HL Deb 21 August 1907 vol 181 cc719-23

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Marquess of Ripon).


My Lords, I hope noble Lords opposite will not think that I obstructed the course of public business by suggesting that this Bill, which only arrived late last night, should not be put through all its stages between 10 and 11 p.m. The appearance of this Bill on the Paper affords, I conceive, a legitimate opportunity of calling attention to a matter of some importance and one which certainly concerns your Lordship's House. I will state it in the fewest and most direct words, as I do not want to stand between your Lordships and the interesting business on the Paper.

The Education Estimates of this year include an item of £100,000 for new elementary schools. No particulars, so far as I am aware, are given of the schools or the localities in which this sum is to be spent, but we understand that it is to be devoted to the provision of new schools in single school areas, where the one existing school is denominational. I am not going to discuss the case of single school areas. We on this side of the House have always admitted the grievance of schools of that description, and have shown in our debates that we were ready to bear a part in remedying that grievance. But what I wish to call attention to is this. As I understand the matter, this Vote of—100,000 is a distinct contravention of Section 96 of the Education Act, 1870. That section runs as follows— No Parliamentary Grant shall be made in aid of budding, enlarging, improving or fitting up any elementary school except in pursuance of a memorial … sent to the Education Department on or before December 31, 1870.

Therefore, my Lords, I take it there can be no question that,prima facie, this Vote is an irregularity and a contravention of the Statute of 1870. His Majesty's Government have, however, intimated that in their opinion the irregularity is sufficiently covered by the Appropriation Bill which now lies upon the Table of the House. The question I want to ask is whether that is the view His Majesty's Government accept, and, if so, how far, in their opinion, this practice can safely be extended. I should like to suggest to the Lord President of the Council some of the possibilities which the establishment of this precedent opens out to us. We live in an age when so-called social legislation is much in vogue. Acts of Parliament dealing with these social problems invariably involve expenditure, and generally a very large expenditure, of public funds, and it is the practice of Parliament to accept the principle of this expenditure subject to the restrictions and conditions laid down in the Act which authorises it. That is the bargain which Parliament makes with the country, and it is on the faith of these restrictions and conditions that the two Houses accept measures of the kind which I have described. What I want to suggest to the noble Lord opposite is that all this becomes little better than a farce if the same Parliament or another Parliament is able subsequently by means of votes of money to accomplish the purpose at which the original Act was aimed, but without any of the restrictions, reservations, and conditions which that Act contained.

I dwell upon the importance of this question to your Lordships because we are continually being reminded that we must not do anything which runs counter to the privilege of the House of Commons. So far as I am aware, noble Lords who usually act with me are ready loyally to observe the doctrine of privilege, although we know that its interpretation varies a good deal at different times. We fully admit that it is not in the power of this House to alter Money Bills, and that the only thing we can do is to throw them out. But I wish to dwell upon this, that the bargain has two sides to it, and the complement of the rule which forbids us from invading the privilege of the House of Commons is that the House of Commons shall not take advantage of procedure of the kind I am criticising this evening by tacking on to Supply Bills controversial provisions, and thus obtaining for those controversial provisions an immunity to which they would not otherwise be entitled.

The matter is clearly stated in Sir Erskine May's book on Parliamentary Procedure. May I read this extract to your Lordships— In former times the Commons abused their right to grant supplies without interference from the Lords, by tacking to Supply Bills provisions which, in a Bill that the Lords had no right to amend, must either have been accepted by them unconsidered, or have caused the rejection of a measure necessary for the public service. This is an invasion of the privileges of the Lords, no less than their interference in matters of Supply infringes the privileges of the Commons.

Then he quotes the Standing Order of your Lordships' House with which I have no doubt noble Lords opposite are familiar— That the annexing any clause or clauses to a Bill of aid or Supply, the matter of which is foreign to, and different from, the matter of the said Bill of aid or Supply, is unparliamentary and tends to the destruction of the constitution of Government. Perhaps I shall be told that there is nothing in this grant of £100,000 which can properly be described as foreign to an Appropriation Bill. If that doctrine is accepted you may find yourselves in this position. You may have two Acts of Parliament in force at the same time, one forbidding in express terms expenditure for a particular purpose, and the other authorising such expenditure. The matter seems to me a very serious one, because the practice which His Majesty's Government are apparently about to adopt does have the effect of withdrawing from the cognisance of your Lordships matters in which you are interested and as to which you have a perfect right to express your opinion. The matter see us to me indeed so serious that I should have been at any other moment inclined to suggest to the House that it should be inquired into by a Committee, but at this period of the session I do not think that much good would result from such a suggestion. I do, however, wish to raise a note of warning and to intimate to noble Lords opposite that the matter is not one which has escaped our attention and that we shall very likely have to recur to it on some future occasion.


My Lords, I think it is desirable, in the first place, to appreciate what has been done. What has been done is this. There is a clause in the Act referred to providing that no grant shall be made for a particular purpose. That is a statute for general application and upon which I will say a word in a moment. The House of Commons has in the Appropriation Bill passed a sum of £100,000 for the purpose which is prohibited by the earlier Act. Now the House of Commons has in that respect not repealed the earlier Act, but simply made an exception for this year. For this there is a precedent, which I referred to on the last occasion that the matter was before your Lordships. I do not say that it is a precedent altogetherin pari materia, but it is in point. The Act prescribed the payments to be made to certain Irish officials, and the House of Commons in six consecutive years altered those salaries in Appropriation Bills. It was done under a Conservative Government and I believe also under a Liberal Government. Upon the question whether this is a constitutional practice I can only say that authorities differ. I think it is a very bad practice; indeed I should be disposed to say an unconstitutional practice, to put into an Act of Parliament a provision restricting the power of Parliament or the House of Commons hereafter to say what money should be granted or not granted in the course of the year in years to come. No Parliament has a right to impose any condition upon future Parliaments, and in doing what it has done it seems to me that the House of Commons has released itself temporarily from the fetter imposed by the Act of 1870. But it is better to be quite frank in the matter. There is no doubt that in taking this action the House of Commons is using the power of the purse, which it has always regarded as its chief weapon and of which it has supreme control, for the purpose of protecting itself against the intolerable position in which it was placed by the rejection of the Education Bill last December.


My Lords, it is not my intention to say anything with regard to the creation of this remarkable precedent, because that has been fully dealt with by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition; but I would point out that I have never received any reply to the question which I put to the Government some time ago as to why this sum of £100,000 was not obtained in the usual and regular way by bringing in a Bill. I should be glad if I could receive some reply to that question now. I rather gathered that the President of the Board of Education seemed to think that if such a Bill were introduced in the House of Commons it would not pass your Lordships' House. I cannot think that that can be accepted as a proper explanation of the adoption of this extraordinary course. There have been cases in the past where money has been required for various purposes in the relief of schools, but that money has always been obtained in the regular way by means of a Bill. I hope this precedent will not be followed in the future, and I should like some authoritative reply to my question.


My Lords, I conceive that the answer to the noble Marquess's question is a very simple one. He is perfectly correct in saying that the reason my right hon. friend the President of the Board of Education did not introduce a Bill on this subject was that he was quite certain such a Bill would not pass your Lordships' House.


As the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition specially stated, there is no ground for such an assumption. We on this side of the House agree that in districts where there is but one school, and that a denominational school, there is a hardship, and that being the case I do not see that the Government need have had the slightest fear in the matter. I cannot accept that as a valid excuse for the taking of this extraordinary action.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX, having been suspended), Bill read 3a, and passed.