HL Deb 11 June 1974 vol 352 cc343-5

3.34 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move this Bill be now read a second time. The purpose of this short Bill is to enable the Secretary of State for Scotland, with approval of Parliament, to pay, in this and future years, an allowance to the Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland—an appointment held with distinction by more than one of your Lordships—sufficient to enable him to carry out his duties in the manner appropriate to his historic Office. The Bill would replace existing legislation dating from 1959 which provides for the allowance to be paid directly from the Consolidated Fund and to be subject to a limit of £7,500 annually. The Bill proposes that in future the maximum will be determined in any year by an entry in the Estimates of the Scottish Home and Health Department; and consequently the amount to be advanced for the allowance will be subject to annual approval by Parliament. At this point I ought to emphasise that the allowance is in no sense a salary. It is used only to defray the expenses necessarily incurred by the Lord High Commissioner in the performance of his duties. It was defined over eighty years ago as being not remuneration for active duties, but an allowance for the purpose of discharging with dignity the hospitable rights of an office of honour". I do not propose to describe at length the history of the Office, but your Lordships, especially those not from Scotland who are present, may find it helpful if I mention that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Lord High Commissioner was at the centre of the bitter disputes between Church and Monarch in Scotland. These unhappy and controversial days are long past: the General Assembly has met annually since 1694, and at all but one of its meetings during these 280 years the Sovereign has been represented by a Commissioner who has assured the Assembly of the Sovereign's good will and intention to uphold the Presbyterian form of Church government. The exception, my Lords, was in 1969, when Her Majesty the Queen decided to be present in person during the General Assembly of that year. It was an occasion which was greeted with enthusiasm by all connected with the Church in Scotland, and I would say by many outside it as well.

As the Queen's representative during the Assembly, the Lord High Commissioner occupies the Palace of Holyroodhouse and there offers hospitality to a number of guests, including ministers and office-bearers of the Church and representatives from all walks of life in Scotland—industry, commerce, central and local government, the Arts, the trades and professions. Visitors from countries overseas in which the Church has a special interest are also invited and made particularly welcome. This hospitality is greatly appreciated by Scots people of many religious and political persuasions. This is perhaps the more so since, in recent years, Commissioners have moved towards greater informality and simplicity. This year the Commissioner entertained more than 5,000 people, young and old, from all walks of life in the course of the Assembly.

The proposed change from Consolidated Fund to Departmental Vote has two advantages. It will allow the changing value of money to be taken into account in the fixing of the allowance annually by the Secretary of State for Scotland in consultation with the Treasury. Secondly, Parliament will be provided with an annual opportunity to scrutinise the size of past payments and the estimates of future ones. In this way, the allowance will keep abreast of changing money values but at the same time will still be confined to meeting only those expenses of Commissioners which are absolutely essential. I am confident your Lordships will readily give this Bill, which has passed through another place, a Second Reading. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Hughes.)

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I should like briefly from these Benches to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for his few words explaining the Bill, and thoroughly to endorse what he has said. In these days of high taxation, it is absurd to expect people of suitable calibre to have to dig into their pockets on the one hand, or alternatively, as Her Majesty's representative, to act in a niggardly fasion. This is certainly not what is appreciated in Scotland. As someone belonging to another religion who will never be able to be a High Commissioner, and also as one of another religion who thoroughly appreciates the other Christian religions in Scotland, I would endorse this great annual meeting of the Church assembled in Edinburgh as a very important annual event in Scotland. England and Scotland do not like their Sovereign's representatives having to dig into their pockets, as has happened in the past. However, my Lords, those days are passing.

We have always enjoyed a very high standard of representation. I think the Church of Scotland and the people in Scotland, whether of that Church, or of no Church, or of other Churches, generally look upon this Assembly as a most important event in Scotland's year. I would therefore endorse what the noble Lord has said, and recommend the passing of this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a; Committee negatived.