HC Deb 31 October 1947 vol 443 cc1270-5

Order for Second Reading read.

12.27 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I should like to thank the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake) for his kind remarks and the kindliness he has shown to myself and my colleagues who turned up here in the hope, if that is the right word, that we might have an opportunity to speak on the previous Bill. Perhaps I am luckier, or it may be unluckier, than my colleagues. At any rate, I now have the opportunity to to say a few words on this matter. This is a very short Bill, and it has a very simple purpose. I do not think I can do better than read from the Preamble of the Bill which says: Authorise the payment out of the Consolidated Fund to the States of Jersey and Guernsey of amounts equal to sums received in respect of Crown revenues accruing in those islands. This authorisation is necessary to implement an agreement reached between His Majesty's Government and the States of Jersey and Guernsey whereby the island authorities will become responsible for certain expenses in the islands which have previously been met by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. In return for that, the island authorities will receive from the United Kingdom Government sums equivalent to the sums which are derived from hereditary revenues of the Crown in the islands, some of which are paid from the islands into the Exchequer in the United Kingdom. The States of both Jersey and Guernsey have approved the arrangements by Resolutions, and His Majesty's Government now recommend to this House that the necessary authority should be given to implement the agreement. The principal expenses for which the two islands are now to assume responsibility, are the salaries of the two lieutenant-governors, together with the upkeep of Government House in each island. There are also certain lesser expenses involved, to which I will refer in a moment.

The immediate reason for these negotiations in the agreement, and, secondly, for this Bill, is a change which has taken place in the office of lieutenant-governor. In the past, that is to say, up till 1st April, 1947, the lieutenant-governors in the islands were military officers, and among their duties was the command of the garrisons stationed in the islands. They were, therefore, paid from the funds of the War Office, which also maintained their houses and their establishments. It has now been decided to withdraw the garrisons, so that there is no longer any reason why the lieutenant-governor should retain military status. It would, therefore, be quite inappropriate that the War Office should continue to bear the cost, and a new arrangement of some kind obviously had to be sought.

There has been general agreement on all sides that it is desirable to maintain a lieutenant-governor in each island to act, on the one hand, as His Majesty's representative, and, on the other, as a link between the island authorities, the Privy Council and His Majesty's Government. Elsewhere in the Empire, it has long been the practice that the salaries of governors and the expense of their offices should be borne from local funds. I believe I am right in saying that these particular posts in the Channel Islands have been the only exception to that rule—though, of course, where a governor was also a military commander-in-chief, there was, in some cases, a contribution from the United Kingdom funds—and the States of Jersey and Guernsey have now readily consented to fall into line with the normal practice elsewhere.

It has been agreed that, in consideration of their undertaking this obligation, His Majesty's Government should hand over to them each year a sum equal to the net proceeds received by the Exchequer from the hereditary revenues of the Crown in the islands. In the past, these sums have been collected in the islands by His Majesty's Receiver-General, and he has paid out of them the cost of collection and certain miscellaneous administrative expenses, relating, in particular, to prisons and to certain payments to Crown officers in the islands. The surplus which was paid into the Exchequer by the Receiver-General before the war, after those deductions, varied between about £6,000 and £7,000. Since the war, the position has been rather different. For the year ended March, 1946, the surplus was a good deal smaller—about £3,500–but, in the following year, ending March, 1947, the surplus was very large—£33,550. That was an entirely exceptional sum, accounted for largely by wartime arrears.

So far as it is possible to make a calculation, it is reckoned that in future the surplus may be as high as £10,000 to £15,000, due largely to the increased values of the land upon which the dues are payable to the Crown when land changes hand. In addition, it is part of the bargain that Government House in each island, and certain other Crown buildings, will become the property of the island authorities. On the other side of the balance-sheet, the annual cost of the obligations taken over by the States will be about £17,000, which is the approximate cost of the upkeep of the offices of the lieutenant-governors in the islands. The figure of £10,00 to £15,000, which I mentioned as the surplus to be paid over, is the net figure. I have already explained that the States are to take over payment of certain expenses paid in the past from Crown Revenues by the Receivers-General—contributions to the salaries of the Crown officers, upkeep of prisons, etc. The net surplus to be paid over into the Exchequer in future will be increased, therefore, to that extent, because these sums will no longer be paid by them, but will be paid out of local funds. On the other hand, the States will get a corresponding increased amount under this Bill.

