§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 1a.— (Lord Emmott.)
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I understand that His Majesty's Government do not propose to proceed with the other stages of this Bill, although there is a 804 Motion on the Paper to suspend Standing Order No. XXXIX, until the House is seized of the Finance Bill, which will be not until to-morrow. I believe the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, who has much wider experience, will admit that I am right in saying that the system of bringing up the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill before the Finance Bill is one which has only grown up in the last two years. It is certainly a great novelty in the practice of this House. This House has always hitherto been acquainted with the amount of the taxes and the system by which they are to be levied before it is asked to agree to the appropriation of the sums. That principle becomes more important because the dates on which the Finance Bill has reached this House have been getting gradually later. I have taken the dates for the last ten years, for the first four of which the late Conservative Government was responsible. In 1902 the Finance Bill reached this House on June 26, in 1903 on June 25, in 1904 on July 29, and in 1905 on June 6. The present Government, having inherited sound traditions in this respect, began by acting upon them; but, facilis descensus Averni, they have rapidly gone to the bad. In 1906 they sent up the Finance Bill on June 14, in 1907 on July 31, in 1908 on July 27, in 1909 on November 8, in 1910 the rejected Finance Bill (after four months of discussion in the House of Commons) on April 27, and the Finance Bill of the year on November 23; in 1911 the Finance Bill reached this House on December 14. And to-morrow the Finance Bill of the year is to reach us at four o'clock with the Royal Commission fixed for six o'clock; and since the matter was first mooted as to when the discussion should take place I would point out that considerable changes, we are informed, have taken place in the Bill in the other House. Your Lordships will see that we are consequently placed in this dilemma, that if we were to summon all those who are qualified—and there are a large number of members of this House qualified to speak on finance—to discuss this Bill we could only have such a discussion by adjourning the consideration of the Bill for two months; and we are told whenever this House adjourns even for a short time the passing of the Finance Bill of the year that it has a most deleterious effect. Failing such an adjournment we must forego our undoubted right of effectively criticising the Bill. 805 The noble Marquess opposite, who is an upholder of the traditions of this House, will see that this is a very serious inroad on our privileges, and, what is much more important, on our usefulness; and I cannot help associating it; as I believe it is associated in the country, with the action by which the Prime Minister has deprived this House of direct Ministerial representation of various important Departments, which has a tendency to nullify the advantages of our debates. My noble friend Lord Lansdowne is not anxious to put the slightest difficulty in the way of these Bills passing, even in this hurried manner; but we have some right to ask for a pledge that this will not be drawn into a precedent, especially as there has been, as shown by the dates with which I have troubled the House, a successive deterioration in this respect.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, were I to attempt to answer at length the indictment of the noble Viscount I should have to go through in some detail all the rather tumultuous history of the last few sessions of Parliament, especially in regard to the relations between the two Houses and their bearing on this question of the Finance Bills of succeeding years. It is quite true that for many years—not only when the noble Viscount and his friends were in power, but for many years before—the Finance Bill came up here as a matter of course and was dealt with as a rule in a couple of somewhat perfunctory speeches by the respective Leaders on both sides and passed through all its stages without any opposition or further comment. The noble Viscount is as familiar as I am with the various changes, upon which we are all entitled to entertain our own opinion, which have caused a variance of the practice as between the two Houses. But I can say frankly to the noble Viscount that it is no desire of ours and it is far from being our intention that there should be any departure from the earlier practice of Parliament. We shall be very glad indeed when, as I trust may be the case, a reversion is made to the practice of bringing up the Finance Bill here in the course of the earlier summer, and I myself see no reason why that should not become at any rate the general if not the invariable practice. As regards the minor point with which the noble Viscount opened his speech as to the respective precedence of the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) 806 Bill and the Finance Bill, he, of course, recognised that in the present instance the House has no subject of complaint, because, although the Consolidated Fund Bill is to be read a first time to-day and the Finance Bill has not yet reached this House, there is no question of passing the one Bill before your Lordships are in possession of the other. I have not got in my mind what the practice of former years has been in another place as to the respective dates and times of passing these two Bills. It no doubt has often happened, as was evident from the dates which the noble Viscount quoted, that the Finance Bill of the year has had a considerable precedence in time. Of late that precedence has no doubt been disturbed, and if the pious hope to which I have given utterance, that we may in time revert to the practice of passing the Finance Bill of the year through both Houses in the course of the earlier summer, is realised, then no doubt the Finance Bill will once more have precedence of the Appropriation Bill. But in the meantime the noble Viscount will not, I think, maintain that any untoward results have followed or are likely to follow from the disturbance of that practice; and I hope he will be content with the protest he has made.
§ On Question, Bill read 1a; to be printed; and to be read 2a To-morrow (The Lord Emmott). (No. 139.)