HL Deb 15 July 1965 vol 268 cc293-306

5.34 p.m.

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

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Taylor.)

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD MERTHYR in the Chair.]

Clause I agreed to.

Clause 2:

Power to meet expenses incurred in connection with employment in overseas territories

2.—(1) The Minister of Overseas Development may enter into agreements relating to the employment in public or social services in overseas territories of persons designated at any time by the Minister in accordance with the agreements, being agreements under which the Minister meets, directly or indirectly, expenses—

  1. (a) in connection with the employment of those persons in accordance with the agreements, or
  2. (b) in respect of compensation paid to those persons, 294 and may out of moneys provided by Parliament make any payments falling to be made under the agreements.

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

THE EARL OF BESSBOROUGH moved, in subsection (3), to leave out "and no person shall be designated under such an agreement'. The noble Earl said: In moving the Amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Selkirk, I should like at once to repeat what my noble friend Lord Lansdowne said on the Second Reading, that we greatly welcome the Bill. Indeed, I know that it is welcomed on both sides of the House. It was considerably improved during Committee stage in another place, and a number of Amendments tabled by the Opposition were finally accepted by the Government. The Amendments which appear on the Marshalled List to-day were the only ones of substance which were not finally accepted, yet they are in fact the ones to which we in the Opposition attach most importance, and it is for that reason that I am raising them again this evening.

I recognise, of course, that this is a Money Bill but we must remember—and a reference to Erskine May will show this -that there is a distinction to be drawn between a Money Bill on which your Lordships are permitted to move Amendments and a Bill of aids and supplies, for instance a Finance Bill, which it is not proper for your Lordships to amend. I say this because although the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, is, I know, aware of the point, some of your Lordships may not be. Indeed, I found, on making inquiries, that there was a fairly general misapprehension that your Lordships cannot amend a Money Bill. That is not the case. Section 1 of the Parliament Act defines the powers of the Lords as to Money Bills, and it is clear from that section that it is within the powers of your Lordships to amend them, although such Amendments may be disregarded in another place. Moreover, the Companion to the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House quotes several occasions on which Amendments to such Bills have subsequently been accepted in another place. Therefore, in moving these Amendments there is no question of challenging Members in another place; we are merely suggesting improvements from a technical and a drafting point of view. I should like at this stage to reserve the position as to whether or not the House should divide on the Amendments.

The substance of the matter was discussed for some hours in another place, but bearing in mind what we all now have to bear in mind, that is to say, Lord Egremont's Motion of Tuesday of this week, I will try to detain the Committee for a relatively few minutes. The nub of the matter is whether the Treasury should have a power of veto over the designation of officers under the Overseas Aid scheme. Your Lordships will observe that subsection (3) of Clause 2 says: No such agreement shall be entered into, and no person shall he designated under such an agreement, except with the consent of the Treasury. It will be seen that the first part of this subsection requires Treasury approval for the agreement which is entered into, either with the Government of an overseas territory or a local authority, or with any other such body as the Bill gives Her Majesty's Government in this country power to make agreements. That is an element of Treasury control which, as my right honourable friend said in another place, we regard as wholly desirable and, indeed, necessary. Such agreements can, and do, commit this country to considerable expenditure, and it seems right that the taxpayers' money should be safeguarded in this way.

However, the other part of the subsection says that no person shall be designated under such an agreement except with the consent of the Treasury. This limitation seems to some of us to be wholly unnecessary and unreasonable. We do not consider that any Party political issue is involved, but we think that this part of the subsection is unreasonable, not only from the point of view of giving effective aid to the countries which we want to help, but also from the point of view of good control of public expenditure. I am sure it is agreed on both sides of the House—and, indeed, on the Cross Benches, where several noble Lords who are closely concerned with the Treasury often sit—that the effective way of controlling expenditure is not by trying to look at every single detail but more by making sure that the Treasury take a grip of the broad agreements and policy decisions which may lead to expenditure, and also by making sure that each Department conducts its affairs efficiently within the policies and Estimates already approved. We must all agree about this; and I think we all agree that a trend away from the "candle-ends" type of control towards more modern management methods has been going on, not only in this country but in all the developed countries of the world.

In putting forward this argument in your Lordships' House I should, I think, especially refer to the Report of the Committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Plowden (who I know regrets that he cannot be here this afternoon); that is to say, the Report which was published in 1961 on Public Expenditure. That Committee, which was appointed as a result of certain observations made by the Select Committee on Estimates, maintained that the old theory of candle-ends economy had not been wholly abandoned and that the new theory of departmental responsibility and partnership might not have been wholeheartedly accepted. Part II of the Plowden Report says: The primary responsibility of a Department is to conduct its policy effectively within the limits laid down by the Government. The Department is itself responsible for the efficiency with which it does its work. It is quite clear from the Plowden Report that the primary responsibility of the Treasury is to see that the basic agreements entered into are right, but that, having done that, they should leave the Department to do its job and not to try to control every person the Department wants to appoint under any given agreement. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not with us to-day to endorse this interpretation of his Report; if he were he would certainly do so.

