HL Deb 21 February 1961 vol 228 cc991-1000

4.51 p.m.

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair]

Clause 1:

Power to contribute to expenses

1. —(1) The Secretary of State may enter into agreements with governments of overseas territories for reimbursing those governments, to the extent specified in the agreements, in respect of such expenses incurred by them—

  1. (a) in connection with the employment in the public services of their territories of persons designated by him in accordance with the agreements; or
  2. (b) in respect of compensation paid to persons so designated who are or have been employed in those services;
as may be specified in the agreements; and may out of moneys provided by Parliament make any payments falling to be made under the agreements.

(2) No such agreement shall be entered into, and no person shall be designated under such an agreement except with the consent of the Treasury.

THE EARL. OF LUCANmoved, in subsection (2), to omit "and no person shall be designated under such an agreement." The noble Earl said: I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name, and, at the risk of some repetition of what was said last week on the Second Reading, I should like briefly to say why my noble friends and I think it necessary for this point to be clarified. The noble Earl, in winding up on the Second Reading, made it clear that agreements under this Bill were made between Her Majesty's Government and the Overseas Governments concerned; that certain categories were to be defined, and officials were to be designated as falling within that category. But what we found strange, and what we did not consider to have been entirely cleared up by the noble Earl in winding up last week, is the power which, under Clause 1 (2) of the Bill is given to the Treasury to veto a designation of individual officers.

It is obviously right that the Treasury should have to give their consent to the classification; and the Treasury having agreed that a certain category or class of officers should be eligible and come within the scope of the Bill, there is then the question of defining which individuals fall within that definition. Surely the Colonial Office are capable of interpreting a Bill and defining and deciding, under the terms of the Bill, which individual officers come within that category. If the Treasury are to be asked to give their consent to each case, this is surely a shuffling-off of responsibility by the Colonial Office; because we cannot believe that the Treasury would have as much knowledge of the status and conditions of service of individuals as the Colonial Office have. The Treasury can decide only which categories should be entitled to the benefits under the Bill. The Colonial Office, with their contacts with Overseas Governments, are in a better position to decide which officers come within this provision. If we could have clarification of that point by the noble Earl I believe that it would meet the case.

Amendment moved— Page I, line 17, leave out from (" into ") to (" except ") in line 18.—(The Earl of Lucan.)


I should like to support the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, on this Amendment. I believe that he is absolutely right—in fact, I would go rather further than he has gone, and say that the Bill in this form is insulting to the Colonial Office. The Colonial Office have had vast experience in this field in dealing with the appointment of officials of all types for very many years; and to require the consent of the Treasury to be obtained—as, under this Bill, it has to be—for every single appointment of all these officials by the Secretary of State for the Colonies seems to me a most extraordinary provision to put into a Bill.

It is true (and I guarantee that this is the answer the noble Earl will give) that the Treasury may, under subsection (3), make a kind of "block grant" of the consent. They may say that they give their consent to the designation generally of all persons of a certain description; for example, I suppose they may say that all doctors who hold certain qualifications may be employed by the Colonial Office. But, on the other hand, they may not. It is not easy to decide which policy they are to adopt: whether they are to insist on approving every single appointment or are to make a block approval. It is not we or the Secretary of State for the Colonies who will decide: it is some official in the Treasury. I know that in these days we are very largely bound by what the Treasury say, and that they enter into all our calculations. The whole of our lives are largely bound up with decisions of the Treasury, but this is really going much too far. In my view, unless the noble Earl has some far better defence of this policy than I have yet heard from him, the Committee ought to reject the portion to which the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, so rightly objects.


I am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, has raised this question again, because it gives me a second opportunity to try to explain why we in the Colonial Office, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has said about how competent we are, and how unnecessary it is to go to the Treasury, in fact, welcome the provision by which we have the assistance, if we so desire, of the Treasury in certain cases which may arise in connection with the designation of persons under any agreement we make with an overseas Government.

If we look at the Bill, it is important to remember that this provision is in fact in regard to agreements that are made with overseas Governments, and the problem that arises is the interpretation of those agreements. As the noble Lord, Lord Ogrnore, says, ordinarily we shall, in fact, rely on subsection (3) of Clause 1, which says: The consent of the Treasury to the designation of any person under such an agreement may be given generally … We shall rely on that; and that is what has in fact already happened.

But we are, in all of this, somewhat in the position of, shall I say, agents for the overseas Government, in that we know the sort of thing they want; we work out with them, so far as we can, what are their wishes, and, under those conditions, it is, I think, a necessary and good thing to know there is a further watchdog, as it were, on the expenditure of what, after all, will be a very great deal of money over the next ten years.

