Thompson, Samuel Herbert Hall- (1885–1954), unionist politician, was born in Crawfordsburn, Co. Down, son of Robert Thompson, chairman of Lindsay, Thompson & Co. Ltd, flax spinners, who owned residences in both Crawfordsburn and Belfast. Robert Thompson was later to become the MP for Belfast North from 1910 to 1918. S. H. Hall-Thompson's mother was Susanna, daughter of Edward Thomas. Hall-Thompson (his name appears in this form in a school register, 1892) was educated at Methodist College, Belfast, and Dulwich College. On leaving school he entered Lindsay, Thompson & Co. Ltd as an apprentice, eventually becoming chairman of the firm.
In 1907 he joined the Donegal Artillery Militia, from which he transferred to the Royal Field Artillery Reserve in 1909. In 1913 he transferred to the 4th Royal Irish Rifles (Royal North Downs). During 1913–14 he was the commanding officer of a UVF battalion in Belfast. During the Great War he served with the Royal Irish Rifles in Egypt and France from 1915 to 1919. From 1920 to 1922 he was a commandant in ‘B’ Division, Ulster Special Constabulary.
Hall-Thompson was elected to Belfast corporation in 1922 and became an alderman for the Clifton ward. He was chairman of the electricity committee and the education building committee. In 1925 he was instrumental in setting up a branch of the Junior Imperial League in Belfast. He retired from Belfast corporation in 1931.
In 1929 Hall-Thompson entered the Northern Ireland parliament as unionist member for Clifton. He served on the public accounts committee, was acting deputy speaker, and was vice-chairman of the Stevenson health committee which sat in 1943. Also in 1943 he became chairman of the standing committee of the Ulster Unionist Council. On the outbreak of war, Hall-Thompson re-enlisted and was appointed chief ordnance officer for Northern Ireland with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He held this position until 1942.
In 1944 Hall-Thompson was appointed minister of education. The Education Act (Northern Ireland), 1947, his enduring legacy, was effectively copied from contemporary British legislation, the Butler act of 1944. However, the 1944 Northern Ireland white paper on education swiftly ran into difficulty. The catholic bishops wanted 100 per cent government funding for schools under their control, rather than the 65 per cent proposed. Protestant groups and backbench unionist MPs opposed the conscience clause, which effectively meant that teachers appointed to state schools did not have to be practising members of a protestant denomination or capable of providing religious instruction (overturning the provisions of the 1930 education act). Hall-Thompson pushed ahead with his far-sighted reforms, and was responsible for steering the 1947 act through Stormont. Its positive aspects were that free education was provided for all up to school-leaving age, and the provision of free school meals, milk, textbooks, and medical examinations was either introduced or extended. The act also introduced the 11-plus examination, enabling 25 per cent of pupils to attend grammar schools, and introduced means-tested grants for those progressing to university. However, in 1949 Hall-Thompson resigned over a related issue, when Viscount Brookeborough (qv), the Northern Ireland prime minister, attended an Orange Order meeting opposing Hall-Thompson's plans to pay catholic teachers' national insurance and superannuation contributions.
After 1949 Hall-Thompson continued to play an important role in the Northern Ireland parliament. In 1951 he was appointed deputy speaker and chairman of ways and means. However, in 1953 he narrowly lost his seat to an independent unionist, Norman Porter (qv), the director of the Evangelical Protestant Society, which had vehemently opposed Hall-Thompson's education reforms.
Unusually for a unionist MP of this period, Hall-Thompson was not a member of the Orange Order. However, he was involved in a wide number of voluntary activities. He was chairman of the board of governors of Campbell College, Belfast, master of the North Down Harriers, and president of the Irish Bowling Association. He died at his home at Cairnburn, Belmont, Belfast on 26 October 1954.
He married (1911) Margaret, daughter of Thomas Trew Maclean of Glenanne, Co. Armagh; they had one daughter and two sons. Samuel Robert Hall-Thompson followed his father into politics, being elected to the Northern Ireland parliament in 1969 for his father's old Clifton seat.