HL Deb 18 March 1970 vol 308 cc1134-7

2.47 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement about pensions for indigenous public servants in Southern Yemen.]


My Lords, I apologise for the length of this Answer, but since this is the last of the Starred Questions on the Order Paper to-day this is perhaps the appropriate place to make a Statement on this subject. In the view of Her Majesty's Government, responsibility for the payment of pensions to public servants in Southern Yemen rests with the Government of that country. However, the circumstances in which Southern Yemen became independent in 1967 were such that it was not possible at the time, and has not been possible since then, to conclude a Public Officers' Agreement such as is normally reached when a dependency becomes independent. The Southern Yemen Government has never acknowledged responsibility for public service pensions, and payment of the great majority of them has been discontinued by that Government. Her Majesty's Government, therefore, are already paying the pensions of expatriate civil servants by way of ex gratia loan advances. Having regard to all the circumstances and having carefully considered the situation, the Government have decided that so far as concerns indigenous pensioners of the civil administration and civil police they are prepared to make ex gratia loan advances equivalent to the amount of pensions due with effect from April 1, 1970, in respect of service given up to November 30, 1967. In taking this step to alleviate hardship to individual pensioners, Her Majesty's Government in no way modify their view that responsibility rests with the Government of the Southern Yemen.

The estimated cost of the necessary loan advances in the coming financial year is £430,000, and a Supplementary Estimate will be presented in due course. Meanwhile, advances will be sought from the Civil Contingencies Fund.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that very welcome statement, may I ask him whether it means, in effect, that the indigenous civil servants will receive the amount equivalent to their pensions and will not be led to believe that they have at some time in the future to repay these loan advances?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who has been as concerned as I have to assist in seeing that these people should have pensions. I understand that there still remains a claim against the Government of the country concerned but that it would be contrary to practice for Her Majesty's Government to seek to have the loan repayed by the individual pensioner. In other words, these people are being paid their pensions by Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord for that very welcome statement, may I ask him if he realises that it will be a source of great satisfaction to all those who have served in South Arabia when they see that justice is being done to those who have served us in the past?


My Lords, while welcoming the action of the Government in this matter, may I ask whether any subsidy or financial assistance is at present being given to the Government of Southern Yemen; and, if so, whether this payment, which ought to be made by the Yemeni Government, will be deducted from any financial assistance which Her Majesty's Government are now giving?


My Lords, I would not wish to comment on the particular type of conclusion to which the noble Lord is coming, but I would say that no financial aid at all is being granted to Southern Yemen at the moment. May I add, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Trevelyan, that it is certainly a matter of satisfaction, and it is noteworthy that the British civil ser- vants who served in South Arabia, some of whom either lost their lives or were severely injured, all felt that it was right that these payments should be made.


My Lords, may I ask whether this decision has been reached with the complete collaboration of the Southern Yemen Government, and also whether it applies to the Indian civil servants who have since retired from Southern Yemen and who live in some other part of the world?


My Lords, to take the last part of the question first, I referred in my main statement to expatriate civil servants. So that there should be no doubt, I should add that "expatriate" is not confined only to British civil servants; Indians are already, I understand, having their pensions paid. It will be for Her Majesty's Government, through the Embassy, to make such arrangements as are necessary with the Southern Yemen Government; but it will be our intention to see that these pensions are paid. Of course, the Southern Yemen Government are being informed of what is proposed. Indeed I think that by now they will already have been informed.


My Lords, can my noble friend give an indication of the number of persons affected by this latest generous concession on behalf of our Government?


About 800, my Lords.


My Lords, in welcoming what my noble friend has said, and expressing appreciation of his personal concern in reaching this decision, may I ask what is the difference between Southern Yemen and other colonial territories about which we welcomed a statement this week that pensions are to be paid? Why is it that in this case it should be made a loan rather than a permanent grant?


My Lords, the decisive difference is that we have never negotiated a Public Officers' Agreement with the Southern Yemen Government. Having worked through the night and having spent the best part of 24 hours in trying to negotiate an agreement at the time that we were withdrawing from Aden, I must make it clear that they never did accept or acknowledge responsibility. I will not go into the rights and wrongs of the matter. This is the important difference between Southern Yemen and every other territory where in fact such agreements were negotiated. I do not think that I will comment further on the loan point: the noble Lord, whose interest I am aware of, will understand it well enough.