HC Deb 22 September 1931 vol 256 cc1488-501

(1) The proceedings in Committee of Supply necessary to dispose of any Supplementary Estimates shall be taken immediately after the conclusion of the proceedings on the Third Reading of the National Economy Bill and shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion at 10.30 p.m. on the same clay.

(2) As soon as the Chairman shall have reported the Resolutions of the Committee of Supply with respect to the said Estimates the House shall forthwith resolve itself into the Committee of Ways and Means, and the Chairman shall forthwith put every question necessary to dispose of any Resolutions for the purpose of making good the sums so granted.

(3) The proceedings on the Reports of the Resolutions of the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means with respect to the said Estimates shall be taken immediately after the conclusion of the proceedings on the Committee stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill and shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion at midnight on the same day.

On the conclusion of the Committee stage of each of the Bills aforesaid and of Proceedings in the Committees of Supply and Ways and Means on the Resolutions with respect to the Estimates aforesaid the Chairman shall report the Bill or the Resolution, as the case may be, to the House without Question put.

Any day after the day on which this Order is passed on which either Bill is put down as the first Order of the Day shall be considered an allotted day for the purposes of this Order, and either Bill may be put down as the first Order of the Day on any Thursday, notwithstanding anything in any Standing Orders of the House relating to the Business of Supply.

Provided that, where an allotted day is a Friday, this Order shall have effect as if for the references to the times mentioned in the first column of Table III there were respectively substituted references to the times mentioned in the second column of that Table.

Table III.
Days other than Friday. Fridays.
6.0 p.m. 12.30 p.m.
6.30 p.m. 12.30 p.m.
7.30 p.m. 1.30 p.m.
10.30 p.m. 3.30 p.m.
11.0 p.m. 4.0 p.m.
Midnight 4.0 p.m.

For the purpose of bringing to a conclusion any proceedings which are to be brought to a conclusion on an allotted day, and which have not previously been brought to a conclusion, the Chairman or Mr. Speaker shall, at the time appointed under this Order for the conclusion of those proceedings, put forthwith the Question on any Amendment or Motion already proposed from the Chair, and shall next proceed to put forthwith the Question on any Amendments, new Clauses, or Schedules moved by the Government of which notice has been given (but no other Amendments, new Clauses, or Schedules), and on any Question necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded, but, where the business to be disposed of is a portion of the Schedule to the National Economy Bill, he shall, if an Amendment standing on the Paper to leave out any words in the said portion has not been disposed of, put the Question necessary to dispose of that Amendment, and, in the case of Government Amendments, or of Government new Clauses or Schedules, he shall put only the Question that the Amendment be made, or that the Clauses or Schedules be added to the Bill, as the case may be.

Any Private Business which is set down for consideration at 7.30 p.m., and any Motion for Adjournment under Standing Order No. 10, on an allotted day shall, on that day, instead of being taken as provided by the Standing Orders, be taken on the conclusion of the proceedings on the Bill or under this Order for that day, and any Private Business or Motion for Adjournment so taken may be proceeded with, though opposed, notwithstanding any Standing Orders relating to the Sittings of the House.

On a day on which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order, proceedings for that purpose shall not be interrupted under the provisions of any Standing Order relating to the Sittings of the House.

On a day on which any proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion under this Order no dilatory Motion with respect to the Bill or the Estimates, as the case may be, to which those proceedings relate, nor Motion that the Chairman do report progress or do leave the Chair, nor, in the case of proceedings in relation to either of the said Bills, Motion to postpone a Clause or to recommit the Bill, shall be received unless moved by the Government, and the Question on such Motion, if moved by the Government, shall be put forthwith without any Debate.

Nothing in this Order shall—

  1. (a) prevent any proceedings which under this Order are to be concluded on any particular day being concluded on any other day, or necessitate any particular day or part of a particular day being given to any such proceedings if those proceedings have been otherwise disposed of; or
  2. (b) prevent any other business being proceeded with on any particular day, or part of a particular day, in accordance with the Standing Orders of tile House, after any proceedings to be concluded under this Order on that particular day, or part of a particular day, have been disposed of.

