Threatening public service pensions
There's increasing public concern about the new rule by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that seeks to prevent diplomats publicly expressing views on current issues after they have retired, drawing on their experience of international affairs during a lifetime in the Diplomatic Service, unless they have prior permission to do so from the government (see for example this, this and this). One aspect of this that's attracting interest is whether the FCO would seek, or threaten, to terminate or reduce the pension of a retired diplomat if he or she failed to observe the new censorship rule (see, for example, this). In my comment on the issue on the Daily Telegraph website I wrote:
…in the past the FCO has not been above threatening the pensions of retired officers who risk embarrassment to ministers and mandarins. The threat might or might not be bluff: few of us have sufficient private means to risk testing that in court.
Eagle-eyed blogger Tim Worstall has published a useful and characteristically lively post on the FCO gag in the online magazine The Business, and a retired diplomat and former ambassador, Oliver Miles, who frequently contributes to media discussion of current issues, has posted a comment on the Worstall piece, focusing on the potential threat to retired officers' pensions, which he and Tim have given me permission to reproduce here:
I am interested in the question of the threat to withhold the pensions of retired ambassadors (I would be – I am one). I note the reference to Dr David Kelly, and such a threat may indeed have been made to him for all I know. I know of one former ambassador who has stated in a semipublic forum that he was threatened (while still serving) with loss of pension. But to the best of my knowledge pensions have never in the past been withheld except in cases where individuals were guilty of treason. Although Diplomatic Service Regulations made under the Order in Council procedure have the force of law, you have to go a long way back to find a time when the royal prerogative meant that the Crown could simply do what it liked. Civil servants, both from the Home Civil Service and from the Diplomatic Service, have successfully sued their employers on employment matters. I am pretty sure that if it came to the point, the FCO legal advisers would warn ministers that an attempt to withhold the pension of a retired officer, unless perhaps he had been convicted of a serious crime, would be thrown out by the courts.
But the David Kelly case, if indeed the threat was made, is relevant here. Most retired people, certainly including me, would view with horror the idea that their own pension and their widow's pension would be jeopardised by some action of theirs, even if they believed that the Crown would eventually lose in court. So as an instrument of pressure to be used by an unscrupulous employer deprivation of pension is a winner.
A sobering and persuasive conclusion!