§ Lords Amendment:
§ In page 2, line 12, leave out from "before" to "as", and insert "each House of Parliament."
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."—[Mr. Guinness.]
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Could we have an assurance, on this side, that the proposed Amendment in no way limits or weakens the privileges of this House in so far as the control of financial affairs is concerned? This Bill was certified as a Money Bill, and the alteration made in another place is to take out the words "The House of Commons" and substitute the words "each House of Parliament", so that in future the annual accounts of receipts and expenditure under this China Indemnity Bill are not only to he placed on the Table of this House, for the consideration of this House, but they are to be sent to another place for consideration there, and I should like to be assured that that is not an invasion of the privileges of this House, privileges which, I have hitherto understood, meant that only the Com- 2179 mons should have control of finance and that members of another place had no right of interference in financial affaire whatsoever. If I understand this proposed Amendment, it means that in future in so far as the accounts of receipts and expenditure in respect of the China Indemnity Fund are concerned, they shall not only be submitted to this House, but shall be submitted to another place, where, hitherto, they have had no control by right to interfere with financial affairs. I should like your guidance, Mr. Speaker, in this matter.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
As far as I am concerned, the hon. Member may be assured that, so long as I am responsible, there will be no interference by the other House in matters of finance. This is merely a matter of information, for what it is worth.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
On that point may I ask whether, if this House agrees with the Lords in this Amendment, it then becomes part of an Act of Parliament that we have to submit to the House of Lords any financial matters dealing with this China Indemnity Bill? May I ask if that is not the admission by this House of a new principle which ought to be resisted?
The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Guinness)
Perhaps I may reassure the hon. Gentleman if I explain that there is no question of financial control involved in this Amendment. The House of Lords was left out from the Bill by chance, not on account of any principle whatsoever, and in support of that view, I may point to the fact that in the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Bill, there is an exactly parallel provision thatThe pensions account and the treasury pensions account shall be annually examined by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and shall, together with his report thereon, be laid annually before Parliament.By chance these two Bills were drafted by different hands, and different words were used. The House of Lords have always had the right to Parliamentary information. They can discuss matters of finance, even although they cannot decide them, and this proposal that they should have these reports brought automatically before them is an easy way to 2180 satisfy their natural interest, and avoids the expense of trouble of separate reports by the Foreign Office.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any statement as to what accounts now go, or have gone in the past, to another place for their annual examination?
These papers are only laid before another place, which does not have to come to any decision upon them. It is not like an Order that has to be laid on the Table of both Houses, and where they have the right to object. These are papers that are published in the ordinary way, and it is simply that in the House of Lords there are a great many Prelates and others who are greatly interested in reforms in China, and they wish to have this information brought before them in the ordinary course.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an answer to a plain question? Can he give an instance where it has been the custom or practice to submit to another place the annual accounts dealing with income and expenditure under the control of this House?
I cannot, off-hand, give the details of the procedure in the House of Lords as regards the circulation of Parliamentary Papers, but there is certainly no restriction limiting the circulation of financial papers to this House.
We know that a large number of Members opposite are anxious to secure for the other House control of finance, and that makes us very suspicious. Can the right hon. Gentleman quote any precedent for this, and, if not, why should he make a precedent?
I see no possible danger in the course we have adopted. These matters are laid before the other House. This course was suggested as an alternative to a special Report being prepared showing how the money is to be spent in China. We see no principle involved in the matter; therefore we recommend the House to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I suggest that this House doth disagree with the Lords Amendment. This House would be lacking in its duty if it allowed this thing 2181 to slip through in what I may call an "easy-oasy" fashion. We ought not to allow an ancient privilege, established by law and by custom to slip away from us in this way. The matter has not been properly discussed, and hon. Members who are very much interested in the rights and privileges of this House have left. This ought not to be done surreptitiously.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
I think the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) is under a misapprehension. There is no doubt about it that the House of Lords has always received information on financial subjects. Every day questions may be —are—asked by the House of Lords on financial questions. It is part of the policy of the Parliament Act, which withdrew the control of financial Bills from the House of Lords that they should still pass through their stages there precisely as before for the very purpose of that House debating them and deriving information from the Government, and that there might be the informing of public opinion. It is common ground with all parties that in matters of discussion both Houses may take part, but financial control is with the House of Commons alone. Obviously no question of control can possibly arise merely in regard to information. It is a fantastic suspicion, and it will not do any good to the privileges of this House to display this somewhat fantastic suspicion. It is not a question of financial accounts, but a case of those interested in Chinese affairs. This Bill, though technically financial in substance, is a Bill interesting to those who are interested in China. The objection is merely a mare's nest, and I hope the House will not lower its reputation or dignity by condemning altogether, on a false issue, and suspiciously, as though we had all been caught in a trap. A perfectly reasonable proposal is at stake, to give the House of Lords the information which, very naturally, they desire to have.
If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) will look at the volume I hold in my hand he will find, from pages 563–564, that it is the usual practice to let the House of Lords have this information.
§ Captain EDEN
May I remind the House that this Bill has already been delayed on many occasions, and nothing could be more unfortunate than that we should, by chance, create the impression that we seek to delay it? From the point of view of China it would be very unfortunate if any technical difficulties were allowed to create the impression that we did not mean business.
§ Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ Mr. SPEAKER stated that he thought the Ayes had it. On his decision being challenged, it appeared to him that the Division was unnecessarily claimed. He accordingly called upon the, Members who supported, and who challenged his decision, sucessively to rise in their places, and he declared that the Ayes had it, three Members only who challenged his decision having stood up.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I hope that my protest against this business will be registered, although my colleagues deserted me on this point.