HL Deb 16 December 1993 vol 550 cc1463-5

3.41 p.m.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That Standing Order No. 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with to enable the remaining stages of the Consolidated Fund Bill to be taken tomorrow.—(Lord Wakeham.)

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I rise merely to remind your Lordships of the fact that when the House discussed the recommendation of the Procedure Committee that debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill be banned, we were told that the better alternative was to have a debate on financial and economic affairs related to, and at about the time of, a Consolidated Fund Bill. Will my noble friend say whether such a debate will be arranged?

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. I wish to raise an even more specific matter concerning the Consolidated Fund. I wish to ask the Leader of the House directly whether he considers it proper, in the circumstances I shall outline, to proceed with the passing of the Consolidated Fund Bill tomorrow, more or less on the nod.

I am well aware of the convention by virtue of which formal consideration only is given to the Consolidated Fund Bill. Certain arguments have been adduced as regards the necessity of a debate concerning the general state of the economy, the Finance Bill and so on, with which I agree entirely. But even more specific circumstances have arisen which could not possibly have been in mind when the original convention was established.

In the course of exchanges across the House over the past few weeks, it has been established that payments were made from the Consolidated Fund to the tune of some £2.5 billion annually into the funds of the EC on the authority only of the proceedings of the European Council or Council of Ministers. British assent to payments from the Consolidated Fund have been made at prime ministerial level at various conferences without the prior authorisation of Parliament. Therefore, we are left in a position in which a substantial amount of taxpayers' money—approximately £2.5 billion—is paid out without any prior authority whatever. There is no opportunity to debate the European budget which provides for those expenditures and revenues. It seems to me, and I hope that it may seem to your Lordships, that at least that one point—the authorisation of the bulk of the £2.5 billion or thereabouts, as distinct from its detail—should be the subject of informed debate in your Lordships' House.

In the circumstances, perhaps the Leader of the House will consider it wise to defer consideration of the Consolidated Fund Bill tomorrow under the abbreviated procedure in order that a proper debate through the usual channels can be organised in this House. This is a very grave matter which involves considerable expenditure of taxpayers' money and it should be discussed in your Lordships' House.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I support my noble friend but for different reasons. We heard the Budget introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day; it came across very well. But what emerges from the measures which the Budget seemed to implement is a considerable increase in taxation for the average person. An opportunity is available to this House to hold a considered debate on the subject as a means not simply of informing ourselves through questions which we may ask the Government but of informing the country at large about the real implications of the Budget.

We are given less than a day's notice between First Reading and what would effectively be the Second Reading debate. I accept that the House has no power to vary the Consolidated Fund or to reject it. But we can at least debate the measure and seek to elucidate its implications for, as I said, our own sake and that of the country. I support the request that the Leader of the House should arrange for a suitable debate on the subject when we come back in the new year.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I should explain to your Lordships that the effect of the Motion that I have proposed is simple; namely, to dispense with Standing Order No. 44 for the purpose of taking the Consolidated Fund Bill through all its stages tomorrow. It is on that matter that I seek the agreement of your Lordships.

My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter refers rightly to discussions that have taken place about debates on economic matters. Of course I am happy and. willing that we should have as many of those as are required and for which time can be found. I remind my noble friend that during the debate on the Queen's Speech, one whole day was devoted to economic affairs. There was also the recent debate on an Opposition Motion of censure on the Government's policies in which economic matters featured fairly largely. I agree that that may not be enough to satisfy my noble friend but we shall do our best. We have not ignored his requests.

I know that, as always, the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, are offered in a helpful spirit. However, I wonder whether they are entirely on cue in this regard. The authority for the payments to which the noble Lord refers is to be found in the European Communities Act 1972. That legislation empowers Ministers to deal with the matters referred to by the noble Lord. Therefore, I have no doubt that there is nothing at all improper for your Lordships to consider as regards the Bill to be dealt with tomorrow.

I remind your Lordships that this is a supply Bill. Your Lordships may either pass or reject such Bills but it is not possible to amend them. I believe that that is the answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell. The Budget is enacted by a Finance Bill and not by a supply Bill. The Finance Bill has not yet passed through the House of Commons and, consequently, has not yet arrived in this House. I am sure that proper arrangements will be made to deal with it at that time. I do not believe that the Consolidated Fund Bill provides an opportunity for the noble Lord to express his views. I hope that he can find a more appropriate occasion on which to do so.

Lord Peston

My Lords, before the noble Lord the Leader of the House sits down, I should like to assure him that we on this side of the House are aware of the view that was taken about the Consolidated Fund Bill which has been tabled for tomorrow. I, for one, as I shall be dealing with the matter, will not seek to prolong it. However, I hope that the noble Lord will take note of what his noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter said.

We were promised a debate following the new unified Budget. It disappeared. Therefore, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House to accept from me that I made it very clear to those in what I think one might call the Whips' Office that I expected such a debate; indeed, my view was that this afternoon would have been the ideal time for it. Speaking for myself, I shall certainly not let the matter go. For the very first time in modern history we have the unified Budget and, therefore, I believe that your Lordships are actually obliged to debate it. I must tell the noble Lord the Leader of the House now, as I have the opportunity, that I shall be pressing him on the matter. We must have such a debate. It would look appalling if we do not.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. However, it is a matter for discussion through the usual channels.

On Question, Motion agreed to.