§ 5.30 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL rose to move to resolve, That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to increase the basic rate of pensions paid to former Colonial Service officers and their dependants, and to publish the White Paper requested in this House on February 20 last (Hansard, col. 695). The noble Earl said: My Lords, time is getting on, and I shall be as short as possible. Moreover, a lot of the ground was covered in an earlier debate, and several of the speakers who will follow me this afternoon—including, I hope, two ex-Secretaries of State, and two former Colonial Governors—are far better qualified than I am to put the case for these pensioners. Anything I leave unsaid will, I am sure, be said by them.
§ When your Lordships discussed this subject on February 20, on a Motion of my noble friend Lord Ogmore (who has written me a letter saying that he is very sorry that he cannot be present to-day, and asking me to apologise for him to the House), every speaker during that debate, on both sides of the House, supported my noble friend's request to the Government for pension increases for retired Colonial Service officers and their dependants. My noble friend Lord Ogmore withdrew his Motion on the undertaking given by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, that he would draw the attention of his ministerial colleague to the strong feelings expressed by the House.
§ The noble Lord also told us that there would be a further meeting in the near future between Ministers and representatives of the Overseas Service Officers' Association. I understand that that meeting has now taken place and that the Association is still far from satisfied. In the same debate I asked for the publication of a White Paper, and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said he would look into that. As three months have passed since those requests were made, and the Government have been given plenty of time for further consideration, I think your Lordships will agree that the moment has come when 668 we should ask for the result of their cogitations.
§ Let me first deal with the question of the White Paper, because that is the less important of the two requests that I am putting to the Government. What is the case for a White Paper? This question of pension increases for Colonial Service officers and their dependants is a matter that many of us in both Houses, as the noble Lord opposite will already be aware, think touches the honour of our country and our Government. The Government deny this. They say that it concerns other Governments in the Colonies and in the Commonwealth. Anyway, this is a matter that has aroused so much Parliamentary interest that there have been two debates in another place during this Session, and we are now embarking on the second debate in your Lordships' House. Surely the least the Government can do, in view of this widespread interest and deep concern, is to give Parliament and the public the relevant facts and to accompany those with a statement of policy.
§ I should like those facts to include (and this would be the substance of the White Paper for which I am asking) some reference to the number of retired Colonial Service Officers and their dependants who are receiving smaller increases in their basic pension than United Kingdom Civil Service officers, and the annual cost at the present time of "topping up" those pensions to the United Kingdom level. Secondly, there should be sufficient background material to explain the present position of Colonial Service officers; and thirdly, some account of our arrangements with India, Pakistan and Burma—particularly Pakistan and Burma, because I think they furnish a very close parallel. These facts, I should have thought, are indispensable to anyone who wants to judge the merits of this case.
§ I am not asking for any information not already known to the Government and in their possession. I am not asking for anything of a secret or confidential nature. It is therefore quite irrelevant, if I may say so, for the Government to answer that they cannot get information about their own pension schemes from Commonwealth Governments. I repeat: I am not asking for any information the Government have not already got. 669 If the Government tell us that it is contrary to usual practice to publish White Papers about matters that are the responsibility of other Governments, my reply is that it is quite manifestly prejudging the issue. Our whole contention is that this matter is within the competence of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. If the Government accept this afternoon my request for a pension increase, I shall, of course, withdraw my request for a White Paper. But if the Government refuse this request, there will be an even stronger case for the earliest possible publication of a White Paper setting out the facts and the Government case. All Members of Parliament, and others, should be in a position to judge for themselves; and that is all I am asking for.
§ Let me now come to the problem of the elderly Colonial Service officers and their widows, who are now living on pensions based on pre-war salaries which have not been increased, like those of United Kingdom officers, to keep up with the rising cost of living in this country since the war. I should like to remind the House that their number is small, though in many cases there is hardship, even distress, and it would cost the Government very little to bring these pensions up to the United Kingdom level. Perhaps I might be permitted to give the House these few essential figures about the number of people concerned and the cost of paying these increases. There are 2.830 retired colonial servants getting less than the United Kingdom rates of increases. The cost of supplementary pensions for these persons would be £176,400 per annum. To this number of retired colonial servants should be added the 2,300 widows of Colonial Service officials, and they would require another £110,000 to bring their pensions into line. Thus we are concerned with 5,130 persons who, directly or indirectly, have rendered outstanding service to their country overseas and who need £286,400 per annum to bring them into line in their retirement with their fellow civil servants who have spent their lives in Government service in Whitehall. I am told that these Colonial Service officers are dying at the rate of about one a day, so that this is a rapidly diminishing figure.670
§ I think the simple issue before the House is: Who should pay these pensions? Are they the responsibility, as the Government contend, of the colonial and former colonial territories in which these pensioners were employed, or are they the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, as the employer of the Colonial Service? One thing is perfectly clear—and noble Lords opposite will agree: this is not a matter of legal responsibility; it is a matter of moral responsibility. None of these officers was serving under a contract with a colonial or ex-colonial Government which stipulated that they should receive increases in their basic pension.
§ In the case of the independent Commonwealth Governments, Her Majesty's Government negotiated a Public Officers' Agreement on their behalf before the transfer of power. The standard clause in these agreements about pension rights deals with basic pensions payable before or after independence, not with increases made in the United Kingdom which would be paid to supplement these basic pensions. I am not going to quote the words, but there is a standard clause to that effect, and I am sure the noble Lord opposite will agree with me that it is therefore as clear as daylight that independent Commonwealth countries have no legal obligation for the payment of pension increases. Nor is there any reference to the payment of pension increases in the White Paper which was published in 1936 on the Reorganisation of the Colonial Service. The paragraph dealing with pensions in this publication refers only to the basic pension of Colonial Service officers. It does not put any legal responsibility on Her Majesty's Government for the payment of these increases.
§ The whole issue is therefore one of moral responsibility: who ought to pay? I have one suggestion to make to the Government, and I hope that it will receive the noble Lord's consideration. In view of the conflict of opinion about where the responsibility should lie, is it not highly desirable that in future Colonial Service officers and their dependants should have a legal right to pension increases made in the United Kingdom, as well as a legal right to their basic pension? Will Her Majesty's 671 Government therefore include a provision to secure pension increases in any agreements they make in the future with Colonial Governments before they reach independence? I need not remind your Lordships that Jamaica will be independent in August, Uganda in October; and negotiations are now in progress about Trinidad. Surely in all these cases, and in many others that will come up in the next few years, a provision of this kind should be included. Let me say, in passing, that none of these countries is likely to be able to pay such increases out of their own revenue, and the legal right would be meaningless unless Her Majesty's Government were prepared to lend the money or to provide it by way of grant.
§ May I now return to the main question before the House? During our debate in February two former Secretaries of State, both of whom are here this afternoon, expressed in the strongest terms their view that the Secretary of State remained responsible for the Colonial Service officers from enrolment to death, even if they had been employed during part of their service by independent Commonwealth Governments. Indeed, there was not a single speaker, apart from the Government spokesman, who expressed a contrary view. The authority of these two noble Lords is buttressed by the terms of the 1954 White Paper on the Reorganisation of the Colonial Service. This White Paper makes it absolutely clear that these officers continue in the employment of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, as members of the Colonial Service, and are still liable to posting by the Secretary of State after they have stayed on in the public service of a successor Government.
Because these words seem to be the basis of the claim that the Secretary of State is responsible, I should like to quote just a couple of sentences from this White Paper. Paragraph 6 says:
Should the territory in whose public service they"—
that is to say, Colonial Service officers—
are employed attain self-government, these officers are entitled to expect that the following conditions will be observed.
Conditions (1) and (2) are irrelevant. It is the third condition to Which I wish to draw attention—namely:
They shall continue to be regarded by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom as members of Her Majesty's Service and as such to be eligible for consideration for transfer or promotion to any posts which the Secretary of State may be requested to fill in other territories.
§ That is to say, after they have gone to serve in an independent Commonwealth Government they can still be posted by the Secretary of State, and his all-over responsibility for their welfare and conditions of service remains paramount.
§ The other argument used by the noble Lord opposite, and by the Government, against assuming financial responsibility for these increases seems to me to be invalidated by the fact that they have, in fact, been paid these increases in the case of Pakistan and Burma, without any of the disastrous consequences to other Governments which have been so freely predicted by the noble Lord opposite. I am not clear about the agreement with India to take over responsibility for their pensioners. I am not clear whether this includes pension increases as well as the basic pension. I am absolutely clear that in the case of Pakistan and Burma we top up the basic pension, while these countries pay the basic pension out of their own revenue. This is surely the best possible precedent for doing for Colonial Service pensioners what we have already done for Indian Civil Service pensioners who retired from Burma and Pakistan.
