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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to this Unstarred Question, perhaps I may declare an interest. I have the honour to be honorary president of the Overseas Service Pensioners Association. The association represents a large number of former servants of the Crown who served overseas and widows of such officers.
Back in 1979-1980, at the time of the negotiations to bring Rhodesia to lawful independence, there was concern among British persons employed in the public service in Rhodesia about the security of their pension rights. When other British colonies became independent, the practice was for the British Government to make what was called a Public Officers Agreement, or POA, with the emerging government to ensure that pensions would be paid by the new government on the same terms as before, and would be remitted to those who had come back home or gone to live elsewhere abroad, at the rate of exchange prevailing at the time of independence.
However, in the case of Zimbabwe, the British Government refused to consider making a POA on the grounds that the Rhodesia public service was never a part of our colonial service because Southern Rhodesia had always been an internally self-governing colony with its own government, responsible for the recruitment and terms and conditions of employment of its civil servants.
Now of course I recognise that governments often draw lines in order to contain public expenditure. But such decisions do not always involve issues of principle; and, clearly, no principle was involved here. The civil servants in question were recruited by Rhodesia, but they were recruited for the most part by Rhodesia House here in London and the people recruited regarded themselves as going out to a colony as expatriates, just like those going out to serve in any other colony.
But the unfortunate fact of the matter is that successive governments have cited the refusal of the British Government to make a POA with Zimbabwe in 1980 as absolving them from any responsibility for persons who were undoubtedly Crown servants--yes, Crown servants--and Crown servants, I might say, of a territory for which we as a country were so
So the position today is that, while in the case of all other former colonies the British Government have taken over responsibility for the pensions of former expatriate public officers under the powers in the Overseas Pensions Act 1973--and those powers are wide enough to allow them to do the same in the case of Zimbabwe--they decline to give any help at all to these Crown servants.
On 13th November 1979, during the course of the proceedings on the Southern Rhodesia Bill, the late Lord Gridley, who was then president of OSPA--the association of which I am now president--moved (at col. 1221 of the Official Report) an amendment calling on the Government to ensure that the new government of Zimbabwe did do right by their public service pensioners. My noble friend Lord Trefgarne, replying on behalf of our government, said (at col. 1226) that the independence constitution agreed at Lancaster House specifically preserved public service pension rights. He said that the British Government could not undertake to underwrite that liability which the Zimbabwe Government had undertaken, but he went on to say that prospective pensioners could take comfort from the fact that,
My noble friend Lord Trefgarne said that he would write to Lord Gridley about one particular matter. I need not describe what that matter was. That letter is a very important one. It is dated 20th December 1979. In it, my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, on behalf of the government of the day, gave an assurance that the Zimbabwe independence constitution would contain,
The Minister then went on to assert in the same letter that, while the British Government have always acknowledged that they have a special responsibility to protect the pensions of officers employed in the public services of our former dependent territories, the responsibility extends only to those officers who were members of the colonial service appointed by the
Recently another argument has been advanced which is so disingenuous that I wondered whether I should really trouble your Lordships with it, but it was raised by the Minister in a letter to the chairman of OSPA dated 17th November last year, and I can hardly ignore it now. What is said in that letter is that up and down the globe there are many thousands of pensioners of colonial governments who were employed on local terms and Zimbabwe pensioners cannot be preferred over them. But what the Minister was conveniently ignoring is that many of the Zimbabwe pensioners were in fact recruited here, on what were expatriate-type terms broadly similar to those of HMOCS officers in other dependent territories. Their passages were paid out to the territory, they took their leave entitlement back here and now, at the end of their service, they have retired here. It really is disingenuous to pretend that local people recruited locally in the colonies are in like case. Clearly they are not.
An even stranger argument has been advanced. It is said that, if our Government do not look out, we might finish up having to pay for the pensions of people who worked in Zimbabwe for the post office, the railways, the university and local government. But the claims of these last people are entirely irrelevant to this debate for the simple reason that even they do not claim that they were public service officers within the meaning of the Zimbabwe constitution, who are defined in that constitution as persons holding a paid office in the service of the state. Their pensions, therefore, unlike the pensions of the Crown servants I am talking about, are clearly not guaranteed by the Zimbabwe constitution. To refer to those cases is the greatest irrelevance that could possibly be launched into this debate.
So this is the position that we have reached. Successive governments have moved to assist and make top-up payments to help pensioners from other colonies, using the powers in the Overseas Pensions Act 1973 but, although they know the parlous state the Zimbabwe pensioners are in, the Government flatly refuse to help them.
Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of what has happened to these unfortunate people. It is a major tragedy which I do not believe the wildest optimist thinks is likely to be alleviated by any political change in Zimbabwe over the coming months, or even years. The Zimbabwe dollar, which was originally worth 50p, is now worth rather less than 1½p. The pensions received by British people recruited here and now retired here have become as good as useless. These people, acknowledged by this and preceding governments to be Crown servants, are reduced to penury.
I should like to set down a few figures. A pensioner living in retirement in Britain, receiving £300 a month in 1980, now, after a doubling of prices in the intervening years, receives £28 a month--just £7 a week. There is every possibility of an even further worsening of the situation following the general election last weekend. It has been rumoured that, if payments continue at all--and I should remind the House that in the new constitution submitted by President Mugabe to a national referendum, there was no repeat of the undertakings set out in the 1979 constitution to pay public service pensions at all--they will continue only after a devaluation of the Zimbabwe dollar to around 100 dollars to the pound. One can anticipate only a worsening of the situation rather than an improvement.
It is a shameful state of affairs and the arguments advanced by the British Government are shameful. After insisting that UDI had to be resisted, not least because Rhodesia was a colony for which Britain alone was responsible and to which Britain alone could grant independence, the British Government now say, in order to avoid their financial responsibilities, that Rhodesia was not really a colony like any other colony. It was a self-governing colony and that allows our Government to deny to these British Crown servants help which is readily afforded to other Crown servants in like case.
I am told that in 1998 there were a total of around 1,200 Rhodesia/Zimbabwe pensioners. Of those, around 800 were recruited in England through Rhodesia House. To do something for them, to pay pensions at the historic rate of two dollars to the pound, would cost under £7 million--5 per cent of the present total overseas pensions bill.
There has been a long correspondence with the Government about this matter. Recently we have been urged to draw a line under the issue; in other words, to accept defeat. We shall not, because right is on our side and something has got to be done for these people.
Perhaps I may therefore ask the Minister one final question. If the Government balk at the possibility of extending the provisions of the Overseas Pensions Act to Zimbabwe pensioners because that requires the formal agreement of the Zimbabwe Government, will the Government please consider doing what the government did in the case of Aden and Somalia, where, for other reasons, it was not possible to make a POA with the emerging government, and where a
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for rising in the gap to say a brief word in the debate on the Unstarred Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. I do so for two reasons.
First, I was the last person to hold the separate office of Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs. I did so at the time of UDI. For that reason, I should like to associate myself with what I felt to be the formidable case advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, on the plight of the Zimbabwe pensioners recruited in this country as Crown servants to serve in the special circumstances of Rhodesia. I should like to lend my support to everything that the noble Lord has said.
I was also provoked into speaking because I have been in correspondence with the present Secretary of State and with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr George Foulkes, about a particular case. I do not wish to set out the detail at this stage, but suffice to say that it is similar to some of the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. The case relates to a distinguished retired Professor of Medicine, Professor Douglas Thompson, who went out from Scotland to Rhodesia on the eve of UDI. He claims that he went only because he was encouraged to do so by the United Kingdom Inter-university Council. He was assured that, by going, he was doing so in Britain's best interests. For that reason, his case does not fit directly into the category of Crown servant addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. However, Professor Thompson served at the University of Rhodesia, which was of course a state university, having been recruited in this country and told that, by going, he was serving British interests.
He is now living in this country once more, in advancing years, and existing on a positively pitiful pension of the kind described by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. I have argued that there is at least a moral obligation on the part of Her Majesty's Government to deal with this matter in a sympathetic manner. So far I have received nothing but dusty and negative answers.
