HC Deb 26 July 1912 vol 41 cc1521-39

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Resolution passed by Committee of Ways and Means of this House for the imposition of any new tax, or for the variation of any existing tax, or for the renewal for a further period of any tax which is of a temporary character, whether at the same or a different rate, and whether with or without modifications, shall have statutory effect for a limited period, and that where such Resolution provides for the renewal of a temporary tax all statutory provisions which were in force with reference to that tax as last imposed by Act of Parliament, shall, during the said period, have full force and effect with respect to the tax as renewed by Resolution."


It has been the invariable practice, at least for over forty years, to treat a Resolution of this House imposing a new tax or renewing an old one as binding upon the subject until the Finance Bill of the year has been carried through and passed. There has been no legal decision on the subject at all, and it is doubtful whether, when it comes to be challenged, the Law Courts would accept that practice as binding on individual subjects. I think it is highly desirable that the practice, within limits, should have the effect of law; otherwise the Chancellor of the Exchequer who wished to impose a new tax would be placed in a very embarrassing position. If an indirect tax is put upon any commodity that tax has to come into operation immediately. At any rate that has been the practice of the Custom House up to the present. If an extra penny is put upon tea, or if the Sugar Tax is imposed, it is collected immediately at the port the very following morning. Unless that were so very serious consequences would ensue as far as that tax is concerned. Take the Sugar Tax.


That is a permanent tax.


I believe so; it was a new tax imposed a few years ago. This is purely a case where I think it is right to regularise it. Take the Sugar Tax. Supposing the decision of the Courts went against us, what would be the effect? Suppose the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed in his Budget statement to put a tax of 4s. 2d. per cwt. on sugar as a War Tax, he would have to secure not merely the dispensing with the Standing Orders to carry his Resolution, but he would have to get the Report stage and to carry the Finance Bill in the course of a single night. Otherwise sugar would be imported to such an extent to this country that the Sugar Tax would be perfectly worthless for at least a year or two. That is a very serious thing with regard to war taxes, because they are generally levied to raise revenue for immediate purposes. Take the case of a tariff. If you had a tariff to impose you would have to carry your Bill and suspend the Standing Orders, not merely to carry your Resolution, but to get the Report stage through in a single night. Otherwise you would be in the position of waiting until there had been a long discussion upon it, and in the meantime the things you proposed to tax might be poured into the United Kingdom to such an extent that for, at any rate two or three years, the tariff would produce no revenue at all. I need hardly say that is not the special reason that appeals to me, but I think it my duty at this moment to propose to the House of Commons that the matter should be regularised. I know one objection will be that if a Resolution of the House of Commons is to have the effect of law, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer need not proceed with the Finance Bill at all; and, if he can proceed by means of a Resolution, he can postpone the Bill indefinitely. I agree that would be a very serious objection.


made an observation which was inaudible.


That depends on the form of the Clause. This is purely a Resolution to enable me to bring the Clause in, and as the Noble Lord knows very well a Resolution is always drawn in the widest possible terms. It will depend on the form of the Clause. I propose in the Clause that the Resolution shall only be binding if the Finance Bill becomes an Act of Parliament before 31st August, so that will be an improvement at any rate on the present practice. I thought that would appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite and to the hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury). That will be a guarantee if the Clause is incorporated in the Finance Bill in the form in which we propose it that the Finance Bill will be pressed through before 31st August, because after 31st August we propose that the Resolution shall have no effect at all, and the taxes would not be collected under it. As far as those two taxes which are temporary taxes it would be a very serious thing for the revenue if the Bill was not passed by the 31st August. The Clause would be a guarantee that in future before the 31st August the Finance Bill would become an Act of Parliament. That is one limitation which we propose. Subject to that I propose that we should be empowered to introduce into the Finance Bill a Clause regularising the procedure which has been followed by Parliament at least for forty years, and I think it goes back very much further than that, although I am not quite certain, by which Resolutions of this House have the effect of law until the Finance Bill is carried and becomes an Act of Parliament. If the Finance Bill is not carried, then it is always to be assumed that the Resolution falls to the ground. I think in 1909 that practice was followed when Parliament was dissolved without the Finance Bill becoming an Act of Parliament, and we only collected the taxes with the general assent of the trades concerned. The Resolution is moved, and I have just explained why we have taken that course at the present moment.


