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Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, it is strange that the report which we have in front of us gives no reason why debate on Consolidated Fund Bills--the second item in the report--should be prohibited. Indeed, it goes out of its way to indicate that were your Lordships to debate the Consolidated Fund Bill it would involve no clash with the interests and views of the other place. Therefore, if a ban on debating Consolidated Fund Bills is to be continued I should have thought that we were entitled to be given some actual reasons why that should be so.
It is most curious not only that no such reason is given in the report but that it is proposed to continue the ban on debating one of the most important measures of the year. It is one to which this House, with its great resource of knowledge on finance and the public economy, is particularly well fitted to contribute. It is in curious contrast, too, with what is allowed in respect of the Finance Bill, which otherwise is a parallel measure.
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, I support the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. Your Lordships stand in the position of the Great Council of the Realm of the Middle Ages. Although, as the noble Lord said, the other place has the machinery and the privileges as to finance, your Lordships can show massive experience and knowledge. Our Members include five former Chancellors of the Exchequer, four former Chief Secretaries, three former Governors of the Bank of England and a chairman of one of the biggest joint stock banks. Your Lordships are in a position to make a contribution in debates on finance, economics and taxation that no other deliberative assembly in the world can match.
The Procedure Committee, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, pointed out, gives no sign of having addressed the problem that was presented to it. It was something new. It was suggested that, as there is no occasion to debate finance and so forth between the Finance Bill presented in the Spring and the Queen's Speech presented in the late Autumn, the July Consolidated Fund Bill gives an incomparable opportunity for your Lordships to do so.
Recently, the noble Lord, Lord Desai, introduced what seemed to me to be a valuable debate reviewing finance against the background of the Budget. Presumably the Opposition sacrificed one of its days for that. I see a nod from the Opposition Front Bench. That is quite wrong. Your Lordships are entitled to ask that the Procedure Committee should now consider the question of the summer Consolidated Fund Bill.
Your Lordships have control over our procedure. Although we welcome the advice and help that we receive from the Procedure Committee, in the end it is a matter for your Lordships. In my respectful submission, it is odd that your Lordships are denied the opportunity of marshalling your knowledge and experience, which is unmatched.
Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that your Lordships' House has a great deal of expertise in finance. However, I submit that the Consolidated Fund Bill is not a suitable vehicle for debate in this way. Another good reason is the fact that another place does not debate it. I understand that under Standing Orders it is prohibited from debating the Bill, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, with his long experience of another place, and the noble and learned Lord will know. What the other place has, of course, is a debate on the Closure Motion with many short debates on constituency matters. However, it does not debate the Consolidated Fund Bill itself.
Until the mid-1970s this House did not debate the Finance Bill. It took the Finance Bill formally and at the same time there was a Motion, mostly put down by the Opposition, which was often worded in such a way as to lead to a Division. The Finance Bill was taken formally. During the 1970s one or two noble Lords objected to some of the provisions by the then Labour Government and insisted on a Second Reading debate. That became the custom ever since. Perhaps I am in a minority in wishing to see both the Finance Bill and the Consolidated Fund Bill taken formally for the reasons that I have attempted to give.
Lord Ampthill: My Lords, this is a chestnut of such antiquity that I wonder whether the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees might consider, for the sake of saving the Procedure Committee going through this matter yet again, publishing the correspondence that took place between myself, when I occupied the position that he now has, and the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale--with their permission, of course. It might clarify in the minds of those two noble Lords, not to mention the whole House, the reasons why this course has been covered sufficiently.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, many of us quite understand the impatience in some quarters of this House caused by this matter being raised from time to time by the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and, on occasion, by me.
Perhaps I may suggest that we do not take sufficient account of entirely new forms of expenditure which are being incurred year by year and, indeed, day by day and week by week. I refer specifically to the expenditure out of the Consolidated Fund on sums towards the European Economic Community, the obligations for which are not accepted at one time only--that is, at the time of the Budget--but are in fact accepted by this country every time a new proposal with financial implications is agreed at the Council of Ministers without any consultation whatever with either House on whether or not such matters should be agreed.
It may well be that a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill may not be the correct occasion on which to take those matters into account. But I should warn your Lordships that the question of direct payments by this country to implement Community proposals and legislation is increasing rapidly to a point at which it is a matter of some financial significance which should be considered by someone. I believe that this House has a reputation for examining with considerable care all matters in connection with Community funding, fraud and so on.
I put it to your Lordships and to the Chairman of Committees that sooner or later, if we disagree on whether or not it should be debated on the Consolidated Fund, machinery should be put in place to enable this House to debate items of expenditure which are not agreed specifically in the original Budget that goes through another place but which happen day by day, week by week and month by month without any check whatever being made by any part of Parliament.
Lord Harmar-Nicholls: My Lords, it is essential that the Consolidated Fund Bill should, as a separate Bill, be debated and examined by Parliament. If the other place does not debate it--and we have just been informed that it does not--it would seem appropriate that this House, which is part of Parliament, should undertake that task, particularly in view of the expertise which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, reminded us that we have. We can give it a proper, thorough, detailed and authoritative examination.
One does not wish to interfere with the work of the Procedure Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, said, it is not a new problem. I believe that this is the wrong time to exclude any part of Parliament from examining in July the contents and the results which will flow from the Consolidated Fund Bill. Even at this late hour, perhaps the Chairman of Committees will allow that sentence to be removed from the report so that we do not commit ourselves to it. That would be one way to extricate ourselves from the present dilemma.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, as a member of the Procedure Committee, I support the Chairman of Committees. The impression may have been given that the Procedure Committee did not give full consideration to this matter. It certainly did. We heard my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter give his reasons for wishing the Consolidated Fund Bill to be debated. I believe that I speak for all members of the committee when I say that we listened to those arguments with great care and we came to the conclusion which has been reached, as the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, said, on many previous occasions. I agree that this matter should now be put to rest for some little while.
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