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Authority of the Assembly to make Amendments to or to Effect Cuts to the Estimates

Hits: 1397 | Published Date: 15 Apr, 2013
| Speech delivered at: 48th Sitting- Tenth Parliament
| Speech Delivered by : Hon. Carl B. Greenidge, MP

Mr. Greenidge: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I would like to address some specific issues in relation to this motion before us and more importantly I would like to draw your attention to a number of precedents in the countries that operate under the Westminster system.
The first point that I would like to make is that the power that any Parliament has in the modified or original Westminster system lies in the capacity to control the purse. No one, and in this particular instance I listened to the distinguished Minister address the issue of the Executive and its role and so forth... It is the Executive that had brought to this House a set of estimates. The job of the Parliament has evolved over centuries and that evolution started from an arrangement under which the legislature was approached for funding to finance vitals, materials and the payments of persons and that is how the term, the language, supply originated.
In the United Kingdom, they spoke of the Committee of Ways and Means, which is the committee that exercised their minds over how taxes, the ways and means, would be raised to fund the activities. I mention that so that we understand that traditionally the Executive has a whole range of things to do during the course of the year. However, there has been many instances where it carries out those activities particularly placing imposts on the citizens without the approval of those citizens and in the case of this entire Region, including the North Americas, there were movements, even agitation in Guyana, which arose again in 1928 when our Constitution was first, if you like, overthrown resulting from the fact that the Executive, which was often at those times not elected, sought to raise taxes at a time or in circumstances where the representatives of the majority did not have a say in how those taxes would be raise. They ranged over a range of things. When the English did not want to Americans to trade with the Portuguese or with the Spaniards in the Region they would impose tariffs and those tariffs would force citizens to purchase what would be cheaper options. If you would stop and listen then you would not bring silly motions to the House. It would allow the citizens to exercise what was ostensibly a free option but it was not free because in effect you had stacked the cards by imposing taxes on commodities that came from outside of the United Kingdom itself. It is this concern over a minority and non-elected minority to determine the fiscal burdens of the populace that gave rise to the cry “No taxation without representation”. There is logic to that; namely that the Legislature is the place where the taxes to fund the supplies, the purchase of equipment, the purchase of materials, the funding of officials, that is where the Legislature actually exercises it functions because on a day to day basis the operational things, such as the purchases and so forth are done by the Executive.
The idea therefore that the Executive would have the powers both to present an appropriation bill and to have it passed without modification, as Mr. Ramjattan pointed out, would actually degut the powers of the Legislature and there is no basis to argue that that actually exists anywhere in the Westminster system.
I had addressed this problem before, Mr. Speaker, I remind you. We receive estimates, proposals, for both expenditures and revenues from the Executive. The Executive brings those proposals and there are certain constraints on it already; they are already specified. We, as indicated, cannot raise taxes. We cannot add to the expenditures that are to be undertaken. These are the constraints. There are specific constraints drawn into all of those Constitutions and none of them includes an inability to amend the estimates other than in the manner that I have specified.
Now the case...
Mr. Speaker: The Hon. Member is asking how many speakers... I had suggested that we have two from each party then two each... but no one really indicated so I believe that the matter is sufficiently of import that we will allow some latitude on it. I do not anticipate that we will go on forever. I will allow persons who wish to speak to speak. I do not expect that we will have a filibuster but we will have... There seems to be something where Mr. Williams and Mr. Nandlall are waiting each other out but, Hon. Member, please proceed; my apologies. Go ahead. Sorry.
