HC Deb 17 March 1937 vol 321 cc2108-11

4.44 p.m.

The Prime Minister

I beg to move, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider His Majesty's Most Gracious Message of the 16th March relating to the Civil List and to Provision for Her Majesty the Queen and for Members of the Royal Family and other matters connected therewith. The House, I am sure, will understand why to-day I am rising to move the Motion which should have been moved by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It will be within the recollection of the House that a similar Motion was moved and explained only a short 12 months ago, but I would like just to repeat the explanation, and to say one or two words on what passed in the House that day. The House will be aware that it is customary at the beginning of a new Reign that provision should be made for the maintenance of the honour and dignity of the Crown. The Government of the day put before the Select Committee which we are asking the House to appoint to-day—the names which are on the Order Paper form part of the formal Motion—their own proposals, and the Committee make a thorough examination of those proposals, and prepare a report to be submitted to the House. After that, the House will be given an opportunity for full discussion of the Committee's proposals.

A point was raised last time by the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) and, to open the discussion, if I remember rightly, he moved an Amendment, which was subsequently with drawn, asking that the Committee might have power to send for persons, papers and records. It was pointed out to him and to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the form in which the Motion had been put was the form in which it always had been put when action had to be taken. I think that he recognised that there was an occasion when there was some difficulty in getting all the information required, but that was many years ago. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave an undertaking, which I will read to the House. He said: He thought it was proper that the Committee should have all the information they might reasonably require, and he had no hesitation in giving the most unqualified assurance that such evidence and such documents as the Committee might require would certainly be made available to it. I give the same assurance to-day. I feel confident that the Committee, most of whose members are still Members of the House, will acknowledge that all the information that was desired by anyone during the sittings of the Committee was given and examined, and I think that we all of us, members of all parties, when that examination was concluded felt that we had been able to go thoroughly into every point that it was desired to consider, and that no information that we wished to have had been withheld. The Committee received a great mass of details a year ago. They took oral evidence from the Keeper of the Privy Purse, the Financial Secretary to the King, the Receiver of the Duchy of Cornwall, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the First Commissioner of Works, and one of the Under-Secretaries of the Treasury. Certain accounts were published for the use of the House, but the oral evidence was not published. These are the reasons why I am moving the Motion that was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a year ago, and I commend it to the House. The Committee will be prepared to start their sittings very shortly after they are so authorised by the House.

4.49 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan

The reason why we on this bench intend to refrain from voting is because we take the view that when the Civil List comes up we shall oppose it in almost every detail. I rise mainly so that it shall not be thought we are in any way agreeing to any item in the Civil List, and that in not opposing the setting up of the Committee we are in any way committed to anything that will appear in the Civil List. When it comes before the House we shall be free to oppose any and every item in it. If our numbers had been larger we should almost certainly have divided against the appointment of the Committee. We take the view that in these matters the House is drifting again into an impossible situation in many respects, an utterly impossible situation. I do not want to go back through all the past history with which we dealt a year or so ago, but we were then drifting and to-day we seem to be drifting again into an indefensible situation. While we shall not divide on the appointment of the Committee to-day, we shall take our share in the House in opposing any or almost every recommendation that the Select Committee may make in the Civil List. I do not want it to be thought that either my colleagues or myself are in any way committed.

4.51 p.m.

Sir Arnold Wilson

I rise to ask the Prime Minister whether he can give the House an assurance that the Select Committee will feel itself free to consider the question of Civil List pensions? These pensions, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained last year, are not in fact borne on the Civil List, but the name "Civil List pensions" has been by custom for exactly 100 years connected with them. These pensions have added renown to the Crown by reminding the public that it has always been His Majesty's pleasure so to exercise his Royal benevolence. The exiguous pensions were acceptable largely because of their association with the Monarchy. The average annual cost for the past 10 years is £23,000, allotted in the form of £1,200 of new money, a sum unchanged since the Act of 1837 made provision for pensions to such persons only as have just claims to the Royal beneficence, or who, by their personal service to the Crown, or the performance of duties to the public, or by useful discoveries in science and attainments in literature or the arts, have merited the Gracious consideration of their Sovereign and the gratitude of their country. I do not seek to attempt to elaborate the case made last year by the senior Member for Oxford University (Mr. Alan Herbert). I simply ask for an assurance that, although these pensions are technically borne by the Consolidated Fund and not by the Civil List, the Select Committee can consider the question of an increased allocation, should they see fit to do so.

The Prime Minister

In answer to my hon. Friend I may say that I cannot pledge the Committee. It all depends on what the Committee decide to do, but the Government have no objection to this matter going before the Select Committee if the Select Committee should think fit to consider it. That is as far as I can go to-day.

Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider His Majesty's Most Gracious Message of the 16th March relating to the Civil List and to Provision for Her Majesty the Queen and for Members of the Royal Family and other matters connected therewith.

Ordered, That the Paper presented this day relating to the Civil List be referred to the Committee

Ordered, That the Committee do consist of Twenty-one Members.

Committee accordingly nominated of,—The Prime Minister, Sir Irving Albery, Mr. Amery, Mr. Attlee, Sir Ernest Bennett, Mr. Benson, Sir George Bowyer, The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Churchill, Colonel Sir George Courthope, Brigadier-General Sir Henry Croft, Mr. Lloyd George, Mr. Greenwood, Major Hills, Sir Robert Horne, Mr. Lambert, Sir Hugh O'Neill, Mr. Pethick-Lawrence, Mr. Simpson, Sir Archibald Sinclair, and Earl Winterton.

Ordered, That Five be the quorum."—[The Prime Minister.]