By the courtesy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I had the opportunity of seeing the terms of this Resolution, an opportunity which, of course, my hon. Friends have not had, and which under the particular circumstances under which the decision of the Government was taken, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not able to afford in anticipation of this Debate. I therefore have been able to give it some attention, and to consider its bearing upon our financial procedure, but I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government will understand that it is difficult for any large body of Members in the House to deal properly with a question of this kind brought before them suddenly and practically without notice at so late a period of the Session. If we are to deal with this matter now we have got to deal with it within the space of a few days. It would be rather a different proposition had we had it mentioned at the time the Budget was introduced, and had we had normal time for its consideration. What has given rise, or perhaps I had better say, who has given rise, to the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman has made. For many years Mr. Gibson Bowles sat as a Member in this House and was a most watchful and vigilant guardian of the proprieties of finance whichever party was in office. More than once by his knowledge of our practice he proved himself extremely inconvenient to the Government which happened to be in office, whether it was one which he supported or not. But he came to be recognised, and rightly recognised, as an authority upon financial procedure and as a jealous guardian of the old traditions and the statutory procedure which governs such financial business. This Resolution, of course, owes its birth to him. He is no longer a Member of this Assembly, but I am not sure that our procedure now is not the greatest tribute that has ever been rendered to his influence, and that this may not be considered as a red-letter day for him. It is true, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, that for many years, for two generations, at any rate, I should think, it has been the custom to treat a Resolution passed in Ways and Means for the imposition of taxes as having provisionally the force of law until it is decided upon by the House. If it is subsequently embodied unmodified in the Act of Parliament, no alterations are required. The money that was intended to be raised has been collected with the least possible disturbance, and it remains in the Treasury into which it has been paid. If, on the other hand, at any subsequent stage of the proceedings, the House chooses to reduce or to reject the proposed tax, any money that has been collected has, of course, to be returned to the taxpayers from whom it was taken. That has been our practice, and I suppose it would have continued to be the practice and would have remained unchallenged if that licence, allowed to the Treasury without statutory authority, because it was for the general convenience of everybody, of tax-gatherer and taxpayer alike, of the trader as much as of the tax-gatherer, had not been grossly abused by the present Government. As long as the passage of the Finance Bill followed without abnormal delay upon the passage of the Resolution, it was not worth anyone's while to challenge the authority of the Resolution, because in all probability before his case had come to trial the Bill would have passed and the tax, the legality of which he was questioning, would have been sanctioned by Parliament.


By both Houses?


By both Houses. I think that that is no longer necessary, but it does not affect the question now before us. It must still be sanctioned by one House and it must still have the sanction of the King before it has the force of law. It is because in recent years, in pursuit of entirely non-fiscal purposes, the Government have delayed the passage of the Finance Bill until as late as December, the very last month in the year, that the legality of the practice has now been challenged. Though I can understand that the Government do not wish to say so, I think I may be perfectly frank with the Committee, and say that this fact that the Government make a proposal of this sort is in truth an admission that they know they cannot successfully defend the case which Mr. Bowles has brought against them. I do not ask the Attorney-General or the Government to give me their assent to that statement; there is every reason why they should not commit themselves to it. But unless there was at least the gravest doubt in the mind of the Government as to their power to defend that action successfully, we should not have been troubled with this Motion at the present time.

