§ 4.27 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)
I beg to move:That a Bill (other than a Bill which is required to originate in Committee of Ways and Means) the main object of which is the creation of a public charge may either be presented, or brought in upon an Order of the House, by a Minister of the Crown, and, in the case of a Bill so presented or brought in, the creation of the charge shall not require to be authorised by a Committee of the whole House until the Bill has been read a Second time, and after the charge has been so authorised the Bill shall be proceeded with in the same manner as a Bill which involves a charge that is subsidiary to its main purpose.Hon. Members may recollect that, at the beginning of November last year, I made a statement to the House about the action which the Government proposed to take with reference to the Report of the Select Committee, which was appointed to consider the procedure upon certain Financial Measures, and I said then that the Government proposed to accept the second recommendation of the Select Committee—the recommendation which was concerned with the procedure upon Bills other than those originating in Committee of Ways and Means, of which the main purpose was the expenditure of public money. The recommendation of the Committee was for a change in the existing practice. Hon. Members are familiar with the fact that, in the case of Bills of this character, under present practice, the Money Resolution precedes the Second Reading of the Bill. The recommendation of the Committee is that in future the Financial Resolution may be taken after the Second Reading of the Bill, and in that case they suggest that the procedure should be assimilated with that which is followed now in the case of Bills containing provisions for the expenditure of public money, but in which these provisions are subsidiary to the main purpose of the Bill.
What are the reasons given by the Committee for their recommendation? They are two. First of all, they are of the opinion that a change would be justified on its merits. They point out that the distinction between these two classes of Bills—the ones which are mainly concerned with public expenditure and the ones in which public expenditure is only 68 the subsidiary purpose—is only technical in character, and that, in fact, sometimes it is rather difficult to say into which category a Bill falls. Moreover, they take the view that the present practice tends to lead to a waste of time, which is occasioned by duplication of debates, one debate taking place upon the Committee stage of the Money Resolution and another debate, going over the same ground, when we come to discuss the Second Reading of the subsequent Bill. That was their first reason.
The second reason was that they considered that this change in practice was the natural consequence of the first recommendation they had made. The first recommendation was, in effect, that the House should pass a Declaratory Resolution, the effect of which would be to lay it down that Financial Resolutions in future must be on rather wider lines than they had hitherto been, so as to allow of more discussion on the subsequent stages of the Bill. Obviously, if hon. Members wished to form an opinion as to whether a particular financial resolution was or was not in accordance with the terms of that Declaratory Resolution, they would not only wish to see the Financial Resolution but also the Bill, otherwise they would not be able to say whether it carried out the spirit of the recommendation.
Hon. Members will recollect that the Government decided not to accept the first recommendation of the Committee, and they have put forward an alternative procedure, which is intended to have the same effect. They have given written instructions to all the Departments and to the Parliamentary Counsels' Office. Really, the same reason for the change in the Standing Order which I am about to move exists in connection with the procedure adopted by the Government in the same way as if they had accepted the Declaratory Resolution. If the House wants to form an opinion as to whether any particular Resolution is in accordance with the instruction given by the Government they, again, will want to see the Bill in order that they may compare its terms with those of the Financial Resolution. Those are the reasons given by the Committee for their recommendation. As I have said, the Government accept the recommendation and have put down the Motion which I now move.
69 In their report the Committee set out a draft of the amended Standing Order which they were suggesting. We have followed their draft very closely but have amended it in two respects, both of which are designed to make more clear the intention of the Motion. I would point out the two alterations. First, we have inserted in the third line of the Order the words:or brought in upon an Order of the House,so as to cover both kinds of Bills, that is, Bills presented in the ordinary way or Bills brought in by a Minister upon an Order of the House. Secondly, we have inserted words in the beginning of the fourth line:in the case of a Bill so presented or brought in, the creation of the charge shall not require to be authorised by a Committee of the Whole House until the Bill has been read a Second time.These actual words were not in the draft suggested by the Committee, but I think the House will see that it is better to have them in so as to make perfectly clear what the intention of the Order is.
I do not think it is necessary for me to say much more except to allude to three other points. First, a question was raised last November by an hon. Member as to whether under the new procedure in regard to one of these Money Bills when the Financial Resolution comes after the Second Reading, the Clauses will still be in italics. I understand that they will still be in italics, except where it would be necessary to put nearly all the Clauses into italics, in which case it might be desirable to adopt some other method of marking the distinction between these Clauses and other Clauses. That is a matter which will require Mr. Speaker's approval. I think we may take it that the Clerks at the Table will see that whatever is done is done in a manner which will be most convenient for the purposes of the House.
Another point is that, although the ordinary normal practice under this Standing Order, if it is adopted, will be that the Financial Resolution will follow the Second Reading of the Bill, the right of the Government of the day to retain the present procedure in any particular instance is left unimpaired. It is a permissive and not a mandatory Order. On that, I do not anticipate that the procedure will be other than that contemplated 70 by the Order, except in very special circumstances where there is some special reason, and it is necessary to have the Financial Resolution first.
One final point. Since the procedure under this Order in the case of these Bills will be assimilated to that followed in the case of Bills where the expenditure of public money is only a subsidiary purpose, there is consequently another alteration in procedure, namely, that since the Money Bill will not be brought in on a Money Resolution, it will be possible in future to take more than one stage of the Bill on the same day. At present only one stage can be taken on one day, and the next stage has to be taken on a different day. Under this revised procedure it will be possible to take more than one stage on one day; but that does not mean that you can proceed in Committee any further than such Clauses as do not entail the passing of the Financial Resolution to vitalise them so that they can be discussed.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Lees-Smith
As the Prime Minister has explained, this Standing Order is the second main recommendation of the Select Committee which was set up last year to inquire into the whole question of whether our Financial Resolutions could be framed in a less restricted form. The Committee were instructed to confine themselves within the principles of Standing Order 63, principles which my friends and myself accept. The difficulty has arisen that as under these principles the framing of these Resolutions is in the hands of the Government, it is open to them, and they have in fact to decide on what subject the House shall be allowed to vote. The Select Committee came to the conclusion that this power had from time to time shown itself liable to abuse.
Looking back, I think that the time when this change in attitude took place was when the actual framing of these Financial Resolutions was taken out of the hands of the Public Bill Office of this House and handed over to the Treasury. The Public Bill Office is the servant of this House, and looks at matters from the point of view of Members of the House, but when these subjects are handed over to the Civil Service, the civil servant regards it as his duty to enable the Minister to get his Bills through as easily as possible, and he is not 71 specially deputed to consider what may be the final result if Parliamentary discussion gradually becomes atrophied.
The Prime Minister has stated the difference between the recommendation of the Select Committee and the actual steps which the Government have taken. The Committee recommended a formula not unlike that which the Government have adopted, and they recommended that it should be embodied in a Declaratory Resolution. The effect of that would have been that it would have been open to any Member of the House to raise a point of Order with Mr. Speaker as to whether the Financial Resolution was or was not within the scope of the Declaratory Resolution, and it would have been an obligation upon Mr. Speaker to give a ruling. The reason that the Government have adopted a different procedure is based upon the Memorandum which Mr. Speaker wrote for the Select Committee. That Memorandum contained one or two principles of such importance that I think it is worth while to spend a few minutes in reminding the House what they were.
I have been looking through some discussions which took place about 40 years ago when this kind of question was very much discussed in the House, certainly much more than now. In those days Select Committees laid down one very firm principle which they warned the House never to forget, and that is the great danger which might arise if Mr. Speaker was compelled to give decisions on matters which aroused strong party feeling. For some years we have, I think, rather abandoned that doctrine. For some years there has been a general idea expressed in these words: "Here is a difficulty; leave it to the Speaker to decide." More and more decisions of this sort have been put into his hands, such as the acceptance of the Closure, the acceptance of dilatory Motions for the Adjournment, and the certification of Money Bills under the Parliament Act. As a result, the Memorandum of Mr. Speaker is a public document of great importance, and I am bound to say that it rather reinforces certain views that I expressed—I think the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont) also made certain suggestions—when we discussed this question some months ago.