§ I remember particularly clearly what happened in Burma, because I was Secretary of State at the time Burma became independent, and I negotiated the Treaty which laid down the terms of pensions for retiring officers. We undertook to pay the basic pensions, but there was no mention at all of any increase on that pension. We did not undertake in the Treaty to pay any pension increase, because we said that we could not discriminate between the members of a unified service, in this case the Indian Civil Service. These were the reasons given by the Government—I am quoting the Government's own reasons. We took over the payment of these increases out of United Kingdom funds.
§ This seems an exact parallel to the position of the Colonial Service. But wherever the moral responsibility for supplementing a basic pension may lie, the fact is that it is quite useless for 673 Her Majesty's Government to go on pressing independent Commonwealth Governments for payment. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will ultimately realise that it is simply a waste of time; that they are not doing any good. They cannot really expect anybody who knows the circumstances to coerce these Governments, as we can a Colonial Government, because with many of the Colonial Governments Her Majesty's Government are ultimately in control. That is why the Colonial Governments have paid up magnificently.
§ In the case of the other Governments, they are unable, or unwilling, to meet this claim. We must appreciate their real difficulty. How can they increase pension payments to expatriate officers without increasing their payments to their own officers? Moreover, how can they justify to their own public increasing taxation in order to compensate for inflation here? We are thinking of countries where the annual income of the average inhabitants is something like £35 a year. In fact none of these Commonwealth Governments has passed legislation to cover pension increases made in the United Kingdom since they became independent. What increases have been given, as the noble Lord pointed out last time, have been based on agreements made before independence. So I think we can conclude that if Her Majesty's Government cannot, or will not, find the money, whether directly or in any other way, no one will pay.
§ While we cannot, of course, compromise about the principle of Her Majesty's Government's responsibility, on the other hand there is plenty of room for compromise about the priority given to the various claimants, and also about the method of providing the money required to make these payments. I hope that the Government will at least say that they will give the highest priority to the pensioners who have retired longest and to widows living on a prewar pension. The Government might start by drawing the line somewhere in the 'fifties, and say that they will pay all the people concerned pension increases given before that date. That would be one form of compromise, and it would take in the hardest cases.
§ Again, there is plenty of room for compromise in the method of payment, 674 not necessarily by direct cash payment to the persons concerned. In order to uphold their respect for principle, the Government might very well make a loan to an overseas Government to meet this obligation, or make a grant in aid, or deduct the money from financial aid. In Tanganyika and Uganda, pensions have been paid mainly by loan provided by Her Majesty's Government.
§ These are all methods of payment. We are not insisting on any particular method. We should welcome any compromise which would meet the claims of the people who are hardest hit. But we ask for justice to be done and to be started without delay. I beg to move.
§ Moved to resolve, That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to increase the basic rate of pensions paid to former Colonial Service Officers and their dependants, and to publish the White Paper requested in this House on February 20 last (Hansard, col. 695).—(The Earl of Listowel.)
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ LORD MILVERTON
My Lords, in rising to speak for one or two minutes in this debate I am in duty bound to declare my interest, as I myself am a Malayan pensioner. First of all, I should like to thank the noble Earl for the admirable way in which he has summarised the position in relation to these pensioners, and especially in relation to widows and orphans. I have made so many speeches over the last two years on this subject that I do not propose to weary your Lordships by repeating what I have already said—and said as recently as last February. But it is simply a question of the moral responsibility of the British Government, which I thought was established beyond any possibility of contradiction by the devastating speeches made by two former Secretaries of State during our last debate. It would ill become me to try to better the speeches they made then, and I am glad to see they propose to enlarge upon them to-day.
I had the privilege of serving under the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and I also had the privilege, after I retired, of having dealings with the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton. There is also an ex-Under-Secretary of State about to speak, and one of the recently retired heads of the Colonial Service, 675 Lord Twining, who will at least cast a fresher light on this matter than I am able to do. I would put in a special plea for the widows and orphans, which seems to me to be so easy of gratification, and it is incomprehensible that the Government should maintain their attitude. In the last debate I expressed a hope that it might have touched the brain of Her Majesty's Government, even if their heart had been hopelessly petrified by being kept in store in the Treasury. My Lords, I have great pleasure in saying that I warmly support the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ LORD TWINING
My Lords, I too must declare an interest because I am in receipt of a modest pension in respect of the period of my service in three Colonies. As the noble Earl has said, this subject has been debated in another place twice in recent months and in your Lordships' House as recently as February 20 last. It has also been the subject of Parliamentary Questions both in another place and in this House. It might be thought that there is no more to be said on this subject, but the fact that it is persistently raised and strong speeches are made indicates that there are widespread misgivings about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in the matter. I will try to confine myself to what I consider to be the salient points.
We are dealing with two classes of persons: the former officers of the Colonial Service, and widows and orphans. In studying the reports of previous debates in Hansard, it is clear that there is a general awareness that there is a need, indeed a pressing need, for something to be done towards topping up the pensions of these deserving people to bring them into line with the increases in pensions in the United Kingdom. The stand which Her Majesty's Government have taken is based on what they call the principle that the pensions of officers of Her Majesty's Oversea Civil Service are the responsibility of the Governments that employ them. This, my Lords, seems to be less of a principle and more of a policy.
In the debate of February 20, my noble friend Lord Boyd of Merton most 676 eloquently stated his view about the position. He referred to a statement contained in paragraph 3 of a Colonial Office Paper issued in 1954, called Reorganisation of the Colonial Service, which reads:Constitutionally all officers of the Colonial Service are servants of the Crown, and the conditions of their employment are embodied in Colonial Regulations. These Regulations constitute the Secretary of State as the ultimate authority for appointment, discipline, promotions and general conditions of service.My noble friend Lord Boyd of Merton went on to say that this statement had been taken at its face value and that he, for one, believed that it represented a pledge from which we cannot honourably depart. My Lords, I endorse this view. I have had wide experience of the Colonial Service and I can say that it has been generally taken for granted that the authority which had the responsibility for the recruitment of these men and women, for posting them to a particular Colony, for transferring them, for disciplining them and for laying down the conditions of their Service, must also have the responsibility for their welfare and for ensuring that their rights are fully protected.
What have Her Majesty's Government done about pensions? In 1959 a dispatch was sent to the Governments of all the former and then existing Colonial Territories inviting them to give the pensioners of the Oversea Service the same increases as had been granted to the pensioners of the Home Civil Service. Out of a total of 43 Governments which were consulted, 33 agreed to grant increases not less generous than those under the United Kingdom Pensions (Increase) Act. This information rather distorts the picture because some of the Governments had a large number of pensioners, while others had but few. I understand that at the end of 1961 there were some 11,000 Colonial Service pensioners paid by the Crown Agents, of whom 2,900 were in receipt of sub-standard pensions. In addition, there were 4,000 widow and orphan pensioners, 2,300 of whom were not receiving increased pensions.
I am informed that the estimated cost of topping up these pensions would be £180,000 per annum in respect of former officers and £110,000 in respect of widows and orphans. But these figures can be misleading because 677 the position is constantly changing, on the one hand through deaths, and, on the other hand, through new retirements, especially at the moment from East African territories. This does not include local pensioners or pensions paid through agencies other than the Crown Agents. I most strongly support the suggestion of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that a White Paper should be published setting out the known facts so as to enable us to get a proper measure of the problem.
In the replies of the Government spokesmen in previous debates it has been stated that negotiations are continuing with the Governments concerned, but these do not seem to have been very effective so far; nor does there appear to be that sense of urgency which the position demands. The Government seem to fear that if they admit any responsibility in the matter there might be a general default by these overseas Governments in respect of their liability for the payment of pensions. I do not really believe that we should have undue fears on this score. The Secretary of State can still exercise his authority in the case of dependent territories, especially those that are in receipt of grants-in-aid. As regards the former Colonies which are now independent, we are dealing with honourable people who have accepted the public service agreements which were negotiated as a vital prerequisite to independence. Moreover, from a purely practical point of view, the leaders of these countries are well aware that they must preserve their credit status if they are to attract the capital they so badly need, and it is unlikely that they would risk impairing their credit by such a default.
Her Majesty's Government are already taking responsibility in respect of the compensation to be paid to officers whose careers are being cut short when a Colonial territory attains independence, and this is part of the price that has to be paid for the "wind of change" policy. Furthermore, Her Majesty's Government are granting substantial aid to these States, so there would be nothing unusual in attaching conditions to such aid and this question of pensions could well be made one of the conditions.
678 There is one point—perhaps it could be described as a technical point—which I do not think has been raised before. Under the regulations governing pensions an officer has the right to commute a portion of his total pension and receive a gratuity and a reduced pension. In such cases, where an overseas Government has increased pensions, this principle has not been followed, and the pensioner has been denied the right to commute any part of the increase. This is surely illogical and contrary to the spirit, if not to the letter, of the pensions policy.
