HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc1504-7

7.51 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Mills)

I beg to move,

That the Mr. Speaker Neill's Retirement (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th July, be approved.

The purpose of the order is to provide an annuity for the former Speaker of the Northern Ireland House of Commons, who retired on 31st March. Hon. Members will recall that until the Parliamentary and Other Pensions Act 1972 established a framework for the award of pensions to retiring Speakers of this House it was necessary to introduce legislation in each case, so that over the years there was a series of individual Acts dealing with pensions for individual Speakers. The 1972 Act provides that in future a retiring Speaker shall receive a pension amounting to half his salary at the time he retires, and no further legislation will be required to meet individual cases.

In Northern Ireland, however, there is no parallel to the 1972 Act and legislation is still required to provide a superannuation award for a retiring Speaker.

Of the three previous Speakers of the Northern Ireland House of Commons, only the third received such an award. This was Mr. Speaker Stronge, who was granted an annuity of £1,500 a year in addition to his Member's pension by Mr. Speaker Stronge's Retirement Act (Northern Ireland) 1969. Under the Act he was permitted to draw his Member's pension, instead of having his contributions to the Members' Pension Fund refunded, and this was taken into account in fixing the level of the annuity at one-third of his salary.

It is proposed to retain this formula in calculating the pension for Mr. Speaker Neill but, since the Northern Ireland Speaker's salary was fixed in April 1965 and has not been increased since, it seems only equitable to increase the amount of the pension by the amount by which a pension commencing in April 1965 would have been increased under pensions increase legislation since that date. This would give Mr. Speaker Neill a pension of £2,260, in addition to his pension of £665 as a Member of the Northern Ireland House of Commons.

It is intended that regulations by the Ministry of Finance under Sections 5(2) and 14 of the Pensions (Increase) Act (Northern Ireland) 1971 will provide for future pensions increases under that Act to apply to the annuity proposed to be granted to Mr. Speaker Neill under the order.

It is right and proper to recognise Mr. Speaker Neill's service in this way.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)

The Opposition would like to seize the opportunity of paying tribute to a distinguished Speaker. Mr. Speaker Neill has deserved well of the community, and we wish him a long and happy retirement.

It is never easy to find a worthy successor to a distinguished Speaker, but we regret the difficulty being experienced in that quest. It is important that the Assembly should begin to function effectively as quickly as possible.

This is the 49th piece of legislation concerning Northern Ireland, if we include Bills and orders, which we have debated in the Chamber since the passing of the Northern Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act, and later tonight we shall debate the 50th.

Perhaps it is an appropriate moment to celebrate our half-century by rising for the Summer Recess. We would, however, do so with lighter hearts if we felt that the new Assembly was in a position rapidly to seize the challenge and the opportunities. Much of the legislation we have discussed would have been more appropriately handled in the Province. We wish to see Irish Members debating Irish questions.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition suggested that if a form of Executive could be agreed upon quickly we should not begrudge being recalled from our holidays to consider a possible order activating Part II of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act.

In paying our tribute to Mr. Speaker Neill we acknowledge the passing of an era while welcoming a new era, with its opportunities. It would be tragic if those opportunities were allowed to be wasted.

7.57 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim South)

I join in the tribute paid to Mr. Speaker Neil and his predecessors by the hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer). Northern Ireland has been fortunate to have a man of such outstanding ability to perform that task. The decision to abolish Stormont was, in a way a concession to the terrorists in the hope that such a gesture would isolate the moderate Catholics from the IRA. It was reasoned that to concede to the terrorists would, somehow, isolate them. It is not a belief to which I have subscribed. In retrospect it can be seen to have failed.

At a time when it looks as if the wisdom of Solomon may be needed to find a successor to Mr. Speaker Neill in the new Assembly, what will happen when the Assembly comes to consider matters of real substance if it finds it so difficult to push a reluctant successor to the Floor to accept the post? I confess that my fears have been reinforced as to the credibility and the viability of the whole structure when it comes to a real test of matters of policy. Because of these fears it would have been better timing to leave the order until after the recess. We might have been in a better position then to judge the situation of the new Assembly.

Mr. Peter Mills

I thank the hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) for welcoming the order and for his tribute to Mr. Speaker Neill. Certainly Mr. Speaker Neill had a difficult period in office.

I add my tribute to those offered in the House for the wise and careful role that Mr. Speaker Neill has played over the years. The hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton mentioned the difficulty of finding a presiding officer. I must correct him—it is not a Speaker but a presiding officer.

Mr. Peter Archer

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary but the words I used were "worthy successor".

Mr. Mills

I apologise—the "worthy successor" is called a presiding officer. We must have patience in this matter. It is important to get the right man to carry out this difficult task. There are considerable discussions going on between the various parties. But it is important to get a presiding officer, and I am sure that that will become a reality soon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) also paid tribute to Mr. Speaker Neill. My hon. Friend probably knows more about him than most of us here, and we must take my hon. Friend's words into account. However, I had better not stray into any other path on that other than to say that it is important for the House to agree to this order so that Mr. Speaker Neill can have his well-earned pension.

Question put and agreed to.


That the Mr. Speaker Neill's Retirement (Northern Ireland) Order 1973, a draft of which was laid before this House on 16th July, be approved.