I doubt whether the House fully realises how delicate the position of the Speaker 72 in this House is becoming. He depends on the good will of the House, and he depends certainly upon the good will of the Opposition, because undoubtedly if there were a strong feeling against the Speaker in any section of the House, his position would become almost impossible. I remember that in the case of Mr. Whitley when he gave a decision on a very exciting issue, five Privy Councillors, headed by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) put a Motion of criticism on the Order Paper. That Motion could not be allowed to remain there, and Mr. Whitley had to insist that it should be discussed. There was a discussion, and I know that it had a great effect on his mind. Obviously, that is not the kind of thing that could be repeated very often, otherwise his position would not have been possible. For that reason the Select Committee, from that point of view alone, has been of great importance. I would point out, however, that the method of the Government, if adopted, is really a new technique. What they have done is to give instructions to the Treasury. If a particular issue arises, Mr. Speaker can give only a personal opinion, and he is at liberty to say that it is a matter on which he has no authority. But this is a new technique, because these instructions to the Treasury, debated in the House, are a method of attaching to them an importance almost comparable to the importance attaching to a Declaratory Resolution.
Apart from that, this new Standing Order deals in another way with the main difficulty which confronted the Select Committee. One of the difficulties which arises now is due to the fact that the Minister draws up the Financial Resolution before there has been any Second Reading Debate and, therefore, before he knows the special points to which various sections of the House attach particular interest and the special points upon which they really want to take a Division. If he finds that he has not fully estimated the opinion of certain sections of the House all he can do is to withdraw the Financial Resolution and introduce a new one: a clumsy procedure upon which he does not willingly desire to embark. But if there is a discussion on the Second Reading before the Financial Resolution is put down, the Minister will know what are the particular proposals upon which hon. Members would like to divide, and 73 if he then decides to draft the Financial Resolution so as to prevent them dividing, he does it with his eyes open. My impression is that this will lead to greater elasticity because most Ministers want to avoid a row in the House. If hon. Members will cast their minds back to the last six occasions on which there has been a row or something nearly amounting to a row, they will find that in every case it was not upon a point of principle, but on a point of procedure; it was because the Opposition, consisting sometimes of the party opposite and sometimes of my own party, thought that the Rules had been twisted unfairly to prevent them debating or dividing on points upon which they desired to express their views.
The other reason is one which led the Select Committee of 1932 to adopt this proposal, and it seemed to me to be so full of common sense that I was surprised the House did not adopt it at the time. The position at present is this. The Second Reading of a Bill is regarded as a full-dress discussion on broad principles upon which we are entitled, in the case of a Bill of importance, to a full day's debate. When you get the Financial Resolution first you get a Second Reading debate then, and you take a full day; you must have a full day because it is the first discussion then. When the Second Reading of the Bill comes on there must be a full day for that also, and the result is that the debate is spoilt because it is a duplication of one that has already taken place. But if the Second Reading has been taken and then the Financial Resolution comes on, it will clearly be a secondary debate to that of the Second Reading debate, and there will be many cases in which the Opposition will say that as we have had a Second Reading debate half a day is enough for the Financial Resolution, and ask for the time to be used for something else. For these various reasons my friends and I will support the new Standing Order.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
The right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) was a member of the Select Committee whose recommendations we are now considering. As I had not the honour of sitting on that Committee I should like to say that hon. Members of the House are much indebted to the members of the Select Committee and also to those who 74 appeared as witnesses before it. It is impossible to read the Minutes of Evidence without appreciating the tremendous amount of care and industry which must have been given to the preparation of the various memoranda which were laid before it. As far as hon. Members on these benches are concerned we shall support the Motion of the Prime Minister, because so far as it goes—I emphasise the words "so far as it goes"—it represents an improvement in our procedure. It represents an improvement, we think, for two reasons. In the first place, it will enable the Government in framing a Money Resolution to take into account views which have already been expressed in the House on Second Reading, and, in the second place, as the Prime Minister has pointed out, and as the Select Committee of 1932 concluded, it should, on some occasions result in avoiding a duplication of debate. As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, under our present procedure it does not infrequently happen that a discussion on a Money Resolution tends to become a kind of dress rehearsal to the debate on Second Reading, and this change we hope will result in a considerable saving of the time of the House.
But I do not want it to be supposed that we are entirely satisfied with this alteration in the Rules of Procedure, or that we regard it as sufficient in itself to meet the grievances which have been so often expressed in the House during the last three years. The events which led up to the appointment of the Select Committee are fresh in our minds. We can recall the Debate on the Money Resolution on the two Special Areas Bills in 1934, the Money Resolution on the Tithe Bill, and on the Motion last year to repeal Standing Order 69. On those occasions the view was expressed, not only on this side of the House but in all quarters of the House, that the House was not being fairly treated by the Government and the Departments, and that Standing Order 69 was being used in such a way as to deprive hon. Members of legitimate opportunities of moving Amendments to Government legislation. I think this point should be made. It is quite clear that the Select Committee considers that the complaints which were made on those occasions were justified. Let me quote one passage from paragraph 10 on Page 9: 75Allowing, then, that it is proper for the House to exercise some measure of control over the financial proposals initiated by the Crown, it remains for your Committee to suggest in what direction it is most likely that a remedy for what they consider legitimate dissatisfaction can best be sought.I think we are entitled to emphasise the words "legitimate dissatisfaction." Those who on various occasions in recent years have raised this question and have protested against the undue particularity with which Money Resolutions have been drawn are entitled to say that our criticisms have been entirely upheld by the report of the Select Committee. Hon. Members on these benches have from time to time pointed out that this difficulty in regard to Money Resolutions is not an isolated phenomenon. In our view it is part and parcel of the attitude which the Government and the Departments have taken towards this House in recent years. I am not going to take up much time, but I would like to remind hon. Members of two passages which occur in the Minutes of Evidence. The first is on page 89, in the second column, in the evidence of Sir Bryan Fell. He used these words:As an old servant of the House, I view with suspicion any encroachment of the Executive upon the rights of the House. Moreover, I feel that, if no action is taken as a result of this inquiry, and the Executive are allowed to establish their right to put detailed proposals before the House and to use the procedure of the House to prevent any amendment being moved to these proposals, the temptation to push the doctrine further will be irresistible, until, at length, the House will be debarred from making any amendment to the Executive's proposals and be allowed only to accept or reject them as they stand.That is what we of the Liberal Opposition have been saying for a long time, and we are entitled to point to the fact that what we have been urging on the House is supported by so high an authority. I would also draw the attention of the House to two significant answers given by Sir William Graham-Harrison. The first is on page 145. The question was:Who is responsible for this alleged tightness? Is it the Treasury instructing the draftsman, or the draftsman?And the answer was—No, I think it is really the Treasury who want this control. I do not think that the draftsman likes doing things which he feels are an irritation to the House.On the following page there is question 1339: 76Was it your practice to try and draft them not too tightly?The answer—One used to be told that it was wanted to restrict them in such and such a way, and one used, perhaps, to say, '1s this not really making it a little too tight? Is it not really unnecessarily preventing points being discussed in the House which ought to be discussed?' The draftsman is always at liberty to put points of that sort to those who instruct him, but the decision is not ultimately his; he has to do what he is told.Those answers are cautiously expressed, naturally, but I think we may fairly conclude from them that there have been occasions when the Treasury wanted the Resolution to be drawn with a good deal of particularity and that the form of the Financial Resolution was not necessary for the purpose merely of drafting. After reading the Minutes what is left I think is the impression of the extraordinary difficulty there is in devising any procedure that is certain to meet all the grievances that have been expressed in the House in recent years. I do not think they can be met purely by some form of words. The complaints we have heard since 1934 have not been against the Standing Orders themselves. Standing Order 69 first came into use in 1922, and from that year until the end of 1934, when we had the first Special Areas Bill, it has worked fairly well, without, as far as I know, any very serious complaint. Therefore, the criticism that has been made has not been so much against the Standing Orders as against the way in which they have been used. The position is rather analogous to that of the Covenant of the League of Nations; there is nothing wrong, with the machinery of the Covenant, what is wrong is the misuse of that machinery. That seems to me to be precisely the position in the matter of the Standing Orders.