I must now turn to widows' and orphans' pensions These were introduced, rather tardily, perhaps, in the 1920's or a little later. In some cases, Colonial Governments did not agree to introduce a scheme under which all contributions were placed into a special fund, but they preferred to pay into general revenue the contributions compulsorily taken from serving officers, whether or not they were married or single. Those officers who complained—and in those days there were no Civil Service associations to protect their interests—were assured that their contributions were as safe as gilt-edged securities. The Colonial Office exerted no pressure on Colonial Governments to do otherwise. Perhaps they found that in some cases, without these contributions, the local budgets would not be balanced, which would necessitate the payment of grants in aid by Her Majesty's Treasury. As a result, there are many pensioners and contributors, who feel that their widows' and orphans' pensions are not secure.
Even in those cases where a scheme has been introduced, the position is not altogether satisfactory. It is very difficult to get information about the state of the funds. Surely the contributors have a right to know how the funds of these schemes stand, and whether there are periodic actuarial reviews which, it is generally believed, would show that these widows' and orphans' pensions could be materially increased from those funds, without any extra payment to an overseas Government by Her Majesty's Government. I hope that the Government will seriously consider this matter, 679 and arrange for an annual report of these schemes to be published and a copy sent to each contributor.
In conclusion, my Lords, may I say that the Colonial Service has a proud record and deserves well of this country. I find it shameful that these pensioners have cause to feel a strong sense of grievance, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will do everything possible to alleviate the position, either by exercising their influence with the Governments concerned, or, if necessary, shouldering the moral responsibility which I believe is theirs.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ LORD COLYTON
My Lords, I am particularly grateful to the noble Earl for moving this Resolution to-day, since owing to my absence in Africa I was unable to take part in the debate in your Lordships' House on February 20. I should like to say right away that I fully support all, or nearly all, the arguments put forward by the noble Earl. He has had warm support from two former Governors, and my noble friend Lord Boyd of Merton, with his vast experience as Secretary of State, who is to follow me, will no doubt develop these arguments in other directions. I must say that when I read his notable contribution to the last debate I really felt that the last word had been said. I thought that the Government at last—and, of course, basically it is the Treasury—would have to address themselves to the task of meeting the demands both of justice and of honour.
I should like to turn to the position of the former British officials in the Sudan Government and their dependants who, though they are not, strictly speaking, covered by the terms of this Motion, are in an analogous position, or even worse, than the former Colonial Service officers; and I believe this is the first time that this subject has been raised in your Lordships' House. In the course of my speech I shall try to show that the arguments which apply to the former Colonial Service officers about the need for adjustment in the basic rates of pensions apply equally strongly to the former Sudan officials. Perhaps I may justify my right to do so, because for four years before the war I occupied what 680 might be called the Sudan desk in the Residency and subsequently the Embassy in Cairo, and spent much time visiting the Sudan. I know from my personal knowledge, and I feel sure that your Lordships will agree, that there was no finer body of British officials than those who served in the Sudan, and I would most strongly urge that their case, also, should be given fresh and sympathetic consideration by the Government.
On my return here in March I was very struck by the note of extreme bitternes that had crept into the correspondence emanating from the Sudan Government Pensioners' Association, with whom I am in contact. I have a number of friends among the former members of the Political Service, and many of them have done good work in this country and abroad since their retirement. I am told that, quite apart from the elementary requirements of justice, there are now many cases of real hardship, especially among widows.
My Lords, what are the facts? On January 1, 1956, the administration of the Condominium of the Sudan was handed over to the Sudanese. While the negotiations between the British and Egyptian Governments on the future status of the Sudan were proceeding, the Sudan Pensioners' Association made representations about their position. They received a letter from the Private Secretary to the Governor-General dated December 21, 1954, from which the following is an extract:His Excellency the Governor-General has had discussions with H.M. Government regarding the payment of pensions of past and present British members of the Sudan Civil Service and their dependants. H.M. Government are well aware of their anxieties in this matter, and recognise their obligations towards officials who hold or held their posts as a result of having been appointed to them by the Governor-General during the period of the Condominium.These officials are entitled to expect that the pensions and other benefits for which they and their dependants may be qualified under existing laws and regulations shall be safeguarded, and that these pensions will continue to be paid at their present value in sterling H.M.G. in the United Kingdom accordingly make known their intention, when the Sudan determines its future status, to ensure observance of this safeguard by securing its embodiment in a formal agreement to be entered into between H.M.G. and the Government of the Sudan.This assurance did provide the safeguard which the pensioners had sought, 681 but, unfortunately, Her Majesty's Government failed to secure the embodiment of this safeguard in any formal agreement with the Sudan Government. All their efforts since then to persuade the Government of the Sudan to enter into such an agreement have been unsuccessful.
As a result of representations by the Association over a period of seven years, concluding with a Memorial to the Prime Minister, the Foreign Office conveyed to the Association in July, 1959, what was described as an "assurance" in the following terms:Although it has not been possible to complete a formal agreement with the Republic of the Sudan to secure the continued payment of pensions to British officials of the former Condominium Government of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan at existing rates of exchange, the Secretary of State cannot envisage a situation in which the pensions of these officials and their dependants would not be secure.This fell very far short of the undertaking which the Association had hoped to receive, but it was, nevertheless, decided to accept it in the spirit in Which it was given. But the fact remains that, unlike the case of all other independent overseas territories, no formal agreement whatever exists between Her Majesty's Government and the Sudan Government safeguarding the rights of the pensioners. In the light of this unsatisfactory situation, it was really not surprising that, when the Sudan Pensioners' Association sought to obtain increases in basic pensions to meet the rise in the cost of living, they came up against extreme difficulties.
After the independence of the Sudan, the Foreign Office informed the Association that it was "up to them" to negotiate direct with the Republic of the Sudan. A closely-argued case was prepared, but owing to the Suez crisis this was not presented until January, 1957. The Sudanese Government refused to consider the Association's case and an appeal was made in August, 1958, supported by a new statement. No reply was received from the Sudanese Government, but the Foreign Office notified the Association on October 17, 1960, that Her Majesty's Ambassador in Khartoum had been informed by the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that they could not afford to pay any increases beyond the supplements 682 already granted to those pensioners who had retired before 1950. This confirmed the Association's conviction that no further post-service benefits could be expected from the Sudanese Government, and that their only recourse, therefore, was to the United Kingdom Government.
In approaching the matter from that angle, the Sudan pensioners felt, as did the ex-Colonial Service pensioners, that their case was analogous to that of the retired members of the Burma, India and Pakistan services. I am well aware that the Government have held that the circumstances of these pensioners were quite different from those of the former members of the Colonial Service. I know the position is a complicated one, but, as I understand it, the basis of the Treasury argument is that the Secretary of State for India, and later Burma, had a different statutory responsibility from that of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Quite frankly, I have never seen any very clear explanation of this distinction, but, even if it exists, it seems to me that it is of a highly technical nature.
Now in the case of the Sudan pensioners, as well as in the case of the Colonial Service pensioners, the issue, in my view, is fundamentally a moral one. At any rate, a request by the Sudan pensioners to be given the same treatment as those of India, Burma and Pakistan was rejected by Her Majesty's Government. Not only that, but it was stated, in a letter from the then Foreign Secretary, Mr. Selwyn Lloyd, to Sir Duncan Cumming, chairman of the Sudan-British Government Pensioners' Association, that the Sudan was never a part of the Commonwealth, and that its officials were at no time in the service of the Crown. My Lords, I must tell you frankly that that statement caused great distress to former British members of the Sudan service. They had always regarded themselves as servants of the Crown in peace and in war. Indeed, when the last war came they were forbidden, under penalty of imprisonment, to leave their posts to join the Armed Forces, in exactly the same way as other members of the British Civil Service were forbidden. It was therefore a great shock to them, and one which one must not minimise, when they found that they were being 683 put in an inferior category and treated as the servants of a foreign Government.
At any rate, having had their appeal for increases in basic pensions rejected, first by the Sudan Government on financial grounds and then by Her Majesty's Government on legal and technical grounds, all that the Sudan pensioners could do was to invoke the assistance of the Foreign Office in some further representations to the Sudan Government.
What, in fact, is involved in all this? Your Lordships have had the figures for the ex-Colonial Service pensioners quoted this afternoon. In the case of the Sudan, there was a total of 932 pensioners in March of this year, of whom 244 had received supplements up to £100 a year and 321 had received supplements ranging from £100 to £135 a year. These numbers, as the noble Earl (I think it was) said, are rapidly decreasing. About 660 of the pensioners are between the ages of 60 and 80. The total cost of applying the principles of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959, to the Sudan pensioners would be between £60,000 and £70,000.