This Order shall have effect notwithstanding the practice of the House relating to the intervals between the stages of any Bill."

Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I were to make an observation on the business for the remainder of the week. Business was announced last Thursday, as usual, for this week, but, of course, the programme was upset by the emergency legislation of yesterday, which has thrown us just a day out. If this Resolution which I am moving is passed by the House, to-morrow there will be the business set down for to-day. That is to say, to-morrow will be the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, to be concluded at Eleven o'clock. Thursday will be the first allotted day in Committee on the National Economy Bill—Clauses 1 and 2 and the new Clauses until half-past Seven, and the Education part of the Schedule to conclude at half-past Ten. Friday will be the second allotted day of the Committee stage of the same Bill, proceeding with the Schedule to National Health Insurance and the Police until half-past Twelve, and Unemployment Insurance until the House rises. I think that it is right to add that it is, of course, within the competence of the House as to whether they choose to discuss the Guillotine Resolution all day or not, but, if they prefer it—they have it in their own hands—when the Guillotine Resolution is disposed of, we propose to go on immediately to the next Order on the Paper, which is the Committee stage of the Economy Bill. That would mean that the House in Committee would then start on the first Clause, and that time will be entirely outside the time allowed for inside the Guillotine. That is to say, there will be that amount more time if Members think fit to have it and care to have it, but, as I have said, it is a matter for the House to decide.

The first business to-day and, as I hope I shall prove, the necessary business is the Resolution which appears on the Paper in the name of the Prime Minister. It may be within the memory of the House that not so many weeks ago, sitting on another side of the House, I was objecting very strongly to a Resolution of this kind moved on the Finance Bill by the then Government. But if the memories of hon. Members are sufficiently good to have that in mind, they will also remember that I said that the only circumstances in which such Resolutions were proper and legitimate was when the House was working against time.

4.0 p.m.

In my view, and in the opinion of the Government, we are working against time. I think that everyone in this House recognises—we have had it in speeches from all sides—the necessity of balancing the Budget. We may not all be agreed as to the method, but we are agreed as to the principle. The method of the Government to balance the Budget is now known, and we believe that that balancing is necessary for the restoration of our credit. Now, unless the Economy Bill and the Finance Bill can become law with the least possible delay, for reasons which I shall have no difficulty in showing, the revenue of the current financial year will be so affected that balancing will become an impossibility. Unfortunately, owing to the late period at which the balancing of the Budget was taken in hand, it has been, and will be, and must be, a race against time to effect the necessary changes—certainly a race against time for Parliament and for all the officials in the great Inland Revenue Department.

The economies that will be delayed by any delay in the passage of these Bills are the economies, amounting to about £22,000,000, less whatever may be the exact amount of the concessions announced yesterday by the Prime Minister, and of the new taxation, the whole of the amount proposed to be raised by the Inland Revenue except the Customs and Excise on which I will say a word. The amount concerned is £29,000,000, or a total of £42,000,000, roughly, from the economies and the Income Tax and Surtax combined. All the figures in the Budget are based on the assumption that the savings and the taxes will become alike effectual as from 1st October, and to secure a considerable proportion of the savings in the Economy Bill, particularly those connected with education and unemployment insurance, it is essential for the Government that the Royal Assent should be given to the Bill not later than the end of this month.

With regard to the Inland Revenue, although I do not wish to weary the House, I think that a word or two should be said to make the situation clear. It is common knowledge to Members of the House that the Customs and Excise can be put into force and collected under the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act. That is certainly applicable to the duties on beer, tobacco and petrol, and largely in connection with the Entertainment Duties, but the main sources of the new taxes are, of course, the Income Tax and the Surtax. We have to remember that the Income Tax machine, which is working ceaselessly all the year round, will by this Act be suddenly thrown, as it were, into another gear. A great deal of the work they have done will have to be scrapped. An immense amount of new work will have to be done, and done in a very short time. The demand notes, as those who are fortunate enough to receive them know—[Interruption.]—I am a thorough democrat; I should like all of us to share alike—they reckon to have delivered by the new year. It is one of those annual events to which all good citizens look forward in the week immediately following Christmas week. They are to be ready by the new year.