I know that in the noble Lord's Report it was stated that although the Treasury had been criticised in the past, some liberalisation had since taken place in regard to Treasury control. But what is now being sought in this Bill is, in fact, the exact opposite to what is recommended as good control in the Report—a Report which I think was generally accepted by both sides in both Houses of Parliament. It is true, I know, that the words in question, those in subsection (3) of Clause 2, were used in the original Overseas Services Act, 1961. But the point I must make is that the Act containing those words was passed before the noble Lord, Lord Plowden, made his Report and prior to its acceptance by Parliament.

Another reason why I am moving these Amendments is that this clause deals with developing countries and not just the few remaining dependent territories. One of the most important considerations in these cases is to meet requests from those countries as quickly as possible, and the fact that it is stated in subsection (3) that no person shall be designated except with Treasury consent must surely involve delay. There is no question of disputing the general right of the Treasury to intervene. But what some of us do dispute is the positive control that no person shall ever be designated without their consent. As was stated in another place, if those words were omitted, the Treasury would still have the whip hand. If they say they are not satisfied, and that people are being included who should not be designated, the Treasury can still withhold approval of the agreement until these matters have been settled.

I know that, on touching on this point in the Second Reading in your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, pointed out, quite correctly, that under subsection (4) Treasury consent to designation may be given generally and not in relation to individual officers. But that is not what subsection (3) says. With all the good will in the world, I still think that subsection (3), as it stands, is unreasonable, and I cannot say that Lord Taylor's observations on Second Reading have removed my anxiety.


If I may interrupt the noble Earl, is he discussing both his Amendments together—as I rather hope he is?


Yes, I am; although there is something that I could say separately about each; but at the moment I am speaking on the two together.

The point is that under subsection (4) there is nothing compelling; it is purely permissive. That is to say, Treasury consent may—and I underline the word "may"—"be given generally", while subsection (3) is quite positive in stating that "no person shall be designated … except with the consent of the Treasury". In my view, individual appointments should rest firmly and squarely on the responsible Minister, who in this case is the right honourable Lady, who, as we know, has herself a seat in the Cabinet and also a Permanent Secretary, a Parliamentary Secretary, several Deputy Secretaries, and Under-Secretaries; as well as a large and, I trust, efficient organisation for deciding these matters. It is not enough for the Minister to say that so far as she or he is aware there has in the past been no delay in the appointment of officers, because under subsection (3) there is a built-in delay, and that is why I think these words should be omitted. Indeed, if they remain part of the clause subsection (3) and subsection (4) will, in a sense, be contradictory and cancel each other out. One of them must be wrong. In this sense these Amendments which the noble Earl and I are proposing are, if nothing else, necessary drafting Amendments. For these reasons your Lordships can, I think, improve this Bill, and if we do so by agreeing to the Amendments I hope that another place will also see fit to do so. As I said at the start, they are certainly at liberty so to do. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 30, leave out from ("into") to ("except") in line 31.—(The Earl of Bessborough.)

5.47 p.m.


May I say one or two words in support of my noble friend, not least that this is a non-Party measure which has been warmly welcomed in all parts of the House. My noble friend has made two points; one the straightforward point of logic, and the other a point of principle. If I may take the point of logic first, I think something is needed to reconcile subsection (3) and subsection (4). In one there is the categorical statement that no one shall be designated except with the consent of the Treasury, and the other one says that the Treasury may designate people generally. Those two propositions cannot work together. I say with respect that it is possible to add a few words to the first one such as no one may be designated under such an agreement except with the consent of the Treasury save as hereinafter provided". That would at least provide a connection.

Is this really what the Government want? Do they want the Treasury to say, "We can designate people individually or collectively". I think that what has happened here is that the words my noble friend is seeking to remove from subsection (3) have been introduced into the Bill at a later date. The Bill would be quite sensible if those words were left out of subsection (3). Subsection (4) would give a power of general designation, to which I have no objection, and subsection (3) would simply say that agreements cannot be entered into except with the consent of the Treasury, and with that I should be quite content.

The other question is a broader one of principle. I think anybody who has taken a cursory glance at Lord Plowden's Report must realise that we must try to move away from very close Treasury control of detail, and it seems to me that his Report is directed entirely to preventing the sort of control which is in this clause. There is nothing in the Plowden Report to say that Treasury control over the broad issues is not important. There is nothing in what my noble friend and I have said to undermine the importance of Treasury control of broad issues of policy, and indeed he suggested that wider issues should be examined more fully. I think that the positive nomination of a single man before he can get any benefits under this scheme is precisely the sort of thing which should not be done. To put the matter bluntly, must the name be on a piece of paper within the Treasury building before any approval can be given?