In 1959 we lent the Sudan £5 million. Last year we lent them £500,000 for aircraft, and in March this year, again, £500,000 for veterinary services. I am certainly not against any of these things. On the contrary, I am strongly in favour of giving all the financial aid we can afford to the Sudanese Government. But if we do, is it really unreasonable to ask them to meet what is an elementary obligation on their part to their former officials? In addition to these loans, the Sudanese Government are getting at the present time the Egyptian compensation for the High Dam scheme, and they have had a record cotton crop, with good prices. Is it really asking for too much to urge them to accept this small, additional, financial burden? Yet, my Lords, in another place on April 18 my honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said that he did not consider that further representations to the Sudan Government would serve any useful purpose. My Lords, if this really is the last word of the Foreign Office, are we not bound to demand Her Majesty's Government to assume this obligation themselves? I know very well that it is said that to 684 "top up" the basic pensions from British funds would act merely as an invitation to those Governments who had made the appropriate increases to abandon or to decrease them in the future; but in the long run, surely, it must be the interests of the pensioners themselves which must have the first priority.
I submit to your Lordships that in the last resort it is the positive duty of the British Government to accept responsibility, whether in the case of the former Colonial servants or in the case of the Sudan pensioners. It all forms part of the same problem, and I hope that the representations which have been made again this afternoon in your Lordships' House, as well as those in another place, will lead to a new approach to the whole question. We hope that the Government will work out some scheme for cutting through the "red tape" in one of the ways that have been suggested to-day, so that these loyal servants of Great Britain overseas may receive fair treatment along with other sections of the British people. I am reminded of the fact that, at the time of the establishment of the Condominium of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in 1899, the then Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, said that he did not allow himself to be unduly bound by precedent and convention. I hope that the present Government will do likewise in dealing with the consequences of that decision.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BOYD OF MERTON
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, who I understand is to reply, will have a more cheerful story to tell this evening than he was able to tell us on February 20 last, and that his speech to-night will in fact go to the core of the problem—that is, where the ultimate responsibility really lies. My Lords, since we had the last debate we have had not the White Paper for which we had hoped on this particular subject, but another White Paper called Recruitment for Services Overseas—Future Policy. All of us welcome, I think, that White Paper, and the realism that it shows, and we wish success to all the plans outlined in it; but I am bound to say that I think the response to it in the future will be better if justice is clearly shown to have been done to those who have served us so well in the past.
685 We have not had the White Paper we hoped we should have, but, as the noble Earl pointed out, other things have happened since our last debate. If it is true, as I fear it may well be, that Colonial Service overseas pensioners are dying at the rate of one a day, it means that something like 100 Colonial Service pensioners must have died since we last discussed this problem. The White Paper which we hope to see—and I join with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in pressing that we should have it—will, I hope, give us all the facts we need. I do not think anybody could claim that the talks that have taken place between my right honourable friend the Secretary for Technical Co-operation (Which we all welcome) and overseas pensioners are any substitute for that particular White Paper, and I must express my own surprise that one reason given, I think, to some of the pensioners for not publishing a White Paper is that Her Majesty's Government are not fully informed about the payment of pensions by those independent Governments Which formerly employed overseas officers. A second reason given, I understand, is that information regarding the number of overseas pensioners paid by the dependent territories is also incomplete. I find this extremely puzzling. I also find it very puzzling that there is apparently some hesitation about publishing a White Paper Which will include in it references to action taken by independent members of the Commonwealth. I cannot believe that, in a society like our Common wealth, a way round could not be found to include observations by independent Governments, prefaced by some such phrase as, "We are greatly indebted to the Government of Ghana", or whoever it may be, "for having supplied us with this information".
My Lords, I have said that I hope we shall have some good news to-day, and that we shall also have answers to some of the points that were raised in the debate on February 20; points that have been repeated again to-day—the separate treatment of India, Pakistan, Burma and Palestine, for example. The argument which I have tried to demolish is that the territories which have behaved properly and generously would resent it if pensions were topped-up elsewhere, or 686 that some might go back altogether on their future obligations. I hope that we shall have some statement that will be some answer to the general scepticism with which these arguments were held in the House. I also hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, will be able to tell us of some practical results of the current talks which he said were going on between five of the eleven independent Commonwealth countries, where the level of pensions for those receiving less than £400 a year falls below the level in the United Kingdom. If any good results have ensued from these talks—and there are rumours that in one or two small territories they have done so—I hope we shall hear how many people are affected. I also hope that we shall hear how many people in the larger territories are not affected, and are still in real need of this topping-up of their pensions.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was good enough to say on February 20 last that he was impressed by the contents of the speech I then made, and that he felt sure that his right honourable friend would have the same reaction. I very much hope that reflection and consultation together has not caused him to vary that view. He was good enough to tell me yesterday that he intended to deal to-night with the speech which I then made, and that there were certain points which he did not then answer. Of course, I do not know what my noble friend Lord Hastings has it in mind to say to-night; but I hope he will not suggest that I or anybody else have ever denied that colonial territories have some duty in this matter. Of course they have a duty in this matter, and we rejoice when so many of them freely and generously acknowledge that duty. We are very glad that they have done so. But it is the ultimate responsibility, which is invoked only when territories do not carry out their preliminary duty, that in my view unmistakably rests on the shoulders of Her Majesty's Government.
I do not know whether my noble friend has perhaps delved into past speeches which I may have made during my exceptionally long tenure in the Colonial Office, but if he has been able to bring out occasions on which I may have appeared at the time to subscribe to the view which he put forward on 687 February 20 I hope he will remember that it was four, or sometimes seven or eight, years ago, and at a time when there was good reason to hope that many, if not most, of the territories concerned would accept their own responsibility. If my noble friend, by delving into any of my past speeches, could find an occasion when I might have strayed into putting what is from time to time called the "Treasury view", I hope he will show the same understanding of my problems then as we all feel for him to-day. And I hope that, when the time comes—which I hope is long postponed—and he is released from his present responsibilities, we can meet and compare notes and views together, though I hope very much that long before that day comes about justice will have been done in this case.
My Lords, I fully agree with my noble friend Lord Twining that the real test is this: that the appointment of officers, their allocation to particular posts, their transfers, their salaries, their pension conditions, the compulsory levy on their salaries for widows and orphans (surely a most unusual thing, and one which puts a particular obligation on all of us), and their retirement, were, and still remain, our responsibility; and when we consider that this responsibility can be discharged by a payment now of about £286,000 a year, which payment is, unhappily, diminishing every year, I am frankly very surprised that we should have any difficulty in getting consideration for this case. As noble Lords know, and as has been pointed out to-night, we are giving very large sums to a large number of colonial and former colonial territories, and we all rejoice that we are doing so. But many of us feel that a less spectacular though equally valuable form of help might be to relieve those territories, who do not feel able to carry it out, of their responsibility (if it is held to be their responsibility) of topping-up, by allotting some part of the payments now being made to them for this particular purpose. I do not, of course, know what the noble Lord will say, or whether he has any suggestions to make. If he has, we shall all rejoice if they are practical suggestions which will go to the core of the problem of where the responsibility lies, and not merely delay the decision and pass a bit 688 of time. But in my opinion, and that of many others who have had to deal with this problem, this responsibility lies fairly and squarely on our shoulders.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, as thirty years or more ago I was for some years Secretary of State for the Colonies, I have no doubt that I was responsible for recruiting quite a number of the retired civil servants who are the subject of this Motion to-day. That being so, I feel bound in honour and duty to give my whole-hearted support to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his Motion. I should have thought that certainly nobody who has been a Secretary of State, like Lord Boyd of Merton and myself, or indeed nobody on any side of this House, could possibly deny, whatever the legal niceties of the case, that the moral responsibility for these men who gave such good service, and for the widows of those who have died—and not a few of them died actually in the Service—is, without any question, our responsibility.
The Secretary of State recruited every one of these men. The Colonies were not independent when these men were recruited, and they did not have an independent financial responsibility. No doubt regulations were issued by colonial Governors, such as my noble friends Lord Twining or Lord Milverton; but those instructions, those regulations, those ordinances, were made by the colonial Governments either on the express instructions, or with the approval, of the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Secretary of State laid down what these men were to be paid, their conditions of service, the conditions and the terms under which they would retire, and, without any question, he transferred them from one territory to another. Indeed, it was part of their terms of service to be transferred from one territory to another, to wherever the Secretary of State thought they could best render service.
My Lords, there is no dispute to-day that these people ought to be paid. That the Government have themselves laid down, because they have informed all the Governments, whether they are now Governments of independent territories or whether they are still Governments of 689 dependent territories, what ought to be the increase which morally these pensioners should receive. The question of the cost concerns a very small sum. It has been pointed out that the amount diminishes year by year; but I suppose the Government really must know, near enough, what are the figures. I suppose the figures are certainly under £200,000 a year to-day; and then there is the small addition in connection with the Sudan, which I am very glad Lord Colyton mentioned. But there is no question about what the sum should be; the only dispute is as to who should pay it.
