HC Deb 24 June 1890 vol 345 cc1799-805

I wish to ask your ruling, Sir, on a matter affecting Parliamentary procedure. By the Budget Bill, which received the Royal Assent on June 9, the Government provided by the 7th clause of the measure that the duties on spirits and beer were to be dealt with in a particular way, and that the proceeds arising out of these levies Shall be appropriated as Parliament may hereafter direct by any Act passed in the present Session. These words were inserted upon my Motion. At that time the Local Taxation Bill was running concurrently with the Budget Bill, and the one measure was regarded as a kind of companion to the other. So that these words put in the Local Taxation Bill provided that the moneys raised by spirits and beer were to be immediately spent. At any rate, the word "appropriated" used in the 7th section of that measure was not then intended to cover a locking up of the funds, but the words "expenditure and paying out of the fund." Now, the Government propose, by the Amendments of the President of the Local Government Board, to insert in the Local Taxation Bill words which give an entirely different meaning to the word "appropriate," because they propose to provide that the levies on whisky and beer shall be locked up for an interminable period, and shall be spent under an Act which may not be passed for years to come. What I submit is this: that the Government, having passed into law a measure which has now received the Royal Assent, ear-marking a certain meaning to the word "appropriate," and attaching a sense of expenditure to it, it is not in accordance with the procedure of this House that the Government can now entirely change the meaning of this Act passed in the present Session by another measure which proposes to fix to the word "appropriate" a meaning of a wholly different character.


With reference to the observations which we have just heard, and the subject of which is new to me, I would venture to say that, as I understand the matter, the Bill now before the House does not fix a new interpretation to the word "appropriate," but entirely contravenes the meaning of the word "appropriate." The meaning of the word "appropriate" having been fixed by Statute during the present Session, the present Bill proposes that the money shall not be appropriated. If there is one word well understood in the financial practice of this House it is the word "appropriate. The term Appropriation Act, which is familiar to us all, is sufficient to illustrate our meaning.


On the point of order, may I submit the following point:—In this Bill there were three propositions—one relating to England, another to Scotland, and the third to Ireland. In the case of Ireland the money was not appropriated for the service of the year. The case of Ireland was that a portion of the money was to be appropriated as should afterwards be determined by Parliament. I therefore submit that at that very time the word "appropriate" did not carry the narrow interpretation which the hon. Member for Longford now seeks to assign to it; but that it covered the whole of the money, including the portion which was to be disposed of as Parliament should hereafter direct.


I ask you to consider, Sir, what was the meaning then, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's point of view, of the introduction of those words "during the present Session." They were introduced for the express purpose of securing that the appropriation of this money should be completed during the present year; and that the money should not be voted while the complete appropriation was postponed until a future period. Those words, no doubt, might have been ambiguous as they stood, but it was to remove that very ambiguity that the hon. and learned Member for Longford asked for the insertion of the words which were accepted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in order to make it clear that the appropriation, except in the case of Ireland, was especially provided for, and should be made in the present year.


I submit, Sir, that this Bill, if it is carried into law, does comply with the provisions embodied in the Budget Bill, and that it does appropriate the money which has been voted.