I wished briefly to make a personal point about an individual whose case I have raised with the Department for International Development. However, above all, I speak from the point of view of my rather ancient former role as the last separate Commonwealth Secretary in support of the strong and weighty case made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, told the House with considerable force of the issues surrounding Zimbabwe pensioners. I suspect that unless the economy of Zimbabwe improves, these figures will soon be outdated and no doubt many recipients will suffer severe hardship. With continuing uncertainty about the political process and the power structure there, it is right that the issue of pensions is highlighted.
Perhaps I may give an analogy. My father worked for Tanganyika Railways, which later became East African Railways. He retired on a very modest pension and went to live in India. In the 1960s and 1970s the Tanzanian economy was in the grip of massive inflation. The national debt was mounting and the time came when the East African Railway Authority could not meet its obligations to its pensioners. My family went without pensions for a considerable time until the British Government, through the Crown Agents, accepted responsibility and the pensions resumed. I am not sure about the technical arrangements at that time. I was too young to understand the issues. It may be that the noble Baroness may want to see if there is a precedent here and if it would help with the present situation in Zimbabwe.
However, there is another point. Inflation was so rampant that the Tanzanian shilling was literally worthless. In fact, I recall visiting the country at that time and discovering that those who had retired before the collapse of the economy found that their pensions of about 1,000 shillings or less were worth no more than 10 bottles of Coca-Cola. Perhaps I may add that since then the economy of Tanzania has improved. I hate to think what would happen to the economy of Zimbabwe if the present political uncertainty continues.
However, this is not a debate about the political process, but about the plight of individuals caught in this process because of inflation and the uncertainty of the government there to meet their obligations. Let us hope that even at this late stage politicians will see their way to ensure stability which is the cornerstone of a sound economy.
Expressing sympathy alone is not helpful. We ought to be aware that compassion between members of the public service in Southern Rhodesia who were employed directly by that government in a self-governing colony and those who were employed on expatriate terms in the central government of a colony, may not necessarily be very helpful. There are two separate categories of employment and separate conditions obviously applied. However, it would be very helpful if the Minister were to give some idea of
I also ask the Minister whether it is possible to safeguard the pension rights of both retired and serving Zimbabwe public servants which were negotiated under the Zimbabwe constitution during the Lancaster House negotiations. I raise this point because of the political uncertainty there. Would the Minister ensure that the Foreign Office takes the first opportunity to discuss with the government of the day there the obligation that they entered into during the independence negotiations so that we do not have to face the kind of consequences that the people of Tanzania suffered at one time?
The Overseas Pensioners Association is delighted to know of the very sound case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington. It has made separate representations for the 800 or so Zimbabwe pensioners originally recruited through Rhodesia House and who are currently resident in the United Kingdom. What has been the outcome of those representations?
My final point is to ask the Minister whether she would make available the present criteria for pension protection and explain whether it would be in breach of these criteria if the Government were to provide any assistance. That would help all of us to understand the issue from the legal perspective.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Waddington for initiating this important debate on a subject that has troubled governments since the Lancaster House agreement. However, it is even more important that we should be talking about the plight of these pensioners today at a time when there are so many question marks hanging over Zimbabwe after its election results.
I have read with great interest all the briefing papers and previous debates in both Houses. It is not a record to be proud of. I find it difficult to understand several of Mr. Foulkes' comments. First, he said that,
Pensioners' groups have argued that some sort of moral obligation is owed to these individuals since the Crown did retain responsibility for Southern Rhodesia until 1979 and the officers in question were in some sense serving the Crown.
It could be said by the pensioners that the "preserving" of rights and the "guarantee" of continued payment are meaningless without protection of the value of the pension. As my noble friend Lord Waddington stated, the value of the Zimbabwe dollar had originally been 10 shillings. It even reached 68p at its peak, but now it is worth a mere 1.5p.
We are talking only of about 1,200 pensioners. The cost would be minimal to the Government. It would cost, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Waddington, under £7 million, which is less than 5 per cent of the present total overseas pension bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia said. That is a mere drop in the ocean, especially if we consider the near £800 million that was spent on the Dome.