The Governments of the Colonies, or of the Territories who were Colonies but are now independent, should pay if they can. Quite a number of them have—and more honour to them! I agree with Lord Twining: I have no doubt that they will go on paying. But the extraordinary argument is advanced that our Government should not accept their obvious moral responsibility, where the pensions have not been increased, for fear that some Government may take advantage of that and either withdraw or reduce what it is now doing. In forty years or so of public service, I have heard some odd arguments come out of the Treasury, but I have never heard an argument more odd than this one.
What does it come to? We must not do what we know is right for fear that we should encourage somebody else to do what is wrong. I do not know whether we are a Christian country today. Certainly that is the oddest Christian doctrine I have ever heard announced. Even if I cannot appeal to my noble friend on grounds of Christianity—and I know very well I can—I sympathise with him because I know exactly where his heart is, whatever his tongue has to say on instructions from other quarters. Did anybody ever hear a more unethical argument than that?
The Government have been very firm in doing exactly the opposite and laying down the opposite principle in other matters. I recall on one occasion when I pointed out that about four-fifths of the members of the United Nations had failed to pay their subscriptions, and ventured to suggest that it might encourage them to pay if we reduced our subscription a little for the moment and 690 said we would "top up" (if that is the right expression) when the others had done the same, I was taken to task by no less a person than the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who said that that was a most immoral suggestion. I do not know if it was moral or not. I thought it was rather sensible. But the Secretary of State said that it was our duty to pay our subscription and we should be much more likely (I paraphrase what he said) to encourage other people to do their duty if they saw that we were doing ours. Clearly the Government cannot have it both ways. If it is right that we should do our duty and pay our subscription to the United Nations, whatever anybody else does, it is our plain and bounden duty to pay this tiny sum (tiny compared with the vast Budgets with which we are faced to-day) to people whose need is very great, whose claim is beyond any question and who deserve as well of this country and this Parliament as any set of men there are.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, we have heard the most shocking tale of what is little more than the legalised evasion of responsibility. The responsibility for this has been laid by the noble Earl who has just spoken at the doors of the Treasury. It is probably true that it originally stemmed from the Treasury, but I do not think it is fair to them to place the blame on their shoulders. It must be the Government's responsibility for accepting the advice of the Treasury.
Shocking though the story is, and almost unbelievable to many of us, the issues are very simple. I would ask the noble Lord who is going to reply a question to which I should like a straight answer, and I am sure that I know what it will be. Let me give him an example, not of Government action, but of the action of a private individual. Let me take as an example a neighbour of the noble Lord who owns an estate which he has farmed for many years and on which there are old farm servants who have been working there all their lives. The farm is sold and there is an understanding that the new owner will take on these people and look after them. However, shortly after that one or two of these old farm servants retire, the 691 new owner refuses to take the responsibility of looking after them, and they are left in poverty, even in destitution. What would the noble Lord think of the former owner of that farm if he turned his back on those who had served him and his family for generations and said that it was no responsibility of his—it was the responsibility of the new owner? He made the arrangements with the new owner and if the latter did not live up to them, the farm servants who had retired could not come back to him for anything. I am certain that the noble Lord would have a pretty low opinion of that neighbour of his, and I am even more certain that if it happened in his own case he would not for one moment consider turning his back on those men.
Should we have a different standard of behaviour for the Government than we have for individuals? If I am right in thinking that the noble Lord would turn his back on his neighbour who behaved in that way, what is to prevent his turning his back on his Government, if it behaves in this way? Should we be more charitable to the Government just because it happens to be large, almost amorphous, and happens to have the Treasury behind whispering what to do?
It is no good saying that in the case I have cited a man is dealing with his own money whereas the Government are dealing with the taxpayer's money. Of course, the Government are dealing with the country's money; and though they must safeguard the money of the country, they must also safeguard the conscience of the country and of the taxpayer. I cannot, for the life of me, see how this simple analogy can be gainsaid or shown to be different in any way from the present position in respect of this small number of unfortunate public servants who made the mistake, often not of their own accord, of serving in the wrong Colony.
I hope that even if he cannot say so today, the noble Lord will be able to tell us before long that all the arguments that so many noble Lords with so much experience from all sides of the House have pressed upon the Government are being listened to and that we shall have a Government, in this respect at least, who behave no 692 less well to the country's servants than we expect any individual to behave to his own.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, only two-and-a-half months ago we had an interesting debate on this very subject of increases in pensions for former overseas civil servants and officers of the old Colonial Service. In view of what was said on all sides on that occasion and of my own closing remarks, I think it is no surprise that the noble Earl should have brought forward his Motion this afternoon. As he said, he has timed it at the most convenient moment, when he thought the Government had had time to consider the previous debate, and one week after the meeting with the Overseas' Pensioners' Association, to which I referred on the last occasion, and which the noble Earl seemed to think had by no means satisfied the delegation from the Association. I will take the opportunity of referring to this later on in my speech.
Meanwhile, I should like to thank the noble Earl for the coherent and comprehensive manner in which he introduced this debate, and also for the opportunity that it gives me to continue an argument of two-and-a-half months ago, and, I hope, to bring new information to it which will be of interest to your Lordships. At the same time, I think it is significant that every speaker who took part in the debate then has returned to your Lordships' House to take part to-day, with the unfortunate exception of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, who moved the previous Motion but cannot be here to-day: and we have to welcome additions in the persons of the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, who has introduced a completely new angle to the general subject which is of great interest, and the noble Lord, Lord Walston, who has added his experience of overseas territories to that of other noble Lords.
Of course, a large part of the argument, and really most of it, hangs around the question of the moral obligations of Her Majesty's Government. I am sure every noble Lord realises that I fully understand this point of view and appreciate the strength of feeling with which it is held by all those overseas 693 civil servants who have been employed in the colonial territories. Having lived in Africa for a number of years and known a good many of them, I could hardly fail to sympathise with their point of view. But it is difficult to argue on moral questions, and, in spite of the analogy drawn by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, about the farmer and the estate owner, both of which We are ourselves (though he "got at me" very nicely in that way) when it comes to Governments, it is difficult to argue about moral obligations.
I rather liked the phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Twining, who said that it was not really so much a matter of principle as of policy. Taking that as a cue, I feel that I am bound to quote from one or two documents to indicate that this policy or principle, whichever it may be, is not a new thing which stems from the Colonial Paper No. 306, which has been quoted so many times in aid of the case of noble Lords here, and particularly, of course, paragraph 3 of that document. If noble Lords are going to quote paragraph 3, although it may seem legalistic (and I apologise for that) I think one must, at the same time, read paragraph 2. In paragraph 2 it says:Although the members of these Services are directly employed and paid by the territorial Governments, they are under the general direction and patronage of the Secretary of State for the Colonies.That puts a slightly different emphasis the other way from the way in which the quotation from paragraph 3 is interpreted by noble Lords who have used it.
§ LORD HASTINGS
Noble Lords have chosen the pieces that they wanted to quote, and I was choosing the piece that I felt I should bring to your Lordships' attention. However, paragraph 2 goes on to say:They have, rightly, regarded themselves and have been regarded as belonging to a general service under the Crown as well as to the local services of the territories in which they are immediately serving.If that were the only thing I was going to quote, I would not have brought it up; but I think I must also draw the 694 attention of your Lordships to a colonial regulation issued by the Colonial Office in 1911 relating to pensions and gratuities made to European officers serving in the British Protectorates in East Africa. That says:Pensions and gratuities will be submitted to the Lords Commissioners of H.M. Treasury for their sanction and, when sanctioned, will be made a charge on the Protectorate revenue.And if we go further back than that, there is a document of 1887 which is even more specific. Section 2 of the Pensions (Colonial Service) Act, which dealt with mixed employment in the Colonial and Home Civil Services, states:No payment should be made from the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom or moneys voted by Parliament in respect of any employment in the permanent Civil Service of the Colony.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
The noble Lord has quoted with great accuracy a regulation of 1911 and a regulation of Mr. Gladstone's in 1887. But is it not a fact that when those regulations were made by the Government here, the Colonial Secretary of State here was entirely responsible for telling the local Governments exactly what they had to do? It is true that the Government said that Kenya had to pay this; but then the Colonial Secretary ordered Kenya to pay it and was in a position to see that Kenya did pay it. That is the difference.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I welcome the intervention of the noble Earl, although I am not going to reply to that particular point at this moment, because I was trying to show that this is not a new policy. In the estimation of the noble Earl there may be new conditions which require a change of policy; but to argue that this policy is something immoral is not really fair, because it has always been the policy of the Government.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to explain what would have happened if one of these Colonies had made default in payment? Would 695 not the British Government have felt themselves responsible for paying?
§ LORD HASTINGS
I am only at the very beginning of my speech, and I am afraid it will take rather a long time if I answer all these points, most of which will be covered in the course of my speech.
