HL Deb 13 November 1962 vol 244 cc536-40

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, if the House would allow me, I should like to make a short statement referring to the retirement of Mr. G. L. McDermott from the Foreign Service. I do this only because there have been statements in the Press which have been so misleading that I wish to take a Parliamentary opportunity of telling your Lordships' House about it.

I should like to make a statement on the report in the Press that the Foreign Office were in breach of their own Regulations in the matters of the retirement of Mr. G. L. McDermott, in that Mr. McDermott was not given copies of the disciplinary complaints laid against him by his superiors.

This report is quite incorrect. Mr. McDermott was not dismissed on disciplinary grounds but was retired, with his full pension and gratuity, under the provisions of the Foreign Service Act, 1943. This Act enables the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to retire Foreign Service officers who either do not fulfil their promise or lose the qualities of initiative and energy which are necessary if they are to hold positions of greater responsibility.

As laid down in the procedure followed for retirements under this Act, Mr. McDermott was given a copy of the memorandum laid before the Senior Promotions Board of the Foreign Office setting out the case for his retirement. He was invited to comment on it in writing or to appear, if he wished, before a subcommittee of the Board to make his comments in person. He chose to comment in writing, and his comments were circulated to the members of the Board. A revised memorandum was then prepared in the light of these comments and, after clearance by the Promotions Board, was sent to the Retirement Board. The Retirement Board consists of three eminent people not in the Foreign Service and is under the chairmanship of Lord Strang. It is not an appellate body but must satisfy itself that the Promotions Board reaches its decision fairly and without being influenced by extraneous consideration. A copy of the revised memorandum was sent to Mr. McDermott and he was again reminded of his right to comment or to appear. He again commented in writing and, at his request, copies of his letter were sent to the members of the Retirement Board and were submitted to the Secretary of State. It will be seen, therefore, that Mr. McDermott did not exercise his right to appear in person at any time; indeed, he stated in a letter to the Chief Clerk of the Foreign Office dated June 19, that, subject to full consideration being given by the Promotions Board to his written comments, he was ready to retire under the 1943 Act.

I would only add that the Foreign Secretary is responsible for seeing that the Foreign Service is efficient. We cannot afford to carry passengers in it. That is neither fair to the Service nor good for the country, and the Foreign Secretary, I think, must act under the Act of 1943 when he considers that it is desirable, in the interests of the country and of the Service, to do so.


My Lords, we are all very grateful to the Foreign Secretary for making this statement on a matter which, as he says, has produced a good deal of Press comment and, indeed, a certain amount of discussion in another place. There is one point that I should like to elucidate, if I may. The Foreign Secretary's statement says that: Mr. McDermott was given a copy of the memorandum laid before the Senior Promotions Board of the Foreign Office setting out the case for his retirement. That Board, I understand, is composed of all Ministers in the Foreign Office except the Foreign Secretary, and of ail official Under-Secretaries of the Foreign Office, too.

It is obvious that the statement which was put before the Senior Promotions Board must have been based on various reports sent in from different quarters concerning the service of Mr. McDermott. I should therefore like to ask the Foreign Secretary whether he is fully satisfied that it is in harmony with natural justice that any report which may adversely affect the whole service future of a member of the Foreign Office should not be seen and initialled by the officer concerned, prior to its being used in determining his retirement from the Service. It seems to me that the Senior Promotions Board were working on a memorandum. Some of them, if not all of them, must have been aware of the contents of the different reports upon which that memorandum was based.


My Lords, I will not deal with this particular case, but there were reports on this particular member of the Service. Of course, when a Service officer is in any post there is a routine report on him which comes in. In this case there were a number of special reports, some of which were given in writing to the Promotions Board, and others were conveyed directly to the Permanent Under-Secretary and to myself. I do not think that in every case it is desirable that the individual concerned should see these reports or should know exactly where they come from. Nobody ever wants to see an officer retired from the Foreign Service if he fulfils his job. But I am certain in my own mind (I have seen these reports and know all about this case) that a just procedure was adopted and that Mr. McDermott was given every chance to fulfil his position in the Service. I am glad that he was a very able man. But people must pull their full weight in the Service.


My Lords, I quite understand the position taken up by the Foreign Secretary, but I should like to ask whether that procedure which he has outlined would be quite on a par with the method followed in the military Service Departments on reports, and whether there are not in the case of Service Departments three classes of report—namely, those which are favourable, those which are marked "Confidential" and those which are adverse. I do not know what is always the actual difference between a confidential report and an adverse report, but in the Services, if there is an adverse report, the officer has to be shown a copy of it and initial it. Could one say the same of the procedure in the Foreign Office?


My Lords, this is not a case of dismissal from the Service. This is a case of a man being retired, and, as I have said, he has been retired on full pension and with a bonus.

As I have said, I do not think that in every case it is right that the officer should be shown the source of a report or should know what is exactly in the report. But I will have another look at this case in the light of what the noble Viscount has said. I think that I should make the distinction here that it is not a dismissal from the Service, but a retirement.


My Lords, I am grateful to the Foreign Secretary for that undertaking. What we are concerned about, as I think he will understand, is that even under the procedure that he himself has indicated there shall be no scope for a breach of natural justice. It is true that a man has the right to appear or to write; but unless he knows what are the points against him in terms of efficiency, or not taking sufficient interest in his work, or whatever it may be, I do not see how he can give a proper answer to the charges that are before the Promotions Board.


My Lords, the man had the charges that were made against him, certainly in broad terms, and, indeed, in a good deal of detail. That was the subject of the memorandum sent to Mr. McDermott, and upon which he commented and which he was willing to accept without a personal interview. The whole purpose of the three men outside is to see that all these regulations are kept by the Promotions Board. I think that this is a fair procedure.


My Lords, does not the Foreign Secretary agree that the unfortunate thing about this case is that it gives the impression that, in order to succeed in the Diplomatic Service, yon have to be a "Yes" man?


No, my Lords: yon have to be efficient and prepared to do the same kind of work as your colleagues. I must point out to the noble Lord that in Berlin the members of the Commandant's Staff and the members of the Service generally there were working 18 or 19 hours a day at times. Everybody had to pull his weight or they would never have got through this difficult and dangerous time.


My Lords, I am not saying that the Foreign Secretary is wrong in what he says; but it is the impression which this case has given that is so unfortunate.


My Lords, I am sorry that that impression was given. There is nothing political in this. The views have to be expressed through the Ambassador. I did not know what views Mr. McDermott held about Berlin or any other political subject. All I was concerned about was whether or not he carried out his duties efficiently. I am sorry that mis-statements got into the Press, but that is not my fault. I cannot help it if the newspapers accept statements without checking them up to see whether they are true or not. All I have done is to take the earliest opportunity to give Parliament the true facts.