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Imports And Exports Regula- Tion Bill

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 2 December 1919

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Procedure: Mr Speaker's Ruling

53.

asked the Lord Privy Seal if it is the intention of the Government to appoint a Select Committee, with power to send for witnesses and papers, to report on the Imports and Exports Regulation Bill before the Committee stage of that Bill, as was done in the case of the Government of India Bill?

The Government are not prepared to adopt my hon. Friend's suggestion.

54.

asked the Lord Privy Seal whether it is the intention of the Government to leave the Second Reading of the Imports and Exports Regulation Bill to the free vote of the House?

On a point of Order. Does not the Imports and Exports Regulation Bill, in effect, impose taxes, though they are called fines and fees? Ought it not, therefore, to originate in Committee of Ways and Means? Does not the Bill, in effect, empower someone other than Parliament to levy taxes, and under the common law of Parliament is not the Committee of Ways and Means the only body which can impose a tax? It is not necessary to call attention to the decision of the Chairman of Ways and Means on the 2nd of July, which lays that down. It is the well-known common law of Parliament. Will not the Bill, in effect, create taxes the proceeds of which have not been demanded by the Crown for the public service and have not been granted by the Commons in response to that demand? May I make the following observations? This question of the imposition of taxation is, of course, one of the most important parts of our constitutional machinery, and one of the most delicate parts of that machinery. For that reason it has always been hedged around by a variety of safeguards which I apprehend, it is of the utmost importance should be preserved. I submit that among those safeguards is the rule that no tax should be imposed without the special procedure indicated in my question. This is not a charge on the public which will afterwards become the subject of a tax, if necessary, but it is the actual imposition of a tax. Where it is the actual imposition of a tax, I submit that no tax has ever been imposed except with a prior Resolution; no Bill to impose a tax has ever been considered by this House except on a prior Resolution in Committee of Ways and Means. I submit, secondly, that it is a fundamental rule that this House doss not delegate its power of taxation; and, thirdly, that no tax may be raised except to meet actual financial need. If these two last principles are to be infringed it ought to be done only by the most solemn procedure of this House, which has always been a Resolution first and a Bill following the Resolution. For these very short reasons I submit that this Bill is out of order.

Before you give a ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I ask two questions? The first is whether, in view of the fact that by the common law of Parliament no taxation can be imposed unless it is imposed to meet the necessity and the financial needs of the year, and whether as those financial needs of the year are voted by the House in the Finance Bill, and as the Finance Bill in this House has already been passed, if taxation is imposed will not a new Finance Bill be required? The second question is whether this Bill, as far as Clause 17 is concerned, does not impose taxation? It is true that it says certain things are to be prohibited, but it goes on to say that that prohibition need not take place if people pay in order to be let off. The second part deals with the expenditure of money. Is it possible to combine in one Bill a part which imposes taxation and which should originate in Committee of Ways and Means, and another part imposing expenditure which should originate in Committee of the Whole House?

I am obliged to the Noble Lord for having given me notice of the question. I have, therefore, been in a position to prepare a considered reply. I will take the first two questions together. For the purpose of Second Reading, to which alone my attention is now being given, I have to look at the Bill without seeing the Clauses in italics. Being in italics, they are supposed not to be there, and I look upon them as blank spaces to be filled in later. I have to ask myself whether the Bill can stand without them. I think so, and to the first question my answer is that the Bill is one designed in the exceptional circumstances of the day, in respect of foreign exchanges, to regulate and stabilise the industries of this country by forbidding certain exports and imports, and other purposes with the same object. The main purpose of the Bill is to exclude dumped goods and goods competing with key industries, and the imposition of charges in the nature of Import Duties is incidental to the adoption of such a policy. The Bill, therefore, need not originate in Committee of Ways and Means.

(2). The second point is whether it requires a Resolution in Ways and Means to impose the fines for importation and sale under Clauses 3 and 4: and fees under Clause 10. My answer is yes. These fines, being in the nature of Import Duties, require Resolutions in Committee of Ways and Means.