We are also told that if an exception were to be made for these pensioners overnight there would be a flood of others claiming pensions. But as former Crown servants, serving what were in essence expatriate type terms, which can be distinguished clearly from other groups that may submit their own claims, this is a particular situation as the other former colonies have been cared for.
I turn to the problem of the small print, the finer details, the enigmatic statements that can easily be misinterpreted. But if this Government stand by the Foreign Secretary's ethical foreign policy, they surely have a moral duty in this case to try to end happily this sorry tale. I urge the noble Baroness to look sympathetically, in the light of the changed circumstances, at the situation of these disadvantaged people in the twilight of their lives.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, for initiating this debate. I believe that it would be helpful to the House if I explain the Government's position on Zimbabwe public service pensions. I shall then come to the specific questions raised by noble Lords this evening. It is a subject that has drawn many representations in recent years, both to this Government and their predecessor. The detail of colonial pensions can be a very complex business, but I shall try to make my explanation as straightforward as possible.
All Zimbabwe public service pensions, including those paid to British nationals living in the United Kingdom, are the responsibility of the Zimbabwe government. That has always been the case. At independence the pension rights of both retired and serving Zimbabwe public servants were preserved under the Zimbabwe constitution which was formulated during the Lancaster House negotiations. The constitution guaranteed that existing pension entitlements would not be adversely affected by any changes in law which came into effect after independence, and that pensions paid externally would not be subject to any deductions. The constitution also guarantees to continue payment of pensions to former Zimbabwe public servants wherever they reside.
The Government of Zimbabwe have always met their responsibilities for paying these pensions under the constitution. On occasions, when foreign exchange has been in short supply, as at present, pensioners living in Britain have experienced delays in receiving their monthly pension payments. On these occasions the British Government have always reminded the Zimbabwe Government of their responsibilities. But it is important to recognise that the Government of Zimbabwe have never reneged on their obligations in respect of these pensioners.
The real problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, pointed out, has been that the sterling value of these pensions has gradually diminished as the Zimbabwe dollar has fallen against the pound. There is no provision in the Zimbabwe constitution to protect externally paid pensions against adverse exchange rate movements and the pensions increases awarded by Zimbabwe have not been sufficient to compensate for the shortfall.
This situation, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, pointed out, has led to repeated representations from the Overseas Service Pensioners Association and indeed from Members in another place on behalf of former Zimbabwe public servants. They have asked the British Government to intervene and extend to Zimbabwe pensioners the pension protection arrangements afforded to overseas public servants for whom the British Government accept a special responsibility. Successive governments have declined to do this because the circumstances of Zimbabwe public service pensioners clearly do not meet the criteria for inclusion in our pension protection arrangements.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked me to say something specifically about the criteria. The British Government acknowledge that they have a special responsibility to protect the pensions of certain officers who were employed in the public services of our former dependent territories, but this responsibility extends only to those who were appointed by, or on behalf of, the Secretary of State for the Colonies to serve overseas on expatriate terms in the central government of a colony.
The noble Lord asked whether it would be possible to safeguard the pension rights of both retired and serving Zimbabwe public servants which were negotiated during the Lancaster House negotiations. At the time of the Lancaster House negotiations, Southern Rhodesia's public servants sought similar protection. However, this was refused on the grounds that staff recruited to the public service in Southern Rhodesia were not appointed by or on behalf of the Secretary of State and all served on local, as opposed to expatriate, terms of service.
Perhaps I may explain what that means. Southern Rhodesia was a self-governing colony from 1923 and was directly responsible for recruiting its own public servants, including those who were recruited directly from Britain. The British Government were not involved with the recruitment process or the
It has been suggested on occasions that the Government should accept responsibility for individual groups of Zimbabwe pensioners. The Overseas Service Pensioners Association, of which the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, is honorary president, recently proposed that the Government should accept responsibility for that group of Zimbabwe pensioners who were originally recruited through Rhodesia House in London to serve in the central government of Southern Rhodesia and who are currently resident in Britain.
We took the view that we could not reasonably do this, as it would be difficult to see how this group could be isolated for pension protection purposes from other groups who were recruited from the UK by other means to work in the colony or those who served in para-statal organisations. We considered the matter carefully.