But if I might come to the practical working of this scheme, which incidentally is exactly similar to that which applies in all the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts, on which we have had no difficulty with the Treasury, I would point out that what has in fact happened is this. We and the Treasury have been working with various overseas Governments to draw up agreements which, as soon as this Bill is passed, can come into effect. In doing this we have had to examine some thousands of persons who come into the various designated groups. Working under subsection (3) of the clause. we are quite happy in regard to the great majority of these; but there are, in practice, to date something under 1 per cent. of cases on which we are in some doubt as to whether the persons concerned do or do not fit into the category.

Noble Lords say, "You should be judges of that"; but I do not believe that that is right. I do not believe it is right for two reasons. The first reason is that I think it appropriate that the Treasury in this sort of thing should act as a watchdog; and the second is that we have the benefit in the Treasury of great experience of things of this kind. After all, to-day they are responsible (if I may put it this way) for the Civil Service here. They have great experience, and we want to be able from time to time to go to them and say, "'What do you think about this or that one?" That is the basic background of why we want this thing to stand unamended. But not only have various Colonial Office officials had experience to-day of the working as I have outlined it, but I have myself in one or two cases had cause to discuss with the Treasury the question of whether in fact a whole group of officials. I people serving overseas—but it might well have been one person—did or did not qualify for inclusion in the designated list. In particular, this referred to certain local recruitment that had taken place in Kenya; certain officers who were locally recruited but, none the less, got inducements. The question was: did they or did they not come into the category of designated people? I had talks with the Treasury and they immediately saw the point and were only too ready to be forthcoming.

I can assure noble Lords who have spoken that we know the spirit in which this matter is going to be operated. It is exactly along the same lines as that operating with the Colonial Development and Welfare Acts. And so I feel, if I might put it this way, despite the fact that these noble Lords are taking up cudgels on behalf of the Colonial Office, that we should rather have it as it stands now; and I hope, in the light of what I have said about the practical experience and about its being necessary, that the noble Earl will not feel he need press this matter to a Division.


I do not want to enter into the merits of the Colonial Office and the Treasury, but what I am concerned about is this. As I read the clause and the Amendment I would say that there may be cases where the Treasury, maybe with the consent of the Colonial Office, decline to have a certain post designated to bring it within the scope of this Bill. That may mean that the person concerned will have no right or claim for compensation under one of the other clauses, because the post is not designated. Will the noble Earl tell me, please, in circumstances of that kind what machinery is there or what provision is there for the person concerned, who may have served a considerable time in the post; what right is there of an appeal against the decision of the Treasury?


The noble Lord, Lord Burden, has raised the question of what right of appeal a person would have. But I think the issue here is primarily one of setting out a new agreement. There is no one serving today under the proposed agreements. There will be agreed with the overseas Governments a broad category for which we are prepared to help with compen- sation or inducement allowance, and people either will or will not fall into the category. This is not something which arises from the past; it is something quite new.


That merely emphasises my point. The person concerned, or group concerned, may know that he or they will not be designated. They are to go on in the Service with that hanging over their heads, knowing that they have not been designated, and knowing that if something should happen to them and they should lose their posts, they will have no right for compensation, as the posts are not designated. Can they, when they know they have not been designated, put in an appeal for their case to be reconsidered?


I think that the noble Lord has not got this matter quite right. What happens is this. In the event of a new territory's being about to come to independence, we have the situation in which there will be a public service agreement, and under that public service agreement it will be open to anybody who so wishes to stay on or to leave. At that moment he enjoys his right of compensation or not. Therefore, there is not a question that, because he is not designated, he has no right to compensation. That will remain with him under the public service agreement, which will always have been made with any Government before they reached the stage of independence. This is something new which does not affect rights of compensation.


I see what the noble Earl means, but, with the greatest possible respect, I think he has misread it and that the interpretation of the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, and myself is the correct one. What I understand the noble Earl, Lord Perth, to be now saying is that the words in this subsection no person shall be designated under such an agreement relate to a question of time. That is to say, they concern whether any person shall be designated under the agreement at all. No person at all will be designated under the subsection until the Treasury have given their consent. That would be quite a sensible reading of it if there were no subsection (3). That would mean that, once consent by the Treasury has been given to an agreement the question would be largely for the Colonial Office, provided that they kept within certain categories. But the interpretation of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, in my view, does not make sense, if subsection (3) is in the Bill, because it says: The consent of the Treasury … may be given generally in respect of persons or, of course, by implication, it can be given specifically. You cannot get a specific agreement or consent from the Treasury until the persons have been selected. It is quite impossible.

Surely, a specific agreement is: "Here is Mr. Jones, D.Sc., B.A." (or whatever you like) "whom we want for the position of agricultural adviser to Malaya". That is the sort of thing. Well, you cannot in fact gut the consent of the Treasury to the appointment of Dr. Jones until the appointment of Dr. Jones has been approved, as it were, by the Colonial Office. The Colonial Office will have to see Dr. Jones, they will have to look into his credentials, and then they will have to put him forward to the Treasury. That seems to me to be inevitable. I cannot see that the noble Earl's interpretation of this clause is correct, because he is saying that all these words mean is that the agreement does not come into effect and no person shall be selected until they have approved it. I do not know whether I have made myself clear—it is not easy to make oneself clear standing on one's feet in a large and rather empty Chamber—but perhaps the noble Earl has got my point.