The new Standing Order may or may not prove to be a valuable safeguard. If, in future, it is used as is intended and if the Government, in drafting their Money Resolutions, have regard to the views that have been expressed in all parts of the House in the Second Reading Debates, the new Standing Order will, of course, be a very valuable addition to our Rules of Procedure; but if not, it will mean very little indeed. If the form of Financial Resolutions in future is not going to be affected by the views expressed in the House, we shall be no-further forward than we were before the 77 Standing Order was passed. Having regard to the views which you, Sir, expressed in the Memorandum to which the right hon. Gentleman above the Gangway referred, I do not think anyone on these benches would ask that there should be a Declaratory Resolution in the form that was recommended by the Select Committee. The Government have now adopted two devices, first, the device of the new Standing Order, and secondly, the device of sending the circular round to the Departments. I do not think the terms of that circular or written instruction have ever been communciated to the House.
§ Mr. Foot
I am sorry; I did not know the terms had been read out. Those two devices have been adopted by the Government as a result of the Report of the Select Committee. I can only say that my hon. Friends and I are not over-sanguine as to the future, but we hope that, as a result of the many protests that have been made in the House and of the views that were clearly expressed by the Select Committee in their report, there will not be any further attempts unduly to circumscribe the powers of the House, and that the House will be able not merely to accept or reject, but also to shake and amend Government proposals.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Lambert
The extreme importance of dealing with finance in a democratic country cannot be over-estimated, as we are able to see very clearly from what is happening in a neighbouring country at the moment. I am very glad to see inscribed in the Report of the Select Committee the principle of the sole right of the Crown to initiate expenditure, a principle which has been described as one of the sheet anchors of good Government, and the wisdom of which is, I think, generally recognised. There is one point on which I think the Teasury must be defended, namely, the charge that they have drawn these Money Resolutions too rigidly. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) has quoted the opinion of Sir William Graham-Harrison. I would like to refer him to the evidence of the Government draftsmen who drafted the Money Resolutions on the Tithe Bill and the Special Areas Bill. If the hon. Gentleman 78 will turn to page 46 of the Minutes of Evidence, questions 6 and 7, he will find that Sir Maurice Gwyer and Mr. Granville Ram stated:We can assure the Committee that, in some of the cases which have aroused the most adverse comment, such ingenuity as the draftsman possesses has been employed not for the purpose of drawing the Resolution as closely as possible but of trying to give effect to these directions by seeking for ways in which to widen the field of discussion in Committee on the Bill without thereby presenting that Committee with a blank cheque in favour of an unnamed payee.That was the considered opinion of the Government draftsmen who drafted the Resolutions in connection with the Tithe Bill and the Special Areas Bill. We have there an explicit statement by the draftsmen that they have tried to widen rather than to circumscribe. It is pretty clear to me that our financial position during the next few years will lead to much apprehension. Large debts, big armament expenditure, and taxation at a very high level are things which will give future Chancellors of the Exchequer some severe headaches. I maintain that it would be impossible to allow Members of the House of Commons to run riot with public expenditure, and to propose public expenditure. This is as much in the interests of the party opposite as it is in the interests of any Government.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
In view of what the right hon. Gentleman has just told the House, does he consider that the acceptance of the Prime Minister's Motion will make any improvement in the existing situation, seeing that on recent occasions which have been mentioned the draftsmen have exercised as much generosity as was possible towards the House?
§ Mr. Lambert
The hon. Member must realise that if the Government has the sole right to initiate expenditure, that right must be very closely guarded. Whether this Motion will add much to the opportunities of the House, I cannot say; but one thing of which I am sure is that it is in the interests of all Governments, whether Labour or otherwise, to maintain the principle that the Government only shall initiate expenditure. I will give hon. Members opposite an example. At some time they will be in power, and they will probably propose new expenditure; they will have their critics, and some of their critics will be hon. Members below the Gangway. The 79 hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) is very insistent that Members of the House shall have the right to initiate expenditure. Let us assume that a Labour Government is in office, and proposes to deal with pensions. If they proposed an extra half-crown a week, and the hon. Member for Camlachie proposed an extra 5s., they would have the ordeal of having to vote against that in the Lobby. I do not think it is fair to put Members of the House of Commons into that position.
§ Mr. Lambert
In the Select Committee I watched all the hon. Member's efforts to obtain for Members of the House the power of initiating expenditure. That is a principle which seems to me to be absolutely impossible. In defence of that Select Committee, I must say that they proposed a Declaratory Resolution, but great objections had been made to that proposal, notably by Mr. Speaker. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that of late we have imposed upon Mr. Speaker many duties which are quite foreign to the duties which he had even when I entered the House. He has to decide whether a Bill is a Financial Bill for purposes of the Parliament Act; there is then the Closure, the enormous power of selecting Amendments, and also the question of the Adjournment.
Those are questions which bring Mr. Speaker into contact with the House, but fortunately, Sir Dennis, we have had a series of speakers of great impartiality. I believe that those Speakers have filled that great position no less worthily than the present occupant of it, with great dignity and great impartiality. Of course, there have been times when certain wild people have attacked Mr. Speaker in his constituency. I remember that at one time the Tory party attacked Mr. Speaker Gully, and the Labour party attacked the present Speaker. It is only the Liberal party which is really the constitutional party. I bow to Mr. Speaker's decision, and I think there is a great deal to be said for removing this new responsibility from the Speaker. Mr. Speaker's powers are very great, and it was indeed a revelation to me when the late Chief Clerk, Sir Horace Dawkins, said 80 that Speakers perform a great many more functions privately than the House knows about. All parties, I believe, are agreed on this Motion, and I am very much obliged to the Government for having accepted at any rate one useful portion of the Report of the Select Committee.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
I believe that this new Standing Order, far from making an improvement in the situation, will make it a little bit worse. One defect of it is that it will restrict the amount of debate which is possible at present. In the present circumstances, we are able to have practically a Second Reading Debate on a Financial Resolution and also a Second Reading Debate on the Bill itself; whereas in future, we shall have a Second Reading Debate on the Bill, but it is obvious that we shall be very strictly tied to the financial side on the Financial Resolution. However, since hon. Members above the Gangway have accepted the Motion, I do not think it is worth while dividing the House against it, in view of the smallness of our numbers.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) seemed to think that the statement of the Prime Minister would result in a real improvement and would do away with the bonds imposed upon the House in connection with Financial Resolutions. In the Select Committee the right hon. Gentleman, who used to belong to the Liberal party, was always frank about his position and willing to face the situation. He has very rightly drawn attention to the evidence given by the draftsmen in which they showed plainly that they have tried to observe in the spirit as well as in the letter the previous instruction of the Prime Minister with regard to making Resolutions as wide as possible in order to give the House the fullest opportunities of discussion. Under the present procedure, I do not think their statement can be questioned. What we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman above the Gangway has been largely an attempt, in a difficult situation, to persuade people that there is a possibility of improvement. But, frankly, one ought to admit that, with the rules as they are, the situation will not be materially altered.
