HL Deb 21 December 1972 vol 337 cc1211-29

11.37 a.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill has two main features. The first is to enable Britain to pay direct to certain overseas pensioners their public service pensions benefits. These are at present wholly the responsibility of those developing countries which were formally British dependencies. This is the second stage of the policy of assuming responsibility for overseas public service pensions which was first announced by the previous Government on March 11, 1970, and endorsed by the present Government. At the moment, the overseas Governments pay the pensioners, and Her Majesty's Government, where we have concluded agreements, reimburse those Governments the cost attributable to pre-independence service. The second main purpose of the Bill is to enable the pensions schemes for overseas service contained in Acts of Parliament to be set out in non-statutory documents. This will give the same measure of flexibility as that accorded to the Civil Service pension scheme by the Superannuation Act 1972.

Clause 1 concerns the pensions of expatriate officers who served in Britain's former dependencies and, as I suspect noble Lords will be glad to know, the pensions of their widows and orphans. These expatriate officers of the Indian, Sudan and Colonial Services were not employed by the Government of the United Kingdom but were employees of the Governments of the overseas countries in which they served. Their pensions are governed by the public service pensions laws of the overseas countries. They are the responsibility of these Governments and are a charge on the local revenues of overseas countries.

My Lords, by 1970 it had become increasingly clear that there was a need for some change in the pensions position in order to take account of the representations both from the overseas countries, for whom the full cost of expatriate pensions was a somewhat heavy burden, and from the overseas pensioners themselves. Therefore, in 1970 the Government of the day announced their two-stage pensions takeover policy which at the time was widely welcomed. The first stage, the reimbursement to overseas Governments of the cost of pensions earned by expatriates through pre-independence service, is under way. To carry out the second stage we wish to negotiate agreements with those countries which were at one time or another dependencies of the United Kingdom. The British Government will then assume the responsibility for the award, administration and payment of certain pension benefits. We intend to seek the agreement of the overseas countries to extend this responsibility not merely to the element of pension that comes from pre-independence service but to the whole pension. This will include any element due to service after independence without however increasing Britain's financial liability beyond the cost of the pre-independence element of any pension. We propose that the overseas countries should keep financial responsibility, and they will, we believe, expect to meet the share due to service after independence.

The annual cost to Britain of the pre-independence elements of the pensions of all expatriate officers and their dependants will be about £13.5 million in 1973/74 and 1974/75. There will then be a gradual decline in annual expenditure reflecting the natural decrease in the number of pensions to be paid. As regards the final total cost of the takeover it is difficult to make an exact assessment. It is expected to be of the order of about £200 million over 50 years. In addition, we have so far waived almost £36 million of repayments of principal and interest on the compensation and commutation loans made to the overseas countries. Noble Lords will recall that when the policy was announced the House was informed that the total cost of these waivers, after arrangements had been made with all countries, would be £50 million.

The basic criteria for inclusion in these schemes are that an officer should be covered by the relevant public officers' agreement and that he should not on April 1, 1971 or on retirement, be a citizen of the country which awards the pension. The Government have, however, ensured that the terms of Clause 1 of this Bill have been drawn wide enough to allow a broader field of pensions for overseas service to be covered by the take-over arrangements if necessary. This will be of particular interest to those who I know are concerned for what are known (and it is an unattractive term) as overseas "quasi-governmental" pensioners. These are, as the House knows, the former expatriates, and their dependants, who served overseas in the employ of municipal corporations, nationalised industries, non-Governmental educational establishments and other public service institutions. They were not in overseas service under the Crown and were not persons for whom the Secretary of State had a special obligation such as he had to members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service. Although this Government, like their predecessors, have not accepted that these pensioners should qualify for pensions increases, when the Pensions (Increase) Act 1971 was being considered in another place, that Act included an additional enabling clause to give the Government power to bring these people within the scope of pensions increases. To this extent, therefore, Clause 1 of this Bill is comparable with Section 12 of the 1971 Pensions (Increase) Act.

The position of these overseas quasi-governmental pensioners is very complex and is one on which my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development has, I think, shown considerable understanding. A joint working party of officials of his administration and of the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association has studied each category of these pensioners against the Crown Service criterion for entitlement to pension increase, and we hope that they will report shortly. The Minister knows that the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association has shown concern on this question, and he understands also their apprehension that the proposed take-over arrangements might indirectly affect adversely the position of the quasi-governmental pensioners and their dependants. He has therefore assured the Association that he will review their position whenever necessary.

Earlier this year Parliament approved the Superannuation Act 1972, which was designed to remove the detail of public sector pensions schemes from Acts of Parliament. Therefore subsection (2) of Clause 1 and Clause 2 of this Bill will enable the Government to do the same for pensions schemes that are to be taken over from the overseas Governments, and also for schemes for public service overseas that are now in United Kingdom legislation. Instead of needing legislative authority for every variation of detail, however minor or technical, the schemes would be established in administrative documents and amended administratively. A copy of the scheme would of course have to be laid for the information of Parliament before it could come into effect. This is the method of operation approved for the Home Civil Service pensions.

The schemes which are listed in Schedule 1 to the Bill will, under subsection (3) of Clause 2, be deemed to be administrative schemes made under the powers of this Bill when it becomes law. Subsections (2)(c) and (2)(d) of Clause 2 deal with two categories of service in respect of which pensions have been awarded before on an ex gratia basis. The pensions of officials employed in the Central Office of the Overseas Audit service were provided formerly within the Officer's Departmental Regulations and financed by the Office's own revenue from the services it provided for overseas Governments. As the House knows, this office closed on December 31, 1971. Her Majesty's Government inherited its assets and therefore consider it right, in order to meet the liabilities, to make the cost of the pension benefits a charge on public expenditure. The cost is approximately £20,000 a year. The second category of awards that have before been ex gratia is that of benefits paid to or in respect of police who, while on exceptional overseas service, have been killed or incapacitated. Clause 2(2)(d) in no way affects the basic pensions provided under the Police Pensions Act, but it does relate to supplementary ex gratia awards to officers or to the dependants of officers killed or incapacitated in the course of overseas duty. The present cost is about £1,000 a year.

Clause 3, taken with Clause 1 and Clause 2, deals with supplementary provisions, and provides the powers which are needed for efficient day-to-day management of pensions schemes. This is a detailed clause and the House will have further opportunity to discuss its technicalities, but there is one aspect of Clause 3 which I think will be of interest to noble Lords. Subsection (4) of the clause allows schemes to be introduced with retrospective effect. Such provisions are already a feature of every overseas pensions scheme for which we propose to assume liability and to administer under Clause 1. I should like to assure the House that we shall consult pensioners' representatives on all major issues; indeed my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development has already consulted them about the contents of this Bill and they were assured that retrospection will be used only when it will be of advantage to those concerned—for example, to cover the gap between agreement on changes and the actual introduction of a scheme.

Clause 4 of the Bill is designed to overcome a technical difficulty. Pensioners whose overseas pensions costs are already being reimbursed by Her Majesty's Government, or whose pensions costs Her Majesty's Government are prepared to reimburse, and overseas pensioners whose pensions are governed by schemes set out in Acts of Parliament are entitled to United Kingdom supplements in accordance with the provisions of the Pensions Increase Act 1971. The terms of the Act as it stands now, however, would disentitle pensioners to pension supplements once the British Government began paying their pensions under Clause 1 or included them in an administrative document under Clause 2. Clearly, of course, this must not happen and therefore Clause 4 will ensure the continuation of their entitlement. Clauses 5 and 6 are standard clauses. Lastly, I think the Bill represents what one can call a turning point in the complex and at times sensitive pattern of relationship between the British Government, the independent Governments of former British dependancies and the expatriate officers who served those countries. I hope your Lordships will feel able to give the Bill your unreserved support. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie.)

11.50 a.m.


My Lords, the noble Baroness asked for our unreserved support for the Bill. While undoubtedly giving it a great measure of support, she will not be entirely surprised if she finds that there are certain aspects of our treatment of those who served this country abroad for many years which do not seem even now to be as satisfactory as we should like. Nevertheless, we are grateful for the noble Baroness's explanation of the Bill. When I first read it it seemed relatively simple, but when I read it again I found it less simple. Having listened to the noble Baroness, who spoke with great clarity, I have decided that it is even more complicated and that it will be necessary for me to read very carefully what she said. It is clear that the Bill is carefully articulated in order to meet a number of varying and different situations, and it cannot have been a very easy Bill to draft. I will not say that it is as tightly drafted as the European Communities Act, which we all know was brilliant and totally unintelligible, and this is one which we hope to find intelligible. Thus, my remarks will in no way be critical either of the noble Baroness or of the present Government because it is the responsibility of the British people, of Parliament and of successive Governments with which we are concerned.

We shall of course have an opportunity to pursue this matter in Committee, but I take it that powers are taken in the Bill to make pension arrangements, if the Government should be so persuaded, either for those who at the moment are not covered by an existing pension scheme or who, for one reason or another, are only partially covered. I was gratified by the fact that there appears to be explicit power to apply the principles which we have introduced into our own Public Service pensions in regard to updating arising out of legislation passed in the lifetime of the present Government and which they have generally acknowledged was largely conceived under the former Government. There is no disagreement between us on this point.

I want to take this opportunity to focus attention on one aspect, and I am only sorry that in raising this matter the noble Lord, Lord Trevelyan, who is at one with me on this issue, is not able to be present to-day, though he has said that I may speak with his full authority. Most of us are very proud of the history of British service to the old British Empire, but if there is one area where I feel we should perhaps show less pride, or where we are less entitled to show pride, it is in our treatment of those who served the causes of Empire and did so with great devotion and frequently at great risk. Those who served Empire included many expatriates, Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotsmen, and many people who entered the service of the Crown and worked, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so successfully and perhaps sometimes too paternalistically, with the overwhelming certainty among all of us that they did so with the highest sense of duty; and in doing their duty they were supported by many people who were indigenous to the countries where they were stationed.

It has always seemed to me that in our arrangements for terminating our obligations to the Empire we were less than generous to those who in fact carried those responsibilities when they were serving under the Crown. I have this very much in mind in regard to certain of the locally engaged servants of the Crown, and particularly—I make no apology for returning to a subject which has deeply concerned me, like my noble friend Lord Beswick and the noble Lord, Lord Trevelyan, for many years—our treatment of those who served the Crown in the old South Arabian Protectorate and in Aden. Of all the issues that confronted me in public life, one, about which I felt rather unhappy, about which my conscience was more engaged and about which I had a greater feeling that I failed and that the Government of which I was a member had failed, arose out of our treatment of those who, sometimes at great risk to themselves, carried on the responsibility of maintaining law and order and serving the community in a territory which was on its way to independence, an independence which we did not gladly allow then and which was to some extent wrung from us.

In nearly every case—there were some exceptions, particularly in Palestine—when Britain withdrew from Empire we entered into a complete agreement with the successor Government, having gone through all the normal processes of constituent assemblies and so on, and there was then a properly constituted Govern ment. In the case of South Arabia this was not so. We withdrew under conditions in which it was not possible to extract the sort of agreement we wanted from the successor Government, with whom we finally came to terms at the very last moment before we withdrew—indeed only a few hours before. We were not able to make the sort of public service agreement that we should have hoped for. We offered some aid on condition that pensions were picked up and the debt service maintained. The aid we provided for the first six months, on the basis of which we got our agreement, was more than adequate for that purpose and provided for the needs of a territory which, although I do not believe it had been exploited in the sense that we had taken great wealth out of it, had nevertheless been developed very much in the interest of Imperial communications.

I make no criticism whatever of British rule in South Arabia. The fact was, however, that a revolutionary Government took over and at the end of six months we offered aid which I am bound to say—and I speak with the full consciousness that I was a member of the Government who were responsible for this—was scarcely adequate to meet the requirements of debt or pensions. The result was that the South Yemeni Government, as it had become, never accepted this liability and never signed for it. If my memory serves me correctly—and I speak only from personal recollection—they never put pen to paper in this context. They ceased to make these payments and said that it was for the British Government to make them. In due course the British Government picked up the pay tabs not only of the expatriate civil servants, who included British and Indian civil servants, but, at a later stage, I am glad to say, those of the indigenous civil servants.

At the time when that decision was taken—I have been checking my original statements in the House—I was very glad that we were able to go that far, but we did nothing for either the South Arabian Army, the Aden Armed Police, the Protectorate Levies or the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion. The argument advanced on that occasion, and later advanced by the noble Baroness herself, was that their relationship was different from that of the Civil Service. That may have been true of the old Federal Army but it was certainly not true of the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion, which was led by a British officer but served by Bedouin officers whose relationship to the Crown was almost identical to that of the Aden and South Arabian Civil Service, whose pensions we are now paying.

My Lords, there has been some suggestion that one reason why pensions are not paid is that we were uncertain of the loyalty of some of the people who were involved in these Forces. But this, to my knowledge, was certainly not true of the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion. Such incidents as did take place were almost fortuitous and did not represent a general inconsistency with obligations both to the future successor régime and to the British Crown in the past. It is a matter of deep anxiety to me that there are people who served our country, and their own, in accordance with their duty and with oaths they had taken and who now receive no pension from anyone.

The successor Government which first took over from us showed signs of responsibility, but their leaders have long since disappeared from office. But it was of the nature of the successor Government that we could not reasonably, as sensible, politically informed people, expect them to pay such pensions, even though we might say that they had a moral obligation. The amount of money involved is not very large—it is less than we are already paying to the South Arabian Civil Service—but it is something which is deeply on the conscience not only of people like the noble Lord, Lord Trevelyan, Lord Beswick and myself, but of many British officers who served out there, some of whom themselves suffered injury during the troubles. They are deeply concerned and are continually struggling to try to obtain what they believe is justice for people for whom they had a responsibility and for whom they still feel they have a moral responsibility.

My Lords, on a Bill as technical as this one I must apologise for making what is something of an emotional appeal, but it is a matter on which I feel very strongly indeed and I set it against the general background of our withdrawal from Empire. I am very glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, is to speak as there are other aspects of recompense, of doing justice to those who served us in the past, which are unsatisfactory. I happen to have focused on one which is to me the most unsatisfactory of all. If, under this Bill, we were now able to persuade the Government—and the previous Government moved some way in the right direction and we were thankful we got that far—to make a more generous gesture, we should be able to feel that in a world in which, in politics and diplomacy, no country behaves quite as morally as it should, we had at least taken the just and moral decision. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage—although I should much rather not attempt to do this by Amendment—the Government will give consideration to this matter, because our feelings are very strong indeed. I have no doubt that we shall remove a blot from our Imperial record if we can put this right.

12.4 p.m.


My Lords, it is always an extreme pleasure to follow any speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the Leader of the Opposition. Before making a comment on some of the aspects of the speech which he has just made and with which I will deal in the very short speech which I am about to deliver, it is customary in your Lordships' House to declare an interest. I am a former overseas civil servant and in general terms I give my warm welcome to this Bill. I am also a council member of the Overseas Service Association. I should have received some papers from that Association to-day but they have not arrived. I know that my noble friend Lord Boyd of Merton is to speak later in this debate and so I will not deal in any great detail with any of the points which occur to me.

I am aware that the Association which I represent has been in negotiation with Her Majesty's Government on the subject of overseas pensions of former colonial officers. May I now express my appreciation not only of the attitude of the present Government in the sympathetic consideration with which the points that we have brought before them from time to time have been considered, but equally my appreciation for the understanding and sympathy with which our problems were dealt with by the former Administration, and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, the Leader of the Opposition.

In general terms, my Lords, it is a relief to overseas pensioners who qualify that Her Majesty's Government now assume full responsibility for the pensions formerly paid by overseas Administrations. But some of us feel some anxiety about this, the anxiety being that there should be no delay in the assumption of this responsibility. Can Her Majesty's Government say when they are likely to take over responsibility for these pensions? The noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, indicated that negotiations would have to take place before the responsibility was assumed. In thinking of some of these officers who gave service to the Crown, I have always been very much aware in political circles of the consideration (not in a political sense but in the wider sense) of responsibility to the Crown itself and for the consideration and sympathy—no matter what Party was in power—which was given to some of our difficulties.

May I say in conclusion in regard to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, that I have seldom heard a speech which indicated to me that we would get a fair deal given to us in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. There are some anomalies. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, has given an indication of where these difficulties lie. It is my hope that when we come to the Committee stage the Government will be able to bear in mind what the noble Lord has said and that we may do justice to some of these anomalies which at present exist.

12.9 p.m.


My Lords, I rise simply to support what was said by my noble Leader about the position of the South Arabian Security Forces. After the argument which he deployed and the persuasive way in which he spoke, it is almost an impertinence for me to add anything and I rise simply because I should feel ashamed of myself if I sat here and did not try to say something in support.

The noble Baroness said that we were trying to do what was right to those who had served us loyally, and I believe that she would agree—and most others here, I believe, would agree—that the loyalty of those in the South Arabian Forces was of a very special and indeed fierce character. It seems sad that somehow there has been this omission up to now. Of course the circumstances in which the transference of authority took place there was different in some respects from that of almost all other cases. There was inevitably a confusion and an unsatisfactory state of affairs so far as the pension arrangements were concerned. To a large extent we have now set right what were potentially injustices so far as the civil servants are concerned, and it is frankly difficult to see why there should be this discrimination as between the civil servants and those who served in the security forces.

My noble friend mentioned the point that has been raised about the so-called mutiny in the Crater, and he asked whether indeed it is true that this weighed in the decision to draw a distinction between the civil servants and the security forces. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to say that that has not been a factor. If it was, then clearly the most outrageous injustice has been done to some people. My noble friend indicated that there were those in the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion who had nothing to do with the situation in the Crater, but it is also a fact that there were many who were pensioned before that incident in 1967 took place and therefore could not possibly have been involved in it.

In any case, if there were instances of disloyalty—and I, frankly, knowing a little about these movements, would be surprised if there had not been certain individuals who were suspect—in so far as they were suspect, they are precisely the individuals who have been integrated into the present Republic; it is the loyal ones who are left out. I am hoping, therefore, that we shall be told that it will be possible, if the Bill becomes law, to see that justice is done. The numbers involved are not great; altogether I think there are certainly fewer than 400. I am absolutely certain that the noble Baroness would carry the whole House with her if she were able to say that the Government were going to look at this with the utmost sympathy.

12.12 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, must declare an interest. Though not an overseas pensioner, I had a lot to do with those whose lives were spent in service overseas, and I am now very proud to be the President of the Overseas Services Pensioners Association. Very near where we are meeting to-day, there is in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey a memorial to this Service: To all who served the Crown in the Commonwealth Territories. Whosoever will be chief among you let him be your servant. To-day, Her Majesty's Government, by this Bill, are enabling us to do something in return for the survivors of the Service that earned that fine tribute. So, like others, I am very grateful to tile noble Baroness for introducing this Bill to-day and for the manner in which she did it. I must also thank the Minister for Overseas Development and his officials for the care and consideration and courtesy they have always shown surviving pensioners, and this tribute extends equally to the late Administration.

I know that the noble Baroness recognises the urgent need to make the necessary arrangements as soon as possible and to take over these pensions at the earliest possible date. There have been many heart-rending cases of acute anxiety and distress, especially over widows' pensions, because of delays in the overseas territories authorising payments. There can surely have been few occasions in our Commonwealth history when it is more true to say, "He gives twice who gives soon ".

In welcoming this Bill, I know the noble Baroness will not be surprised if, like other speakers—may I say here that I agree throughout with what the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Beswick, have said—I make a few comments of a more critical kind. We are very grateful indeed for this Bill, but, adapting the maxim of de la Roche-foucauld, I can say the gratitude is a lively sense of favours to come.

The noble Baroness referred to the subject of my first plea. I hope we shall together succeed in getting the Government to take over responsibility for the pensions of those who, or whose husbands, were regarded during their service as in the same position as overseas officers but none the less are now held not to have been directly employed by an overseas Government, and whose pensions were not, therefore, covered by Public Officers Agreements. I have in mind, among others, those on the expatriate staff of the Nigerian College of Arts, Science and Technology. I was, as Secretary of State, very closely associated with many of these; and indeed I am concerned, too, about their widows. I think it is true to say that retired officers excluded from the take-over are in just as dangerous a position as their widows may be.