May I first finish answering the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Burden, about who would he the court of appeal? In that connection Her Majesty's Government, in the person of the Colonial Office and the Treasury together, would be the ultimate court of appeal. But may I try to meet the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore? Perhaps, again, I did not express myself very well, since there is some clear measure of misunderstanding. What happens is that, under Clause 1 (3), the Treasury may give consent to a designation generally. Now let us take the case of Mr. Jones, who is to be an agricultural expert for a particular territory. Under subsection (3), there is no need for the Colonial Office, when it comes to the question of Mr. Jones, to go to the Treasury and say, "Do you agree that Mr. Jones may be included? "We know perfectly well that he is in the general designation of agricultural officers for a territory, so we do not have to go specifically in each case under subsection (3) of Clause 1.


But that is only a gentleman's agreement: it is not in the Bill. They can force you to do it. Suppose you get a rather sticky individual in the Treasury. He can force you to go. That is the point that the noble Earl and myself have in mind. You are saying, "We have not got to go". That is only because you and some friend in the Treasury have agreed you will not, but it is not in the Bill.


Here we run up against difficulties as to who is the ultimate authority. I was assuring your Lordships that we have had a similar provision in every single Colonial Development and Welfare Act in the last years, and we have had no difficulty about it. Indeed, we welcome the method of working by which any scheme must have the consent of the Treasury. This is in exactly the same form, and we have already had practical experience of it. As I say, we have drawn up a large number of agreements which are waiting to come into force at the time this Bill becomes law.

In doing this—and the starting of things like this is the difficult time—we ourselves have come up against less than 1 per cent. of people, approximately, as to whom we are not clear whether they should or should not come into the designated categories that we have worked out. It is as to some of those that we may want, if I may put it this way, a. second opinion, and that is how we are going to operate this scheme. I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, that someone in the Treasury might be difficult. That is always possible; but our experience in the past, and our experience to date, satisfies us that they will continue to work as before. Further, as I say, we, from our point of view, would want to have somebody whom we should consult before making a final judgment, bearing in mind that somebody must have the ultimate responsibility as financial watchdog for the very large amount of money which is being spent.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, I must confess that the more the noble Earl talks about this thing the more strange it appears. There is no question of a financial watchdog being needed to say whether Mr. Smith or Mr. Jones is eligible for a certain post; and, if the Colonial Office want some higher authority to which to refer doubtful cases, they could no doubt provide for it without having this clause in the Bill. This is not an optional clause: it is a mandatory clause, giving the Treasury the absolute power of veto over an individual person. It seems to me a similar position would arise in the Armed Services if every selection of major for promotion to lieutenant-colonel, let us say, had to receive Treasury approval; whereas the ordinary method of administration is to lay down conditions and qualifications, and anybody who complies with those is appointed to the post by the Service or other Department. My noble friend Lord Ogmore thought that this was positively insulting to the Colonial Office; but the Colonial Office seem either not to have noticed the insult or, if they have noticed it, rather to like it. I think it is rather poor-spirited of the Colonial Office.


May I say something? I do not know whether it will be helpful. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, when he last spoke, mentioned consultations. That, I think, was his case: that, at present, the Colonial Office consults with the Treasury, and they easily come to some agreement. But there is no question whatsoever of consultation in the Bill as it stands. In fact, if I, looking at it, were asked to say who was the employer, it would seem to me that the Treasury were the employer, in the sense that they are the arbiters of whether the man should be employed and dispatched overseas, and not the Colonial Office. I do not know whether my noble friend Lord Lucan would accept the suggestion that the noble Earl should look at this to see whether we can take out the words, "except with the consent of the Treasury", and put in some words which are in line with that approach to the case which the noble Earl has made—some such words as: "there shall be consultation between the Colonial Office and the Treasury before these agreements are entered into."


If I may say so, the suggestion of the noble Lord. Lord Shepherd, is in many ways an extremely helpful one. But there must be an ultimate authority: that is the difficulty. The noble Earl, Lord Lucan, said, "Why should we not have the right to consult or appeal to higher authority?". We do not have that right unless it is so provided. Either somebody is responsible or somebody is not; and here the Bill lays down that it should be the Treasury who, in the last analysis, have the ultimate responsibility. But I assure your Lordships that the spirit of the thing is going to be as I have outlined it, and I hope very much that, having been given the background that I have explained, and knowing the spirit with which it is going to be worked, it will not be felt necessary to pursue the matter any further at this time.


The noble Earl, in his charming way, has done his best to convince us; and, whether or not we are convinced, I do not think it is a subject which deserves pressing to a Division.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendment.