HC Deb 23 March 1898 vol 55 cc628-31

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith), Chairman of Ways and Means, in the Chair.]

(In the Committee.)


I wish to raise a question with reference to a very important word which occurs in line 8 of Clause 3 of the Consolidated Fund (No. 1) Bill. I do not know whether it has been held to be the unbroken practice of this House that an Amendment may not be moved at this stage. Beginning at line 5, the Act states— The Treasury shall repay moneys so borrowed with interest not exceeding five per cent. per annum out of the growing produce of the Consolidated Fund. I think that word "produce" has crept in through an inadvertence, and, as I shall show, it is a word which undoubtedly is used in what I may call the standard Act. There are also two other words used in this connection in this Act, one of which will be more proper here. Sir, I may say that the Consolidated Fund has no "produce"; it is the strong box in which the product of the taxes is kept. It does not itself produce anything. Originally the exchequer was actually boxes, but it is now an entry in the books of the Bank of England. No doubt the produce or tax is paid into this account in the Bank of England, and as those taxes go on accruing, so the produce goes to the Bank of England and forms the Consolidated Fund, and it is out of that Consolidated Fund and the accruing accretions of that produce that the Treasury is authorised to pay these sums. Now Section 12 of the Exchequer and Audit Act of 1866 reads— And if it shall appear by such amount that the income of the Consolidated Fund in Great Britain or in Ireland for the quarter is not sufficient to defray the charge upon it, the Comptroller and Auditor General, if satisfied of the correctness of the deficiency, shall certify the amount thereof to the Bank of England. Again, Sir, in the same clause— And the principal and interest of all such advances shall be paid out of the growing produce of the Consolidated Fund in the said succeeding quarter. There the words "growing produce" are for the first time used, and, I think, it has crept in inadvertently and means the accruing produce of the taxes. Now in Clause 13 of the same Act we find— The Comptroller and Auditor General shall grant to the Treasury from time to time on their requisitions authorising the same, if satisfied of the correctness thereof, credits on the Exchequer accounts at the Banks of England and Ireland, or on the growing balances thereof, not exceeding the amount of the charge in the aforesaid quarterly account of the income and charge of the Consolidated Fund remaining unpaid.

THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. JOHN ELLIS,) Nottingham, Rushcliffe

Order, order! I have allowed the hon. Member to go so far because I desired to appreciate precisely his position. I may explain to him that this Bill is founded upon certain other Acts of Parliament, and is introduced for the purpose of giving the Treasury authority to issue from the Consolidated Fund money which has already been granted for certain purposes by Parliament. The form and language of the Bill are governed by long precedent, and I could not receive or put from the Chair the Amendment the hon. Member has indicated. I hope the hon. Member will take it from me that this is the case. I am bound to adhere to the ruling of my predecessors in this matter. The hon. Member can ask a question, but he must not make a speech with a view to moving his Amendment.


I bow to your ruling, which, indeed, I had anticipated, and I therefore will not move the Amendment that I should otherwise have moved—that is, to substitute the word "balances" for the word "produce." I will content myself with asking my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury whether, in his opinion, the word "produce" is the right one. I only wish to conclude the argument I was using by saying that in Clause 12 the "income of the Consolidated Fund" is used, and, also, the "growing produce." In Clause 17 of this Act the words "growing balances thereof" are used, and that, I submit, Sir, would be the proper word to use. However, as you have ruled that it is impossible to move an Amendment in the Committee stage of this Bill, I shall not, of course, move to leave out the word "produce" and substitute the word "balances." I do submit that the word "produce" is an improper word which does not describe anything in connection with the Consolidated Fund, and it is very important that that wrong word should not be used because it has already been used. We know that in our Standing Orders the retention of a wrong phraseology has very often produced very serious inconveniences. I know my right hon. Friend is as strict a guardian of the English language as he is of the Treasury funds, and I am sure he will appreciate the importance of having the absolutely correct word used in this connection. As I am not at liberty to substitute the word "balances" for the word "produce," I content myself by asking the Secretary to the Treasury whether, in his opinion, the word "produce" is a right one—I know it is the professional one—and for what reason it is used in connection with a fund which is merely an exchequer.


My hon. Friend has asked me if the word "produce" more correctly describes what is meant, and with perfect accuracy, he stated that in 1896 there were three terms used, why I am not able to say. The three terms—"balances of the Consolidated Fund," "income," and "produce"—are terms used to mean exactly the same thing, and I am bound to say that two of them—the income and the produce—are not very apt phrases. The words "income of the Consolidated Fund" are somewhat misleading, because these would imply that there were incomes accruing on the Consolidated Fund, which, of course, is not the case. "The balance of the Consolidated Fund" is, I think, a more correct term, because what is really intended to be represented by these three phrases is the "growing produce" of the revenue as it is paid into the Exchequer in the form of the Consolidated Fund. The reason why this phrase is introduced in this Consolidated Fund Bill at all is, in fact, that if we were not authorised to borrow upon the "growing produce," we should be only able to make the usual Treasury demands upon the Comptroller and Auditor at the beginning of the quarter when we present the schedule of our quarterly demands. But, as we might want money before the end of the quarter, therefore we are authorised by this Act to draw upon the growing produce in the manner indicated.

Remaining Clauses adopted. House resumed.