The early part of the year is always taken up with the examination of accounts and getting the forms ready and the House must remember that the number of these forms runs into millions. Then the provisional assessments are sent out to every taxpayer, and the appeals begin to come in, and have to be examined and rectified after consultation with the taxpayer. That is normally the work of the autumn, and had there been no change at this time of the year, the machine would be working at full speed in dealing with the innumerable claims and the corrections that are inevitable in a tax of that kind. All that is altered, because of the change of rates and the bringing into the purview of the tax a large number of those who, in recent years, have been fortunate enough to obtain remission from it. Then new forms, again running into millions, will have to be prepared, the assessments will have to be made, examined, scrutinised and corrected, and the final demand notes on the new rates got out, if possible, by the usual time—a tremendous work for the Department. I do not believe there is a Department in any country in the world which could do the work with the same celerity and precision with which the Inland Revenue Department does it.

To enable them to do this work, to enable the revenue to be collected, it is essential that the Finance Bill should become law with the least possible delay. When the calculations were made in the preparation of the Budget, it was hoped that the Bill might become law by the third week in September. It is quite obvious now that we shall be probably a week, and it may be more after that date. That is all so much to the bad, but I have every confidence that the Department, with its powerful organisation, will be able, somehow or another, to make up for lost time. I am sure that, at any rate, the majority of those who are subject to this tax will raise fewer difficulties than their conscience would allow them to do at an ordinary time, and I have no doubt myself that if this Bill becomes law at the time that we now expect, the whole of the taxation provided for in, the Chancellor's Budget will be secure, and that when the end of the financial year comes, we shall find that the balancing of the Budget for the current year has become an actual and recorded fact. Those are the reasons why the Government are asking the House to agree with this Resolution, which will bring these Measures into operation at the latest moment that is safe for us to reckon on getting the requisite revenue.

I do not know whether it is necessary for me to say one more word on a subject on which many words have been said, and with which many Members below the Gangway are not in agreement, but, in our view, it is essential for the full restoration of our credit that no one either at home or abroad should feel that this House or the country is faltering in the slightest degree in its determination to take every step it may consider necessary to place on a durable basis the financial health of this country. It is really for those reasons, potent and overwhelming in my mind, that I ask the House of Commons to-day to make what I freely admit, having come flesh from what are called the "chilly shades of Opposition"—not always so chilly, I may add—is a sacrifice, but I ask it with confidence in the circumstances with which we are confronted to-day.


The difficulty about the right hon. Gentleman is his penetrating and persistent good nature. Who would think that he was putting before us a proposition of the nature that he did I When he was speaking, there came into my mind the lines of a hymn that I used to try to sing when I was a boy. It is a very good hymn, and I rather think the right hon. Gentleman is fully familiar with it. The words are: God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. The words came into my mind when I was trying to unravel the right hon. Gentleman's logic, because a few days ago the urgency of this Motion, the urgency of passing the Economy Bill and the Finance Bill was that it might thereby prevent the flight from the pound. That was the urgency a few days ago, in order that the old age pensioner's pension warrant might not be of no more value than a newspaper—I am taking one of the illustrations given us. Now, by some wonderful concatenation of events, some strange upside-down logic, it is not that at all. The reason for the urgency of this Motion, the reason that Parliament is not to be allowed even to discuss what economies shall be put into force, the reason why we are not to be allowed to discuss the grounds for breaking solemn contracts, is in order that those ingenious and industrious gentlemen who live in the Inland Revenue Department may present us with a billet doux on New Year's Day. That has now become the reason for this Motion.