If the right hon. Gentleman opposite looks at the Order Paper to-day, he will find that the eighth Order relates to the 81 Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Bill. There was the statement of the Prime Minister previous to the setting up of the Select Committee. Then there was the subsequent statement by the Prime Minister, before that Bill was introduced. Yet with regard to that Bill exactly the same position was created as that which had been complained of previously. A definition of "agricultural population" was introduced, which practically tied up the Scottish Grand Committee in its consideration of the Bill and Members of all parties in the Scottish Committee expressed the utmost dislike of what had been done in that respect. It is plain from our experience in that case that we are not advancing to any improvement of the position in this respect.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) has referred to the proceedings at the Select Committee. I must confess that I was to a very large extent "on my lonesome" in that Committee. I had a fair amount of support from the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds (Major Milner) who was also capable of taking a frank view of the situation. On the whole, however, I took a view somewhat different from the view which my colleagues generally were inclined to take. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton is wrong in thinking that I expressed the view that there should be no restriction at all upon Members of this House. I did not express that view in Committee because we were bound by the terms of reference. It is, however, the view which I hold. I would like to see every Member having the opportunity of bringing forward any proposals for any expenditure which he thought necessary. But in the Committee we were restricted to the question of the maintenance of Standing Order No. 63 and consequently the line which I took in Committee was the line taken by the Leader of the Opposition in the Debate of 8th March previous to the setting up of the Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman then said:I am seeking to return to the procedure which obtained for 200 years till 1919, indeed until 1922."—[OFFICIAI, REPORT, 8th March, 1937; col. 816, Vol. 321.]That was the position which I took up in the Committee and which I sought to have put into the report. Hon. Members of the Labour party on the Committee 82 evidently took a different view from that of their leader in this respect. They thought that was the wrong position to take. I thought it was the right position for the Select Committee to take. All that has been done in regard to the Standing Order, and the Prime Minister's declaration, will not get us out of the difficulty in which we are placed in connection with this matter.
The Leader of the Opposition, in the speech to which I have already referred, also showed how in the past it had been necessary for the legislature to have a check upon the executive in order to limit expenditure whereas now it appeared to be considered necessary that the executive should have some check upon expenditure that the legislature was prepared to sanction. Why should it have such a check? During the sittings of the Select Committee the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds raised the point very sharply and very frankly said that if you had democracy, then the representatives of the people should have full power and if the people in the country wanted a thing they were entitled to have it. I think that is absolutely sound and that the provisions of this Standing Order with regard to our discussions are simply an attempt to evade something which has become necessary in the circumstances in which we live to-day. In the old days the franchise was limited and because of that limitation the desires of a great number of people outside had not to be taken into account. With the extension of the franchise there has arisen uncertainty as to who may come into this House and an endeavour is being made to thwart the consequences of the extension of the franchise by setting up machinery and procedure in this House whereby what the people want will be denied to them. I refer hon. Members to page 64 of the minutes of evidence. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton put this point:Assuming that the Government introduced a Bill to provide pensions at 10s. a week and some Member proposed that they should be 15s. then every Member who voted against the 15s. would be held up to opprobrium in his constituency.The right hon. Gentleman is frank about it and I am not quarrelling with him for taking up that position. That is his point of view. But is it the point of view of hon. Members of the Labour party that 83 there should be in this House machinery and procedure which would debar Members from moving, for instance, that a pension should be 15s. instead of 10s.? 1s that their view? It did not appear to be the view of the Labour party in the Debate which led to the setting up of the Select Committee. It was not the view of the Leader of the party. But if hon. Members refer to page 70 of the minutes of evidence they will see that I raised this question with Mr. Lindsay, secretary to the Parliamentary Labour party. I quote from the report:553. Would you say that it is contrary to the idea of Standing Order 63 if the Government proposed a pension of 10s., that Members should have the right to move a pension of 15s.?—No, I do not agree with that.554. You would say that it is contrary to Standing Order 63?—Yes; I think it is contrary to public policy too.So that the point of view of the Labour party as expressed to the Select Committee is that it would be contrary to public policy, if a Bill were brought in to provide pensions of 10s., that Members of this House should have the right to move Amendments to make the pensions 15s.
§ Mr. Stephen
I am indebted to the hon. Gentleman for his question and I draw the attention of the House to the fact that Mr. Lindsay was giving this evidence as secretary of the Labour party and was stating the view of the Labour party.
§ Mr. Stephen
I myself do not quite see the distinction in that way but if the hon. Member will go through the OFFICIAL REPORT of to-day's proceedings, I think he will find that it was also stated by his Leader to-day in this Debate. At any rate a similar position was stated. Possibly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) did not put it exactly in the same way, in relation to a 84 concrete case, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite. But I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley will recall that he said that it was an impossible position that private Members should be allowed to propose expenditure—that they had not to find the money and that it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who had to find the money. He will also recall the fact that he and I had some rather nasty words in the Committee on this point when he told me to remember that I was not on the hustings. The point that I am making is that, apart from myself, the one Member of the Committee representing the party above the Gangway who was willing that Members should have this opportunity was the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Leeds, who said that if you were going to have democracy, you should have democracy.
I think it is an intolerable position that, as a result of the feeling in the ranks of the party above the Gangway, we should be left in the position to-day of accepting this new Standing Order as if it were really going to satisfy the Members above the Gangway, and Members generally in this House, who feel that things are not what they ought to be with regard to the retention of the liberties which Members of this House have enjoyed in the past. The Leader of the Opposition said that he wanted to restore the previous position. He proposed the repeal of Standing Order No. 69, and it was said that that would be sufficient. When witnesses were questioned on this matter, it became plain that it would go very largely towards restoring the previous position if this Standing Order were repealed. Also I would ask hon. Members to realise that it was made plain in the evidence that Standing Order No. 69 was passed by the House to expedite business in the House and that its utilisation with regard to Financial Resolutions occurred only when the decision had been given by Sir Edwin Cornwall in 1922. When the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 was before the House, you had an illustration of what was the practice of the House, and then it was suggested that that was an exception, but Appendix No. IV shows that that was not the exception, but that the King's Recommendation having been associated with the setting-up Motion, there was a liberty to Members, within certain limits, much greater than is possible when Standing Order No. 69 is 85 utilised and the King's Recommendation is attached to the Financial Resolution brought in under that Standing Order.
I can foresee that this is only the beginning of a great deal of trouble in the future. It is no real removal of the fetters that are being put upon Members in this House, very largely at the instigation of the Treasury. The right hon. Member for Keighley drew a nice picture of our having a Second Reading Debate and the Government seeing the points that the House wanted to have debated and drawing the Financial Resolution accordingly, so that decisions would be able to be taken on those points. I notice one hon. Member opposite laughing, and I too am laughing very much at the idea. It has been plain throughout that the Government, seeking to get their legislation through and having the opportunity of a Second Reading Debate, will know how to draw a Financial Resolution so as to shut out the possibility of, say, a revolt on their own benches and so as to make it impossible for a Division to be taken on a particular point. For example, take a Labour Government introducing a Bill in connection with unemployment insurance. You would have a Debate on the Second Reading, and it is plain that there would be many Members on their own benches who would be anxious to take a more generous view than the Government, not having the responsibility of the Front Bench. It is obvious that the Government would draw the Resolution so that it would not be possible to have a particular Amendment of that sort and so that Members in the party would not possibly have the opportunity of putting the Government into a difficulty.
It has occurred before, and it will occur again, and I say that if Members of this House think they are going to thwart democracy and thwart what people outside really want by setting up financial machinery and Standing Orders in this way, I believe they are living under an illusion, that democracy will make itself felt in this country, and that the people will see that they get the things which they desire. To me, this new Standing Order will have the effect of limiting somewhat the Debate that is possible at present, and it will do nothing whatsoever to give Members an opportunity of collaborating in order to make Measures more the opinion of the House. It will 86 leave things as they are in that respect, and we shall still remain tied up, unable to have any real effect upon the Executive of the day. I wish that the point of view of the Labour party in the Select Committee had been the point of view of their Leader in the Debate. If it had been, I believe that we should have had a better report from the Select Committee and that to-day anything like this from the Government would have been rejected with scorn.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Sir Hugh O'Neill
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) has reminded the House that on the Select Committee, of which both he and I were Members, he ploughed a somewhat lonely furrow. That is the actual truth, but on the whole I think he was in opposition to most other Members of the Committee on nearly every point that came before it, and he was very strenuous and vehement in asserting his own views. He has just told the House that in his view the position would be largely met if we went back to the old system which prevailed up to 1932, I think it was, when it was necessary to have a preliminary setting-up Resolution to which the King's Recommendation was given, but I think it was shown pretty clearly, first of all in the Debate some months ago, initiated by the Leader of the Opposition, and subsequently on the Select Committee, that even if we were to go back to the system of a preliminary setting-up Resolution, that really would not help us one iota, because that Resolution would be drawn as widely or as narrowly as the Government cared to draw it.
