HC Deb 12 May 1959 vol 605 cc1203-4

Considered in Committee.

[Sir CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the rate of the salary which may be granted to the Comptroller and Auditor General under section one of the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act, 1957, be increased from six thousand pounds to seven thousand pounds per annum, and the date from which, under subsection (3) of that section, the person now holding that Office is entitled to a salary at the said increased rate be the first day of February, nineteen hundred and fifty-nine.—[Mr. Simon.].

11.43 p.m.

Sir George Benson (Chesterfield)

I cannot allow this occasion to pass, even at this late hour, without saying a few words. It is now thirty years since I first became a Member of the Public Accounts Committee, and the Comptroller and Auditor General is the guide, philosopher and friend of that Committee. He sits with the Committee and, as the oldest Member of that Committee, it is fitting that I should say a few words.

This Motion is perhaps the last phase of a battle, which started some six centuries ago, for the control of finance by Parliament. The Comptroller and Auditor General is not a civil servant. He is a servant of Parliament, and particularly of the House of Commons. It is true that he is appointed by the Crown, but once appointed he can be dismissed only by a joint Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. He is the watchdog of Parliament as against the Government. His power is immense. He controls the purse strings on our behalf and the Government cannot draw a single penny from the Consolidated Fund without the consent of his signature. He is not merely a Comptroller. He is a Comptroller in his function of releasing money to the Government, but in his other function he audits the whole of the Government's accounts and he sits with the Public Accounts Committee and advises and helps us in our report to Parliament on the post mortem of the previous year. I welcome the fact that we had got rid of the cumbrous proceeding of a Parliamentary Bill which has hitherto been necessary to increase his salary and that it can now be done by the formal Resolution of the House.

11.45 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)

It is entirely appropriate that the main speech in support of this Resolution should be made by the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Sir G. Benson) who is the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. The hon. Gentleman has put the constitutional position with great felicity and also the change made in the arrangements for fixing the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Ever since the Exchequer and Audit Department was organised on its present basis in 1868 the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor General has been equal to that of the head of a major Government Department, and this Resolution follows the recent increases recommended by the Coleraine Committee and implemented by the Government.

Question put and agreed to

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow.