HC Deb 06 May 1970 vol 801 cc410-3
Mr. Speaker

I have an important Ruling to make.

The House will note that the next item of business on the Order Paper is the presentation of the Political Contributions Bill by the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). I am afraid that today I have to take the unusual course of refusing to allow the Bill to be presented and read the First time.

As Speaker, it is my duty to protect the rights of private Members to legislate, and already this Session the House has passed no fewer than 10 Private Members' Bills on a variety of important topics. It is, however, an inexorable and necessary rule of the House that no private Member may legislate on the expenditure of public money or on the levying of taxation unless his proposals have first been authorised by Resolution.

Yesterday, the House agreed on the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, regulating taxation in the current year. Hon. Members will appreciate that the financial rules of the House, giving the initiative in all matters of expenditure to the Crown, are essential if confusion is to be avoided.

I understand that by his Bill the hon. Member for Nottingham, West intends to defer its proposals until they are validated by a subsequent enactment. Although, however, there may be precedents for this process in the case of several categories of Public Bills, there is no precedent for a Bill relating to taxation brought in by a private Member.

The opening words of the hon. Member's Notice are: A Bill to enable every parliamentary elector to require the Treasury, if Parliament consents, to contribute a portion of his taxation to the political party of his choice. These words indicate that the main objective of the Bill is to impose a charge on the revenue, and such a Bill, under the ancient rules of the House, cannot be introduced by a private Member, except upon a Resolution. Nor can I admit that the words "if Parliament consents" exempt the Bill from this rule. These words appear to mean that the Bill, if enacted, is inoperative unless Parliament passes another Act, since in this context their effect would be to circumvent the financial rules of the House. I cannot. therefore, allow the hon. Gentleman to present a Bill of this kind.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

You have just done something, Mr. Speaker, which I believe has not been done for over 41 years. I know that you are aware of this and I realise why this Ruling had to be given today. In your Ruling, you said that the financial rules of the House are necessary. I would not myself think that this is a principle which could not be argued. I accept that financial rules of the House exist, but it seems to me that they rather tend to assume that public expenditure is less desirable than private expenditure and that they were founded on that principle.

In this case, I think that, by your Ruling, you have extended the existing principle. The suggestion in my Bill is that the relevant Clause should come into effect only if another enactment, founded upon a Money Resolution with its Queen's Recommendation, was passed. This means that there would have been an opportunity to propose the principle of the Bill for Parliament to consider and, I hope, agree. Only subsequent to Parliament's agreeing to that principle would the Clause have been brought into operation as and when it was thought desirable on financial grounds.

By your Ruling, you have extended the financial rules to inhibit such discussion and consideration by Parliament of a principle prior to consideration of the financial advisability of that principle.

In this case, although your Ruling is rather on technical grounds, the whole basis of the Bill is a proposal that electors should be able to decide for themselves where a very modest amount of their taxation goes. It seems to me that the fact of nearly 40 million electors being able to decide such a thing for themselves is a democratic principle. However desirable it may be thought that the Treasury, as guardian of the interests of the people, should be the only body able to put forward enactments relating to financial matters, I would think that the electors themselves could be the guardian of their own interests in this case. No elector would have to contribute a penny if he did not wish to do so.

I submit that you have extended the rules a little. I accept your Ruling, but I think that it is in that respect unfortunate and, in this case, that the operation of these financial rules is a technicality.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West for the way in which he has put his criticism of my Ruling. He will find full details on pages 729 and 730 of Erskine May. This is no new Ruling. This was not a new circumstance.

Mr. Onslow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had hoped to join the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) in sponsoring the Bill. Would it be possible for this matter to be referred to a Committee for consideration, so that we could see whether some means could be found of enabling the House to consider the principle involved?

As I understand, the hon. Gentleman would not be seeking to increase the amount of taxation levied, but to allow each taxpayer to hypothecate a small proportion of his tax. There may be arguments against this principle, but I do not see how there could be great objection in principle to allowing the House to consider it.

Mr. Speaker

The objections are those I have stated in my Ruling. I may add that it is the practice of the House, on an important matter like this, when Mr. Speaker, after careful consideration, much thought and much advice, makes a Ruling, to accept it.

If the hon. Member wishes to question the Ruling of Mr. Speaker, he always has the safeguard of being able to put down a Motion on the Order Paper.