HC Deb 31 January 1955 vol 536 cc789-801

Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 84 (Money Committees).—[Queen's Recommendation signified.]

[Sir RHYS HOPKIN MORRIS in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further provision as to the salary and expenses of the Governor of Northern Ireland, it is expedient to authorise the payment to the said Governor out of the Consolidated Fund of—

  1. (a) a salary at the rate of four thousand pounds per annum; and
  2. (b) an allowance in respect of expenses of an amount not exceeding ten thousand pounds per annum.—[Major Lloyd-George.]

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Bing

I am sorry to delay the House for a moment, but this seems a convenient point at which we can perhaps get a little more information than the Under-Secretary of State was able to give us about the financial liability of this country and the commitment which we are undertaking. I understand from what was said earlier that there is also to be a provision transferring to the Ministry of Works the cost of maintaining the buildings. I do not know whether that is so or not, but it certainly does not feature in the Money Resolution.

We are being asked to make provision for the payment out of the Consolidated Fund, first, of the salary and then of an allowance in respect of expenses up to the sum of £10,000; but we were told by the Minister that nothing like this sum would be needed, in the first place because there would be a rebate of salary, and, in the second place, because the expenses would not amount to the full £10,000. I think it is unfortunate that we should be asked to pass a Bill granting these large sums and yet not be told until the very last moment that the cost was to be less than the full amount provided for in the Bill.

If it is not to be the full amount provided for in the Bill, then it is desirable that the Government should take back the Money Resolution and look at it again. Obviously this Money Resolution is a matter of controversy because, as the House will remember, we earlier passed a Motion exempting it from the Ten o'clock Rule in order that the matter might receive adequate discussion. It seems to me that it has not been the subject of as full a discussion as is desirable, and in those circumstances I hope that the Government will withdraw it.

Sir D. Savory

After all the explanations which have been given by the Ministers, I should have thought that this matter of salary was as clear as it possibly could be. First of all, we have a reduction from £8,000 to £4,000, and then we have this contingent liability for expenses amounting to £10,000, all of which is to be checked by the Home Secretary and by the Treasury.

Is that excessive when we compare payments made to the Governors of our Colonies—and I have already quoted the case of New Zealand where the Governor gets a salary of £5,000 and £5,000 for expenses. Let us take, for a moment, the Isle of Man. The Lieutenant Governor of the Isle of Man gets a salary of £3,000 and a tax-free allowance of £2,000. if hon. Members look at the Foreign Office Estimates they will see that in many cases, while the salary of an ambassador is fixed, he is allowed as much as £20,000 for expenses.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

On a point of order. I understand that the hon. Member is now defending the principle of paying this sum to the Governor of Northern Ireland. I thought the House had already accepted that principle and that what we were considering was the Money Resolution in support of it. Is it in order to debate the principle again?

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris)

It seems to me that it is in order. The Money Resolution provides for the specific sum and, as I understand it, the argument of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Sir D. Savory) seeks to justify the sum in the Money Resolution.

Mr. Silverman

But he is talking not about that but about New Zealand and the Isle of Man.

Sir D. Savory

I am only giving comparisons. Surely I am allowed to do that. The hon. Member does not seem to have read the subject before the House and he does not seem to have read the Financial Resolution which we are discussing. Of course I am in order.

I am perfectly entitled to make a reference to similar cases to show that the salary which is now proposed is not excessive. I cannot understand how there can be any opposition to it when hon. Members have been told that the present Governor, his predecessor, and even the Duke of Abercorn were out of pocket to the extent of thousands of pounds.

Is it fair to ask Her Majesty's representative to go to Northern Ireland and carry out the functions which he has to perform—honorary functions but, nevertheless, exacting functions—and be out of pocket in doing so? Should he be out of pocket because of his heroic efforts to pay visits to various towns in Northern Ireland and to undertake every kind of official function which he can possibly be asked to undertake? At the same time, have we the right to ask him to maintain these functions at his own expense and to be out of pocket? Hon. Members, surely, must sympathise with the Governor who, out of his own pocket, has to pay sums which it is necessary to provide in order that he may maintain the dignity of his office.