§ LORD HASTINGS
This one is covered more or less somewhere later on. I am not going to pursue this difficult moral argument now, because really it is quite impossible to continue in that way. In fact, I have to state, quite frankly, that at the moment Her Majesty's Government continue, and will continue, to insist on the responsibility of overseas territories for their obligations in respect of pensions. Therefore, I believe it would be much more fruitful if I were to consider the practical problem before us and whether anything can be done to meet that problem.
In our last debate the discussion centred upon this topping up of pension increases to the level in the United Kingdom, especially for the older officers and their widows; and those were more or less the terms of the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore. The noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, spoke in that debate with great force, and we are glad to see him in his place to-day. Incidentally, I am most grateful for his mention of something which can go to the credit of the Department of Technical Co-operation, responsible for the publication of the White Paper Recruitment for Service Overseas: and, indeed, he has seen a previous White Paper on the preliminary work of the Department, and I am glad he mentioned that. But in that speech he referred to the dispatch of October 2, 1959, which he circulated a week before he retired as Secretary of State at the Colonial Office, and to which reference has already been made. The noble Viscount put up a tremendous and very clever defence of himself, if I may say so, without knowing precisely what I was going to say. But I will not take him to task very much.
On re-reading that speech, I could not help thinking to myself that while he 696 was Secretary of State for five and a half years there was no indication at all that Her Majesty's Government were thinking of taking over the pension increases, or topping them up at that time. In fact, just before he retired, he issued a circular inviting all overseas territories to do just that. Evidently he was disappointed with the results, because only two and a half years later he comes here and says that there is a wholly new situation (and this has been said also by other noble Lords) which demands our consideration. Therefore, apart from the fact that I wonder why he was not successful in persuading the Government to top up pensions at that time, I think it is reasonable to examine what has happened since he issued that circular.
§ VISCOUNT BOYD OF MERTON
The noble Lord fairly said that I sent out that circular seven days before I left the Colonial Office. Clearly, what action I should have taken had I stayed on and seen the replies, I cannot say now. But I think I should have tried to follow the line I have taken to-night.
§ LORD HASTINGS
The point really was that this problem of the older Civil Service pensioners was with us in 1954, and the noble Lord lived with it for five years and then sent out this circular. He felt disappointed at the results, and perhaps would have done something which we have not yet done. I will give a few figures, because they are interesting.
The noble Lord, Lord Twining, mentioned many figures, but I am afraid he did it so quickly that I could not take them all in. This is important. At the time of the circular there were 27 dependent territories—including Nigeria, at that time one of the largest countries with most pensioners—which had schemes inferior in general to that pertaining in the United Kingdom. After that despatch, 9 of these 27 countries introduced schemes directly related to the terms of our United Kingdom Pensions (Increase) Act, 1959, and a further 6 introduced schemes on a somewhat different basis, but at least as generous as, or better than, the terms of that Act. Of the remaining 12, as the noble Viscount reminded me, with 5 of them negotiations are still proceeding. I think that what the noble Viscount has heard is probably fairly correct. and 697 although I cannot give any information at the moment, because negotiations are not completed, the prospects in those five cases appear to be pretty good. So I think one can say quite fairly that that dispatch was a success, and has not been the failure that some noble Lords have made it out to be. Therefore Her Majesty's Government will continue to press the Oversea Governments, and we believe that we shall do so with success, now and in the future.
Now we come to the request for top-ping-up increases which are said to cost, including widows and orphans, £286,000—that is based on the figure we were using in our last debate. I do not think it is very useful to speculate about figures, but I understand that that is probably a considerable under-estimate, and that it will be rather more than that. If Her Majesty's Government ware to undertake to top up these increases, I think we must ask ourselves what the consequences would be. Obviously, there would be no further increases from any territories, independent or dependent. I think we must all agree with that. Therefore, Her Majesty's Government will be taking over an obligation for all time until even the present officers serving are with us no longer, which will be many years yet, I am glad to think.
In addition to that, I think the Government would have to consider whether, by taking this step, they might not find themselves obliged in due course to take over all increases in pensions. I will not produce the argument to which the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, so strongly objects, and, in fact, to which all noble Lords object, that the basic pensions would be in any danger. But I think that in any White Paper such as is asked for by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the possible consequences for the Government if they were obliged to take over all increases in pensions must at least be considered. I thought that one or two figures would interest the House, and perhaps surprise some of your Lordships. Because, after all, two-thirds of all pensioners now enjoy pensions as good as, and in many cases much better than, they would enjoy if they were being paid at the United Kingdom level. For instance, among the lowest-paid pensions, on a basic pension of £200 the 698 increase under the United Kingdom 1959 Act is in the order of £143 over and above the basic of £200. In the Bahamas, it is £288, and in Hong Kong £245—a very important difference indeed to those people living on such small pensions. On the basic level of £300, the United Kingdom increase is £166.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will excuse me for interrupting. I should be the last person to interrupt his speech, if I did not feel it was necessary, as I know how irritating it is. Surely these examples are taken from two of the richest Colonies. They are extremely small, and will affect very few people indeed. They really cannot be used as a basis for generalisation.
§ LORD HASTINGS
Nevertheless we are dealing with individuals. Noble Lords have insisted that this is a human problem, and I suggest that every individual counts. But these are not the only territories I am going to mention. In the Bahamas the figure is £388; in the United Kingdom £166, and in Fiji, again a small territory and not very rich, £300. In the middle grade on a basic salary of £700, the United Kingdom level is an increase of £259. In Nyasaland, which is not rich, it is £382, and in Northern Rhodesia, £463—over £200 more. These are very important differences. In the top level, I have before me figures relating to pensions paid to people who retired before the first post-war revision on a basic pension of £1,200. In Sarawak, for instance, the increase is £600, compared to only £352 in the United Kingdom. I just make that point. It is only fair, and to be expected, that the Government must consider the condition of these people if it were ever to become involved in taking over all increases in pensions over and above the level of the basic pension.
The noble Earl said (and this really reinforces the point he just made in an interjection) that independent territories never "cough up"—never give a pension increase except that based on an agreement made before independence. I do not think that is strictly accurate. In Nigeria, the increase arose from an agreement made prior to independence, but I believe that the situation there is not final. In Somaliland, an increase was given based on negotiations begun 699 before independence, but they were not completed before independence. In Ceylon, the increases are now based on the local Ceylon cost of living.
I come to a suggestion which I think was put forward in relation to compensation payments in Tanganyika. I believe that the noble Earl said something about that, as did the noble Lord, Lord Twining. I think the suggestion made was that these Governments find it difficult to give pension increases because they are already saddled with payments for compensation. Did the noble Lord make that point? I thought he did—at any rate, he mentioned the large sums of compensation. I think it is worth pointing out two things. The first is that half of that money which falls to the Colony (as it was, now the independent country) to provide and pay to the expatriates by way of compensation as its own share is loaned from Her Majesty's Government as an interest-free loan. In the case of Uganda, for example, agreements have been signed which allows that loan to be repaid over a period of 25 years, interest-free, with no payment at all for the first six years. I think that that is a fairly generous arrangement. The other half is provided under the Overseas Services Aid Scheme, and is entirely a grant from Her Majesty's Government. So I do not think it can be said that the payment of this compensation handicaps countries and makes it more difficult for them to give any pension increases.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, the point the noble Lord is making is that these countries cannot afford to pay compensation or pensions out of their own revenue. If Her Majesty's Government do not pay, they have to get a loan from here; which is exactly what we have been saying. If the Government do not pay, these countries cannot afford to pay: they have not the money.
§ LORD HASTINGS
They have to pay only half of the total; half is loaned from this Government, but interest-free, and they do not have to pay anything for the first six years. That does, I think, give them a fair chance to get on their feet. Therefore, the immediate effect of the Overseas Services Aid Scheme is that these Governments are 700 relieved of paying a salary to their expatriate servants over and above the local level and are relieved also of paying children's, educational and travel allowances. Therefore they are making an immediate saving rather than the other way round.
The noble Lord, Lord Twining had a point about commutation of these pension increases. Of course every Oversea Civil Service officer is entitled to take approximately a quarter of his pension in a capital payment when he retires, with a lower rate of income payment thereafter. I imagine that the noble Lord would like him to be able to do that in respect of any increases received, but the difficulty about that is that increases are not given while the officer is serving, because he would not be having a pension at all if he were still serving. After he has retired he then gets an increase on his pension. How can he commute that and capitalise it? Because, after all, the Treasury, or whoever is paying it—that is, the Government concerned—does not know how long that person is going to live. It would involve difficult actuarial calculations and a life insurance scheme. That really is the answer to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord also mentioned widows and orphans and many other noble Lords were very concerned about them; and certainly in many cases their situation is very hard. At the same time I do not think there is any reason to doubt the security of their pensions, because these are also covered by Public Offices Agreements. As regards compulsory contributions which were made for a long time, in many cases, in order to obtain these pensions, and which were referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and others, of course there are compulsory contributions for widows' and orphans' pensions in the Civil Service of this country; and there is no discrimination in that respect in respect of people serving overseas. There was a special question which the noble Lord, Lord Twining, had about widows and orphans. He kindly gave notice of his point, and this enabled me to obtain an answer, which I will read out, to make sure that I have it quite accurate. He complained about not being able to get sufficient information.