§ Mr. Stephen
Was it not the case that Sir Horace Dawkins made it plain that if we went back to the old practice, and if the Public Bill Office drew the setting-up Motion, it could only be drawn in very general terms?
§ Sir H. O'Neill
I am afraid that that is not my recollection of what Sir Horace Dawkins said, but the hon. Member is, of course, at liberty to take his own point of view. When this matter was raised on a previous occasion, I said that I thought that one of the causes which had given rise to this difficulty about very closely-drawn Financial Resolutions was the general trend of financial affairs of the time, namely, that in old days it was 87 on the whole the desire of the House of Commons to reduce expenditure and that when you got Financial Resolutions Amendments were moved, which were perfectly in order, to reduce the amount of money which was being asked for, but that in these days all that had changed. Now we very seldom get Financial Resolutions where the Amendments moved are to reduce the expenditure—at any rate, in regard to a certain type of Bill. The Amendments generally are moved by Members who desire to extend the scope of the expenditure and to apply expenditure to a much larger number of objects than those contained in the original proposal. That is a sign of the times, a change that has taken place owing to our largely increasing social expenditure and social services in this country.
I said in the previous Debate, and I still think, that up to a point the reason why these Financial Resolutions have had to be drawn more tightly and with less latitude than formerly is because of this tendency of the House of Commons today to desire to increase rather than to reduce expenditure. Well, the Select Committee met, and they proposed to deal with the main question which came before them by the recommendation of a Declaratory Resolution. The terms of that Resolution are before the House, and it must be remembered that when the Committee recommended a Declaratory Resolution they had before them Mr. Speaker's Memorandum. That did not come afterwards, so that they recommended that Resolution with the knowledge of what was contained in Mr. Speaker's Memorandum. I think that generally the view of most Members of the Committee on that question was that though, of course, they would be most reluctant to impose upon Mr. Speaker any more burdens or difficulties than he has at present, because they are very many, nevertheless I think the Committee felt that he already has so many matters to decide which may arouse controversy, that this one more might not make so very much more difference.
That, I think, was the reason why, in spite of Mr. Speaker's Memorandum, the Committee decided to recommend the Declaratory Resolution. That, however, has not been adopted by the Government, and I think we all recognise the reason, 88 namely, that if there was even the slightest risk of imposing upon the Chair any more obligations or duties which would tend to place him in a difficulty, it would be better not to do so. The Government have, therefore, recommended this procedure, under which very rigid and very peremptory instructions have been given to the Departments and Parliamentary Counsel with regard to the drafting of these Resolutions in the future. Time alone can show whether or not that will have the desired effect. I think it is clear that they will not have such an effect as a Declaratory Resolution would have had, but, on the whole, I certainly think that it ought to do a great deal in the direction that most of us desire. The words that we suggested in the Declaratory Resolution are practically contained in the letter of instructions to the Departments, so that I think probably it will do a great deal of good and will carry out, I hope, the desire of the House and of the Select Committee to bring about a less detailed drafting of these Financial Resolutions.
All that I have said up to now does not really concern the actual Standing Order that we now have before us, because that deals solely with the second recommendation of the Select Committee, namely, that in future in the case of wholly Money Bills the Financial Resolution, instead of being taken before the introduction of the Bill, should be taken after the Bill has been read a Second time. That is, I think, a fairly large departure from existing practice, and it to a certain extent, in my view, impinges upon the strict interpretation of Standing Order 64, which is one of the oldest Standing Orders under which this House operates, having been passed over 200 years ago in the reign of Queen Anne at the same time as Standing Order 63. Standing Order 64 says that any proposal involving expenditure of money cannot be entered upon unless it has been first referred to a Committee of the House of Commons. The object obviously was to bring about a preliminary discussion before the House of Commons was bound in any way in regard to financial matters.
The change which we are carrying out to-day certainly does to a small extent affect that governing principle, because in future we are going to say that Bills which involve expenditure can be brought in without the necessity of a preliminary 89 consideration in a Committee of the whole House. To my mind that is a very considerable departure, but, after all, times change and to a certain extent obviously we must change with them. This change is, on the whole, one which I think can be justified. It was recommended in 1932 by the Select Committee presided over by my right hon. Friend who is now the Minister of Labour of which I was also a member. That Committee recommended a change very much on the lines of this Standing Order, but it was not carried out, and I have always imagined the reason was that we did not limit our recommendation and suggest that it should apply only to Government Bills. If that recommendation of 1932 had been carried out in its entirety, it would have done exactly what the hon. Member for Camlachie desires; it would have given to private Members the right to bring in Bills involving expenditure, without a preliminary Resolution. That not only would be contrary to the great principle that only the Government can initiate expenditure, but would take away one of the neatest shields which Members of Parliament themselves have from being attacked by rapacious constituents who desire to bring in all kinds of legislation.
Although that matter was not dealt with as a result of the report of the previous Committee, it is being dealt with to-day, and we are at this moment about to make this considerable change in our procedure. Its advantage is that it will obviate two Second Reading discussions, and there is no doubt that it will be an advantage that those who have to draft Money Resolutions will know when they draft them what the opinion of the House of Commons was on the Second Reading of the Bill. Very often many people, and certainly new Members of this House, think that our procedure here is very cumbersome and antiquated. At any rate, we are making a change to-day in what I hope will prove to be the right direction. In spite of our procedure appearing sometimes to be cumbersome and antiquated, it enables more than ample discussion to take place on all financial questions, and it certainly results in a more efficient conduct of Parliamentary business than in any other legislative assembly in the world.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Sir Cyril Entwistle
References have been made by Members who served on the Select Committee to the attitude they 90 took on the Committee, and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) referred to himself as ploughing a lonely furrow in certain directions. He is right on that, but he will admit that I also ploughed a lonely furrow in the sense that I was the only member of the Committee who was not in favour of the general principle of the Declaratory Resolution which has not been accepted by the Government. I am, therefore, extremely gratified to see that the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), who spoke for the Labour party, and the hon. Member who represented the Liberal party, have expressed their support of the decision which the Government have made and of the Standing Order which they have put on the Paper. I am also glad to see that the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), who took a strong line in the opposite direction, has not intervened so far to criticise what the Government have done. The speech of the hon. Member for Camlachie really presents the case against the Declaratory Resolution recommended by the Select Committee and the reason why the Government found themselves unable to accept that part of the recommendations of the Committee.
The truth of the matter is that it was impossible really to devise a Declaratory Resolution which would maintain inviolate the principle embodied in Standing Order 63. That was one of the difficulties with which the Committee was faced. The terms of reference to the Committee placed on them the obligation of maintaining the principle of Standing Order 63, and it wanted a great deal of ingenuity to try to devise any words which would not impinge on that principle In my opinion, that Declaratory Resolution, which, according to all the expert advice given to the Committee, would have been equivalent to a Standing Order, would have meant that there would have been some control over the initiating of expenditure other than that of the Executive. The principle of Standing Order 63 goes back to a far more distant period than the Standing Order itself. It is, in fact, one of the oldest constitutional practices of this House that the House vests in the Crown the sole responsibility over national expenditure and it forbids the Commons to increase the sum demanded by the Crown for the 91 service of the State. It is under that Standing Order that amendments for increasing the charge are ruled out of order. Any Amendment that increases the charge is out of order because it violates Standing Order 63, unless the Amendment is within the terms of the Financial Resolution which authorises the charge. Naturally, the wider you express the terms of the Financial Resolution the less real would be the Government control over expenditure as set down under Standing Order 63.