If it were not the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) who had presented the case with his persistent good nature and not with the flashes of amiability which sometimes characterise the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it would be more difficult to resist. He referred, in passing, to another reason. He said that the Motion was urgent in order that we might get along with the business of balancing the Budget. I observe that Second Reading of the Finance Bill is to be disposed of in one sitting, and that this Measure, which imposes a whole series of taxes of a particularly oppressive kind upon the poorest people in the country, is to be pushed through its remaining stages in three days. It is quite fresh in our memories that we spent something like three months in discussing this year's Budget, and the right hon. Member for Bewdley and his friends frequently protested that we were hurrying it too much.

That is not the strangest feature of this Motion. We are not to be allowed to discuss in detail, now that the pound has fled—[HON. MEMBERS: "It has not fled!"] I thought it had.


We have it on a string.


The hon. Member says the very thing that I was going to say. Some of us have been contending for quite a long time that this talk about the flight from the pound, jumping off from the 20 shillings, and the rest of it, was so much mock heroics. We have had experience in this country of having the pound on a string. We have had experience of controlling its fluctuations before, and I have no doubt that we could have done the same thing again. Now, however, we are engaged in discussing something that is quite different. We are not to be allowed to discuss any details of the Economy Bill, which is going to make multitudes of the population have less money to spend, at a time when prices are going to rise.

The strangest thing of all is, that we are bringing these things into operation at the same time. We are only to be allowed four days each to discuss them. It is "urgent," in order that the people who have less money to spend, when prices are rising, may be able to spend more money and to promote employment! That is the hypothesis upon which the Government are acting. When you come to couple these absurdities together and try to fit them in again it seems to me to be a sort of nightmare that we are in. It is all a jumble of absurdities that the Government are presenting. The other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am told, seemed to derive some satisfaction from the reflection that this place might not know some of us very much longer. When I try to enumerate all these absurdities one after the other I think one is justified in thinking that he must be in a kind of financial nightmare, in which the party opposite are taking part, and when they wake up and the election has taken place we may find some hon. Gentlemen safely ensconced in serener places.

It is not that the Income Tax payer may have a little more time to prepare their forms, that this urgency is needed. The Prime Minister practically admitted yesterday that it is in accordance with the terms of the loan. Although the pound has gone, although the cost of living is going to rise—I hope that our export trade will increase, and that there win be more employment—still, the terms of the loan are a Budget of this kind and 10 per cent. off the unemployed. We are not going to be allowed to discuss these Bills in detail. We are not even going to be allowed to vote upon them individually. They are to be operated by Orders in Council. The Prime Minister said that it is not a ramp, and he objects to the term "dictation." Still, it is in accordance with the terms of the loan. In order to comply with the terms of the loan we have to break our contracts under some Acts of Parliament on which the Sovereign's signature is scarcely dry, without discussion, at the dictation of the lenders of the loan. That is what it comes to. Once before in our history someone came into this House and, pointing to the emblem of your authority, Mr. Speaker, he commanded that the bauble should be taken away. We are getting very near to that, it seems to me, with these dictators. If those gentlemen did take it away, they would not use it in a dignified way. They would put a stick out at the front of the Bank of England and it would have two supporters, one bearing the Stars and Stripes and the other the Tricolour, and below the stick they would hang out three golden balls. That would be an emblem of the efficiency with which they have conducted their awn business—these dictators of Parliamentary procedure.

On the whole, our view is that we can better spend the time of this House in discussing this monstrous Economy Bill than in spending time in discussing how much time we shall be allowed. Therefore, I was very glad when the right hon. Gentleman told us that as soon as this Motion was disposed of we should be able to tackle the Economy Bill itself. The more time we can spend on that, within the limits that these pinchbeck dictators are allowing to us, the better it will be for the information of the country, and the sooner their pinchbeck dictatorship will be brought to an end. I am advising my hon. Friends on this side of the House not to spend time in resisting this Motion, against which, of course, we shall vote, but, as soon as we can, to get to work exposing the absurdities and the cruelties of the Economy Bill.

Question put.

The House divided Ayes, 283; Noes, 216.