701 The answer to his query is that annual accounts are prepared for all funded widows' and orphans' pensions Schemes, and provision is made in the relevant legislation An the majority of cases for the account to be laid down before the overseas Legislature concerned or otherwise published, for example, in the Government Gazette. Reports of actuarial valuations and annuities are made to the Governor or responsible Minister. Although not normally published they may be made accessible to staff associations, and I am not aware that any access has in fact been denied in any ease. The valuation reports on the Ghana Fund for instance may be inspected at the Grown Agent's Office. Copies of reports on the East African Widows' and Orphans' Pension Scheme have been made available to the appropriate pensioners' association. I can only add to the noble Lord that, if there is any scheme in which he is particularly interested and about which the information is unsatisfactory, if he will let me know I will do my best to find out the right people for him to contact, so that he can obtain the additional information, which is certainly there and available if one knows how to get it.
I think I should now say something about this vexed problem of India, Burma and Pakistan which was raised in the last debate, when I was not able to answer it fully. It has come up again to-day, and I should like to explain as briefly as possible that very complicated situation. In 1948, both India and Pakistan bought tapering annuities from their sterling balances in London in order to satisfy their liabilities and enable them to pay their Civil Service pensions for as long as those people were likely to remain alive; and they gave that capital to the British Government and bought the tapering annuities with it. Then in 1955 a further arrangement was entered into because the India and Pakistan Governments were anxious that Her Majesty's Government should take over full responsibility for all pensions, so relieving them of the whole thing.
All the pensions remaining to be paid by India were valued actuarially, and the capital value of the annuity payment to India due after 1955 was calculated; and from that was deducted liability for the pensions, less the income tax which 702 India would have collected from them. As a result, India got the better of the balance and received a lump sum in payment. Pakistan, on the other hand, came out the wrong side, on balance, and would have had to pay a lump sum in capital to Her Majesty's Government which they could not afford at the time. That is why they continued paying basic pensions and India did not. The situation is exactly similar, the only difference being the result of these capital calculations. In respect of pensions increases, in 1947 both India and Pakistan agreed to a request from Her Majesty's Government to give increases to pensioners of their armed forces but not to their civil pensioners. That was taken into account when these capital schemes were agreed to. The result was that Her Majesty's Government realised it was quite unfair that the armed forces should get increases if the civilian officers did not; and that is why they took them over at that time.
In 1955, of course, they took over the armed forces pensioners as well, and in fact gave them an increase based on the 1952 Act, because the Indian Government had limited the increase to the 1947 Act. So the situation is that first the civilian officers were taken on by the Treasury, because they would have been treated unfairly, and after that the armed forces pensioners. There is no difference at all between India and Pakistan when it comes to the payment of increases.
Burma, as the noble Earl mentioned, gave increases in the first place to both military and civilian pensioners, but those increases were limited by treaty to pensions existing at the time of independence. Therefore, Her Majesty's Government took on a Burmese increase in pensions in 1952 as well. There was the additional reason that, prior to 1937 there was a unified Civil Service right throughout the Indian continent, India, Pakistan and Burma. Therefore, it was impossible, in equity, to separate any of those pensioners, one from the other; and that is why Her Majesty's Government took it upon themselves to act in that manner. They were also reinforced by a point which has been brought up by a noble Lord and which relates to the constitutional position of the Secretary of State for India. Because the India Act, 703 1935, specifically provided that as from 1937 appointments to the Indian Civil Service, and the other Services mentioned there, should be made direct by the Secretary of State for India. In that respect there is a difference between his position and the position of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, which I think was mentioned, although not appreciated or understood by, the noble Lord, Lord Colyton.
When it came to giving further increases to the pensioners of India, Burma and Pakistan subsequent to 1955, of course, the Government here were really standing in the shoes of those overseas Governments. So that when the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, sent a despatch to overseas territories he would have sent it to those Governments if we had not been acting for them. The increases were given because it was utterly impossible for Her Majesty's Government to refuse to give increases being asked by the Colonial Secretary, with the approval of his colleagues, from other overseas territories. I hope I have explained that position thoroughly and noble Lords will not find in it anything unduly complicated or irrational.
We have had really a continuation of the debate of two and a half months ago; we have been over some of the same arguments. I have tried to put some new points to your Lordships, and to answer those raised by various speakers. But I think it is now time we turned to the specific terms of the Resolution. After all, that is what we are here to debate. I would ask your Lordships to read it very carefully. The noble Earl is moving to resolve:That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to increase the basic rate of pensions paid to former Colonial Service Officers and their dependants.That is the first part of the Resolution. What we were discussing two and a half months ago, and what we are discussing to-day, is an increase of pensions, topping-up pensions. We have not been talking of increasing the basic pension. I thought I must draw your Lordships' attention to the actual wording of the Resolution. I do not wish to quibble; I do not wish to be legalistic. But in point of fact the Resolution is asking us to accept something different from what 704 noble Lords have been talking about and what we were talking about two and a half months ago.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, may I say I accept every word of what he says? This Resolution is abominably badly drafted and literally means exactly what he has said. But I think everyone who has spoken understood exactly what I meant, in spite of the bad drafting, and I hope the Government do too.
§ LORD HASTINGS
We all understand what the noble Earl means and that is why at rather unseemly length I have dealt with the resolution in the way in which the noble Earl meant it to be dealt with. Strictly speaking, perhaps I need not have done. But I thought it right to point out this discrepancy to noble Lords.
There are only two ways (without boring your Lordships) as to how basic rate of pension is calculated, which is no doubt known by many but perhaps not all. There are only two ways in which basic rate of pension can be raised. One is by salary revision, which obviously cannot be made in the case of former Colonial Service officers, and the other is by changing the constant or, in other words, the percentage calculalation which is used. Normally, one takes the final pay of the retiring officer—say it is £1,600 when he retires—and counts the number of months he has served. I am thinking of a particular instance I gave to the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, when I wrote to him after the last debate. Say it is 263 months; and every month he gets one-six-hundredth of his final pay. The officer in this case in fact got £700, which is the basic rate. The only way you can change it is by salary revision, which is impossible after retirement, or by raising the constant; that is, instead of saying he should get one six-hundredth, saying he should get one five-hundredth for every month of service. I do not know whether it is possible to do it for former overseas civil servants who have retired, but if it were possible you could hardly do it without doing it for the existing ones. And that, of course, would affect all the local officers employed by countries, independent as well as dependent, and we should have to get their agreement to it.
705 The point I want to make is this. If this were a Motion and we were having a useful debate and the noble Earl was going to withdraw his Motion at the end, I would not complain; it would be perfectly all right. But in fact this is a Resolution and the House is being asked to divide on a specific Resolution which is in fact asking us to do something which is virtually impossible of fulfilment. I have to point that out to the House, because if we were to divide and vote for this Resolution the House would be asking the Government to do something which, in the first place, is probably undesirable, in the second place is something which the noble Earl does not mean, and in the third place is something which it is impossible to effect.
Having dealt with that part of the Resolution, I would turn to the noble Earl's request for a White Paper. Other noble Lords have referred to the difficulties which they seem to know the Government are in in producing a White Paper. Of course, it is in fact true, I regret to say, that there are locally paid officers—I mentioned in the last debate about 2,000—and it is not known precisely how much they get and it takes time to collect this information. The figures we were working on three months ago are out of date. They were barely in date at that time, but they are even more out of date now, and it would be desirable to get much more accurate figures. Things have changed rapidly in the last year or so because other countries have come to independence. It goes back for more than a year. Annual accounts are eventually eighteen months out of date, and it is the same with these figures. There is the difficulty of getting the information from these independent territories, or at least publishing information in a Government White Paper here which purports to give information about the policies of independent territories. Therefore, in those circumstances, any White Paper on the subject of overseas pensions produced at the present time would contain serious gaps.