Surely this is one of the most reasonable propositions ever brought before this House. If hon. Members would only study the estimates they would see what an ambasador gets as salary and as much as £20,000, to my certain knowledge, as expenses. The Governor of Northern Ireland is acting very much as an ambassador. He represents Her Majesty in Northern Ireland and we must allow him fair play to be able to live without incurring debt and being financially embarrassed.

Mr. Bing

Will the hon. Member tell us whether he considers, for example, the position of the Governor of Northern Ireland as more important than the British Ambassador to Poland or to the United States?

Sir D. Savory

I think it is of equal importance.

Mr. Delargy

The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Sir D. Savory), despite all his noise and indignation, has missed the point. He has missed several points which have been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Horn-church (Mr. Bing). The hon. Baronet has talked about the Governor of the Isle of Man and the Governor of New Zealand. He rebuked my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) for not having read the Bill, but apparently he has not read the Bill, nor the Money Resolution. He thinks that because the Under-Secretary of State explained about the £14,000 he explained everything, but one point made by my hon. and learned Friend was what was the liability of the Ministry of Works? That has not been explained to us and, quite obviously, the hon. Member for Antrim, South does not know anything about it.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

Perhaps I might answer that question straight away. The position is that the transfer of Hillsborough is not to be under the Bill. My right hon. and gallant Friend explained on the Second Reading of the Bill that the transfer would be done under general powers already existing and that the Bill was not required for that. It may be that it will be necessary to have legislation in Northern Ireland to carry that into effect, but it is not necessary under this Bill. Therefore, it is not a matter that comes within the terms of the Money Resolution.

Mr. Bing

Does it mean that there will be another application to this country for £9,000 in addition to the salary we are voting in this Money Resolution? Will application be made to this country for £9,000 for the maintenance of Hillsborough plus the £4,000 we are voting now and the £10,000 expenses, making £23,000 per year, for the Governor of Northern Ireland?

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

I do not know whether I am in order in speaking again to try to clear up the point. The position is that there is certain property which it is proposed to transfer to the Ministry of Works. As the hon. and learned Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Bing) is sometimes rather less quick to appreciate, when one has property transferred it probably costs something to keep it up. That, of course, is a fact, but does not arise under the Money Resolution.

Mr. Michael O'Neill (Mid-Ulster)

One point which has been overlooked is that before we call on the people of this country to put their hands in their pockets and make such an enormous contribution of taxpayers' money, we should consider whether the expenditure of such money is really appreciated by the people. I know Northern Ireland possibly better than any other hon. Member in the Committee. I know the feelings of the farmers and of the workers. I represent them on several local government bodies. Never once have I heard of any popular demand for a single Clause of this Measure.

The Deputy-Chairman

Discussion of the Bill, of course, is not in order. The discussion must be directed to the terms of the Money Resolution.

Mr. O'Neill

The point I want to make, with due respect, is that before we vote money out of the taxpayers' pockets we must take into consideration the ability of people to pay that taxation.

It must be borne in mind that we are direct taxpayers to the British Exchequer. This Parliament still controls five-sixths of the expenditure and the total revenue in Northern Ireland, and we must be regarded as making our contribution to the £23,000 being voted tonight. Therefore, I hold that it is within our competence to judge our ability to pay this extra taxation. If our people are unemployed and there is depression in agriculture, our people are not in a position to meet this extra taxation. Moreover, we have a right to demand from this House that if it is prepared to extend £23,000 in Northern Ireland that sum should be expended where it is most needed. If we were a charitable Government we should begin at the bottom rather than at the top, and would devote this money to people in need of it rather than to those whom we consider are not in need of it.

The Deputy-Chairman

It is not in order to discuss things which are not in the Money Resolution. The hon. Member is in order in objecting to this amount, but cannot go into the ways of raising it.

Mr. O'Neill

In my opinion, the salary of the Governor which is being asked for is unjustified if it takes the place of other reliefs which we hold would be justified and which we have a right to demand of this Parliament. I suggest that if I am not in order altogether I am very near to being in order.

