HL Deb 08 May 1973 vol 342 cc258-65

[References are to Bill 75 as first printed for the Commons]

Clause 2, page 3, line 7, leave out paragraph (e).


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendment. When we last considered this Bill, I undertook to convey to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the very strong feelings on all sides of this House that had led to the addition of Clause 2(2)(e), the clause providing for payment of pensions to former members of the South Arabian Security Forces. This I did, and, as the noble Lords who have followed the fortunes of this Bill in another place will have gathered, an exhaustive study of the subject took place in the following weeks. As a result, the Government decided that they were prepared, on grounds of hardship, to make the same arrangements for former members of the South Arabian Security Forces as already existed for civil pensioners of the South Arabian Forces. My right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development announced this decision in another place on April 18, and, with your Lordships' permission. I will repeat the relevant part of his announcement. He said: …we are prepared to make ex gratia loan advances with effect from April 1, 1973, to bring payments up to the level of pensions due for service given up to November 30, 1967. The Government have taken this step to try to alleviate the hardship suffered by individual pensioners. It in no way changes the Government's view that responsibility for these pensions rests properly with the Government of the People's Democratic Republic of the Yemen. I expect the annual cost to be between £100,000 and £200,000, and a Supplementary Estimate will be presented later. In general these arrangements will apply to all entitled officers, but I must make it clear that the Government reserve the right to deny a loan advance in any case where we are satisfied that there was disloyalty to the former British Administration. My right honourable friend went on to explain that the Government already had power to make these loan advances without the inclusion of Clause 2(2)(e) that it was therefore unnecessary to retain it in the Bill, and that, more importantly, its retention would breach the principle that that legal responsibility for these pensions rested with the Government of the People's Democratic Republic of the Yemen. The Government's announcement was warmly welcomed by Members of the other place, who then agreed to delete Clause 2(2)(e) from the Bill. Your Lordships will be pleased to know that we have already taken action to establish the administrative procedures for making these payments. Officials of the Overseas Development Administration are now in Aden arranging to obtain the necessary evidence of entitlement.

So far as the Bill is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said in this House at the Third Reading on February 20 that his Amendment was probably not satisfactory and implied that its purpose was to secure an undertaking from the Government to help these pensioners. The Government are persuaded that those who deserve our financial assistance should get it, and I therefore hope that noble Lords will agree that the purpose of the Amendment has been achieved and that it would be undesirable, for the reasons I have stated, to retain Clause 2(2)(e) in the Bill.

Moved, That this House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(Baroness Tweedsmir of Belhelvie.)

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, I personally am grateful, and I have no doubt that other noble Lords will feel the same, for the Government's capitulation in this matter. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, but I do not see—and I am sorry to be ungracious—any thanks going to the Government for their handling of this matter. The noble Baroness told us that the Government had undertaken to reconsider the matter after the decision taken in this House. She then went on to refer to the announcement that was made in another place, but I am bound to say it was a little disingenuous not to mention the fact that the Government had in fact suffered another defeat on this very point by the expressed views of Parliament, both here and in Standing Committee in another place, where the Government in fact attempted to delete this Amendment without giving an undertaking and argued strongly against making these payments. Thanks very largely to the brilliant advocacy of my honourable friend Mr. Ivor Richard and the support he had throughout the Committee, including Conservative Members, the Government were beaten and gave in. I think that this is a measure over which Parliament as a whole can feel some satisfaction. In this matter we have met the obvious wishes of Parliament that promises solemnly entered into regarding payments to members of the Hadrami Beduin Legion should be honoured. After making comments which I fear are rather less gracious than I should have liked to make, I think this is a matter of great satisfaction to your Lordships' House.

There are only two points I should like to make now. First of all, as I understand the Government are now proposing—this is the phrase which is used—to "top up" pensions, I presume they will pay the pensions on the same basis as is used for the Civil Service. I will not pursue this point, but I can foresee further difficulties for the Government in the formula they have used in this matter.

Secondly, it should also be noted that there is apparently no question of making any back payments of pensions. To that extent, the members of the South Arabian Forces who are now going to receive these loans—and I fully accept that this is the only way to proceed, and it is the way in which we proceeded—will receive them only from 1973. Though I am glad that the Government have moved so quickly in order to set up administrative arrangements, I think it is a pity that they are not making back payments. Nevertheless, I accept there is a certain rationality about their actions and that they are attempting apparently to alleviate the hardship. However, many of these people—and there are some who have been almost penniless, having used up all their savings—could have benefited very much from the payment of back pensions. I wish that even here we had been a little more generous.

I have previously expressed the view that in some respects the record of this country in regard to those who served us in Empire has not been as generous as one might have wished; and I received support in this respect from several Members of your Lordships' House, including the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, and my noble friend Lord Segal, who also wished that we had taken a more generous view of our obligations to those who served us so faithfully, often at risk to their wives and families. Nevertheless, I would now recommend the House to accept the Commons Amendment. The Amendment which I put down was not drafted with the intention that it should remain as a permanent part of the Bill. As the noble Baroness said, it was done to enable us to raise the matter; but it seems to have served its purpose rather better than many better-drafted Amendments.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has just said. This is a most agreeable way of expressing thanks to the many Colonial Servants for the work they undertook. There was some obligation to local officers overseas who gave us so much faithful service. I would not care to go into quite so much detail as was given by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, concerning the procedures which occurred in another place, but I am most grateful to the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs for the speech she has just made; and I am grateful to the Government for now having accepted the need to honour these obligations, as I consider them to be.