I come now to the most important part of my speech. Noble Lords have referred to various undertakings which were given, or which were thought to have been given in the last debate. I 706 can assure your Lordships that the Department of Technical Cooperation has not been sleeping upon this matter. We had a meeting last week which I was privileged to attend with the Overseas Services Pensioners Association, and my right honourable friend the Secretary for the Department was able to make an announcement which I am now going to make. I will read it carefully and slowly because it is an offsicial announcement, and the purport of it will, I understand, appear in the OFFICIAL Report of another place to-morrow morning in the form of a Written Answer to a Question. The announcement reads as follows:A Working Party has been set up by the Secretary for Technical Co-operation to study the problem of increases in Colonial Service, Overseas Civil Service and Sudan Civil Service pensions, including dependants' pensions. The Working Party will examine the nature and extent of this problem and the various courses which might be adopted. It should be made clear that the setting up of this Working Party, which comprises representatives of the Overseas Departments and of the Treasury, does not presuppose any change in the policy of the British Government with regard to responsibility for overseas pensions. Work has already been put in hand to assemble the basic information necessary for this study, and it is hoped that the Working Party will submit its Report in the autumn.I should make it clear, because I am sure the noble Earl would ask the question otherwise, that this is an inter-Departmental Report, Which, of course, would not normally be published, and this one will not be published. But Her Majesty's Government undertake to look again into the question of publishing a White Paper after consideration of the Report of this Working Party. There is no intention to conceal information on this subject, Which would in any case be made available to the Overseas Services Pensioners Association in so far as the facts are concerned, and, of course, it will be made available to the Members of both Houses in regard to the facts.
I want to be quite fair about this in respect of the feelings of the Overseas Services Pensioners Association to which the noble Earl referred in his speech. They still maintain all their reservations on this question of the moral obligations of Her Majesty's Government. That is clearly understood and I do not deny it. But they welcome the appointment of this Working Party as progress in the right direction and as a definite break 707 through, because this Working Party is going to produce all the facts which the noble Earl opposite and other noble Lords are asking for, and I think it will probably produce a good many facts which have not been asked for as well; and it will be able to examine the whole question and to make its recommendations.
I do not think I can say more than that. I would simply end by saying that I believe your Lordships can be satisfied that the previous debate in this House has had its influence and that such promises and undertakings as were given have been carried out. I am sure my right honourable friend has shown his serious intention in this most difficult matter of overseas pensions, and I hope your Lordships will be satisfied with what I have had to tell you. Therefore, I would invite the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to withdraw his Resolution. I hope he will feel that the information which has been given is satisfactory. If, however, my plea to him is unsuccessful, I must ask the House to reject this Resolution on the three grounds that I have given: first, that we are being asked for something which is incorrect and is impossible of fulfilment; secondly, that there is in existence a Working Party which will produce all the facts necessary for further information to the House, and possibly for the publication of a White Paper which in fact cannot be produced without the work of the Working Party first; and finally, that the Government have carried out their undertakings and shown their serious intentions in this matter.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he give any indication as to the timetable of the Working Party?
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I think it was in the statement. It is hoped to complete the report in the autumn.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Again, every single speaker, apart from the Government spokesman, has taken the view that it is the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government 708 to top-up the pension increases of the retired members of the Colonial Services and their dependants. This, in itself, must have been a vast encouragement to all the people whose faith has been deeply shaken by what the Government have done. I cannot say that what the noble Lord has said has given me personally any comfort. I asked for two things: first, that some financial payments should be made immediately to the hardest cases, and the noble Lord has answered that no payments will be made. I also asked him to publish a White Paper, and he has not said that a White Paper will be published. He has said that a Working Party will be appointed. But this Working Party will be within the framework of Government policy, which apparently remains completely the same: there is no change in Government policy in regard to accepting this responsibility. And, of course, the essential facts are already known; we do not need a Working Party to find them out.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, might I ask the noble Earl why he is asking for a White Paper if the essential facts are known? I imagine that a great many more facts than are now known will be produced by this Working Party. There was something else with which I disagree, but which I have for the moment forgotten.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, can the Working Party recommend that Her Majesty's Government shall accept responsibility where the pensions are inadequate?
§ LORD HASTINGS
I read the statement. If I can find it again I will clarify the point, or see if it makes that clear. The Working Party isto study the problem of increases",whatever the problem may be,in the Colonial Services, Overseas Civil Service and Sudan Civil Service pensions, including dependants pensions."—that is already in and—the Working Party will examine the nature and extent of this problem and the various courses which might be adopted.I think that is all-inclusive, and I see no reason to suppose that the Working Party cannot produce the facts or say what it wants to.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
On the first point that the noble Lord made, about knowledge of the facts, I would say that the facts are known to those who study them; there are a certain number of people in both Houses who have made a fairly close study. There are many other people in and out of Parliament who would like to know them and to whom they would be available if a White Paper were published.
I should be perfectly willing to withdraw my Motion if the noble Lord could say, as the noble Viscount suggested, that the Government would consider changing their present policy and accept responsibility for these payments, in the light of the recommendations made by the Working Party, and that the terms of reference would include recommendations about policy. The other condition I would suggest to the noble Lord as being a reasonable condition for the withdrawal of my Motion, is that a White Paper should be published when the Working Party has concluded its deliberations. The noble Lord said that a White Paper might be published if it were possible, but I think the least the noble Lord could offer would be an assurance on those two points.
§ LORD HASTINGS
In regard to the latter, I cannot go any further than to say that the Government have undertaken to consider publication; but I did say at the same time that there was no intention of concealing information. That would be made available both to Members of Parliament and to the Overseas Services Pensioners Association. What was the other point the noble Earl made?
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
That was the major point—whether the terms of reference of the Working Party included the policy of the Government, which we have been debating in this House for two days.
§ LORD HASTINGS
It is difficult to enlarge on an official statement, as the noble Earl knows, but I understand that an examination of the nature and extent of the problem and the various courses which might be adopted does naturally lead to a consideration of every aspect of the matter and every possibility. If the Working Party gathers all the facts 710 and points out how much it would cost Her Majesty's Government if they were responsible for taking over overseas pension increases—present, future, and possibly even past—it would no doubt put all the courses before the Government, with all the pros and cons. I do not myself think that anything is excluded, but I cannot say. Specifically the Working Party is entitled to recommend a change of policy to the Government, although the facts and figures and the arguments which it produces might lead the members of the Government who peruse the report of the Working Party to come to a certain conclusion. I cannot really go further than that.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
My Lords, I am sorry to press the noble Lord on this. I think we must get one very simple thing clear. It is not as if you were appointing an outside body to make this inquiry. These people are functionaries; they are civil servants. I imagine one will come from the Treasury, one from the Foreign Office, one from the Colonial Office, and, I do not know, but there may be one from the Commonwealth Office. These are officials appointed by their Ministers to do a job. Presumably the Ministers will tell these officials what they are to do. They will not be told in terms what they are to report, but surely the Ministers will give them an instruction as to whether or not it is within their terms of reference to say that pensions should be the responsibility of the Government. I am not asking the Minister to take a responsibility for changing Government policy. All I am asking him is, what is going to be the meaning of the terms of reference of this Working Party?
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I am sure I am right in saying that the aim of this Working Party is not only to produce facts, but also to produce means and methods and to examine possibilities. Whether the Working Party itself, consisting of Departmental civil servants, would recommend one course or another is one thing, but what they will do is to set out the possible courses—which obviously would include the possibility of Her Majesty's Government's being responsible for pensions increases. Although they themselves might not actually recommend it, 711 the whole thing would be set out for the responsible Ministers of the various Departments to decide upon. I hope that that will satisfy the noble Earl. Everything will be set out so that the final decision can be taken, and the alternative will be there clearly before the Government—not only just a set of figures and statistics, but also arguments pro and con.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I appreciate that the noble Lord is doing his best, but I must say I am very far from satisfied. I think it is perfectly clear that this Working Party is a body of civil servants Which is to inquire into the facts and present them so that the Ministers can take a decision on the fullest possible evidence. We know that all Governments appoint these bodies
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Resolution agreed to accordingly.712
§ when they want to look into something. It is not like an outside Commission, a body with eminent persons serving upon it, such as the Commission that went to Central Africa, containing persons who can make recommendations about policy. This Working Party would be operating within the framework of Government policy, and that is exactly what we feel must be changed if these people are to get any satisfaction. I am also disappointed that the noble Lord cannot even guarantee that, when the facts are available, they will be published. In view of that, I do not feel I can withdraw my Resolution.
§ On Question, Whether the said Resolution shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 21; Not-Contents, 19.711
|Ailwyn, L.||Fortescue, E.||Silkin, L.|
|Albemarle, E. [Teller.]||Listowel, E.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Longford, E.||Swinton, E.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Moyne, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Champion, L.||Peddie, L.||Twining, L|
|Colyton, L.||Sainsbury, L.||Walston, L.|
|Derwent, L.||Shepherd, L.[Teller.]||Williamson, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Dundee, E.||Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.)|
|Bossom, L.||Falmouth, V.||Lansdowne, M.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Goschen, V.||Newton, L. [Teller.]|
|Chesham, L.||Hailsham, V. (L. President.)||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hastings, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Waldegrave, E.|
§ House adjourned at fourteen minutes before eight o'clock.