Financial Provisions

Part of House of Commons (Administration) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th June 1978.

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Photo of Mr Terence Higgins Mr Terence Higgins , Worthing 12:00 am, 27th June 1978

Perhaps I may seek to clarify the point about which I am concerned. I understand very well that Clause 3 must be related to Clause 2 but, none the less, that is precisely what the amendment is about, as I understand it. Clause 3 says for the service of the House of Commons. I do not see that it necessarily follows that Clause 2 overrides Clause 3. However, I shall be very happy if the Minister will state his view and if, in particular, he will state categorically that he has not the slightest doubt that the wording of the Bill is adequate to carry out what he believes the intention of the Bill to be. But I am not immediately convinced about that point.

The second matter I wish to raise is that Clause 3 says the Commission shall prepare and lay before the House of Commons an estimate for that year. I am somewhat concerned not only about the expression "prepare", which the Commission might do like any other Government Department, but about the expression "lay before the House". This is a matter which was touched upon a moment or two ago.

I think that the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is quite right in saying that an Act of this House would overrule a Standing Order, but I think that the particular Standing Order about which he is concerned is one which, in effect, gives the Government of the day a monopoly of the right to propose expenditure. It would not, therefore, be possible for us to carry an Act which did that unless that Act or, rather, the Bill before the House had received the Royal Assent agreeing that the Royal Prerogative should be given up in that respect. I agree that this is not a simple matter, but that is my understanding of it.

None the less, as the clause is now drafted it says that the Estimate shall be laid before the House. It should, as I understand it, be laid before the House by the Commission, and not, as would normally be the case, by someone who was moving it on behalf of the Government.

This is obviously a very important matter, because if that is what it did—and I think it is arguable that that is what the wording would do—we should not only be in conflict with the Standing Order, which the hon. Member for Nottingham, West rightly said could be overridden by an Act, but we should be out of order ourselves, because we should be passing an Act, now represented by the Bill, which would override the monopoly of the Government, or the Queen, to propose expenditure.

I have grave doubts on both of these points with regard to the wording, but naturally I should appreciate the Minister's comments on them.