The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Longford has raised a question the importance of which I do not think he has overrated. It is a question, I must confess, rather of constitutional interpretation than one of a point of order, upon which I venture to hope, generally speaking, my ruling would be accepted by the House. But I respectfully give the House such opinion as I have formed on the matter, although I do regard it as a matter affecting the constitutional relations of this House, and greatly affecting the whole question of Money Bills and appropriation. The 7th clause of the Customs and Inland Revenue Act, which has been passed into law, enacted that it Shall be ascertained as to proportion and otherwise in like manner as the one-half of the proceeds of the probate duties applicable to local purposes is now by law divided, paid, and ascertained. And then occur the following words:— And the proceeds so paid shall be appropriated as Parliament may hereafter direct by any Act passed in the present Session. I observe that there is an Amendment on the Paper standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board to insert these words in the Bill now before the House:— May be hereafter provided by any Act amending the Licensing Acts, and until such Act is passed shall be invested and accumulated as provided by this Act. Now, it is a very grave question whether those words do constitute such a specific appropriation as the Budget Act directs. I certainly am not aware, in the comparatively short time that I have had to examine into the matter, of any instance of a tax being raised and the proceeds appropriated to no particular authority and to no specific object as is now the ease since the three clauses have been withdrawn from this Bill. It I would be, I think, for the House to consider, as a matter of policy and interpretation, whether these words of the right hon. Gentleman, moved as an Amendment, do constitute a sufficient appropriation of the sum raised and granted by the Budget Act so as to come within what is undoubtedly the general principle underlying our whole law, namely the appropriation our money to a specific use within the then existing Session of Parliament, either partly or wholly—I say partly because, of course, there are permanent appropriations of sums extending over more than one year; but even in that case a certain sum is specifically appropriated to be expended within that year. It appears to me, on taking an impartial view—I need not say as impartial a view as I can—on the subject, that if no Act was passed within this Session appropriating the sums allotted under the Budget Act, it would be a very grave question whether the Treasury would not incur grave responsibility and grave liabilities in issuing any money or in issuing it to any body of persons as Local Authorities. There would be, as I understand, no particular direction to the Treasury from this House to issue money, nor to issue it to any particular body of persons, inasmuch as the County Authorities will not have the money allotted to them. But it will be said the money will be accumulated I confess, looking at the matter from a Constitutional point of view, I know of no precedent for such an accumulation, and though it may be quite true that the fact of no precedent existing does not prove that the proceeding would be un Constitutional, I think it is eminently a matter for the House to decide whether it is ultra vires or not, and whether such a course would be in harmony with Constitutional practice. It is a matter which I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will be justified in raising as a question of policy, or even of principle, both in Committee and, if need be, also on the THIRD READING of the Bill. I have endeavoured to explain my views to the House as well as I have been able.


On the point of order, may I ask whether your observations do not equally apply to the Irish part of the Bill, which has not been altered as the English and Scotch portions of the Bill are proposed to be altered by the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board?


May I submit that the Irish Secretary is in error, because there is an Amendment down in the name of the President of the Local Government Board also altering the Irish section and providing that this money is to lie up in Ireland until such time as some new Licensing Act is is passed?


There may be some Amendment to the Irish part of the Bill, but substantially I submit the Irish part of the Bill does provide that the money should accumulate until some future stage—until this or another Parliament should deal with the question of Local Government in Ireland. What I desire to ask your ruling upon, Sir, is whether there is any difference, in constitutional principle, between that part of the Bill as originally framed and those parts of the Bill affecting England and Scotland as modified by the proposed Amendment?


Before that point is raised, I would submit that if the objection equally applies to the Irish part of the Bill, we have not yet come to it. We have not discussed that section; the House has not approved it. Your ruling, Sir, as I understand, will apply to the whole Bill and not merely to the Amendment proposed by the President of the Local Government Board.


It would not, Sir, be dignified for me to enter into any argument at a moment like this with regard to any of those most important words which have fallen from your lips. At the proper time, after the hon. Member for Longford has taken the course which is suggested to him, it will be my duty to submit reasons why I am prepared to defend constitutionally, and as a matter of expediency, for the proposals of the Government. I rise simply to point out to you for your consideration whether the clauses which remain in the Bill directing to whom this money should be paid do not constitute a distinct application of the money which would relieve us from the difficulty you have suggested, namely, that there would be no means of getting the money out of the Treasury. Of course, it is part of the plan that clauses should be kept in the Bill distinctly directing the mode of investment, the mode of account, and the manner in which the funds—ear-marked as it is called—should be used. There would be perfect machinery in the Bill for the accumulation and accounting for the money for a specific purpose. I think the particular difficulties, if I may say so with all submission, with regard to the manner in which the money would be dealt with, would possibly not arise when we come to the clauses which direct the investment of the funds.


It appears to me that the money would be equally locked up, no matter in whose hands it might lie. Some observations have fallen from the right hon. Gentleman as to my ruling. I hope I may respectfully say to the House that my ruling on this subject is only a matter of opinion on a grave question of constitutional law. It is not intended in any way to bind any portion of the House, but, as I was asked my opinion, I did not think it would be respectful to the House not to give it.


I do not intend, as at present advised, to do more than what I conceive to be the duty of a Member of the House who is specially seised of knowledge on this matter—to appeal to the Chair, as I understand that, upon financial questions especially, the Chair is the constitutional guardian of the liberties of the House.

SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

It would be a great convenience to Scotch Members and the House generally if the First Lord of the Treasury would make up his mind to tell us now whether we are to fight right through again the licensing part of the Bill, or whether the Government will make up their minds to swallow the remaining bit of the leek and withdraw the Bill.

[No answer was given.]