HC Deb 17 March 1964 vol 691 cc1332-5

Again considered in Committee.

Mr. Fletcher

I was saying that there may well be other very good reasons why this Motion should be brought before us from time to time. I am not sure that I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Blackburn) that it would be a good idea if, by a Resolution of the House, the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor-General were necessarily equated with that of the principal officers in particular Government Departments.

Mr. Blackburn

I suggested that because the Minister said that it had been the practice for the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor-General to approximate to that of the head of a Department. If that is the case, and if the practice is likely to continue, I think that it would be a good idea to pass a Resolution to that effect.

Mr. Fletcher

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point of view, but I was saying that I would not be in agreement with a Resolution of the House that the salary of the Comptroller and Auditor-General should automatically for ever be equated with the salary of the head of a particular Government Department. My opinion—and I think that this view has been expressed by various hon. Members is that the position, responsibility, prestige, and duties, of the Comptroller and Auditor-General are something very special.

I am not persuaded that his salary should necessarily be no more than that of the head of a Government Department. My experience is that his responsibilities are increasing. His overall responsibility for examining the financial undertakings of every Government Department, and his special duties to this House, are becoming increasingly important as the whole ambit of Government expenditure increases and as the difficulties of hon. Members in having real control over Government expenditure increases. I think that in the near future there may well be a case for recognising those increasing responsibilities and seeing that his salary is perhaps greater than that of some of the principal officers of Government Departments. I, therefore, think it desirable that the House should have a continuous watch over it, and be able to examine it from time to time to see whether it is reasonable that it should be equated with that of other principal officers, or whether it should be greater. I hope, therefore, that the present procedure will continue.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

Everyone desires that this matter should be dealt with fairly and quickly, but the Minister raised doubts in my mind when he spoke about delay. I am not an expert on the mysteries of Income Tax, and I hope the Minister will make certain that the Comptroller and Auditor General is paid his arrears in this financial year so that he will not have to pay Income Tax twice on the amount that he receives.

Mr. Green

Normally income is taxed in the year to which it relates, and this is specifically related back to 1st August, 1963.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

I apologise to the Committee for having been inadvertently delayed. It was my express wish to speak earlier in the debate on this Motion. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee it is a great pleasure to me to support the Motion. It is very unusual for pay increases to be accompanied by expressions of thanks—usually the money is allowed to sneak for itself—but on this occasion the Public Accounts Committee wishes to place on record its great appreciation of the services of the Comptroller and Auditor General. In this Session particularly I have had occasion to be very grateful for the services of this valuable servant of the House.

I understand that it had been suggested that this is perhaps not the most appropriate way of dealing with the salary of the Comptroller. I understand that years ago it required a special Act of Parliament to do it—which would have been more distasteful still. I have no doubt that it would be more agreeable to any officer of the House or public servant to have his salary adjusted from time to time in traditional fashion in relation to the changes in salary levels of comparable grades in the Civil Ser- vice, and not to be subject to this special measure of adjustment.

Many hon. Members would wish for the same thing. They would desire that the pay of Members of Parliament should be linked with some grade or class in the Civil Service, which would enable Parliamentary salaries automatically to be adjusted as changes took place in public service salaries. That might be an easy way out of the distasteful but nevertheless necessary operation of doing certain things publicly, being seen to do them, and taking full responsibility for doing them.

In this case none of us is personally involved, but it is one of the drawbacks of this high office that the pay of the Comptroller has to be distinguished from that of mar y officers of a similar rank in the Civil Service, and to be dealt with specially by this House. But when this exercise is accompanied by universal expressions of appreciation and thanks, surely the distasteful elements are compensated by that appreciation, which we sincerely feel.

The country would be a great deal worse off without officers of the integrity of the Comptroller and Auditor General. His responsibilities to the House and to the country are very great, and in making his reports Le has to be impartial. He has to weigh his words carefully, because they will be taken up. Publicity is given to matters on which he reports to the House, and discussion takes place upon them. I need scarcely say that the Public Accounts Committee equally has a very heavy responsibility in examining the reports of d e Comptroller and Auditor General and interrogating accounting officers upon it.

I have spoken for rather longer than I would have expected to do if I had been in my place at the proper time. In that sense I am perhaps making amends for my absence. I warmly support the Motion, and I am sure that the whole House will approve it with a great sense of satisfaction with the services of the Comptroller and Auditor General.

Question putt and agreed to.

Resolved, That the rat of the salary which may be granted to the Comptroller and Auditor General under section 1 of the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1957 be increased from seven thousand pounds to eight thousand two hundred and eighty-five 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 August, nineteen hundred and sixty-three.

Resolution to be reported.

Report to be received Tomorrow.