Now on the merits of the question. I speak with the responsibility of one who has held the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer and of one who has had to make alterations in the taxes of the country. The Chancellor of the Exchequer dwelt only on changes in indirect taxation, but, of course, the Resolution applies to Income Tax also. The two things, however, do not stand on quite the same footing. Let me deal first with direct taxes, and in particular with the Income Tax. I think I am right in saying that no loss would fall on the revenue in respect of Income Tax if you had not power to act on the Resolution charging the Income Tax the moment it was passed, provided when the Statute was passed the tax was imposed as from the date of the Resolution. I think that is so. There might be some difficulty in the collection; but in the main the objection to the procedure is not so much a revenue objection as the objection that it really is not a convenience to the taxpayer that he should have dividends and so forth, which he is accustomed to receive after the deduction of the Income Tax, paid to him in full, only to be called upon thereafter to make a return to the revenue of all such dividends and to pay out again the Income Tax which has not been collected at the source. That, I think, is a matter of general convenience as a general practice. At the same time it is not as critical as is the case of an indirect tax. There, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has rightly said, in many cases unless your Resolution takes effect at once, you will have a gigantic loss of revenue. You may indeed ruin your hopes of revenue for the year in which the tax is imposed. In addition to that, you will cause an unnecessary disturbance of trade, to which above all the traders would take exception. It is just the fact that they did not want this disturbance of trade which led traders, when there was no authority for the Tea Duty in 1909, to combine to pay voluntarily in order to avoid any such upset of the ordinary routine of the trade. The exact proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer must be seen in print and carefully examined in order that we may know whether they are suitable or not. But I think it is clear that if Mr. Bowles' action is successful some action must be taken by the Committee in order to make it possible to deal with our indirect taxes in future; otherwise you will not be able to touch them, either to raise or to lower them, without the gravest disturbance to the trade and without possibly losing for the revenue a large part of the benefit which you hoped to derive in the year in which yon made the alteration.

In these circumstances I certainly shall not oppose the Motion, and if the Clause appears to me to carry out well the object with which it is drawn I shall not oppose the Clause either. What we are asked to do, as I understand it, is to legalise a practice which has been followed by general consent for at least forty years, because it has been found generally convenient, and equally in the interests of the taxpayer, of the revenue, and of the trader. But in making legal that which has hitherto been done without the sanction of law, the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes—and this is an essential feature in his case—to put a limit on the time during which this sanction shall be given to a Resolution such as has not existed at all hitherto, and thus prevent a recurrence in other hands than his of the financial scandals which have marked his tenure of office. I am glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has at the present time no intention of sinning again. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members need not be anxious; I am not going to give an undue testimony to his character. Therefore as he is willing to prevent any one sinning as he has sinned, I think we had better take advantage of this temporary frame of mind, and before he falls again into temptation we had better put it out of his way to yield. There is one further condition that must be observed. Nothing we do now must be retrospective. In particular it must not prejudice the issue of the litigation which is before the Courts. That, I think, will be accepted by the Government at once. Clearly it would be a gross act of unfairness to intervene in the middle of a part heard case in order to produce a different result to what otherwise would accrue. Subject to that, and provided that proper limits are put to the use of the authority, I am not able to see any other more satisfactory way to deal with a situation for which some remedy must be found, if traders, taxpayers, and revenue authorities alike, are not to be put to great inconvenience and loss.

1.0 P.M.


The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that he had had the advantage of seeing the Resolution which the Committee are at present discussing. So far as I know he is the only Member of the House, outside the Government, who has had that advantage. We are placed in an exceedingly difficult position in having to discuss a Resolution of this kind without the smallest notice at all. A constitutional question of the first magnitude is raised by this Resolution, and, although it is not the custom to place Resolutions on the Paper in Committee of Ways and Means, still, in view of the exceptional nature of the Resolution proposed, I think the Government might have placed it upon the Paper. The view that the House of Commons might have been in this matter taken into the confidence of the Government is not confined to the other side of the House, because I do not think anyone can doubt that a constitutional issue of great extent is raised. We all recognise the practical inconvenience that will arise, if it should be decided that a Resolution of the House of Commons, in regard to the year's finance, is not to have the force of law in the months between April and October. But if that point is in doubt, and if you are going to legislate—as you are—in regard to it, it does seem to me to be most inconvenient that with litigation actually pending in the Courts we should be called upon, within three or four days, to place a Clause in the Finance Act which is to affect the point raised in that case. It is all very well to say that that case is not going to be touched, and that it will be decided independent of whatever Clause may be included in the Finance Bill. But for that case it is quite clear that the bulk of this Clause would not have been put into the Finance Bill. For my part I still cannot see why the Government should not have ascertained what the law on this matter is! I quite agree that if it is true that Resolutions of this House, having properly the force of law during the months from April to October, do not suffice, then it is necessary that we should take some steps to meet the practical inconvenience entailed. But I am not convinced they have not the force of law. It has been the unbroken practice for a, very long time that the taxes should be collected on the present basis. I do not see why the House should assume that that practice is against the law, especially without any decision of the Courts, and, because the matter has been raised that we should proceed to admit that we have been in the wrong in past years, and in a hurry and in a panic seek to legislate! Why should the date fixed be 31st August? If we have been right—and I am not willing for a moment to concede that we have not been right—the Government are actually proposing a limitation of our present powers. If we have been wrong, there may be something to be said for putting in the date; but the Resolution, as I understand it, will impose a limitation upon the powers of the House instead of an enlargement, which I understand to be in the minds of the Government. It is a very unfortunate thing that we should legislate without knowing the exact position in which we stand. Admittedly we do not know. Mr. Gibson Bowles' case will test the position in which the House does stand. For my part, I still think the Government would have done more wisely to let that case go to a decision, and let the House know where we stand. No practical inconvenience would have arisen this year. We are not going to touch the particular case raised, and before that case is decided no doubt that the Finance Act will be the law of the land. Therefore, the question for this year is a dead issue. I am told, in an interruption, that it is necessary to decide this question before the Resolutions of next year are brought forward. But this year we are in the exceptionally happy position of having an Autumn Session. If it should be decided that Mr. Gibson Bowles is in the right, and that the Resolutions of this House have not the force of law, and that therefore the taxes should not be collected upon the Resolutions of the House, there will be nothing to prevent the Government bringing in a one-Clause Act and carrying that into law. If there appeared to be too much time taken up with this, I would waive the objection which I have to the guillotine, and, so far as my vote goes, allow the Act to go through on a strict time-table. That would seem to me to be the better procedure, and it would have the advantage that we should have two or three months to consider the position in which the House was placed. I still hope the Government will be open to argument upon the question, and that we shall not be rushed into hasty legislation.