The taking over by the States of the payment of these expenses is rather more than a book-keeping transaction, since it will involve a great simplification in administration. The States will now assume a direct responsibility for a num- ber of local services and payments which were borne in the past, either entirely by the Government, or partly by local funds and partly by Government funds. These will now be taken over directly by the States. It will be noticed, from the last sentence in Clause 1, that the Bill is to apply to the islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Jethou, but not to other parts of the Channel Islands. The reason for this is that no Crown revenues are received from any other island with the exception of Alderney; and Alderney is the subject of separate legislation passed in 1829 and 1923, and does not therefore come to be dealt with under this Bill. The House will be aware that traditionally the association of the Crown with the islands has been very close, the islands being the only part of the old Duchy of Normandy which has never been relinquished. It is very gratifying that the representatives of both islands, to whose friendliness in the negotiations I should like to pay tribute, have approved these new arrangements for continuing this very ancient association. The arrangements seem to the Government to be simple, practical and fair. I, therefore, commend this Bill to the House, and ask that it be given a Second Reading.

12.34 p.m.

Mr. Peake (Leeds, North)

I should like first to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department on an admirably clear exposition of a difficult and complicated subject. As he says, this arrangement seems to be perfectly fair as between the Exchequer on the one hand and the Channel Islands on the other. Once the decision has been taken, a decision which I, personally, very much regret, not to maintain garrisons in the Channel Islands in future, then some arrangement of this character naturally ensues. The decision not to maintain garrisons is not a matter for which the Home Secretary is in any way responsible. It is a military matter, and that decision has no doubt been taken upon military grounds. I feel, however, that it will be generally regretted that the long connection between the Channel Islands and His Majesty's Forces is apparently now to be severed. Once that decision has been taken, it follows that the expenses of maintaining the lieutenant-governor in each of the islands fall upon the islands themselves in future, and we on this side therefore express our agreement with the provisions of the Bill.

12.36 p.m.

Mr. Cecil Poole (Lichfield)

Can we take it that this Bill embodies the whole of the financial adjustments that have arisen out of the recent conversations between the Home Department and the island authorities, and can we have an assurance that no duress was imposed upon the island authorities in arriving at this agreement? It is amazing and surprising to me that the Exchequer have got such an excellent bargain. These islands have suffered enormously as a result of occupation by enemy forces, and they are faced with an enormous problem of reconstruction, having regard to their potential capacity to reconstruct. It seems to me surprising that in these circumstances they have willingly taken upon themselves the added burden which is the net result of this Bill. I have a great affection for the islands of Jersey and Guernsey. Although it was implicit in the speech of the Under-Secretary, I should like to have an assurance that the islands have willingly accepted this agreement, and an answer to the question whether this Bill represents the sum total of the financial negotiations between the Government and the islands.

12.37 p.m

Mr. Younger

I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole) that there was no sort of duress. The States in both islands have already approved, by resolutions in their assemblies, the outcome of these negotiations. With regard to the question of His Majesty's Government having obtained a good bargain, I would point out that there are two sides to that. The Government are satisfied that it is a reasonable bargain for both sides. On the question of whether this Bill represents the sum total of all the negotiations between the Government and the islands, I suppose that my hon. Friend has in mind the various questions relating to rehabilitation and compensation which have been raised in this House in the past. It would not be so right to say that this Bill represents the outcome of all those negotiations, as to say that no doubt both parties had in mind, when agreeing to an arrangement of this kind, that there had been fairly generous treatment meted out by the Government. As the House knows, there were considerable sums paid by the taxpayers of this country for the rehabilitation of these islands, and that must inevitably have been taken into account by the negotiators of both sides.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Simmons.]

Committee upon Monday next.

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