It must be remembered that these things come from the Colonial Office to the Ministry of Overseas Aid and then to the Treasury. That cannot increase the speed with which the decisions are made. I know that the noble Lord is going to say two things. First of all, he is going to say that this was in the 1961 Tory Act; which of course is a good precedent. Secondly, he will say, quite rightly, that this point was discussed fairly fully in another place. I do not deny for a moment that our reason for raising it here is no more than that it is a matter of principle, but I think it would be a pity if this clause were agreed to without reference to this point.


May I make an appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor? I have always thought him to be quite peculiarly ready to consider other points of view. I happen to know something about public corporations, and I happen to know something about development. May I, with the permission of the Committee, say that I agree with what has come from both noble Earls who have spoken. I think that the two particular subsections are not only what the noble Earl just said, but illogical, and I appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to consider this matter—in other words, to take it ad avizandum, with his usual courtesy and intelligence.

5.52 p.m.


I must say that when I first read these two clauses I thought they were rather illogical, and I failed to make sense of them, in much the same way as the noble Earls, Lord Bessborough and Lord Selkirk, and my noble friend Lord Reith, have done. But I, too, knew that these were contained in the 1961 Act, that they were a verbatim repetition of the 1961 Act, and I do not necessarily accept that everything a Conservative Government does is wrong. Therefore, I felt I was bound to look at them completely honestly, completely objectively, to see if I could make sense of them. I therefore asked the officers concerned to explain how the thing worked, how it has worked in practice over the past years, and how it was proposed that it should go on working. The answer was perfectly simple.

First of all, there are two stages. There is the stage of making an agreement and, secondly, the operation of designation of an officer. An agreement is made with either the Government of the overseas territory, as in the past under the Overseas Services Act, or now, with a local authority, a university, a public corporation in that territory, or some other body; and I think we all agree that the Treasury should agree about the making of the agreement. But now comes the process of designating officers under the agreement. Let us suppose that it is a university. Here it will not be a question of appointing an officer: the subsection is dealing with officers who are already in post. Indeed, if it were a question of appointing an officer—and sometimes it will be a question of appointing an officer—there is not, and has not been in the past, any question of a hold-up. I do not see why there should be any in the future.

Using this particular form of words, the procedure has been that when the first of a new type of officer was designated, and it was decided to help that class, then the Ministry of Overseas Development had to put the case to the Treasury and say, "This is a new kind of case we are going to deal with, of which Mr. Smith or Professor Jones is the example; and if we do this there may follow twenty-seven other cases of a similar category. Taken together, this will cost quite a substantial sum of money."


I apologise to the noble Lord for interrupting, but may I take it that approval is given generally to that whole category?


The initial case of any category is submitted to the Treasury, and thereafter the approval is given generally. This rather clumsy form of words—


Does not that contradict the phrase "No person shall be designated under such agreement …"?


No, because the point is qualified by the next clause; namely, that the designation may be given for a generality of officers—for a general group. This is a perfectly sound piece of Conservative legislation, which has worked perfectly well, and I really do not see what all the fuss is about. Indeed, even if this Amendment were accepted the procedure would be identical, and I am sure that the noble Earl would wish it to be identical. I am sure he would wish that, where a large new expenditure is to be made, Treasury approval of the principle should be obtained. It is no good saying that Treasury approval of the agreement is enough, because the agreement is merely in respect of institutions and not in respect of the posts inside the institutions. It is getting Treasury agreement to pay the university of Katmandu, or whatever it may be, this sum of money, but not in respect of all the professors of engineering, or what you will. I am satisfied, although I start with an initial anti-Treasury prejudice, and also with an initial suspicion of clauses which are repeated from the Acts of the previous Government, that in this case they were right, and, although the phrasing is a little clumsy, that it works perfectly well.

Now the question of delay. Both noble Earls have said that there is bound to be delay. In fact there has not been any delay. Where appointments are made in this country for new posts, the designation is a purely automatic procedure, once the initial type of post has been approved; and while the other inquiries which have to be made about candidates, such as the taking up of references, and so on, are going on, the designation procedure can be done perfectly quickly. It does not take more time at all. As I say, except in new cases it does not even go to the Treasury.

