HL Deb 22 July 1965 vol 268 cc898-902

3.31 p.m.

Read 3a (according to Order).

Clause 2 [Power to meet expenses incurred in connection with employment in overseas territories]:

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: My Lords, your Lordships must forgive me for moving this Amendment again on Third Reading. I will not go into all the arguments again about why we think that these words should be omitted. Briefly, we consider that the requirement that the consent of the Treasury should be obtained to the designation of individual officers is wrong in principle, especially since the Plowden Report, accepted as it was by Parliament after the 1961 Act came into force, was critical of this kind of candle-ends economy.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, himself admitted that on first looking at the words he felt rather as we did, and that up to a point they contradicted subsection (4) and were, perhaps, rather clumsy. It will be seen that in order to try to reach a compromise the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, and I have today put down only one of our Amendments, that which concerns subsection (3). I think it only right that I should say again, as we did during the Committee stage discussions, that while we are now prepared to allow subsection (4) to stand, we are not happy about the arguments used by the noble Lord in resisting the first Amendment, that which we have put down again to-day. It seems to me to make no sense to suggest that by altering the wording of this Bill by excluding the words in question we should be providing an excuse for reopening all the hundreds of cases of designation and non-designation which have already been settled. This, of course, could happen whatever wording was put in. Unless things have changed a great deal during the last seven months, since the present Government have been in power, I believe that there must still be a steady stream of personal cases coming up in which officers who were not designated are trying to argue that the decision should be reversed. Surely the Minister is strong enough to maintain the present position, if that is what the Government think right, without having to hold a Treasury hand in the background.

With all respect—and I do respect the noble Lord, Lord Taylor—I think that his arguments so far have not been very strong on this point. As I see it, the real justification for the Treasury veto over individual cases in the 1961 legislation was that designation in this context was a new venture into completely uncharted seas, and since there were many thousands of officers who would come into consideration, the position in a single individual case might have set a precedent which would have to be followed for a really large number of people and might therefore cost a great deal of money. The position to-day is completely different. The main precedents have already been set and stoutly defended, and are well-established. The number of new cases could be only a handful compared with what has gone before. This point is made clear in the Explanatory Memorandum which indicates the relatively small amount of extra expenditure that is intended to be covered.

For these reasons, and for the reasons carefully stated during the Committee stage, we feel that we must again register our disagreement with the clause as it stands. We believe that what is at stake is largely a technical and drafting point, and your Lordships might have been able to improve the Bill considerably had the noble Lord been a little more sympathetic to our arguments. I do not want to divide the House on a relatively minor issue of this kind, I would much rather the noble Lord himself offered to accept our Amendment or, at least, was prepared to propose an alternative. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, I I think that it would be sensible to leave out the words suggested, it would make the Bill much more logical and remove the criticism of lack of principle. As it stands, it is undoubtedly clumsy. The interesting thing which emerged on Report stage was that almost certainly the Treasury are in breach of the law in not observing subsection (3). I do not know whether there is any system for surcharging the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury, but it is clear that they are not observing the section. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said that it would not make a great deal of difference if we did remove the words. For these reasons, I think it sensible to make the Bill a little better. The danger the noble Lord fears, that someone somewhere may misunderstand the intention is a very thin argument.


My Lords, I am very sorry that I cannot accept the Amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, much as I should like to do so. The reasons I set out in some detail on a previous occasion. The noble Earl says that the main precedents are already set and that the new situation will apply only to a handful of cases. That is not so; there will be a large number of cases under the new conditions, which are that there will be agreements with bodies other than Governments; that is, universities, local authorities, public corporations and so on. This is really quite a new situation.


But not so many as there were in the past.


Not so many as there were in the past; but a very substantial number. The whole object is to help the expatriate employees of these bodies, and there are already a considerable number of such employees. Quoting from memory, I think that the additional expenditure referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum rises to £1½ million, and if I remember rightly, the average amount of assistance would be of the order of £1,000 per case; so the assumption at once is that there might be up to 1,500 cases, which is certainly not a handful of cases.

The noble Lords want to leave in that the agreement shall be subject to Treasury consent, but to withdraw Treasury consent from the designation. In fact, the expenditure of money will arise under the designation and not under the agreement. The agreement will be the initial process with the university or other public body. It will be when it comes to making the actual designation of types of officer or individual officer who is to get the money that the expenditure will arise. That is the reason why it does not really make sense to accept the Amendment.

Moreover, if we accept the noble Earl's Amendment to do a half of what he proposed to do before, that would leave undone the other half and we are then in the position of putting no requirement at all in the Bill for Treasury consent to designation, because it will be purely an optional consent. Clause 4 qualifies Clause 3 and it is not right to say that the Treasury has been acting illegally and in breach of the law. Although when I first read the clause I had difficulty in understanding the sense of it, I think it is clear that this must be so. As the noble Earl knows well, it has worked satisfactorily. It was drawn up by his Government. We have already designated officers and we do not want to raise their hopes again by altering the terms under which they are designated. For all these reasons, I am sorry that I must resist the Amendment, although I should have liked to help if I could.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for taking it in that spirit and for the further information about the number of officers likely to be designated in future, which is rather more than I expected, although I must admit that I still think subsection (4) makes sense on its own. It says: The consent of the Treasury to the designation of any person under such an agreement may be given generally in respect of persons et cetera. I should have thought that that would cover the whole thing. But I do not wish to press the noble Lord on this. He has been very good about giving us this further information. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Taylor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to and Bill passed accordingly.