There is, however, one other matter which impresses itself upon my mind at this time; namely, that this Bill originated in your Lordships' House, and after the powerful speeches that were made here it went to another place. I have only just had the opportunity of reading some of the speeches made there, but in general it seemed to me that what we had set out received general support in that place and, going back just a little into the history, when one realises that the whole of this issue was raised by a former administrative officer in Aden, who took up the case of these local officers, I cannot help feeling that this is democracy working in just the way the British people would like to see it working.

I emphasise that point in the few remarks I have to makeֵ We are grateful to the Government for the decision they have taken. I take that point. But I feel there is great force in what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has said regarding the back-dating of these pensions to 1971. Only a few officers are involved—possibly something in the region of 103 or 104 former members of the Armed Forces of the Crown. If we could do that I should consider, as I said on Second Reading, that we shall have discharged our obligations with honour.


My Lords, in view of the Government's categorical statement that the responsibility for payment of these pensions ought to rest on the People's Democratic Republic of the Yemen, would not the Government now feel that an obligation rests upon them once again to direct the attention of the Government of the Yemen to this fact and give the widest possible publicity to that Government's reply.


My Lords, I want to make one point for myself about this matter which my noble friend my noble Leader knows that I feel. I am not sure that when we were the Government we were as committed in this respect as he thinks we were. I am not sure that the Labour Government's original position was as vulnerable as it has been made out to be, because it is difficult here to identify those who loyally served and those who disloyally served. It should be said that some of us think that a number of the latter will receive payments in this way as well as a number of the former, and I do not believe that we ever committed ourselves as a former Government so far as we pretended. But none the less I am willing to go along with what has been said.

I should like to put to the noble Baroness a question which nobody else has asked. I would have thought that many other Members of your Lordships' House more legally qualified than I would have put the question: Why is this to be in the form of a loan payment? Unless there is some special meaning to the term "loan", it is a payment to be repaid. I am sure that my noble Leader knows why it is put in that way—indeed, he so indicated—but it seems odd to me, if we are genuinely fulfilling a genuine commitment which we genuinely believe we have, to pay people a pension for ever, Amen, that we should call it a loan. Would the noble Baroness please enlighten me.


My Lords, may I have the leave of the House to clarify a point? I cannot speak again, but under the rules I may clarify a point, no new matter being introduced. I referred to the promise. There is no doubt that those officers—and they were unanimous—who were there made such a promise. I have satisfied myself, and I am sure that the noble Baroness can do so, that there is a record that they were authorised to do it by the Foreign Office.


Not by the Foreign Secretary.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, if there is no further clarification required on points already made perhaps I could thank all noble Lords who have spoken and answer the points that they have put forward. First of all, the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, talked about the topping up of pensions. He will remember that the loans are a topping up payment to add to what the People's Democratic Republic of the Yemen are paying to bring the total up to the pension level due. He also asked why it was not possible to pay these pensions—


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness? She referred on the last occasion to the announcement that I made previously with regard to the civil servants. We did not then speak about topping up; it was a loan, and I fully accept that. I think she may wish to leave the topping up point, and I will pursue that further with her later. It is an unfortunate phrase.


But, my Lords, I think it was the noble Lord who first used the phrase about topping up.


Would the noble Baroness tell me when I used that phrase.


My Lords, the noble Lord used the phrase—and I know the House will endorse this—in his opening remarks, not in his clarification, and I wrote the words down. He used the phrase to top up pensions, and that is why I wrote the words down. When the noble Lord looks at Hansard he will see he did in fact use this phrase. He also asked about not just paying the loan advances as from April 1, 1973, but about retrospection. Retrospection was not given earlier when loan advances were made to the Aden pensioners in 1970, nor in 1971 to the Zanzibar pensioners. My right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development explained in another place that payments are intended to relieve hardship now and in the future. That is why we have down the starting date from April 1 1973.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was not as generous in his thanks as was my noble friend Lord Gridley. It is perfectly true that the Government did indeed suffer a defeat in both Houses of Parliament, but they have, after all, taken into account the expressed wish of Parliament as a whole. My noble friend Lord Gridley was quite right to point out that this Bill started in this House; and it was because the expression of opinion among your Lordships was so firm on this matter that the defective Amendment was left in the Bill as a marker to those in another place who would be considering this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Segal, asked me whether we would make clear to the Government of the Yemen that it was still their responsibility to pay these pensions. I can assure him and the House that we shall certainly do this. Two officials from the Overseas Development Department will stay in Aden for about two or three months to try to receive and process applications from pensioners and security forces.

The noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, said that he felt that the Government's original position—that was the Labour Government of the day—was not so vulnerable as it had been made out to be. He mentioned in particular the question of disloyalty. It is difficult now to assess what was the feeling in Parliament at the time, but as my right honourable friend has said—and I should like to repeat it—if after this period of time he can find any evidence of disloyalty through the normal processes of an application for a loan advance, he must reserve the right to withhold the payment until we are satisfied that it should be paid. We had a long discussion about this point in an earlier stage. Lastly, the noble Lord asked me why we were paying this in the form of loan advances, which theoretically must be repaid, and not in fact in the form of pensions. This is because, as we have always stressed—it has already previously been stressed—the principle of the legal responsibility for pensions rests with the Government of the People's Democratic Republic of the Yemen. I stress that once again. I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate, and I am happy that your Lordships feel that we should now delete the paragraph.

On Question, Motion agreed to.