One always feels that one can improve on particular drafting, but I think it would be quite unnecessary to attempt to improve this drafting. I think it might lead to undesirable effects if we appeared to be opening up once more the whole question of designation. The noble Earl will know perfectly well that there was a great deal of dissatisfaction over the line that was drawn in connection with which officers should be designated and which should not, as the result of the Overseas Service Act, in Central Africa in particular. Very tragic cases they were, which his Government had to deal with. Remember, we are repealing the Overseas Service Act. It is among a number of Acts in the Schedule that we are repealing. Therefore the present OSAS arrangements, as they are called, must be continued under the same conditions as in the past, otherwise all these folk will think they are going to have their cases reopened, which I think would give them a quite false hope. I am sorry about that. I am also sorry to have to resist the appeal of the noble Lord, Lord Reith. When I first read the Bill, I felt as he did. Having studied it carefully, and having heard the arguments from my officers, I am sure that they are right. I am sorry that I must advise your Lordships that it would be unwise and wrong to accept this Amendment.


I am most grateful to the noble Lord for having gone into the question so deeply. I begin to see his point, but I am not entirely happy about it at the moment. I sympathise considerably with what my noble friend Lord Selkirk said: that if one merely dropped the phrase "and no person shall be designated under such an agreement", in subsection (3), but kept in subsection (4) that might almost meet the point. Could the noble Lord give us his opinion on that?


I am speaking "off the cuff", but I think that we have to have subsection (3) because until that point we have no mention of designation at all. This is the lead-in to the matter of designation.


I wish the noble Lord would look at this again. He said that this was clumsy drafting, but can we not do something to improve it, even if it was Tory? The noble Lord went on to say that subsection (3) is qualified by subsection (4), but it is not in the least qualified by (4). I have suggested words which could qualify it. Are we going to repeat this indefinitely, because otherwise we might create some precedent which would upset everything? We are not anti-Treasury on this. I should have thought that the whole pur- pose of the Plowden Committee was to help the Treasury to do their essential task and not to be diverted by things which do not matter. The noble Lord has now described the process by which designation takes place, every word of which can come under subsection (4), and subsection (3) is therefore unnecessary. If I may say so, he is breaking the law quite specifically by not fulfilling the terms of subsection (3). I am sorry to press the noble Lord: I do not believe that we should allow sloppy legislation to go through. Our draftsmen should see whether they cannot make a little better job of it.


I am sorry, but I do not think that it is fair or right that I should give any hope on this one. I think that it would be wrong to start altering for the sake of attempting to achieve greater clarity here, because if we did we would be in grave danger of reopening all the appointments already made under these two subsections. These two subsections have been working very satisfactorily for the past four years. I think that I am right in saying that about 10,000 officers have been dealt with under them, and a number of officers—I could not give the number off-hand—have been excluded under these subsections. When noble Lords on the other side of the House were in power they had to be very firm about where they drew the line. Once we start altering the actual words of these two subsections, which are simply a replacement of existing law under which the past deeds were done, I think we shall be exposing ourselves to the possibility that all these people would feel that they were going to get something out of it, which they would not do. Although the phrasing is a little clumsy, it can be understood. I understand it perfectly well and it is understood perfectly by those who work it, and I believe it is understood by noble Lords. All subsections have to be taken together, one with another, and there is no question of illegality. Subsection (3) says: … no person shall be designated under such an agreement, except with the consent of the Treasury". But in fact that agreement can be given to a group of persons.


With respect, it does not say that.


There is no "but"; but it says that agreement can then be given to a group of persons. I do not think a draftsman is going to get it much better than that. I think that it would be very unwise to start altering it.


I am sorry that I cannot go all the way with the noble Lord on this. The most I can now do is to ask him whether we cannot have a Report stage on the Bill, and say that we reserve the right to raise the matter again on Report. I do not think that I should detain your Lordships any longer. I have stated the full case. The 1961 Act was drawn up before the Plowden Committee made its recommendations, and I, like the noble Earl, still think that it could be improved. I hope that it will be in order for me to retain the right to raise the matter on Report.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Remaining clause and Schedule agreed to.

House resumed.


My Lords, a Committee of the Whole House to whom was committed the Overseas Development and Service Bill have gone through the same and direct me to report it to your Lord-ships without Amendment.


My Lords, do I understand that this is the Report stage?


My Lords, I am now in a slight dilemma. I should now move, "That the Report be now received", but I gather that, if I do that, this is the Report stage. It was not my intention to deprive the noble Earl of any of his rights.


My Lords, there is no necessity, as I understand it, for the noble Lord to move that Motion if he does not choose to. If he is content that there should be a Report stage on another occasion, then, as I understand it, he merely stays in his place and does not move that particular Motion.


My Lords, I would ask that we should be given a little time to consider the matter further before the Report stage.


I am in the dilemma that I do not think that the noble Earl will do the slightest good by having a separate Report stage. I am sorry I cannot undertake anything. I will certainly think about it again, and he can move an Amendment on Third Reading.


I accept that.


My Lords, I now, after this somewhat odd interlude, beg to move that the Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Taylor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to: Report received accordingly.