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Clause 3—(Officers, Remuneration And Expenses)

Volume 640: debated on Wednesday 10 May 1961

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

We are not entitled to discuss the main item in the Clause, the salary of the Secretary of the new Department, because we have already passed a Financial Resolution to that effect, but we have an opportunity to ask about the provision of the officials of the new Department, because we propose to empower the Secretary for Technical Co-operation to appoint them. At what level will the chief official of the new Department be appointed? He will not be the permanent secretary of a major Government Department, but although he may have to be given some other title, will he be appointed at that level? I hope so. I hope that the level intended is high and that the appropriate salary for that level will be paid.

I very much wish that the salaries of Ministers were higher than the salaries of their senior officials, but we do not propose to debate that now. We have got into a very bad state in these matters in recent years. I hope that the new Minister will be given full authority to appoint an official of high rank and under him two or three, or whatever may be thought the appropriate number of pensions, of second secretary rank. This is vital for a Department which is not a major Department. I have had some experience of this, because I was the last Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade. One of the reasons why the Government of the day decided to abolish the Department of Overseas Trade was that we thought that a minor Department of this kind, albeit a separate Department, whose head was responsible to two other senior Ministers, did not attract the highest quality of civil servant or, if it did, those high-flying people stayed in the Department for only a short time. They moved out of it as quickly as they could and went to the Treasury, the Board of Trade, or the Foreign Office, naturally seeking the best opportunities for the use of their talents and the glittering rewards which are sometimes available for high officials in these great Departments of State.

I hope that the Financial Secretary can assure us that it is intended to appoint to this post persons of high standing and to provide such remuneration as will enable the new Department continually to attract persons of high quality and not such a low remuneration as will tempt the best people in the Civil Service either to avoid the Department or to get out of it quickly and go to the major Departments if they can.

Continuing what my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) has said, I want to ask two questions. First, can we have an assurance that to some extent the whole status of the Department will be kept under review? As the Earl of Perth said in another place, this is a beginning in an entirely new field. Can we have an assurance that if it develops the Minister will be upgraded and the status will come up to what we think it should be initially, namely, that of a full Minister outside the Cabinet? It may be impossible to give this assurance now, but I hope that the Government will bear it in mind. We feel, especially with the prospect which the Financial Secretary has opened up this evening, that this will be quite an important Ministry. The post should be upgraded later if that proves to be the case.

Secondly, will the Minister keep a fairly open mind in the matter of bringing in technical experts—economists and others —from outside? This is a very thorny problem in Government Departments. No civil servant with technical training likes to feel that he is being pushed aside by economists and others brought in from outside. I do not mean to imply that this should be either a rule or something which is done on a large scale. Can we have an assurance that in this rather specialised field, where people outside the ranks of the Civil Service may be anxious to devote a part of their lives to help to develop the new service, the Minister will be able if he wishes to recruit one or two specialist staff to help the Department get under way? That will give the new Department an impetus which will be very welcome in the country as a whole.

Following what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) has said, I suggest that people should be recruited also from the various Commonwealth countries.

I endorse what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney). How does the Financial Secretary visualise that the new Department will be formed? How will its officers be recruited? Is it intended merely to have contact with the Departments already associated with this work—for instance, the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office, and so on—or will there be some type of advertisement by which personnel in other Departments will be encouraged to apply for work of this kind?

This is a new Department, and a new departure, and it is obvious that there are civil servants in other Departments who will wish to take part in this new adventure, as it were, and who will, indeed, have special talents for the work. It would be rather unfortunate if, after the new Minister has been appointed, the chief establishment officer merely allowed a few civil servants to go from one or two of the Departments already associated with this type of work. I hope that some opportunity will be given to those in Departments outside the three mentioned so that those civil servants who wish—who, perhaps, have special skills for the work—may have an opportunity to go into the new Department.

I should like to follow up the interesting question just asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele). We were greatly encouraged when the Minister said that he saw the work of this Department on a more imaginative and substantial scale than had initially appeared to us on Second Reading. We were particularly encouraged when he spoke of seeing the staffing of the Department in terms of about a thousand people, but I am not sure how that statement squares up with what is said in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum.

After stating the salary of the Minister, the last paragraph of that Memorandum states:
"Broadly speaking, the expenses of the new Department on the provision of technical assistance and on the remuneration of its officers and servants will be in place of corresponding expenditure by the Foreign Office, the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Colonial Office, and the Bill does not involve (other than incidentally) any net increase."
I hope that will not turn out to be the case, but that the Minister will take encouragement from the fact that what is said in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum is not binding on the Minister or the Government with regard to future policy——

My hon. Friend says that it must be so, but I should be grateful for guidance, as the matter ought to be cleared up.

It would be true to say that the whole spirit of Second Reading and during the Committee stage was that his House wants the new Department to do its job on as imaginative and as big a scale as possible. I should think that certainly involves, in the end, a greater expenditure than is represented by merely subtracting certain items from existing Departments and bringing them together in the new Department. If the spirit in which the Minister himself has approached the Bill is to be fulfilled, we must see this in terms of a much larger expenditure of public funds than seems to be indicated in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, and I hope that the Minister will afford us some clarification.

I think that I can answer the hon. Member from Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) at once. On Second Reading I said:

"The staff of the new Department is expected to number something over 1,000, but this will not mean, at any rate initially, the creation of more than at most a very few additional posts. It will mean the transfer to the new Department of posts from the existing overseas Departments and, broadly speaking, the transfer of equivalent numbers of staff."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1961; Vol. 639, c. 254.]
That remains the position. But nothing that I said precludes the possibility in future of transfer from one of the existing Government Departments to the new one. Inevitably, to start with, in order to get off the ground at all, the new Department will have to be staffed overwhelmingly from the existing overseas departments doing roughly similar work, but that does not mean that exactly the same situation will prevail over a period of years.

As to expenditure, the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum describes the position within the framework of this year's Estimates. The mere fact that the new Department is being created will not affect this year's Estimates to speak of, other than the salary for the new Minister. But when one comes to consider Estimates for later years, the new Department, like all other Departments, will have to agree its Estimates with the Treasury and there will be ample opportunity, particularly if the Opposition so wish, to discuss the level of expenditure and the general work of the Department on the Floor of the House. My answer to the hon. Gentleman is that the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum was properly considering the position within the Estimates that have already been presented to the House for this year.

9.15 p.m.

A number of hon. Members have asked about the position of the Director-General of the Department. As I said on Second Reading, he will have the status not of a permanent secretary but of a deputy-secretary, and I should have thought that that would be the normal expectation in a Department whose head was going to have the status of a Minister of State.

I accept the point of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Chapman). I am sure that the new Department when it is set up, the secretary himself and the Government, will keep an open mind on the possibility of one or two additional specialist posts if they are found to be desirable, but I must say frankly that I think it is unlikely that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government will change in a hurry their decision about the status of the head of this new Ministry.

There is one point of which I ought to remind the Committee, namely, that while there will certainly be a creative and purposive job for the Minister to do, he will, as has been said, be working within the broad framework of the policies of the overseas departments—the Foreign Office, the Colonial Office and the Commonwealth Relations Office. This is, I should have thought, a fairly fundamental point which I do not wish to gloss over this evening.

As I have indicated, I think that this job will be a purposive one and not just a co-ordinating one. On the other hand, there will not be a situation in which, for instance, the Department of Technical Co-operation has one departmental policy and the Colonial Office another. As things are, it frequently happens, and indeed should happen, on some rather difficult issue that overlaps the work of two Departments, that one Department will have one policy and that there will be a certain tension with another Department which has a rather different policy. There is nothing wrong with that, but the point is that the situation will not arise in which the new Department has one policy and an existing overseas department has another policy.

But, with that proviso, it is still my belief that the work of the secretary will be highly important and can make a considerable difference to the efficiency of the whole of the Government services abroad.

Would the Minister explain what policy the Department—which we hope may perhaps be his—will follow in cases which are well known, where the Colonial Office which it serves on the one hand, and the Commonwealth Relations Office which it serves on the other, have conflicting policies?

Clearly one will have to consider these matters as they arise. My point is just a simple one, that there will not be a distinctive Ministerial policy in this case colliding with the policy of one of the main overseas Departments.

