HC Deb 23 May 1944 vol 400 cc583-4
Mr. Speaker

I wish to inform the House of a change which, if it commends itself to the general sense of the House, I propose to make in the Rules of Order governing Public Petitions. I propose to re-interpret Standing Order No. 63—which requires proposals for expenditure to be recommended by the Crown—so as to permit the reception of Public Petitions which pray for legislation involving expenditure, without requiring them to have been recommended by the Crown. I think there are good reasons for this change, but as they are somewhat technical, I do not propose to state them now but to circulate a statement in HANSARD. If any hon. Member has any observations, I will be glad if he will send them to me before the House reassembles after Whitsuntide, and I will take them into consideration before giving a final Ruling.

Following is the statement referred to:

Standing Order No. 63 has hitherto been interpreted so as to rule out of order, unless it has received the King's recommendation, any Petition which involves a charge on public funds, whether that charge is prayed for directly or whether legislation would be required to authorise it. This was one of the grounds on which a recent Petition, praying for legislation to increase Old Age Pensions, was rejected. The relevant words of this Standing Order are: This House will receive no petition for any sum relating to public service … unless recommended from the Crown.

This Standing Order dates from 1713, and first adopted, applied only to Petitions. Later it was extended to Motions. Since then the procedure on Bills involving expenditure has become much more strictly defined, and it would not be possible now for a Bill implementing a Petition to become law without a Financial Resolution recommended by the Crown, if the Petition asked for money. As this is the case, it seems unnecessary to require the King's recommendation twice for the same charge—once for the Petition and once for the Bill. Accordingly, if the House agrees, I propose to re-interpret the Standing Order in its application to Petitions so as to exempt Petitions praying for the grant of money by Bill from the need to secure the King's recommendation. If, however, a Petition prays for money directly, it will still require to obtain the King's recommendation on presentation, since it might conceivably be implemented without a Bill.

It seems to me that this is a commonsense arrangement. The constitutional rule is that the King alone can initiate expenditure. But the recommendation, by which His Majesty exercises this right, should be reserved for the effective stage, and not be required unnecessarily at a preliminary stage—which, as in the case of a Petition praying for legislation, is not only not in itself effective, but cannot lead directly to effective action. It is a further advantage that this arrangement will save the Crown from being faced with the dilemma of either refusing to recommend a Petition which may, however ineffective, have wide support, or else of granting the King's recommendation to a Petition and thus appearing to incur some moral responsibility for implementing it by legislation.