I have heard references to the office of the Governor. I have even heard it suggested that the expenses payment of £10,000 a year is not nearly sufficient. I have heard it suggested that there is a possibility we may have violence in Ireland, and that the Governor might be expected to call out the Army. That would entail considerable expense on his part. [Interruption.] I have seen violence in Ireland. I have seen violence in Enniskillen and in Derry, and yet I have never seen the Governor call out the troops when people were battened and bludgeoned by thugs of policemen for holding an ordinary peaceful procession.

8.30 p.m.

The Deputy-Chairman

This is not even near to being in order on the Money Resolution.

Mr. O'Neill

If we are to allow the Governor £10,000 expenses, and if we are to assume that half of those expenses is for protecting the people from certain abuses, if that is part of the office of Governor, we want to know whether the Governor is in a position to give that protection, and whether he will give it.

The Deputy-Chairman

The Money Resolution has nothing whatever to do with that.

Mr. O'Neill

Take, for example, the position in Enniskillen. It was a peaceful assembly. It was the occasion of an ordinary—

The Deputy-Chairman

If the hon. Member looks at the terms of the Money Resolution, he will see that it has nothing to do with Enniskillen or violence.

Mr. O'Neill

But Enniskillen has quite a lot to do with the Governor.

In any case, if this Parliament is in a position to extend this charity towards Northern Ireland, it should be extended to those institutions to which the people would like it to be extended. Take, for example, the Mater Hospital, in Belfast—

The Deputy-Chairman

I really must ask the hon. Member to direct his mind to the Money Resolution.

Mr. O'Neill

According to the relationships between this Parliament and the Parliament of Northern Ireland, there is a guarantee that the social services will be maintained on an equal parity.

The Deputy-Chairman

That does not arise under this Money Resolution at all. The Money Resolution provides for two things: for a salary at the rate of four thousand pounds per annum out of the Consolidated Fund, and an allowance in respect of expenses of an amount not exceeding ten thousand pounds per annum. That is the scope of the Money Resolution.

Mr. O'Neill

I must give way on that, but there is another point on which I have to be satisfied.

How will this money be spent? Presumably, a lot of the £10,000 for expenses will be spent on entertainment. The people of Northern Ireland see very little of this entertainment. In fact, I honestly believe that these afternoon tea parties and social events are merely recruiting material for the Tory Party in the Six Counties, and as such they should be no concern whatever of the Governor. If the Government expect a unanimous vote from both sides of this House for the £23,000, some reasonable guarantee should be given that the entertainment offered by the Governor will not be used exclusively for one particular political party. That is what is being done in the North of Ireland. I do not blame the Governor. It is a practice that came in with the establishment of partition, and will probably remain as long as partition lasts.

Our only remedy is to reduce this expenditure. I think that the expenditure on the Governor's office is entirely unreasonable. Ten thousand pounds in expenses is to be devoted almost exclusively to entertainment, high faluting parties, and that sort of thing, in a community of little more than a million people, which is barely the population of Glasgow or Birmingham.

I doubt very much whether any of those communities would agree to contribute such a substantial sum for purely ceremonial and formal duties. It is ridiculous and uncalled for, and I hope that in future when this House considers matters relating to Northern Ireland, and is in a position to extend its charity, it will seek many other avenues, avenues that are of more use, and certainly of more advantage, to the people.

Mr. Robens

There are one or two points which might be cleared up arising from the speech of the Joint Under-Secretary of State. I was interested in what was said by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. M. O'Neill) about the expenses being used mainly for recruitment to the Tory Party. I assume that my hon. Friend was referring to the afternoon teas and other things which take place, to which perhaps hon. Members of the Tory Party go.

It is a fact that when two members of Her Majesty's Privy Council from this side of the House were over in Ireland no effort was made by the Governor to send any formal invitation or even to recognise that they were within his territory. It may well be that the observations of my hon. Friend may be conveyed to him. There is a certain courtesy which a Governor might extend at least to members of the Privy Council, and some of the £10,000 might be expended on a 2½d. stamp to acknowledge that they are on his territory.

