HL Deb 09 February 1960 vol 220 cc1065-9

4.54 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I should like briefly to run through the principal provisions of this Bill. Before the introduction of the 1943 Foreign Service Act it was to all intents and purposes impossible to retire an officer on pension before his normal retiring age, unless his health was seriously and permanently impaired. The Foreign Service officer has to retain throughout his career a high degree of initiative and energy, and he and his family must have a higher resistance to climatic and other strains than is required of most other civil servants. It sometimes happens that officers who show great promise in their early years do not fulfil that promise—sometimes for reasons which are within their control, but more often due to no fault of their own. In a comparatively small and streamlined service, there may be no place for them. It was to cope with this problem that the 1943 Foreign Service Act was passed. An officer prematurely retired under this Act loses his job earlier than the normal civil servant expects, and if the fault has not been his, he deserves some compensation.

The Foreign Service Act, 1943, permitted a Foreign Service officer above the rank of Second Secretary to be retired and to receive the pension and lump sum which his term of service had earned him. It also provided that, if the Foreign Secretary recommended and the Treasury agreed, officers retired in this way could receive special increases, both in pension and in lump sum.

The maximum special increases allowed under the 1943 Act were fixed at a figure of £100 per annum for pension and £300 for lump-sum payment. In 1943, £100 a year represented one-twelfth of the maximum salary of a First Secretary. But, of course, salaries have increased considerably since then, and the maximum salary of a First Secretary is now £2,120 per annum. The maximum special increases, however, have remained at £100 a year and £300. The first main object of this Bill is to correct this striking devaluation of compensation for premature retirement. Subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 1 of the new Bill establish a permanent relationship of one-twelfth and three-twelfths between these special increases and the emoluments received at the time of retirement. Thus a First Secretary prematurely retired and in receipt of a salary of £2,000 could receive maximum compensation of £166 a year and a £500 lump sum.

Until 1949 it was not possible for a civil servant to resign voluntarily and retain his pension rights. In 1949 a Superannuation Act was passed, Section 34 of which gave the right to the employing department to retire a civil servant on pension at or after the age of fifty"in the interests of efficiency", and at the same time gave the civil servant who had reached the age of fifty the right to retire voluntarily with his pension rights"frozen" until he reached his normal retiring age. Foreign Service officers subject to the 1943 Act were specifically excluded from the operation of this section. The result of this is that the Foreign Service officer of the rank of Second Secretary or above is liable to be retired at any age"in the public interest", but has no corresponding right to leave the Service of his own will without losing all his superannuation rights. The second main object of this Bill, therefore, is to give the Foreign Service officer the same right to retire voluntarily as his Home Service colleague. This is dealt with by Clause 2. But he is, of course, still at some disadvantage, since he cannot retire voluntarily until he is fifty whereas he can be retired compulsorily at any age. This disadvantage is compensated for by the"special increases".

The Bill has one further objective, and that is to tidy up two minor anomalies which have resulted from the effect of the 1949 Superannuation Act upon the 1943 Foreign Service Act. The 1949 Act enabled civil servants for the first time to obtain pensions for widows and dependants, subject to a contribution. Clause 1 (3) of the Bill requires that the contribution of those retired under the 1943 Act shall be based on their special, as well as on their normal, payments. Clause 1 (2) limits the special increase granted to an officer under the 1943 Act to the amount that would have been payable had he continued in the Service until the normal retiring age.

This is a Bill which enables the Foreign Secretary to retire, without undue hardship, those whose services, through no fault of theirs, has lost its full value. I therefore commend this Bill to your Lordships, and I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)

5.1 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Marquess for such a clear exposition of a Bill with rather complicated provisions, and I would not ask your Lordships to listen to any more than a declaration that we are in full agreement with the Bill had it not been that the Minister in another place quoted as an example of officers of the Foreign Service who came under the provisions of this Bill the Chinese Consular Service. That made me think of that very fine Service—some of your Lordships, no doubt, will have known members of it in the old days—which had a life of about a hundred years, from 1843 to 1939. They were a body of people who devoted their lives to the Far East, and who saturated themselves in the language, the law and the culture. They were people on whom the Foreign Office must have relied for its knowledge of China and the Far East.

Since the last war, the services of a number of those officers have obviously been dispensed with. I should like to ask what use is being made now of the specialised knowledge of those officers. I think we should all agree that contacts between the People's Republic of China and the West are far too few. Fewer English people live and grow up in the Far East and have an opportunity of learning these languages. Therefore it seems that former officers of the Chinese Consular Service could be of enormous value in various departments at home. The B.B.C. comes to mind at once. I wonder how many of those officers are helping with overseas broadcasting. I hope the noble Marquess will be able to tell us that such officers as are still in the Service are being used where their special knowledge is of use, and that those who have retired have found suitable employment elsewhere.

Going on a short way from that—and, I hope, not too far outside the rules of order of your Lordships' House—I come to the question of the diplomatic missions in other countries of the Far East. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that whereas in the old days the Chinese Empire, Japan and Siam were the only independent countries where there were diplomatic missions, now there is a much larger number of independent sovereign States, each of which have their own language. There are the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Viet-Nam, Mongolia and, I expect, a few more I cannot think of. I want to ask what steps the Foreign Service take now to ensure that on those missions there are always officers with a knowledge of the local language and, therefore, capable of communicating with the ordinary people of the country. With those two questions, I would repeat that we are in favour of this Bill.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am much obliged for the reception that the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, has given to this Bill. I think it is a business-like Bill and it brings the situation up to date. As regards the two questions that the noble Earl has asked me, he was good enough to give me advance notice about the Chinese Consular Service, so I have looked into the facts a little. Briefly, the position is this. The Chinese Consular Service came to an end in 1935, and a large proportion of its members were absorbed into the Foreign Service. There are still, I understand, seventeen members of the old Chinese Consular Service in harness and serving with great distinction. Just to mention a few posts, there is the Ambassador in Kabul, the Ambassador in Phnom Penh, a high official in Bonn, and the head of the Imperial Defence College. So the great qualities of these men have certainly not been wasted. A number of them were retired under the 1943 Act. It so happens that the retirement age for some of them was earlier than for the usual members of the Service because of their having been in unhealthy posts. They qualified for retirement at the age of 55, and a certain number of them left the Service in that way. Of course, when anybody leaves the Foreign Service every effort is made to ensure that he finds a suitable job; and, as the noble Earl is well aware, great pains are taken and a considerable amount of help is given to ensure that his services are used as they should be in ordinary civil life.

As regards the second question, I am in a little difficulty here over the language question. I think it would be true to say that in the new sovereign countries of what was old French Indo-China the lingua franca is French. I came in contact recently with a number of gentlemen from those countries, and that was the language in which we spoke to one another. As regards the learning of Chinese—and it is Mandarin Chinese which is taught and encouraged—it so happens that my own private secretary is a Chinese speaker. He spent the first year of his time in Peking as a student of Chinese, for which he very properly receives the premium. So we are certainly not losing sight of the necessity for members of the Service to learn these hard Oriental languages. I suppose one cannot expect to have people proficient in every language, though those who are gifted certainly pick up the local dialect when they get to these posts. But Mandarin Chinese would probably get them by in some places, certainly among people of education, although it would not be so among people of a lower education. They would have to speak some Cantonese or Hakka. I can assure the noble Earl that every attention is being given to this question of our having men who are well versed in Oriental languages, so that they can get on close terms and on intimate relations with the ordinary people of the Far East.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.