I have been very much impressed by the arguments of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend below me: if I had had the opportunity of reading the Resolution I might—although I do not think so—been convinced of its necessity. The position we are in at present is perfectly clear. The Finance Bill of the year is going to be passed within about a month. Therefore this Resolution, so far as this year is concerned, is absolutely useless. During the last six years we have had very many instances of the bad effects of hasty legislation, and I should have thought hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would have paused before assenting to this most important question that could come before us this Session without the slightest notice of the Resolution having been given. I did not know at ten minutes to twelve o'clock that this Resolution was going to be proposed. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) says it is going to alleviate the dislocation in trade. In connection with the Budget of 1909, the right hon. Gentleman said the traders voluntarily paid the Tea Duties. That statement by the right hon. Gentleman was the most powerful argument against the Resolution put, forward since the Debate began. I think it is quite evident that up to three or four years ago everyone knew the Resolutions would become law and that the Finance Bill would be passed in a short time, and it would not be worth their while to refuse to pay their taxes, because in a few months they would be obliged by law to do so; and it was not until the right hon. Gentleman opposite postponed the Finance Bill to the last days of the year that any difficulty of this sort occurred. Let me say what I fear may possibly be the result. I think the Resolution this year is unnecessary. I think the suggestion of the hon. Member opposite that if it is necessary we should discuss it at our leisure, when we have time to understand it in the Autumn Session, is a good one, but I venture to say such a Resolution would be most dangerous for this reason.

We have only today passed a Motion amending Standing Order 15 which alters the whole of the Standing Orders, and the whole object of those Orders with regard to Supply. We have done so simply and solely because right hon. Gentlemen opposite have so muddled their business, and have got into such confusion, that they cannot get their work through without doing something of that sort. It is not the first time this has occurred. What would happen next year if you pass this Resolution which the right hon. Gentleman proposes? If there is an enormous Bill concerning land or a single tax which meets with plenty of disapprobation and requires a certain amount of time, then as sure as I am here the Finance Bill will be put off. What is to prevent a small amending Bill being brought in to leave out "August" and insert "December"? I could draw a Bill the title of which would be of such a form that no Amendment would be allowed except the insertion of a particular month, and if the Chairman put the question, "That December stand part," that would be the only question that could be discussed. Only last year I was a member of the Standing Committee on the Coal Mines Bill. The Budget was coming on on a particular day, and at a quarter to four o'clock that day I proposed we should adjourn and come down to hear the Budget. The hon. Member for Mansfied opposite replied to my Motion by saying, "Nobody cares about the Budget now," and the Committee sat on. If there was some electioneering measure before the House of Commons next year the procedure I have outlined could be adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. May I say, with all due defer- ence to my right hon. Friend (Mr. Austen Chamberlain), for whom, as he knows, I have great respect, I am afraid on this occasion the well-known and charming manners of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has seduced my right hon. Friend into the error of supporting this Resolution. I hope it would not be very presumptuous on my part to hope that my right hon. Friend has been convinced by the arguments I have adduced. If that be so, I hope he may urge the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to withdraw the Resolution.