As I understood, the Joint Under-Secretary of State said that on the basis of previous expenses he estimated that the actual expenses will be about £9,000. That being the case, it is clear that the Governor has been dipping into his own pockets, ever since he was appointed, to maintain his position. In spite of having a salary and expenses account of £8,000, he has had to contribute £1,000 out of his own pocket to maintain that position—

Sir D. Savory

Much more, many thousands.

Mr. Robens

In that case this £10,000 is inadequate, and therefore the amount we are now being asked to agree to will not be sufficient. The Joint Under-Secretary of State said that the Governor would make an estimate of his expenses for the year, and that an allowance would be made upon that basis. If, however, he overspent, presumably a Supplementary Estimate would be prepared and the overspent amount, provided that it was not more than the total of £10,000, would be provided.

The hon. Gentleman also said that if the Governor underspent his estimate, the surplus would be carried forward. Surely that cannot be correct. Estimates stand on their own for the year, and surpluses on Estimates cannot be carried forward to another fiscal year. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will clear up that point because, if the carry-forward procedure were to be adopted, we should soon be exceeding the amount for which Parliament is properly about to make provision.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

As much of this discussion as has been in order is long overdue, I hope that the matters which were not in order may be discussed in the near future on an occasion when they can be in order, because when I was responsible, as the right hon. and gallant Gentleman now is, for the affairs in Northern Ireland, I was perturbed at the difficulty of analysing the financial situation of the Governor, and of meeting the situation that would undoubtedly arise in the not distant future, when it would be well-nigh impossible to get anyone to fill this office because of the expenses attached to it.

The arrangement whereby there is a salary—which ought to be appropriate to the duties which have to be discharged as a statesman and Governor—should be separate from any allowance that may be made to the Governor in respect of the expenses he has to incur. Therefore, I welcome the division now being made and, as far as those two sums are concerned, what the House will give its mind to is whether reasonably appropriate figures have been inserted in the Bill; that is to say, whether £4,000 is an appropriate figure for the salary, and an expense account of two-and-a-half times as much at the maximum is also an appropriate figure.

I have some sympathy with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. M. O'Neill). Whereas when one goes to the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, which similarly fall within the jurisdiction of the Home Secretary, one meets at official functions people who support the majority and people who support the minority in the legislative assemblies of those places, when one goes to an official function in Northern Ireland one meets only the members of one party.

Sir D. Savory

The others refuse the invitations which are sent to them.

Mr. Ede

Even if they do, that does not alter the truth of my comment. That is one of the difficulties that presents itself to anyone who tries to observe the ordinary decencies of an ordered democracy in the atmosphere of Northern Ireland. I do not want to say any more about it than that, but what I have said cannot be denied.

I am a little concerned by the explanation of the Joint Under-Secretary about the way in which the money is to be accounted for. We were given what appeared to me to be a somewhat difficult explanation to follow. I understand that out of the money, which must not exceed £10,000, some of the domestic expenditure of the Governor will be met.

Major Lloyd-George

The purely domestic expenditure comes out of the salary.

Mr. Ede

It all depends what one means in this context by "domestic." The Joint Under-Secretary asked us to assume that the total expended by the Governor would be £9,000. Then it was said that £1,250 of that was money that he himself ought to have spent. That is what I regard as domestic expenditure; it is the maintenance of the house as a residence, apart from the official part of the residence, and the entertainment of his own friends who happen to visit him and cannot be regarded as concerned with the official position that he occupies. It was said that £1,250 from the £9,000 could be attributed to that expenditure, and that there would then be £7,750 to come out of the £9,000.

I should have thought that that was a very unsatisfactory way to deal with the matter. Mixing up the private and official accounts of the Governor seems to be something that we ought to avoid. I do not know what system of auditing applies. This matter does not come within the purview of the Auditor General; the estimate is made and agreed with the Treasury, and when the expenditure is afterwards incurred, I do not know how it is supposed the accounting is to be made.

Normally, one would have expected this to come before the Auditor General, and the Committee on Public Accounts would have comments on it if there had occurred anything to which the Auditor General took exception. However, this is expenditure out of the Consolidated Fund—I have taken the trouble to be properly informed on the matter—and does not come within the purview of the Auditor General.