I mention these pensioners first as their particular scheme is not a funded one. They were recruited on terms laid down by local ordinance and approved by the Secretary of State of the day. This scheme stipulated that they should receive pensions payable by the Federal Government of Nigeria identical to those payable to Government officers. Up to now the Nigerian Government has made no distinction between these pensions and those payable to retired Government officers. All have in fact been provided for as one lump sum in the annual estimates and paid on the same terms. When Her Majesty's Government, and I hope soon, reach agreement with the Federal Government of Nigeria under this Bill the position will change. Her Majesty's Government will accept the obligation to pay pensions to retired Government officers, but this will leave the Nigerian Government to pay the pensions of a handful of retired staff of this Nigerian college. The result may be that in not taking them over the British Government might be thought to be indicating that they do not regard them as our concern.

Hitherto the bulk of pensions paid to expatriates of the Nigerian Government have been covered by the draft Public Officers Agreement. I remember spending a great deal of time over the predecessor drafts of that Agreement. Although the Federal Government failed in the end to sign the Agreement, Her Majesty's Government have treated it as binding, and the handful, therefore, of college pensioners have been in practice sheltered by this commitment. Once the Nigerian Government is only paying expatriate pensions not covered by the Agreement, Her Majesty's Government will, we understand, have no standing to intervene on their behalf.

The same dangers arise in the case of widows of the college staff. Their husbands were required by law to contribute to the Nigerian Widows and Orphans Pension Scheme, which is unfunded; that is, the contributions were taken into revenue and payments have been paid out of revenue. The pensions payable to these widows are payable under the same Ordinance and are in all respects identical to those paid to widows whose husbands were directly employed by Her Majesty's Government. I believe this is a case which demands urgent reconsideration.

I will not detain the House long, but there are two other issues to which I want to draw the attention of the House. There is another case also of these quasi Government pensioners, like those who worked at Achimota College in Ghana. Theirs is a funded scheme, in their case the anxiety concerns supplementary pensions. I know on other occasions Ministers both of this and the previous Government have had their attention drawn to this matter. When I was Secretary of State for the Colonies I felt I had inherited the obligations assumed when the Achimota College Ordinance was published as long ago as 1930. In it the staff of this university were—and here I quote: … deemed to be Government officers for the purposes of the (then) Gold Coast Pensions Ordinance". These people served under the Governor of the then Colony. For pension purposes they were under the Gold Coast Pensions Ordinance. They had the same leave conditions and were administered and treated in exactly the same way. One of the obvious reasons for this was that the then Colonial Government wanted to be able to transfer people between Government Departments and Achimota, with continuity of rights as regards salaries and pensions. Yet now we have got the very strange and unfair position that those appointed to the College before April 1, 1930, qualify for the United Kingdom supplement, but those appointed after that date do not. I think that there are only about 12 people con- cerned, and one is very well known to me. He was apppointed in August, 1931, and does not receive the supplementary pension. I very much hope that my noble friend will undertake to look again into this anomaly.

Finally, may I join with the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Beswick, in regard to the situation arising out of our departure from Aden and the Protectorates. Her Majesty's Government are now rightly paying the pension of retired South Arabian civil servants and members of the Aden civil police, but I join with the noble Lords opposite in being very anxious indeed about our failure to do the same for the retired officers of the security forces. The noble Lord mentioned them, and I would repeat that they made a major contribution during our years of authority. They include the Federal Regular Army—formerly the Aden Protectorate Levies—the Hadhrami Bedouin Legion, the Aden Armed Police, and the Federal Guard. It seems to me that we have a real obligation to these people, and I can never get out of my own recollection the immense ceremony, over which I had the honour to preside, when what became, unhappily, the short-lived Arab Emirates of the South was forged in consultation with the people of the territories concerned. I too hope that Her Majesty's Government will find an opportunity to include these worthy people in the same treatment now accorded to others under this Bill. Needless to say, I share the anxieties expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, about the position of very many indigenous people who gave loyal and courageous service to the Crown. I recognise that this is a great issue, and it is one that I trust we shall return to until some remedy can be found. I thank once more the noble Baroness for her speech, and I give the Bill my warmest possible support.