Mr. Greenidge: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. The process that I mentioned involving the Committee of Ways and Means, which we now call the Committee of Supply, is one that enables the Legislature to interrogate the proposals of the Executive. We did that. The proposals come and, at the level of the Committee of Supply, we asked questions that are intended to satisfy us that the requests are justified. In the event that they are not justified we then have an option and it cannot be the option with a budget that is so large that for want of a particularly small element of it one rejects the entire budget. In effect that is blackmail; if one is saying, “You have a budget of $208 billion but in there is an element that is illegal or improper and if you do not like it you have to bring the whole thing crashing down and, perhaps, trigger an election”. This is not the intent of this system. Mr. Speaker, let me just remind you and for those that do not understand let me remind them, the only place – this is not on a national level – where a legislature in this Westminster system is not given the option to amend the estimates when they are presented is within a system where, prior to the consideration by the Committee of Supply – which actually operates as a committee of the whole – there is another committee which considers the matter which is a subcommittee of the House, which now exists in quite a number of countries. A subcommittee of the House looks at the matter and attempts to resolve the areas of difficulty. It is like arbitration. In the case of arbitration, therefore, if the sides have difficulty over elements in the estimate they sit and hammer those difficulties out. They resolve the differences and then they bring an agreed package to the House as a whole. When the House, meeting as the Committee of Supply, looks at the matter the circumstances there would be “Look, a lot of time was spent resolving these issues. They have now been resolved as in the case of arbitration.” If the House does not like it, the Houses options are either to accept the changes because they are not big enough to break a lance over or to reject them on the ground that they breach fundamental objections that arose on one side or the other. That means that the power of the House to examine and amend budgets is not removed. It is carried out at a stage prior to the Committee of Supply and a resolved package then comes to the House and the House is not given the chance to consider the matter twice in terms of opening a matter that is already resolved. As far as I am concerned those persons who argue, including the Attorney General, that this issue somewhere exists in the Westminster system whereby a House is not empowered to modify the estimates that come before it is ill informed. It does not take into account that in the one case, where that exists, it exists because there is a stage where we do not enjoy. We do not enjoy that prior stage and if one were to say that this House cannot amend the estimates we may as well go Home. We may as well say to the House...
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Greenidge, where is that one instance that you refer to?
Mr. Greenidge: I will find it and send it to you, Mr. Speaker. I believe that is in one of the states of Australia. It is not a national piece of legislation; it is a state legislation. What I am saying is that in that instance it provides an additional stage which that Legislature enjoys which we do not enjoy. If one removes that right from us then we have only a talking shop here. We are only being prevailed up on to discuss the matter even if we think a significant part of the proposal is unacceptable we are not at liberty to modify it. That makes no sense whatsoever.
Secondly, the distinguished Minister made reference to the fact that the process in 2012, to which the Attorney General objected, was involved or akin to his interpretation of the Chief Justice was akin to this House making the submission itself. In fact, as you are aware, the estimates came to this House. The Estimates were examined and amended. We then considered the Appropriation Bill. The Minister reported to the House that the Appropriation Bill was considered and amended. Not only was it passes as amended, there was no division. There was no division on that bill.
We have two sets of things we consider in this House, if I am correct. One has motions and one has the formal legislation. As regards both, this House has always exercised the power which exists in the Westminster system to modify bills which come before it. Whether they be bills in relation to those originating on the side of the Government or whether they are bills arising in relation to private members. We have always had the option of modifying them and we have amended them where necessary especially when, of course, the bills are submitted in recent times by the Government and they did not meet the approval of the majority. That is the principle. That is the principle of democracy in these Legislatures. It is a majority that considers the submission and they are at liberty to modify those submissions and that is what we have done.
Hence, when the Minister reported to the House that the bill had been approved as amended, having been considered by the Cabinet and having reached us via the Cabinet, it is to me astonishing that the Attorney General could have brought a case against the Minister and the Cabinet and the Speaker for carrying out a democratic process which they embraced at the time. He is now seeking to overturn and create unsustainable practice...
Mr. Speaker: We did have a precedent of Ester Perreira where this House had unanimously passed a bill asking that identification cards be made part of the framework for voting and then Mr. Hoyte, who was then Leader of the Opposition, responded to that matter. Through his council Mr. Keith Messiah advanced the argument that that act was unconstitutional and on that basis the elections were officiated. We do have precedence for something like that.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, in the absence of any clear understanding on my term, I simply want to say to you that to me...
Mr. Speaker: It does cause laypersons, especially, to look on the law less favourably. Let me put it that way. There is a terminology that I would not repeat here.
Mr. Greenidge: I will say no more but the point, I think, is clear that the parties on the other side...  [Mr. Nandlall: The outsiders were in debt.]   You were in the debt and you are still downing. They were part and parcel of the process. They followed the entire process, embraced it and now, afterwards, seek conveniently to resile from it. That is the point I am making here.
