§ 2.35 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would be willing to give consideration to the following suggestions:—
- (a) that the fiscal year should in future end on 31st December instead of on 5th April, and that the annual Budget statement accordingly be made in January instead of in April; and
- (b) that the Parliamentary Summer Recess should normally take place during the period of May to September instead of during the period of July to November as at present.]
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, the present arrangements relating to the financial year have remained unchanged since, I believe, 1854, and I am sure the noble Lord would require substantial and positive advantages to be secured before altering a system inaugurated over a century ago by Mr. Gladstone himself. As regards the timetable of Parliamentary sittings, I think that our practice is governed to a large extent by the need of the Government of the day to secure the financial legislation necessary for its effective administration. Thus the two questions are, in practice, closely connected. This is not a change that could be made lightly, but we are naturally willing to consider any view on it that may be expressed.
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for his Answer to my Question, which does not really reply to the wording of it—that 758 is, whether the Government would consider what he calls the positive and, I think, substantial advantages which might be gained by changing a little from the times of Mr. Gladstone, or even from the times of King Canute; bearing in mind that the French, for instance, took this step forward in the reign of Charles IX, and that perhaps we should not lag too far behind. May I ask him, also, whether he is aware that there is considerable support throughout the country for my two suggestions? And, while I am glad to note that he does not consider the second part of my Question irrelevant, I would ask him if he could answer the substantive question: whether the Government would let the country know that they are prepared at least to consider a change which seems to be perhaps a century or two overdue.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is mistaken in attributing our present arrangements to King Canute. From the earliest times to 1751–52 each year's public accounts were made up to Michaelmas Quarter Day. From 1752 to 1800 the date was changed, following the adjustment of the calendar, to October 10. In 1800 it was altered to January 5, which was the usual making-up day in commerce. In 1832 it became customary to present the Budget and to vote Supply on the basis of years ending at April 5 and March 31, respectively. But the Finance Accounts kept to January 5 until 1854, when the present practice was enacted in the Public Revenue and Consolidated Fund Charges Act. I think the noble Lord may not have caught the last part of my original Answer, which was to the effect that the Government will, of course, consider any arguments which may be put forward in favour of any particular change.
I am grateful to the noble Viscount; but would he agree that behind the rather learned argument which he has put forward, the real basis of Parliamentary sittings is connected with the shooting of grouse and the hunting of fox?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
No, I am not altogether sure that I would. I think it has something to do with the seasons of the year.