I apologise for my earlier absence from this debate, but I have taken a great interest in this matter, and, as the Minister knows, I served on the Estimates Committee when we were dealing with manpower in the Colonies and in the Commonwealth. One of our problems related to the recruitment of manpower to the Colonial Service and the fact that manpower in the Colonial Service is tending not to come in. Will the new Ministry have power to take out some of the servants of the Colonial Office who have served well in foreign countries which are getting independent status and use them in this technical development and co-operation scheme?

I am not absolutely sure how strictly this arises on the Clause, but perhaps I may refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said on Second Reading:

"In so far as any new posts are created either at home or overseas, the Government will certainly keep in mind the possibility of re-employing former members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service with the right qualifications, and we certainly hope that the new Department will help to increase the opportunities for former members of the Service to be employed on technical assistance work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th April, 1961; Vol. 639 c. 254.]

Can the hon. Gentleman say to what extent this Minister and his Department will have power of initiative? The Financial Secretary said, I believe, that this Department will have to work in with three other Departments. Does that mean that it will only deal with matters in which one or other of the Departments wish it to be interested, or will it have power of initiative?

I regret that the status of the senior civil servant in this Department is going to be only that of a deputy under-secretary. That means that he will never be more than a K.B.E. and that he will have to move elsewhere if he is to become a K.C.B. There are many things with regard to status which will be important to the work of this Department.

We do not want the new Department to be regarded as a place where birds of passage call on their way from some lower Department towards either the Foreign Office or the Treasury. I hope it will be possible to ensure that the post will be given such a status and prestige as to enable people to think that they may even have reached the pinnacle of their careers when they are appointed to it. If it is merely to be one of the jobs in which people are tried out—to see if they will be of any value in the Treasury or in the Foreign Office—the work that we have been talking about tonight will not be adequately done in the Department.

The short answer to the right hon. Gentleman, as to whether the Secretary in this Department will have a power of independent initiative is that he will be responsible to this House for a Vote of some £30 million. I have absolutely no doubt that, within that Vote, he will have a very considerable number of occasions for exercising initiative. He will also have initiative within those spheres to which I referred in the quotation I gave from paragraph 9 of the White Paper.

I should like to pursue this question of appointment, as mentioned in the first: sentence of Clause 3. I am especially interested in the development of the co-operative societies in the under-developed countries and I have had a series of Questions tabled to the Secretary of State for the Colonies and also the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations. While over a period of years the Colonial Office has built up a good service which has been successful in stimulating co-operative societies of all kinds, including credit and thrift societies, agricultural societies and other aids to rural development, a further question arises with the increasing number of countries receiving independence. While these countries still need this service to a large extent, help can only be given through the Commonwealth Relations Office, which has no officers experienced in co-operatives, and which can try to help only when a request comes from the independent territory.

Can the Financial Secretary say if the new Department will be co-ordinating the activities in connection with the service given to co-operative societies, or will this work now become the responsibility of the officers who will be appointed to the Department?

As hon. Members will be aware, I have answered several questions and, concerning this one, I should like the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) to allow me to write to him on this matter a little later.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

9.25 p.m.

As is well known, we were somewhat disappointed that the Bill was not more ambitious. Tonight, we have been very much reassured about the scope and purpose that the new Minister will probably have in mind in undertaking his duties and the powers he will have to carry them out.

If I may refer to the rumour—inspired, I hope—which has been bandied about the Chamber tonight about who is to be the new Minister, I should like to say that, if that rumour proves true, it will give me all the more confidence in the success of the new Department. However, whoever may be chosen to fill the post, we wish him well.

9.26 p.m.

On Second Reading, I spoke very critically of the Bill. Therefore, I think that it behoves me at this stage to withdraw my criticisms and say that, in the light of what the Financial Secretary has told us tonight, I feel very much reassured.

In these days, people seem to queue for all sorts of things. I see that people near my constituency now queue for new houses overnight so that they may have the first opportunity to buy the next morning. I shall be queueing on the doorstep of the new Ministry with a great many problems which I shall want to put to it as soon as it is standing on its own feet. In my view, it will be a Ministry which can do such an enormous amount of good and be so creative that we all should be looking to it with the idea of giving it exciting problems to solve. I shall bring my share, and I am glad to support the Bill now on Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.