§ MR. CHILDERS
said, he wished, before the House went into Committee of Supply, to put a Question of some importance to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with respect to the Estimates which were about to be submitted. The Government were defeated at the end of April or the beginning of May upon a question which, under ordinary circumstances, would have 1127 been followed by an immediate dissolution. In consequence of the peculiar state of the law with regard to the representation of the people the Government were not able to advise the Queen at once to dissolve the Parliament; but they advised that it should be dissolved ns soon as the Scotch and Irish Reform Bills should have been passed; and they stated that they hoped to bring in a Bill to shorten the period of the registration, so that the elections might occur in the autumn. However, they added that, as the scheme was placed he-fore them in an imperfect state, they were not then able to specify when the elections would occur. That statement having been made and Government having desired time for full consideration, no immediate action was taken with respect to the amount of Estimates which would be required before the dissolution; but the Government were asked once or twice last month whether they had arrived at a decision as to the time of the elections. The answer given by the Government was that the matter was still under consideration; but to-night the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had given notice of a Bill to shorten the period of the registration during the present year. The House must, therefore, conclude that the Government had decided when the elections would occur; and this would be doubtless stated when the Home Secretary introduced the Bill. Under these circumstances, it might naturally be asked how much Supply the Government were going to ask the House to vote, for, in accordance with all precedent, neither the Government, after experiencing a hostile vote, would ask the House to grant nor would the House consent to give more Supply than was necessary to cover the period which would elapse until the earliest time when Parliament might meet again. In 1841, when Lord Melbourne's Administration was defeated by a majority of 1 upon a Vote of Want of Confidence, Lord Russell stated a day or two afterwards that Lord Melbourne had advised the Queen to dissolve Parliament, and the question arose for how long a time Supply should be granted to the Government. The position of things was almost the same then as at present, for some of the Estimates had been passed. Indeed, almost the whole of the Army Estimates had been voted, the whole of the Navy Estimates were voted, but only a part of the Commissariat Estimates and a small part of the Civil Service Estimates had been passed. The Government 1128 were pressed by Sir Robert Peel to state distinctly the amount of Supply they would ask for, and a debate having ensued, Lord Russell said—In regard to the Miscellaneous Estimates, they would take the same course which was pursued in 1830, on the death of George IV. They proposed to take a sum on account for six months from the 1st of April last, sufficient to supply the immediate wants of the Budget and prevent inconvenience to individual and public officers."—[3 Hansard, lviii. 1264.]That occurred on June 7, the Vote of Want of Confidence having been carried on the 4th. Therefore, the view taken by the Government then was that only sufficient Supply should be taken to cover such brief period as must elapse before Parliament could meet again. A question was raised whether the Government were not asking too much, and Sir Robert Peel used these words—The Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to take the whole of the remaining Estimates for six months. That appeared to him to be a material departure from the usual course … Not only ought the act of dissolution to be as soon as it could take place consistently with the manifest demands of the public service; but the new Parliament should be convoked immediately. If the noble Lord took a Vote for the various remaining Estimates for six months, that would clearly enable His would submit to the House that taking a Vote on the Estimates for three months would be amply sufficient. Still, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say that there were certain Votes for which a grant of three months would not suffice, he would grant the additional sum."—[3 Hansard, lviii. 1270.]A distinct engagement was then given that Parliament should be dissolved so as to meet not later than the month of September. His right hon. Friend near him reminded him that the Parliament met again on the 19th of August. However, sufficient Supply was taken to cover the intervening period until the re-assembling of the new Parliament. He (Mr. Childers) had referred carefully to the Appropriation Act of 1841, and he found that that understanding was carried out in the spirit and the letter. All the Votes passed before these explanations were included in full in the Appropriation Act; but all the Votes not previously taken were granted for six months only, and this was stated distinctly in the Appropriation Act. Assuming, then, that the Government would not think of doing otherwise than following the precedent of 1841—based, as that was, on the precedent of 1830—he would now ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, For 1129 how many months from the present moment the Government would ask the House to grant the remaining Estimates? and he hoped the answer which the right hon. Gentleman would give would be so precise as to enable the Committee of Supply to proceed with the Education and other Votes, the Government undertaking to ask for only such an amount as would be sufficient for that period.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was somewhat inconvenient that a Question of this kind should be put without Notice. He thought the cases referred to by his hon. Friend (Mr. Childers) were not parallel with the existing position of things. At present a Reform Bill was passed for England; but the Boundary Bill was not passed, and the Reform Bills for Scotland and Ireland were not passed, Therefore, it was utterly impossible to say at present when there could be a dissolution. He hoped that there was no misapprehension as to the desire of the Government to bring about a dissolution as speedily as possible and when the hon. Gentleman suggested that Supply should, in order to insure an early dissolution, only be granted for a limited time, he could assure the House that it was unnecessary for such a course to be taken, as it was the intention of the Government to bring about a dissolution as soon as possible. The period for which the Supplies would be taken must depend on the time when a dissolution was possible. At the present moment it was almost impossible to say when there could he a dissolution. Under these circumstances the House would hardly expect the Government to say for what period they would ask the Supplies; but if the hon. Gentleman would repeat his Question tomorrow he should be happy to give him an answer.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, there being no Resolutions passed as yet he was unable to say when they would be reported. It was usual that Resolutions passed in Committee of Supply one evening should be reported the next. Perhaps it would be more convenient to take the Report on Monday than to-morrow.
§ MR. CHILDERS
thought this nut a party question but a constitutional question of great importance, and he wished to know whether, in the event of Resolutions being taken to-night, the right hon. Gentleman would be prepared to say on Mon- 1130 day for what period the Supplies would be taken—for the whole year or only for a certain number of months?