(3). The third question is whether the House of Commons can divest itself of the responsibility of fixing the rates and amounts of these fines and fees and hand that duty over to an outside body such as a Trade Regulation Committee. It has been part of the unwritten law of Parliament that the goods upon which and the rates at which taxes are to be levied shall be fixed and determined by the House of Commons itself. I am not prepared to say that the House cannot delegate that power to some other body such as the Trade Regulation Committee. I will only say that at present I am not aware of any similar case. It may be urged that if Parliament is desirous of altering its practice it should be done in some definite, specific and formal manner, and not a mere adjunct to other proposals, just as when we desire to alter our common law we do so by passing a Statute for that express purpose. In this connection I might refer the House to a recent ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means on 2nd July, 1917, when he declined to countenance any departure from the rule that the authority to impose taxation is the Committee of Ways and Means. I understand, also, that when it was proposed that a luxury tax should be imposed on articles, and at rates, to be fixed by a Select Committee, the Chairman of Ways and Means took a similar objection and declined to admit the proposal. But, upon the assumption—an assumption which I am bound to make —that the House of Commons desires to impose these fines and fees, which, owing to the nature of the circumstances in which we now find ourselves, may vary from week to week, or, at all events, from month to month, how can it be done? It is evidently impossible to bring in a Bill ever, month to deal with a fresh situation. It seems to me to be reasonable to fix either certain limits, or a ratio which the fine is to bear to the cost of the article, and to give to some authority the duty of fixing the price and applying the-ratio or determining the exact figure of the fine, or in some similar fashion. As to the question whether the proceeds of these taxes have been demanded by the Crown for the service of the year, in my view that point does not arise at this stage, because, for the purpose of Second Reading, there is no such proposal in the Bill.

I am very much obliged for that answer. May I put this question? I do not know whether it is beyond the function of the Chair. When it is desired to make a great departure in our constitutional practice has it not always been the practice to proceed first by Resolution, and, after the Resolution has been passed, to bring in a Bill? If I recollect rightly, that was the practice on questions of franchise, and in any questions of great moment, I submit, that has always been the practice. Since you have been good enough to tell us that this provides for an entirely new departure in our taxing machinery, something which the House has never seen before, I submit that it would have been more regular, and therefore more proper, for the Government to have proceeded by Resolution in the first instance, rather than by introducing the Bill without a Resolution.

I know that the system of starting by Resolution was one that obtained at one time, and that it was very frequently adopted, but of late years it has not been so often adopted. I think the tendency of the House in late years, certainly during the last fifteen or twenty years, has been to proceed directly with Bills and not to found them on a Resolution.

May I respectfully say that I entirely agree? But where you have an entirely exceptional measure, then, I submit, the old practice is the proper one to resort to, because it is the most formal way in which this House can proceed to make alterations in the law.

For the purpose of making it clear to one or two Members like myself who would wish to have a very clear view on this most important question, may I ask whether I am correct in deducing from your ruling that you regard this Bill simply as an ordinary Bill containing Clauses in italics which, therefore, cannot be regarded by you on Second Reading, but which will require at some time or other a Money Resolution; that you do not regard this as a Finance Bill in the recognised and proper acceptance of the term; that you do not differentiate it at all from, say, a Land Bill for Scotland, which requires money to back it, or any other Bill of that kind, but that it simply requires a Money Resolution?

I do not consider it needs a Money Resolution in the ordinary sense. There is one Clause which does require it, and that is Clause 17, I think. That will require a Money Resolution in the ordinary sense of the term. I think that the whole Bill hangs together with one purpose. The so-called taxation purposes are incidental and adjuncts to that.

When the Second Reading has been obtained, will it not be necessary to have a Finance Bill, so that the various taxes may be confirmed by this House?

In a Finance Bill it would be necessary to set up a Committee of Ways and Means for the purpose of taking certain Resolutions in Ways and Means. I should not like to commit myself as to whether those Resolutions would require an Instruction or not. Possibly it might require an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill that they should have power to embody those Resolutions in the Bill.

Is it not the constitutional practice to found such Bills upon Resolutions in this House, and is this not an analogous case to many which we have had?

I do not deny that sometimes legislation is founded on Resolution. I rather think that the Representation of the People Bill was founded upon simply one general Resolution. I am not quite sure about that, and all I say is that it can be done both ways. It is not for me to say which way should be adopted.

Is it your opinion, since this Money Resolution is one which, you have pointed out, must arise in Com- mittee of Ways and Means, that this Bill therefore is a Bill which will have to be considered by Committee of the Whole House, and not go upstairs?