When I was advised it might be desirable to deal with this matter I felt I certainly would not have dealt with it in this manner if it was a contentious matter. I felt it was not a matter that specially concerned us this year. I am not sure that it particularly concerns us next year, so far as I can foresee. It is a matter that concerns every Government, and is much more likely to concern the right hon. Gentleman opposite, for the simple reason that the sort of taxation which he is pledged to is taxation of a character which would undoubtedly be more affected by this than any taxes I am pledged to. The hon. Baronet hinted at some taxes he thinks I have in my mind. I assure him these taxes would not in the slightest degree be affected by this Resolution.


What are they?


I got up to make a non-contentious speech, and I think this would not be the time, at all events, to indicate taxes that do not in the least relate to a non-contentious atmosphere. When I approached the right hon. Gentleman opposite I approached him in that spirit, and I said I certainly should not propose it this year unless it was something that would be accepted by both sides of the House. The right hon. Gentleman was not quite sure—he know his own view and the views of his associates near him, but not the view of the Opposition as a whole. In these circumstances I should certainly not press the Resolution upon the House if I gather there is opposition. I proposed it in that spirit to begin with, and I submitted it to the right hon. Gentleman. I agree it ought to have been down upon the Paper, although it is not the practice to put Resolutions down in Ways and Means, and as a matter of fact I am the first to have established the precedent of setting down Resolutions in Ways and Means. I am the first to have got notice given of them and to have them printed and placed upon the Paper. It was my intention that this Resolution should have been put down, and that that was not done was due to some misunderstanding. I only say that in order to make it clear there was no intention at all to rush it, and if it is the feeling of the House that they should have more time to consider it—I am not quite sure that even now they would consider it contentious matter—if it is clear they would rather it was not dealt with now, then I will not press the Resolution.


I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has arrived at a very wise decision, because in form and in substance this Resolution raises a question of very considerable importance. It is a matter which will have to be dealt with, and it is desirable that it should be dealt with in a broad and non-party spirit. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has decided not to press this matter.


I think it is very likely that this Resolution will be required. I quite agree as to its importance and the risk of loss to the revenue in regard to the collection of the Income Tax. This case came before the Courts in June, and last month I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if in regard to this matter he intended to take steps immediately to safeguard the interests of the revenue. I asked the right hon. Gentleman whether his attention had been called to the case of Bowles v. The Bank of England, and, if so, what steps he intended to take in order to safeguard the revenue by accelerating the passing of the Finance Bill. He replied that he was not in a position to make any statement while the matter was still sub judice.The position has not changed one iota.


That is not quite so. The position has changed, and the Crown appeared for the first time in the matter this week. If the Debate on this question is to continue, I am afraid I shall have to reconsider my decision.


My complaint is that he did not do it a month ago instead of leaving it until now.


I think we ought to know exactly the position we are in in regard to this matter. The greater part of the opposition to this Resolution came not so much from the matter it contained as the fact that it was sprung upon the House without any notice. Now the Chancellor of the Exchequer says that he will not press it. Does that mean he is not going to do anything? I think the right hon. Gentleman's speech, and the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Worcestershire, made out a prima facie case that something should be done. A long Resolution which is somewhat difficult to follow has been thrown at our heads. Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to renew this proposal at all? If that be so, I think it would be a mistake. I would suggest that the matter be put off until next week, when we shall have had time, to think about whether we should consider the matter further. If the right hon. Gentleman withdraws it now he may have to propose it again, and I think that will be unfortunate. I think some temporary provision ought to be made to meet the difficulty the right hon. Gentleman has indicated, and what has actually arisen ought to be carefully considered. I would like to know what are the right hon. Gentleman's intentions in regard to this matter.


