HC Deb 22 July 1907 vol 178 cc1190-2
MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)

I wish to ask whether I shall be in order or whether it will be proper for me to ask a Question relative to the procedure of the House, which has reference partly to the Committee of Supply, partly to the Appropriation Bill, but which, as it has nothing to do with any technical breach of order in Committee of Supply, I did not put to the Chairman of Committees. There is a clause in the Act of 1870 forbidding the use of public money for the building or equipping of elementary schools. Money for this very purpose is proposed to be voted in the Estimates for the current year. It is not proposed to repeal the prohibition contained in the Act of 1870. The inclusion of the Vote for this at present illegal purpose in the schedule of the Appropriation Act is assumed by the Government, I understand, to justify the illegality. But under the principles and practice which regulate our discussions on the Appropriation Bill, it is practically impossible to discuss and divide upon this policy either on the First, Second, or Third Reading of the measure; it is not only practically, but technically impossible to do so on the Committee stage; and there is no Report stage. I wish to ask whether, in these circum stances, the proposal of the Government, if carried through, would not be in effect to initiate the practice of repealing by Resolution legislation which still remains unaltered on the Statute-book; whether such a practice would not have the most far-reaching consequences; and whether it is in accordance with the principles which have hitherto governed the legislation of this House?


The right hon. Gentleman has been kind enough to inform me privately that he intended to raise this question, and I have given it the best consideration I could. I have come to this conclusion, that assuming all the objections which he has stated to be well founded, yet, notwithstanding that, I do not see that any period is reached at which my jurisdiction could be invoked, or, if invoked, could be properly brought into play. It is not for me to say that the Government are not entitled to put before the House such Estimates as they consider proper. If the Committee passes those Estimates, it is not for me to say that this House shall not agree to the Report of that Vote in Supply; and the Report being agreed to it is not for me to say that it shall not be included in the Appropriation Bill. For these reasons, it seems to me that the Speaker has no authority to intervene, if he had any desire to do so. It is possible that the question may come before the Committee of Public Accounts, if the Comptroller and Auditor-General should eventually call the attention of the Committee of Public Accounts to it; and it is also possible that it might be a matter for the Courts to determine whether the Appropriation Act is sufficient to repeal by implication a section of the Act of 1870, which specifically forbids the appropriation of a certain sum of money to a particular object. In these, two matters the House will see I have no right to intervene. The matter, therefore, seems to be really a constitutional one, and one entirely for the House to decide for itself. Putting the matter as shortly as possible, the two questions would seem to be these: Can the House of Commons disobey an Act of Parliament; and ought the House of Commons to disobey an Act of Parliament? With regard to the first question, I think it is obvious that the House of Commons can disobey an Act of Parliament; the second question, whether it ought, is a matter which I must leave to the conscience of the House.