The only way of solving the difficulty of giving wider latitude to Members to modify proposals for expenditure which do not seriously affect the amount of that expenditure was the method which has been adopted by the Government, which was to give instructions to the draftsmen. We have evidence of the draftsmen that they were trying to carry that out prior to the Committee being set up. There are difficulties inherent in the matter, as every Member will perceive. An individual Amendment might be quite small in its character and might seem to impose a very small additional charge, but if one Amendment is permissible any number of Amendments are permissible, and the accumulation of Amendments might become a very serious thing. The answer was made that in that case the Government must get their suporters to oppose the Amendments. It is clear that if any Amendments to increase expenditure by Members were to be permissible and the only check on them was to be that the Government must vote them down, a great deal of time would be expended unnecessarily in the House. Moreover, it is hardly right that we should have divisions on matters of expenditure which under our very Standing Orders we do not permit Private Members to initiate.
§ Mr. Maxton
There may be on the Paper an accumulation of Amendments which do not involve financial matters on any Bill. Would it be more difficult for the Chair to deal with an accumulation of Amendments involving financial matters than to deal with Amendments that do not involve them? Are there not ample powers vested in the Chair to prevent the time of the Committee being unduly taken?
§ Sir C. Entwistle
If Amendments do not involve the expenditure of money they are not out of order and can be moved, but the purpose of the hon. Member for Camlachie was to make any order. The Declaratory Resolution tried to allow a certain number of Amendments Amendment involving expenditure in of that character provided they did not materially increase the expenditure involved in the Government's proposals. I was only endeavouring to point out that one Amendment might not materially increase it, but if you added together a considerable number of Amendments, the effect might be a considerable increase in the expenditure. If the hon. Member suggests that the way to get over the difficulty is to rely on the power of selection of the Chair, that would impose on the Chair a responsibility far greater than any that has ever been imposed in the past and would certainly involve the Chair in political controversy, which nobody desires. I think that the Government have adopted the only practical means of dealing with the many grievances that were made in regard to discussion being fettered. I am sure that the Parliamentary draftsmen will do their best to draft the terms of Resolutions so as to permit the maximum of discussion without removing the safeguard in Standing Order 63 that the responsibility for expenditure must rest with the Government and with the Government alone.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Bevan
I take it that those of us who have proposed to take part in this Debate have furnished ourselves with the report of the Select Committee and have read it carefully, and I think it is rather a burden that we should be compelled to listen once more to the observations on the subject made in this Debate. I understood that the Committee had made a unanimous recommendation, whereas almost every member of the Committee who has spoken has been careful to point out where he differed from his colleagues. However, I suppose Members who took part in those discussions, which lasted so long and were so onerous, must be allowed an opportunity of giving their testimony when the occasion occurs. We are all of us grateful to the members of the Committee for the work they performed. I am more inclined to agree with my right hon. Friend in front of me in endorsing the Motion as far as it goes than 93 to agree with the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), because I hold the view that it is tidier and more businesslike to have the Financial Resolution following the Second Reading of a Bill instead of preceding it. It is better that there should be first a general discussion on the principles of a Measure, so that the Government may be thus put in possession of the lines upon which we think the legislation should be drawn up and be given an opportunity of making their financial commitments with that information in their minds. Apart from any historical precedents, that seems to me to be a much more businesslike procedure, and although it may deny the House an opportunity of a wide debate upon a resolution it has often seemed to me that the width of debates on Financial Resolutions were often in inverse ratio to their utility. I would rather have the wider debate on the Second Reading of the Bill and the more restricted debate on the Financial Resolution. But that is a matter of procedure.
§ Mr. Bevan
That involves no question of principle. That is a matter of procedure. I will come later to the question of principle. As a matter of procedure alone I think the proposal is a businesslike one. I should like to point out to the hon. Member for Camlachie how, if that procedure had existed a service would have been done to the House in the case of the Special Areas Bill. He jeered at the suggestion of my right hon. Friend that on Second Reading of a Bill the Government should be put in possession of the views of the House and then draw up the Financial Resolution, by suggesting that that would merely give the Government an opportunity of filling up any holes which they might have left open. In the Debate on the Special Areas Bill two points were raised, one the amount to be spent and the other the designation of distressed areas. Under the existing procedure and under the new procedure we should be forbidden to initiate any increase in the amount of money, but on that occasion we were also forbidden to add to the number of distressed areas, because the beneficiaries of the money had been indicated in the King's Recommendation which preceded the Bill. Assuming that an intelligent use is to be made of the new Standing Order we shall 94 still be forbidden to increase the amount of expenditure, but if on the Second Reading Members indicate that they wish to add to the number of areas that restriction would not occur.
§ Mr. Stephen
In the Debate on the Financial Resolution referred to Members did indicate the areas that they wanted to be included, and the Chair did not rule anyone out for mentioning that this or that ought to be included.
§ Mr. Bevan
After the Financial Resolution had gone through the House, with the King's Recommendation attached, you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as the Chairman of Ways and Means, said that we could not add to the list of distressed areas, because that would change the nature of the beneficiaries, and would violate the Resolution. The same thing occurred on the Trunk Roads Bill. I suggest that if under the new procedure Members in all parts of the House say, "We think that not only should A and B be beneficiaries of this money, but C also," and if in face of that generally expressed opinion the Government still drew up the Financial Resolution in narrow terms forbidding it, we should regard their action as a violation of the spirit of the Standing Order. That would not cut across the desire of hon. Members everywhere to forbid private Members the power to initiate expenditure. I think that is a complete illustration of how this procedure might make our discussions more useful.
Now I come to the general principle. I am in entire agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Camlachie when he suggests that this matter raises an issue of great principle. Our Standing Orders and our system of procedure enshrine the results of long years of struggle between the Commons and the Crown, and no part of our Constitution enshrines them more vividly than the procedure relating to financial resolutions in this House. The reason why in the past private Members never wished to increase expenditure was that it was the King who wanted the money and they always wanted to give him less than he asked. So it was not very remarkable that in the past the House of Commons were not anxious to initiate expense and were always putting a restraint upon the demands of the Crown. When the Executive became dependent 95 upon the votes of the Commons and not upon the devotees of the King they had to take steps to prevent the King's men from initiating expenditure on behalf of the King. The restriction upon the initiation of expenditure was imposed because the King had been trying in that way to get round the position. He would make a demand upon his Ministers, his Ministers would refuse it, and then he would use the King's party in the House to impose an increase of expenditure upon the Executive.
The limitation was imposed in the first place to protect the House of Commons against the Crown. It is now used to protect the Executive against the Commons; the position has become reversed. In the past the House of Commons largely represented rich people who were trying to restrict the expenditure of the Crown. Now the House of Commons has in it representatives of poor people who are trying to get more money for the poor from the rich, so that any attempt to prevent the initiation of expenditure in this House is a limitation of democracy and a limitation of the liberty of the subject, although some hon. Members have tried to represent this Standing Order 63 as a defence of democracy. What the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) wants to do is to render a section of his constituents inarticulate. He assumes that there are some people in his constituency who desire, say, to increase old age pensions from 10s. to 15s. and he does not want to be placed in the embarrassing position of having to deny them. I am not putting this as a personal matter and have no wish to put it offensively, but that is precisely the position. The right hon. Member said that if it lay in the power of private Members to initiate expenditure they could propose an increase of 5s. Why does he object to it? Because he thinks some of his constituents would say to him, "Why did you vote against an increase of 5s. in my pension?", and he does not want to be exposed to that embarrassment.
§ Mr. Bevan
As I understand it, Members wish to sustain Standing Order 63 in its full panoply because they wish to 96 deny to their constituents the opportunity of securing an improvement in their condition. In other words, that Standing Order is now a barrier between the rich and the poor. There are some Members in the House who do not desire to see a full exercise of democratic rights, but to limit them. We on this side are here because we have said to our constituents, "We think that you are having an unfair deal and we want to improve your conditions." If we had not said that we should not be here. When we come here we are told that it is undesirable that we should have the power to initiate an improvement in their conditions.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is now discussing Standing Order 63, which was outside the terms of the reference of the Select Committee, and is consequently out of order in this Debate.