Indeed, after examining the whole issue many times in recent years, it is not possible to see how we could limit assistance to expatriates recruited from Britain. Many Zimbabwe public servants were recruited locally or from neighbouring territories. Attempting to ring-fence a particular group of expatriates would rightly invite accusations of discrimination if in a multi-racial and fully integrated public service pension protection appeared to depend on ethnic origin, residence or citizenship. The British Government's policy on protecting colonial pensions has always been based on employment status. Such considerations as ethnic origin, nationality or where people reside do not have a bearing in determining eligibility for inclusion in our pension protection arrangements.
I now turn specifically to some of the questions raised during the course of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, asked about Rhodesia House recruits and whether they could be regarded as Colonial Service officers. The answer is no. Rhodesia House has never been acknowledged as a formal recruitment channel for any staff serving under the auspices of the British Government. It always operated under the jurisdiction of the Southern Rhodesian government, who were responsible for their own recruitment, selection and staffing policies. Indeed, it seems that many Rhodesia House recruits received free passages to Southern Rhodesia but, significantly, they did not receive free return passages.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, also made reference to the correspondence of the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. The pensioners' associations--and the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, in this debate--accused Her Majesty's Government of not honouring a pledge to safeguard fully Zimbabwe public service pensions at independence, including an undertaking to underwrite the costs of a sterling safeguard to maintain the value of pensions. The Government gave no such
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, referred also to the special arrangements that Her Majesty's Government have made for certain groups of overseas pensioners who served in East Africa, Aden, Zanzibar and India. The East African Asians were expatriate officers working in services which were the clear responsibility of the Secretary of State; and the Colonial Service White Paper of 1954 stated specifically that their pension interests would be protected.
The British Government pay certain local Aden and Zanzibar pensions in the form of loan advances. However, unlike Southern Rhodesia, the public service in Aden was the responsibility of the Secretary of State during the colonial era. In addition, it should be noted that local Aden loan advances reflect only pre-independence service and do not attract increases.
In 1955, the Government agreed to take over from India the central administration and payment of all sterling pensions, including a small number of non-Secretary of State appointees. But the Indian Government paid over an actuarially assessed sum to cover the future costs of all these pensions.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the question of Tanzania and whether there was a precedent. The Tanzania Government were responsible for paying pensions to employees of the East African Railways Authority, but they defaulted on payment in 1968. Because the pensioners involved had been appointed by and on behalf of the Secretary of State and were employed on expatriate terms of service, the British Government felt obliged to intervene and to pay the pensions. These were subsequently formally taken over by the British Government in the 1970s. Southern Rhodesian pensioners do not enjoy this special status. They were not recruited by or on behalf of the Secretary of State, nor were they employed on expatriate terms of service.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked about the financial consequences of assisting all overseas pensioners. We do not know exactly how many Zimbabwe public service pensioners reside in Britain, but in any case we could not consider intervention to protect that group alone--a point I made earlier.
In 1998 the Department for International Development calculated an intervention cost of some £52 million a year but that figure covered only an estimated 6,000 pensioners who joined the Southern Rhodesia public service direct from the UK. The latest information from Crown Agents is that the value of all Zimbabwe pensions paid outside the country is about £4 million a year at the current rate of exchange. If all those pensions were paid at the original exchange rate of two Zimbabwe dollars to the pound, annual expenditure would be in the region of £114 million.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about the outcome of representations. My honourable Friend the Under-Secretary of State for International Development wrote to the chairman of OSPA on 30th June 1998, explaining that the Government felt unable to extend pension protection rights to the group in question. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifeith, has a great deal more experience than me in these matters. I am unable to comment on the particular issue he raised but I will examine the correspondence again.
While we acknowledge and sympathise with the problems faced by Zimbabwe pensioners living in Britain, to provide assistance we would have fundamentally to breach the present protection arrangements. It would not be defensible to limit extending support to any particular group of Zimbabwe public service pensioners, nor to limit such support to Zimbabwe, when many thousands of former local employees of other colonial public services face exactly the same difficulty of diminishing pension values. The financial consequences of extending pension protection to all would be prohibitive.
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