HC Deb 23 June 1896 vol 41 cc1695-701

On the order for the consideration of this Bill, as amended in Committee,

* SIR HENRY FOWLER (Wolverhampton)

said that, before the consideration of the Bill was entered upon, he wished to put a question to the Speaker as to whether the Standing Orders of the House had been infringed in the previous progress of the Bill, and also to put a question to the Speaker, as the constitutional guardian of the privileges of the House, and especially those privileges that related to the financial affairs of the country which were under the sole jurisdiction of that House. The clause of the Bill to which he desired to call attention was Clause 1, Sub-section (3), which provided:— The Commissioners of Public Revenue, in such manner, at such times, and under such regulations as the Treasury shall direct, shall pay to the Local Taxation Account out of the proceeds of the estate duty derived in England from personal property the annual sum required by this section to be paid to that account. The Standing Order passed on March 20, 1866, No. 62 of the Standing Orders, provided:— If any motion be made in the House for any aid, grant or charge upon the public revenue whether payable out of the Consolidated Fund or out of moneys to be provided by Parliament or for any charge upon the people, the consideration and debate thereof is not presently entered upon, but is adjourned till such further day as the House thinks fit to appoint, and then the matter is referred to a Committee of the whole House before any resolution or vote of the House shall pass thereon. The question he desired to raise was that that Standing Order had not in this case been complied with. The clause of the Bill which dealt with the appropriation of one-and-a-half million out of the public money raised out of revenues which were a charge upon the people had not been referred to a Committee of the House, nor had such resolution as the Standing Order required been passed in regard to it. In submitting the point of Order, he might be allowed to say that the Standing Order of 1866 was the last Standing Order that had been passed upon this question, and was evidently intended to sum up the previous legislation and rules of the House upon the subject. He would not refer to the number of Resolutions which the House had passed in reference to its sole control of the financial affairs of the country, but so late as 1848, by a Division, in which the Government of the day was defeated, the House resolved:— That this House cannot be the effectual guardian of the revenue of the State unless the whole amount of the taxes derived from every source in the Kingdom received for the public account he either paid in or accounted for to the Exchequer, and that no department of the revenue should be allowed to stop any portion of the gross receipts in their progress to the Exchequer without the previous authority of Parliament. Founded upon that Resolution a series of Acts were passed during Mr. Gladstone's Chancellorship of the Exchequer which were intended to secure—but whether or not they succeeded he would not say—that the whole of the revenue from every source should be paid into the Exchequer, and that there should be no appropriation of the revenue without the previous assent of the House. In 1888 the local taxation account, which was referred to in Clause 1 of the Bill, was established by the well-known Local Government Act of that year, and to that local taxation account Parliament transferred a considerable amount of existing taxation, and also provided for the payment to it of a certain portion of the Probate Duty. But he would particularly call attention to the Act of 1890, which he thought was the only precedent that could be quoted in support of the action of the Government in regard to this Bill. In 1890 Parliament imposed additional duties on Customs and Excise, and these duties were imposed, in accordance with the regular practice of the House, by previous Resolution, upon which the Act was passed. There was, therefore, a distinction between that case and this case, inasmuch as in this case there was no previous Resolution justifying the proposed appropriation. It was then provided that those additional duties to be levied on spirits and beer should be called the Local Taxation (Customs and Excise) Duties, and that they should be appropriated in the same proportion to England, Scotland and Ireland, and paid to the local taxation accounts; and an Act was subsequently passed in the same Session providing for the appropriation to the various local taxation accounts of those various sums. It was evident that that precedent was the one which had been followed by the Government in the present case. But no question was then raised, and there was no ruling by the Speaker—though he would venture to say, with great respect to the late Speaker, that he thought that the procedure then adopted was not in accordance with the intention of the Standing Order—and the House itself had no opportunity of expressing its opinion on the matter. He therefore submitted that under Clause 1 of this Bill there was a grant or charge imposed upon the public revenue—the public revenue being the proceeds of the Estate Duty derived in England from personal property—that those proceeds were a tax or charge upon the people, that the people of this country paid that tax, and his point was that the Government were not entitled to ask the House to intercept, between the taxpayer and the Exchequer, any taxes, whether they were taxes on personal property in the nature of Probate Duty or taxes on Excise and Customs, and then apply the taxes so intercepted to the purposes described in Clause 1 of the Bill. He therefore asked the Speaker, as the guardian of the privileges of the House, whether it was in accordance with the Standing Order that Clause I should be inserted in the Bill without a previous Committee of the House having sanctioned such insertion; and whether the privileges of the House, in the control of the public revenue, would not be seriously endangered if such a procedure were allowed to continue.