I should like to know whether it is possible to deal with this more simply than the hon. Gentleman indicated and that the private expenditure of the Governor should not appear in the figures. Whatever is the charge against the £10,000 from the first should be money that could ultimately be defrayed out of that expenditure.

8.45 p.m.

It seems to be quite unnecessary to have this complication on the assumption that part of the money includes, let us say, the sum set aside as the rent of the premises that the Governor occupies in Hillsborough, the rooms that he occupies for his family life. I should have thought that that could be assessed. It is a definite sum, probably arbitrarily agreed, but certainly a sum that could be agreed. When one came to the total bill for the house, that part could be deducted from it, or he could make the payment into the Exchequer from the salary he receives.

I cannot see that there is any question of services, the employment of servants and other people. That ought to be the subject of allocation between the two accounts. If there is, I should have thought that, there again, it should be a sum that should be allocated at the beginning of the year before the expenditure is incurred. I hope that when we agree the figures they will be clear-cut and that there will be no subsequent disputes about them.

If there is anything that is undignified, whether in municipal or national affairs, it is when one gets into a dispute about whether another couple of hundred pounds should have been paid from one side or the other. One gets into acrimony on points like that. I hope that we can be assured that an account will be made more simply than the hon. Gentleman indicated and that when we come to deal with the Clause in Committee we shall be able to get definite understandings, so that there will be no possible excuse for dispute thereafter.

Mr. Austen Albu (Edmonton)

I came into the House for the business which is to follow this, and, therefore, the Committee will understand why I was extremely interested in the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). I was not here during the debate, but I gathered from what he said that the sums to be granted under the Bill will be sums of which surpluses will not be returnable to the Treasury.

That may or may not be a good thing, and I should be out of order if I were to argue that. But I believe I am right in drawing attention to the fact that the Select Committee on Estimates, in a recent Report on grants-in-aid—and I take it that this is a grant-in-aid and not an ordinary Vote, because the sums are not returnable—pointed out that a Money Resolution should always draw attention to the fact that it is a grant-in-aid and that sums will not be returnable. A mistake was made by the Government last year, and again in this one. This is a grant-in-aid, and not a Vote in the ordinary sense. If that is the case, the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum should have made it clear.

I am surprised that a Government composed of Members supposed to be so interested in the control of expenditure should take so little trouble to make it clear exactly in what way the money is to be spent. This is a very serious matter to which Treasury attention has already been drawn. The Treasury has assured the Select Committee on Estimates that where grants are to be made in payment of sums dealt with in a Bill, the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum should so state, and it does not do so in this case.

Sir H. Lucas-Tooth

The points which have been raised are matters which can be dealt with better during the Committee stage of the Bill than now, when we are concerned rather with the limited amount of money which can be paid out under the Bill. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) thought that it was unfortunate that there should be a mixing of private and official expenditure. In this connection that cannot be helped.

The Governor and his family are necessarily using the accommodation and the services available. The alternative to mixing them would be that he should have one separate private household and another separate official household. Obviously, that would be undesirable and expensive. Somehow they must be disentangled, and I do not think that it will be very difficult to do so in practice.

Perhaps my answer to the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) will indicate how that will be done. He spoke, as did the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu), of what is generally known as virement. We are not dealing with a Government Department. This is not expenditure incurred in the ordinary way by a Government Department, when sums are paid out from time to time as they are needed. Here there will necessarily be an assessment at the beginning of the year, and a payment to the Governor of what is estimated to be required by him.

At the end of the year the money will already have been paid out, so the situation will be different from that of an ordinary Government Department. Suppose that at the end of the year it is found that the Governor has in his hands £500 in excess of what he can account for as having been properly spent by him for the purpose of the allowance, then he will be deemed to have that £500, and in the following year the necessary adjustment will be made in the allowance to be paid to him. I do not think that there will be any difficulty in working out the matter on those lines.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make further provision as to the salary and expenses of the Governor of Northern Ireland, it is expedient to authorise the payment to the said Governor out of the Consolidated Fund of—

  1. (a) a salary at the rate of four thousand pounds per annum; and
  2. (b) an allowance in respect of expenses of an amount not exceeding ten thousand pounds per annum.

Resolution to be reported Tomorrow.