This is obviously a matter which the House ought to have an opportunity of thinking over. The difficulty which arises in my mind is in regard to the proposed limitation to the 31st August, Obviously it is necessary that the tax should be legally collected before the passing of the Finance Bill. I want the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what is to happen if the Finance Bill is not passed by the 31st of August?


Is it in order, after leave has been asked, to withdraw the Resolution to discuss its details? Must not any discussion be confined to the question whether the Resolution is to be withdrawn or not?


What the Chancellor of the Exchequer said was that he did not propose to press his Resolution, and I do not think he exactly asked leave to withdraw. That is why I have been allowing hon. Members to say a few words.


I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will give us some indication as to how he proposes to deal with this proposed limitation of time. If that is introduced into his proposal it will create very great practical difficulties in some cases. What would have happened in the case of the Budget of 1909? Obviously a Budget introducing a big new principle could not be got through by that particular date, and yet at the time when the Resolutions were passed in April it would be impossible to foresee for certain that that would be the case, and therefore the taxes would be collected between April and August on the supposition that the Finance Bill would be got through. But supposing it is not got through, how are you to deal with the taxes that have been collected? Obviously in any Budget dealing with some vital change in the fiscal system that difficulty will inevitably arise, and in every case of that kind the Budget cannot be passed by the date proposed, and there will have been a collection of taxes illegally, and therefore you must have some machinery by which you can return those taxes to those who have paid them. This is a difficulty which occurred to me, and I think we ought to have some indication as to the line to be taken.


May I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if this Motion is withdrawn now, will he give an undertaking that during the Autumn Session he will put down a proper Resolution dealing with this matter, or introduce a Bill regularising the situation which will have the effect of protecting the revenue on the one hand, and on the other hand of seeing that the subject is not taxed in an irregular manner? Before the right hon. Gentleman obtains leave to withdraw his Resolution will he give the House that undertaking?


I think certain hon. Members opposite are under a misapprehension. This Motion cannot be put off till October because it is a proposal with reference to the Finance Bill. If you do not take this Motion now or on Monday it must stand over altogether. The usual regulations and Bills can be brought in, and there will be no necessity at all next year for this proposal. If we do not do it in this simple manner now it will only mean a longer process next year. I very much regret that this Motion has been put off. I think it is a pity that the thing is not to be settled now and done with. Although it is an alteration of the law it is one founded on a custom which has been going on for years and years, and therefore it does not make any real alteration.


I do not think we are quite justified in disposing of this matter in a summary way. It seems to me that a Resolution put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and supported by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire must have a considerable amount of substance in it. It does seem to me rather a bold thing for a private Member to interfere with plans affecting the finance of the country which are supported by two such distinguished Members of this House. I am inclined to press upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pass this Motion today. It does seem to me that we could not do anything more calculated to increase the respect in which this House is deservedly held than by regularising its position in this matter. We have to consider the binding effect of such a temporary Resolution until the Budget is passed. I have not seen fit to take part in the financial discussions of the House before, but this is the one topic in which I feel greatly concerned. The first point I would like to make is that the Resolution was not put down on the Paper. I have repeatedly urged this point about our want of information of the business before the House. I have been able to secure some substantial reforms, and I should be only too thankful if private Members would support me, as I support the hon. Member for the Rushcliffe Division (Mr. Leif Jones), in asking that these Resolutions should be in print and in our hands before we have to deal with them. I might illustrate my point by mentioning the reform instituted this Session in the way of indicating on the Order Paper on Monday the Bills that are printed. The object then was the same as the object now, namely, that Members should have full cognisance of the business put before them when they are asked to vote. A very great change has taken place, and now, I think, all the private Members' Bills are in print for perusal. This is another reform of the same kind. Every new Member is struck by the fact that a considerable amount of business takes place before his eyes which he cannot grasp. He has not a copy. Here we are asked this morning to discuss a Resolution which was not placed in our hands with the Order Paper which we get just after breakfast, and I am bound to join in the protest which has been made. That is the only criticism I venture to make.

