Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69—( King's Recommendation signified.)
[Mr. HUBERT BEAUMONT in the Chair]
Motion made, and Question proposed:
"That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the law relating to the civil liabilities and rights of the Crown and to civil proceedings by and against the Crown, to amend the law relating to the civil liabilities of persons other than the Crown in certain cases involving the affairs or property of the Crown, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise:
(a) the payment out of moneys provided by Parliament of any sums required to be so paid by the said Act; and (b) the payment into the Exchequer of any sums required to be so paid by the said Act."—[The Attorney-General.]
While the Committee quite naturally realised that the Government were likely to bring forward a Money Resolution with this Bill, I notice that the Government do not seem to wish to give us any sort of estimate of the kind of expenditure we may expect to result from the Bill, as will be noticed under paragraphs (a) and (b). I have no wish to look into the matter with undue care, but I should be failing in my duty to my constituents, who will have to pay this money, if I agreed to it without any knowledge about how much the amount might be. I should also be failing in my duty to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on those few occasions when he does do the right thing, if I allowed the Government Front Bench to have this Resolution without any kind of explanation being given as to what amount is involved by it. I hope that we might be told what the amount is approximately—there must be some estimate—and if that can be done, we shall be in a better position on the Committee stage to know what we can say about this subject. I would ask if I might have an answer to that question. It is usually considered courteous to answer such questions.
I have every desire to be courteous but it is quite impossible to give any estimate about this matter at this stage. It depends entirely upon how many cases may arise in the future, and no one can forecast that.
I thank the Attorney-General for his answer. I realised that it would not be an easy question for him to answer, but with all the resources of the Treasury, who are pretty able on such matters, I think we could have been given a rather greater amount of information than has been the case. I can well imagine that if this kind of Resolution had been put forward seven or eight years ago, and no information had been given, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) would have been the first to get up and give whoever was in charge a rather hectic time. I will not do that, as this is a peaceful Friday afternoon, but I would say how much we must deprecate this casual way of coming down to the House with Resolutions of this kind in connection with which, 10 or 20 years ago, or even just before the war, we should have been given some idea of the amount involved. There must be some kind of precedents for this, the Government cannot just be doing a blind thing. They must have known on what basis to frame the Resolution. For that reason I protest very strongly. I do not suppose anyone wants to vote against the Resolution, but I consider that we should be told the things I have asked for.
I only rise to repudiate at once, for the sake of the official record, any suggestion that, five or seven years ago, or at any time, I would have been inclined to dissuade the Government from doing a simple act of justice which everyone wanted because there was no calculation of an impossible figure.
I hasten to accept the hon. Member's explanation, but the hon. Member must realise that there have been many cases when Money Resolutions of this kind have been bitterly opposed by all parties in the House.
Question put, and agreed to.
Resolution to be reported upon Monday next.