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Clause 9—(Provision As To Certain Officers Of The Household)

Volume 312: debated on Monday 11 May 1936

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

7.50 p.m.

A short discussion took place on the subject raised in this Clause when the Bill was before the House the other night, and I should like to have a little more information with regard to the situation created by the proposed alteration. I gathered from the answer given to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) that this Clause made no difference in the position of the three officers concerned, except a change of the Vote on which their salaries were charged; but I think it goes a little further. These three officers, the Treasurer of the Household, the Comptroller of the Household and the Vice-Chamberlain of the Household have hitherto been officers of His Majesty's Household, and if the step proposed in Clause 9 had not been taken, their salaries would have been fixed by the Civil List Bill and questions relating to them could not have been raised again until a new Civil List was discussed, whereas the effect of transferring the salaries of these officers from the Civil List to the ordinary Estimates will be that their salaries will come annually before the House, and anything relating to them can be discussed. If we dissent from anything they do or the way they discharge their duties, a motion to reduce their salaries can be moved on one of the days devoted to the Supply Estimates.

These three officers discharge certain duties. On occasion they come to us, gaily apparelled, in order to bring a Message from the Throne. Hitherto, I understand that their conduct or demeanour on such an occasion would be a subject for the Sovereign. to deal with and not for this House, but in future if we do not approve of the way they behave on these occasions, or if they are improperly dressed, it will be for us to raise the matter. I understand also that one of these officers performs an even more important duty. The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household performs the duty of sending daily a report of the proceedings of the House to the reigning Sovereign. When a friend of mine held that office, I got into serious trouble for trying to take him away from the Whips' Office one evening at a certain hour when he had not completed his letter to the Sovereign. He had to complete that duty before he could attend to anything else, pleasurable as the occasion was to which I had invited him.

Do the proposed changes mean that it will be possible for us to call for the production of that Message? This officer is now to be our officer, and not the officer of the Crown. Would it be possible for us if the Message were not produced when we wanted it, to move a reduction of that officer's salary when the appropriate occasion arose? I should have thought that when we were transferring these officers there would have been one other officer who would have been transferred, and that is the Lord Chamberlain. I cannot help thinking that it is regrettable that this opportunity of transferring the Lord Chamberlain from being an officer borne on the Civil List to an officer borne on the Estimates of the House, has not been taken. He discharges now, apparently as a sort of Court function, the duty of the censorship of plays, and he has certain duties in regard to the control of theatres, important matters with regard to the expression of opinion in this country, for which he is not responsible to this House or to Parliament.

I do not think I can allow the hon. Member to discuss at any length a subject which if he had moved an Amendment to that effect I should have ruled it out of order.

May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary whether the question of transferring the Lord Chamberlain with the other three officers was considered, and, if so, for what reason was it decided not to include that officer in this Clause? I should have thought that it would have been a good thing while we were making the change to have made a clean sweep. I understand that one of the reasons for transferring these three officers to the Estimates is that their salaries may be dealt with and that they may be given the salary that is regarded as appropriate to a Government Whip. At the moment they are in the anomalous position that while they are supposed to be the principal assistants of the Patronage Secretary to the Treasury they are less well paid than those Whips who are Junior Lords of the Treasury, with salary. Anything that removes anomalies in the payment of Members on the Front Bench opposite is a matter worthy of consideration. The principal anomaly is that they sit there at all, but we have to endure that. While they do sit there, anomalies ought to be dealt with.

7.58 p.m.

The position of the Lord Chamberlain is quite different from that of the three officers mentioned in the Clause. His is not an office which changes with the Government, but the officers mentioned in the Clause are Whips of the party in office. It, therefore, seems appropriate that their salaries should be borne upon the Estimates and not on the Civil List, thereby swelling the Civil List, seeing that their principal duties are in connection with this House. There is nothing changed by this Clause except that the salaries of these officers are being borne upon the Votes instead of the Civil List.

Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 10 to 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.