, on the point of order, submitted that the right hon. Gentleman had established a breach of the spirit of the Standing Order, but that it was more doubtful whether he had established any breach of its letter. As he read the Standing Order, the subject of the formalities described by the right Hon. Gentleman was a Motion for any charge upon the people. The method of this Bill, however, was not for the imposition of a charge, but for the interception of a charge already imposed. The right hon. Gentleman had cited certain Acts which had been passed in derogation of this Standing Order, but he had not cited the most mischievous of all—the Act of 1891, which empowered the Treasury, on its own mere fiat, to intercept public moneys and call them appropriations in aid. He would cite the two Standing Orders preceding that cited by the right hon. Gentleman. Standing Order 60, which in point of date was last before Standing Order 62, read as follows:— The House will not proceed upon a Motion for an address to the Crown praying that any money may be issued or that any expense may he incurred except in a Committee of the whole House. That Order showed the intention of the House with regard to all these matters. But Standing Order 58 bore upon this very matter, and the procedure adopted in regard to this Bill was a breach not only of the spirit but of the letter of Order 58. The words were:— That this House will not proceed upon any petition, Motion, or Bill for granting any money, or for releasing or compounding any sum of money owing to the Crown, hut in a Committee of the whole House.


The question is one of very great importance. There is no doubt that it is here proposed that money shall be taken from the taxes and shall be applied to a particular purpose; and in that sense it is a charge upon the revenue. I think that the House has always entertained those general intentions of which the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for King's Lynn have spoken, of protecting the revenue from any new charge by preliminary proceedings in Committee, and by requiring the recommendation of the Crown signified by a Minister. But I have no power to make laws for the House. I have only to construe those which I find in the Standing Orders. If it is a case of the unwritten law I may declare what that law is, but where there is a Standing Order I have only the power and duty of saying whether the Standing Order has been complied with; and, in the present case, looking at the Standing Order, I am of opinion that it has been complied with. It says that:— Any aid, grant, or charge upon the public revenue, whether payable out of the Consolidated Fund or out of moneys to be provided by Parliament or for any charge upon the people, shall be first considered in Committee of the whole House. I first call attention to the words "for any charge upon the people" because they refer to new taxation, and there is no proposal for new taxation in the Bill. But does this Bill create a charge upon the public revenue— whether payable out of the Consolidated Fund or out of moneys to be provided by Parliament? If the intention of the House, when it made that Order in 1866, was that which the right hon. Gentleman apprehended, and that which I apprehend, the words used were somewhat unfortunate for the purpose, because if these words— Whether payable out of the Consolidated Fund or out of moneys to be provided by Parliament —that is to say, by Votes in Supply—had either not been used; or, if there had been words of an entirely general nature, such as "from any source whatever," then I think it would have been clear that the right hon. Gentleman's contention was correct. The origin of the limitation was, I believe, that in 1866 the words "or out of moneys to be provided by Parliament" did not exist, but were added to meet a particular class of cases, with the result not uncommon in Acts of Parliament, that in desiring to be extremely particular, the intention of those who put in the words was defeated. The result seems to me that those words— whether payable out of the Consolidated Fund or out of moneys to be provided by Parliament —limit the words "charge upon the public revenue," and as the Order says that there is to be a Committee when there is a charge upon the public revenue, whether payable out of the Consolidated Fund or out of moneys to be provided by Parliament, it must follow that the necessity for a Committee is limited to those cases. In the Local Government Act of 1888 there was a fund created into which the tax gatherers were to pay direct certain moneys, and that fund was to be distributed again without ever going into the Consolidated Fund, Although there was no decision given in the House on that matter, it was carefully considered by the authorities of the House at that time, and it was thought that it did not come within the words of the Standing Order. The present case seems to me to be precisely similar; and therefore I feel bound to rule that, whatever the general intentions of the House may have been, the words of the Standing Order do not cover this particular case, and no committee is therefore necessary. If the House desires to secure all those precautions which are referred to in the Resolution of 1848 read by the right hon. Gentleman, it will be necessary to amend the Standing Order.

SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)

said that he rose, not to discuss this question, but to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer a question which arose out of the Speaker's ruling. He gathered from that ruling that what had occurred was really in consequence of an insufficient definition in the Standing Order. The question was discussed some weeks ago upon an earlier stage of the Bill, and he then understood that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was of opinion—an opinion which the House would share—that it was desirable that a Bill of this character, or of any other character dealing with public money, should come within the scope of the Order. Therefore, if the Bill had escaped in consequence of the inaccurate or too-limiting words which appeared in the Standing Order, he supposed the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to see the Order made wide enough to include this class of Bills in future. He would therefore ask the right hon. Gentleman, if that was his view, whether he would undertake in the present Session of Parliament to introduce an Amendment to the Standing Order which would give the protection in these cases which was given in the case of all other charges on the public revenue.


Perhaps I may say, as being primarily responsible in this matter, that before the introduction of this Bill I consulted the authorities, and particularly yourself, Mr. Speaker, with regard to the form in which it should be introduced. I did so because I did not feel certain whether the Bill should be prefaced by a resolution in Committee or whether it should be introduced, as was done, without a resolution. Looking at the precedents of 1888 and 1890, I was informed that the proper and only course open to me was to follow those precedents and do what has been done. As to the question of the right hon. Gentleman, I may repeat what I said in Debate on this matter—that in my opinion it is unfortunate that the Standing Order does not apply to cases of this kind. [Cheers.] I think, for the sake of the revenue, it should so apply, and I have been considering how the Order may be best amended. That is, of course, not a simple or an easy matter; but I am in hopes of being able to propose an Amendment to the Standing Order with that object in the course of the present Session.["Hear, hear!]

The following notice stood on the Paper in the name of Mr. W. E. M. OMLINSON (Preston):—