaps this is an unusual method of proceeding. When I asked the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, for constructive suggestions, I had thought that he would put these forward on the Third Reading. However, as it has happened in this way, I will deal with the points which affect the Bill.

The first suggestion made by the noble Lord was that there should be a unification of the whole Service, which would be centralised here, and then, as it were, lent out to the Colonies overseas. The suggestion of centralisation is a difficult one in itself, because it is against all the tendencies of our policy, which has been to try to encourage local government. I believe that if we centralised in this way, it would go entirely counter to that general policy. Furthermore, I think that it would be unpopular with those local Governments who take particular pride in trying to build up their local Service, partly with the assistance of members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service and partly with their own local recruits; and that some individuals would not like it, because they would not wish to be transferred elsewhere overseas and lose the probability of remaining where they are now. For those general reasons, I think that unification, or simplication in that form, would not be a good one.

I ask myself what is the purpose behind the noble Lord's suggestion. Perhaps the main purpose is to give additional security to members of the Service. But I wonder whether in fact that is a good reason. At the present time, the Service knows various things in regard to security which are important for it to know. For example, if any of the colonial territories become independent, it is known that the pensions due to civil servants will be honoured. It is true that this is not a United Kingdom obligation—rather is it an obligation of the territory which has become independent—but I think we have every reason to expect that a newly independent territory which is a member of the Commonwealth will undoubtedly carry out its obligations.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question on that point, as it seems to me to fie at the heart of security? Suppose the independent emergent territory does not carry out that obligation, be it one of contract or one of honour, would the Colonial Office, who have recruited these people, accept responsibility?


My Lords, if I may, I should like to leave that point until such a question actually arose. It is something which certainly has not arisen and we cannot foresee circumstances where it would arise; but if they did, then we should have to consider again.


My Lords, with great respect, this matter arose in India, and the Government at the time, which was that of noble Lords opposite, accepted the responsibility. I think I am right, because I seem to remember having had to administer it.


My Lords, the noble Earl is not absolutely correct. In the case of India negotiations were, I think, entered into with the Indian Government, as a result of which they paid a large lump sum by way of compensation. Under those conditions we undertook the obligation, but only after the Indian Government, for administrative and other reasons, made over this large sum, actuarially calculated to take care of pensions which otherwise they would have had to pay.

Apart from the question of pensions, I suppose that there is the fear, and the real possibility, of loss of career when a country becomes independent; but again, every country which has become independent has negotiated a compensation agreement with Her Majesty's Government. Those agreements have been worked out in terms which are often complained of as being too generous; but the Service have no ground for complaint. So I think that the anxiety which has provoked this suggestion is not really well-founded. The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, made the further suggestion of the establishment of an employment bureau. That is a valuable suggestion. I would only say at this moment that it is something which we are considering carefully and we will note the detailed suggestions that the noble Lord made. I hope I have dealt with the main suggestions made by the I noble Lord. I am most grateful to him for putting forward these constructive ideas, which we will consider carefully.

May I say a final word on the Bill? Its provisions cover many of the things we want to do to ensure that the Nigerian Governments retain adequate administrative staffs to continue to operate in their service. As I told your Lordships in the last debate, Sir John Martin, from the Colonial Office, has just been on a tour of Nigeria, the sole purpose of which was to investigate what best should be done to ensure the continuing of the Service there. He has made his Report and we are considering it. I would only say we are satisfied that any suggestions he makes can be covered under this Bill.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly: Bill reported without amendment.