The Resolution seems to me to have this effect. It endorses and regularises what is the long-established custom. Refer- ence was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire (Mr. Austen Chamberlain) to the fact that a law suit was in progress, and he hinted that the decision was likely to go against the Treasury. That was received with cheers by the entire party opposite. For once they forgot they were the constitutional party. I ask hon. Members opposite just to reflect upon their conduct this very afternoon. This is the state of the law. It has been the case during Conservative and Unionist Administrations, and these Resolutions have been passed and have been taken to have the binding force of law. Immediately it is suggested that the decision in a case now pending may cause us to change our procedure, it is received with the broadest cheers by the champions of law and order, and particularly by those hon. Members who resist every change which is in the nature of progress. How can the Opposition excuse their obvious jubilation at the suggestion that the Treasury was going to be defeated for following a precedent established by the Conservative party? If there is going to be any unfortunate result it will equally be a reflection upon the Treasury as conducted by the Conservatives as it will be upon the Treasury as conducted by the party now in power. Therefore I protest against that attitude of the Opposition. I have felt it my duty to do so, and I hope we have heard the last of these revolutionary cheers from the other side. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire said the custom had been in existence for forty years. I do not know whether that accounts for the cheers of hon. Members opposite. I do not know whether they suggest anything which has obtained for forty years must be wrong; but that is not the usual attitude of the Conservative party. I want to raise a point with regard to the insurance payments. There are certain payments going on under the Insurance Act between now and 31st August to which this Resolution applies.


I cannot see that in this Resolution.


With great respect, I indicated I was simply going to ask a question; I am not going to discuss it. I want to ask whether this Resolution does, or does not, have any bearing on those insurance payments? I gathered from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire it did apply to all taxes, and, if the Opposition are right that the insurance payments are taxes, then it must apply to the Insurance Act.


The hon. Member heard me read the Resolution, and he must have observed that there is nothing in it about the Insurance Act.


Yes, I heard it read from the Chair, but, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, I was not quite clear whether it would apply to the Insurance Act or not. You have a copy before you and I have not, and, if you assure me that under no circumstances would it affect the insurance payments because the insurance payments are not taxes, then I accept it at once. The Income Tax, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, is of course capable of being collected after the date. There might be a retrospective collection. It is in a somewhat diffident spirit that I disagree with the right hon. Gentleman; but I do not agree that there would not be a very serious loss upon the Income Tax if the position were not put right. You cannot collect spilt milk, and it is all very well to say with regard to the Income Tax you can take it back, but I am perfectly sure if you attempted anything of the kind a great amount of the money would be lost. With regard to the indirect taxes, we are all agreed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire protested against the irregularity caused by the delay of the Budget, and said the taxes could not be enforced until late in the year. Who are the great sinners in this respect? The Tory party who threw the Budget out in the House of Lords. It is all very well for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to reproach us and to say it is only legal to collect the taxes late in the year. That is only a small sin, if it be one, compared with their own action in inducing the House of Lords to take its fortunes in its hands and throw out the Budget for their own party benefit. Therefore, it ill lies in the mouths of hon. Members opposite to talk about such a thing as delaying the passing of the Finance Bill. Whatever delay we may have been gulity of it is as nothing compared with the crime of throwing it out by an irresponsible body. The introduction of this Resolution is well worth the trouble we are now taking. It is a good thing that we should for the first time have some recognised date as suggested. It will be beneficial from the point of view of both sides of the House.

Viscount WOLMER

That is not the Resolution.


It is part of a scheme which I think would have a beneficial effect on Members generally. We might just as well have some specific date by which the Finance Bill must be passed, as that the 12th of August should be fixed for grouse shooting and we should endeavour to get Parliament up by then. I should have thought that this was a Resolution which could have been passed unanimously, and I am sorry we shall not be able to pass it with the general assent of the House.


My hon. Friend has appealed to me to proceed with this Resolution, notwithstanding the statement I made in the earlier part of the afternoon. I cannot do so. As far as I can see a substantial number of Members are opposed to our proposal being proceeded with at this stage, and, under these conditions, I must adhere to the statement I have made, because it would be a departure from the understanding which I had with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Worcestershire on the point. Before I definitely ask leave to withdraw the Motion, I wish to answer a question. I have been asked whether I can give some undertaking to deal with this matter in the Autumn Session. It is not convenient to give an undertaking of that kind. I would point out that it does not affect this year's finance, and I cannot see that it particularly affects the finances of next year. We shall have plenty of time to deal with it later on. I now ask leave to withdraw the Resolution.

Resolution, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next, 29th July.

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