§ Mr. Bevan
I am under the disability, Mr. Speaker, of your not having been put in possession of the full character of the Debate, because I am now replying to observations made by the right hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), another hon. Member opposite and many others who have taken the contrary line to the one which I am now expounding. But I accept your Ruling that I cannot continue the Debate on those lines, though I must say that the Debate is now being much more restricted than it has been.
§ Mr. Speaker
This is the only remark I have made during the whole Debate and certainly I have not restricted the scope of the discussion.
§ Mr. Bevan
It was not my desire to reflect in the least upon your Ruling, but I am within the recollection of hon. Members when I say that the points which I have been discussing have been dealt with in the Debate. However, I do not wish to pursue them, and will merely say that apart from the advantage of the Financial Resolution following the Second Reading of a Bill the other advantages contained in the Standing Order would depend entirely on the use the Government make of their powers. In the near future we shall probably hear that Financial Resolutions are not to be so rigidly drawn, because the Government will know that we are watching how they use this Standing Order, which, however, leaves the matter still in the hands of the 97 Government and very much where it was before. The use which the Government make of it will depend upon their estimate of our vigilance, and I therefore hope that when we discuss the matter again hon. Members in all parts of the House will remember that it is the intention of this Standing Order to give more power to the House of Commons to discuss Amendments to Bills. The rows which we have had in the past will recur unless the Government realise that we are anxious that they shall not repeat their former practice of drawing up Financial Resolutions so rigidly that there can be no effective discussion of the merits of the Measure.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew
As I was one of those who asked for a Select Committee on this matter perhaps I might be permitted to say a few words on this difficult problem of reconciling the claims of Government business with the rights of private Members. It is obvious from the evidence which has been given that this was a problem which merited attention. A Debate was raised on 8th March on this matter and gave rise to the appointment of the Committee. Lord Baldwin, who was then Prime Minister, said that instructions had been given two years ago that Financial Resolutions were to be drafted as flexibly as was consistent with Standing Order 63. Those instructions had come about as a result of a question asked in December, 1934, when you, Sir, said that not only had the limit been reached but that it had been exceeded in the amount of detail which was being put into Money Resolutions. The instruction to which the Prime Minister referred caused no improvement; in fact, the provisions of Financial Resolutions became more strict and tight. What was the explanation? I think it is contained in one of the appendices to the report, where it is pointed out that the instructions were not given in writing or in any formal manner. The matter was discussed orally between Parliamentary Counsel and the officials, and in the course of ordinary routine attention was drawn to the observations of Mr. Speaker.
The Government's Motion appears to be most satisfactory and will meet all the difficulties of which I complained in the Debate last March. The Government have issued instructions, and this time there is no informality about them. The instructions 98 have been issued in writing. If this recommendation is carried out it should meet toe criticisms I made last March. With regard to the second recommendation, that Second Readings of main-purpose Bills shall be taken before the Financial Resolutions, several Members have pointed out that this would be a saving of time. In addition to that, a much more useful and interesting Debate will take place if the text of the Bill is before the House than can possibly take place when we have only the Financial Resolution, however much detailed it maybe. The Attorney-General, whom I am glad to see in his place, made a point in his speech in March that when a Bill was founded upon a Financial Resolution one must always find the bulk of the Bill in the Financial Resolution. That is, of course, quite true. The complaint has been not only of main-purpose Bills but also of incidental-expense Bills. The first Special Areas Bill was one of these, and the Tithe Bill was another.
The Select Committee recommended that the practice for Money Bills should now be assimilated to that of Bills of which finance was an incidental part. I gathered from the Prime Minister to-day that it would no longer be necessary to differentiate between the two kinds of Bills, but of course it will be necessary to do so. At the present time a private Member can present a Bill involving incidental expenditure, though the Bill cannot be taken in Committee stage until the necessary money resolution has been passed. Unless there is a labelling of main-purpose Bills to distinguish them from incidental-expense Bills, private Members could present them, therefore the Public Bill Office will still have the obligation of differentiating between the two types of Bill. The practice in this House of only one stage of a Money Bill being taken on one day is, as the Prime Minister said, to cease.
One of the advantages of having the Second Reading before the Financial Resolution is that the Government will hear the Second Reading Debate and can then bring in their Financial Resolution drafted in such a way as to meet the wishes of the House. The practice with regard to Bills containing incidental expenditure is to have the Second Reading of the Bill and, immediately after it, on the same night we are asked to pass the 99 Committee stage of the necessary Money Resolution. It will be very much better if there is a space between the Second Reading of a money Bill and the Committee stage of the Financial Resolution so that the Government, having heard the criticism during the Second Reading, can bring in a Financial Resolution suitable to meet the wishes of the House, to spend either more or less money. If we are to carry on upon the same day, one of the great advantages of taking the Second Reading before the Financial Resolution will be nullified. This matter of main-purpose Bills being taken only one stage on one day is something that should be continued as now.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Major Milner
As one who served upon the Committee, I support the words of the last speaker in which he expressed the hope that in no circumstances would a Financial Resolution be taken on the same day as the Second Reading of the Bill. One of the obvious advantages in the procedure proposed in the Motion is that the Government will have an opportunity of considering what the House has said on Second Reading and will thereby be enabled to modify any proposed Financial Resolution so as to bring it as far as possible into line with the feeling of the House. Obviously, if the Financial Resolution is taken on the same day as the Second Reading of the Bill, that opportunity of consideration and amendment, which was one of the principal operating the minds of the Members of the Select Committee, would be lost. I hope that no attempt will be made, except in exceptional circumstances when there may be no conflict of any kind, to take the Financial Resolution on the same day as the Second Reading.
A good deal has been said about the recommendations of the Committee. I certainly think that the Motion presented by the Government is probably an improvement over what was suggested by the Select Committee in their second recommendation. I was a little concerned about what the Prime Minister said on 9th November, and also to-day, in apparently emphasising the point that the operation of the Motion will be primarily permissive, as though he expected that there would be occasions upon which advantage would not be taken of it and of the wishes of the House. In 100 passing this Motion to-day, I cannot conceive of the circumstances which would lead the Government to have a Financial Resolution first and a Second Reading second, unless for some special reason the Government desired to restrict the opportunities of Amendment afforded to the House. If that were proposed I am sure that the attention of the House would be called to it and that a very serious view would be taken. The whole object of the Select Committee and of our discussion to-day, as well as of the Motion before the House, is to arrange matters so that, within a limited area, the House of Commons shall have opportunities for amendment and that the Government, after they have heard the views of hon. Members, may be able to put their Financial Resolution into a form which will meet the wishes of the House and the Government shall consider the House in deciding the form in which they draw up their Financial Resolution. I should, therefore, like to hear from whoever is to reply why stress is laid upon the permissive character of the Motion, and what circumstances might cause the Government to depart from the terms of the Motion now before us.
With regard to the neglect or refusal of the Government to carry out the second recommendation of the Committee, I am seriously concerned. I do not regard the giving of an instruction, either verbally or by letter to Government Departments, as in any way having the force of a Declaratory Resolution. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken said that instructions had been previously given, and that the Committee received the most categorical assurance from the Parliamentary draftsmen that those instructions had been carried out as far as possible. How much further would they have been carried out had they been written instructions and not verbal? Such instructions have not succeeded previously, and I doubt very much whether they will succeed in future. I hope they may. I recognise that if advantage is taken of the fact that the Government are enabled to draw up a Financial Resolution after Second Reading and thus to adapt the Financial Resolution to the wishes of the House, this difficulty may not arise.
I appreciate the grounds on which the Government have declined to carry out 101 the second recommendation of the Committee. The first recommendation was to maintain unimpaired the full effect of Standing Order 63. As I understand it, the desire of the Committee was that some latitude should be given in regard, I will not say to the initiation of expenditure, but in regard to Amendments,so as to permit of Amendments to the Bill which have for their object the extension or relaxation of such provisions and which did not materially increase the charge.As I understood it, the whole object of setting up this Committee was to obtain some relaxation of the previous restriction. The proposal which the Committee made, and which the Government have not adopted, was put in affirmative terms, and had it been adopted it would have provided for the extension or relaxation which, as I understood it, the whole House desired. It is said by the Government spokesmen that the instructions given to the draftsmen will ensure the desired latitude, which would have been obtained by an Order of the House had the proposed Resolution been passed, but I respectfully submit that that is not the case. Some hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Antrim (Sir H. O'Neill), seem to think that the instructions given by the Government are precisely in accord with the terms of the suggested Declaratory Resolution, but in my submission that is not the case. The letter to the Parliamentary draftsmen is an instructionnot to restrict the scope within which the Committee on the Bills may consider amendments further than is necessary to enable the Government to discharge their responsibilities in regard to public expenditure.It seems to me that those words may cover a multitude of sins on the part of the Parliamentary draftsmen, and that there is not the slightest assurance under these instructions that the House will have any further latitude in the future than it has had in the past, particularly as the instructions are given in a negative form. Had they been given in the precise form of a Declaratory Resolution, I should have felt that they would have had more effect. The suggested Declaratory Resolution said:That this House, while affirming the principle that proposals for expenditure should be initiated only by the Crown, is of opinion that Standing Order No. 63 is capable of being applied so as to restrict unduly the control which, within the limits prescribed by 102 that principle, this House has been accustomed to exercise over legislation authorising expenditure; and that any detailed provisions which define or limit the objects and conditions of expenditure contained in a Bill should, if and so far as they are set out in a Financial Resolution, be expressed in wider terms than in the Bill so as to permit amendments to the Bill which have for their object the extension or relaxation of such provisions and which do not materially increase the charge.That is an affirmative instruction to the draftsmen and others so to draw the Resolution as not to preclude amendments. The instruction which the Government have given is a merely negative one. It is merely an instructionnot to restrict the scope … and to leave to the Committee the utmost freedom for discussion and amendment of details which is compatible with the discharge of those responsibilities.In my submission these two things are not the same. I recognise the grounds on which the Government have not thought fit to adopt the Committee's recommendation. It was a recommendation which I think—no doubt I shall be corrected if I am wrong—was agreed to, certainly in its final form, unanimously by every member of the Committee, including the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). Therefore, I support in toto the recommendations of the Committee, and regret that the Government have not seen fit to carry them into effect.
I am very much tempted to enter into the discussion of the subject raised by the hon. Member for Camlachie, but I do not propose to do so, firstly because, strictly speaking, it was not within our terms of reference; secondly, because the report in its final form was, as I have said, unanimous; and thirdly, because you, Mr. Speaker, have called our attention to the point of Order which is involved. The test with regard to the Government's decision in this matter must be one of experience. It is not the desire of myself or of my hon. Friends to alter the Standing Orders unnecessarily. No doubt the Government will carry the Motion, which we shall support, and I shall look with interest to see whether it is possible for the House to have the latitude which it undoubtedly desires. I very much hope that it may be possible to ensure the carrying out of the wish of the House in that respect, particularly as I recognise both the principle involved and the difficulty which, if the suggested Resolution were passed, would be imposed 103 on Mr. Speaker in occasional circumstances. That, however, might not very often occur, because an opportunity would be given to the Government to alter their Financial Resolution in accordance with the wishes of the House, and also because, in the case of this particular sanction, as of so many other sanctions, once the House, the Government and the Parliamentary draftsmen know that there is a sanction, that sanction is only very rarely likely to be called for.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn
I think that the person who should be congratulated upon the turn that the Debate has taken is really the Chief Whip. In the previous Debate complaint was made about the increasing practice of the Government putting fetters on the House, but that complaint has been met with a form of words which is really going to ease considerably the work of the Chief Whip. Of course the great objection to a Declaratary Resolution has been that it would lay a burden on the Chair, which it was felt would not be prudent, and on that I will make no further criticism; but, after great searching, that proposal was the best thing that many experts, including old officers of the House, could suggest in order to protect Members from undue interference by the Executive.
So far as the new Standing Order is concerned, we are to get the Second Reading before the Financial Resolution, but of course the Financial Resolution will be in draft before the Bill is printed for Second Reading. It stands to reason that it will be. But the Minister will be saved any shame, because he can privately alter his Financial Resolution, whereas, if it were objected to in the discussion, he would have to withdraw it. That increased pressure, for what it is worth, has now been introduced. But we have been told by the Prime Minister that the Financial Resolution will now be a formal thing; and another thing which is most important from the point of view of the Chief Whip is that, whereas a Money Bill, as it is called, originatmg on a Resolution, has previously had to make a rather stately and restrained progress through this House, with such-and-such intervals between its various stages, the Chief Whip will now be able to tell us that, while the Government do not wish 104 to keep us unduly late, they propose to take the later stages of the Bill before the House adjourns. Therefore, the Chief Whip has made a splendid thing out of what arose on a protest against his own action.
I think the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) is wrong in supposing that a reversion to the pre-Standing Order No. 69 practice is going to help. It is true that in the case of the Old Age Pensions Bill, 1908, it was moved that the House should resolve itself into a Committee for the purpose of granting supplies, and it is true that, within the scope of such a Motion, amendments could be made; but when we get to the stage at which Members agree to improve the Bill by increasing the flow of public money, what would happen would be that the setting-up Resolution would be in the same strict terms in which the Government draftsmen now set out their Resolutions at the instance of the Treasury.
§ Mr. Stephen
The right hon. Gentleman forgets that Sir Brian Fell and those associated with him in the Public Bill Office agreed that it would be impossible for the Public Bill Office to draw a Resolution in the tight terms in which it is drawn to-day.
§ Mr. Benn
Drawing up a Bill is, of course, the work of a public department, and they will never surrender that work to any office. All that they will do is to see that the setting-up Resolution, which would be required under the old procedure, is treated as the actual Resolution. I am as anxious as the hon. Member is to find some solution, but I do not think it is to be found in reverting to the pre-1922 procedure. As to the evidence, to which the hon. Member referred, evidence on procedure was given by Mr. Scott Lindsay, and the hon. Member put some questions to him with regard to Standing Order No. 63, asking, for example, whether he would agree that a private Member might propose an increased charge here or there; and Mr. Scott Lindsay, in his answers, made the same criticism that the hon. Member has made here this afternoon. In point of fact, the hon. Member, both in the Committee and in the House was completely out of order in raising Standing Order No. 63 or any question under it. I drew attention to that in the Committee. If you are to discuss Standing Order No. 105 63, you must have a free discussion, but you cannot have the Rules of Order infringed to enable one Member to put a point when others have not the opportunity of giving a proper answer. The hon. Member will recollect that he himself, with my assistance, drafted and moved an Amendment accepting the principle of Standing Order No. 63. If he will turn to page xxii, he will find that an Amendment was proposed to add words accepting the principle of Standing Order No. 63. In point of fact it is irrelevant to quote the evidence given by Mr. Scott Lindsay before the Committee and pretend that it was the view of someone else, when in fact the whole discussion was out of order, as was recognised by the hon. Member himself when he moved a Resolution accepting Standing Order No. 63. That question is out of order, and I cannot discuss it, but the principle that the responsibility for expenditure must rest upon the Government is a principle which anyone with experience of the House is bound to accept.
That a Bill (other than a Bill which is required to originate in Committee of Ways and Means) the main object of which is the creation of a public charge may either be presented, or brought in upon an Order of the House, by a Minister of the Crown, and, in the case of a Bill so presented or brought in, the creation of the charge shall not require to be authorised by a Committee of the whole House until the Bill has been read a Second time, and after the charge has been so authorised the Bill shall be proceeded with in the same manner as a Bill which involves a charge that is subsidiary to its main purpose.
That this Order be a Standing Order of the House."—[The Prime Minister.]