12.23 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, who, if I may say so, made a most moving speech. I liked the way he said that it is of course really the responsibility of the British people and Parliament if we wish to extend the pensions arrangements in any way. He asked me first of all whether there were powers in this Bill to give pensions to those who are not at the moment covered, or those who are only partially covered. I can assure him that such powers exist under Clause 1 of the Bill.

The noble Lord quite rightly gave considerable time to the vexed question, which arose during his period of office in 1970, of pensions to the South Arabian Protectorate and Aden. I well remember having to answer a Question on this subject, and having to go back through some very interesting papers covering a period of time. The noble Lord, Lord Beswick, also referred to this, as indeed did the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton. I would only remind the House that of course the South Yemen Government has never accepted the full responsibility for South Arabian expatriate and local pensions. That was why the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that Her Majesty's Government were prepared to make loan advances in lieu of pensions; but at that time—and it is still the case to-day—it related only to the South Arabian civil servants and the Aden civil police.

The question I am really being asked is whether the Government will consider extending these arrangements to those members of the security forces who do not at present enjoy them from Her Majesty's Government. All I should like to say at this moment is that Ministers are looking very carefully into this problem. I would not, and indeed cannot, prejudge this situation because, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, knows from his own experience, this is an extremely difficult matter. But I should like to assure the House that the Bill now before us does not prejudice this case. It will still be possible for us to make loan advances to all kinds of public servants—civil and also, if we decide so, military—who were eligible for pensions in South Arabia.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness, so that there is no misunderstanding? She speaks of loan advances. She knows, and I think I know, but the public do not necessarily know, that the Government, when making these loans, never attempt to reclaim them from the indi- viduals concerned. To that extent they are as near a grant as they could be. Although the Government may wish, for some diplomatic or political or other reason, to reclaim their loans, it might be simpler if we were able to find a term more consistent with the realities.


My Lords, of course all Governments live in hope that perhaps successor Governments may take on these responsibilities, and therefore the noble Lord will no doubt have noted that in Clause 1(1) Her Majesty's Government assume responsibility; but the clause does not say that these responsibilities are transferred, which is a nice distinction. It is perfectly true that Her Majesty's Government do not—in fact never have been able to—ask for the repayment of such loan advances because the Governments concerned have in fact repudiated their responsibilities. However, we are always full of hope for the future. Therefore I should like to leave this particular matter by saying that Ministers are looking at the situation, but I will not prejudge any decision. I realise very well the deep and personal concern felt by many noble Lords in this House.

The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, asked me when Her Majesty's Government will take over responsibility for pensions. I do not think that I can give him a direct answer, because there is a very large task ahead of the Government, involving negotiations with more than 30 independent Governments. Some are able to come to a conclusion much faster than others and therefore I am afraid that I cannot possibly give him a definite time scale. But certainly we shall do our best to hurry it up.

I was very glad to see the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, speaking in his capacity as President of the Overseas Services Pensioners' Association because, if I may say so, I know how much they appreciate the great work he has done on these matters. He referred in particular, in this awful term of quasi-governmental pensioners, to the question of the Nigerian college and also the Ghana college. The pension position does not change here, because the fact is that they were not, and are not, Crown service pensioners. Nevertheless, as I sought to explain in introducing the Bill, power is taken under Clause 1 to extend these pensions if a policy decision is made on this matter. There are only two things I should like to say in connection with it; the first is that any action we take in relation to other overseas pensioners will in no way alter the position of those who remain the responsibility of overseas Governments. I feel that I must say that. Their pensions will remain subject to overseas pensions legislation, and the British Government will continue to look at their interests on a consular basis.

Widows' and orphans' pensions not taken over by the British Government will not be prejudiced by our proposals. I think, as I have already said, that their legal entitlements and financial coverage are in no way being changed. So may I repeat again, that, as I think the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, knows, my right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development has already given the Overseas Services Pensioners' Association an absolute assurance that, throughout the takeover exercise, he will take any action which he feels is necessary to preserve the position of (to use the technical term) the overseas quasi-governmental pensioners. I think my right honourable friend understands the concern and the difficulty connected with this subject, and he will do his best.

Finally, may I thank all those who have taken part and say that I hope that, although there are naturally some points which are of concern to noble Lords who have spoken, they will feel that the Bill as a whole is worthy of a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.