It is often assumed by people who are arguing these cases, rather ill informedly, that the examples and precedence of the modification of budgets in the Westminster system, and especially in the United Kingdom, do not exist. I beg to differ and I want to draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that traditionally when British constitutionalists taught in the English schools they normally site two cases in which the budgets presented by the Cabinet were overturned by the English Parliament. One was in the case of the House of Commons, but the other one was in the House of Lords which lead to the abolition of the power of the House of Lords to remove that power.
I am glad to hear colleagues on the other side embracing. I hope that they will embrace when I have finished because they listen to half a statement and...   [Mr. Nadir: We would take the garbage out.]   Mr. Nadir, you should not speak about garbage. You of all people should not speak about garbage.
Mr. Speaker: We are doing well. Let us not go there. Proceed, Mr. Greenidge. Hon. Member, Mr. Nadir, let us refrain from referring to each other’s arguments as garbage. I would like to say something as well. Whenever there is going to be a reference to the Chief Justice of this country let us make that reference with respect whether in a heckling manner or otherwise. He is the Chief Justice of this republic and no disparaging comments should be made of him or of any member of the court of this country. Let us bear that in mind. Go ahead, Mr. Greenidge.
Mr. Greenidge: Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I have no reference to make to the Chief Justice.
I want to say that the examples to which I was making reference, first of all, in the year 1919 when the UK Parliament cut the budget submitted by the Government, and more specifically the allocation requested for the Lord Chancellor, that is the equivalent,... The point is that it was cut and the House had to live with it.
Subsequently in the year 1921, again, the travelling expenses of Members were cut by the House. These are the two examples often cited. Let me say, that, as far as I have been able to ascertain, at least 128 cases of division have led to defeats by British Governments in Parliament over financial Bills or budget themselves. The idea that it is unprecedented, that the House does not have the power to amend these Bills, is untrue. The evidence is to the contrary. I can give  the references.
What I found is that the occasions, after the year 1918,... It is interesting for us to understand because when we hear about tyranny of the majority and a majority of one, we must understand that this is silly. A majority is a majority. Elsewhere, majorities of one overthrow governments. Governments have resigned as a result of losses of only one vote. Democracy only requires only that, a majority. The issue is this, that since the year 1918 there were defeats on financial Bills, arising mostly in periods 1974 to 1979, when there was Callaghan’s Government. I do not know whether you were old enough to remember that, Mr. Speaker, but it was a very unstable time within the United Kingdom and many defeats were suffered by the Government. The important thing is that the Government’s loss...
I am making this point because it needs to be understood that the absence of amendments to financial Bills and budgets arises, not as a result of an inbred principle in the British Constitutions and the Westminster Constitutions but as a result of the exercise of the whip, in relation to party powers in these countries. The whip enforces the rule, whether or not Members of Parliament agree with them. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, even in recent times, that the experience of a number of governments, including the Thatcher and the post Thatcher Government, has been that there were backbench rebellions. The backbench rebellions in which the Government Members of Parliaments themselves objected to the contents and substance of the Bill presented by the Government. Fortunately, for the country there, the Government had been wise enough, in most instances, to suspend the considerations of the Bill, modified them, taking into account the demands of their backbenches.
What I am saying is that there are a number of circumstances. One is that the backbenchers may rebel; there may be unanticipated absences, in relation to the two sides of the House, and a number of other things. Those factors have led to at least 128 cases of amendments to financial Bills, including budgets, tax measures, expenditure measures, and the likes. Our colleagues must not come here and tell us that that does not happen or it is not permitted under the dispensation which we operate because it is inaccurate.
As far as I am aware the Lord Chancellor, as I mentioned earlier, is an office within the United Kingdom. It is the most senior legal offices there. If the Attorney General is not aware of that, then I hope he now knows. What I am saying is that we have the power, as a House, to amend Bills that come to us. We have the power to amend an Appropriation Bill because it is another Bill. It is just the character of the Bill, but it is as any other Bill and we have the power to amend it. Without the power to amend those Bills, which come to us, we have practically no powers at all. As I mentioned earlier, we may as well send out an email and ask Members to respond by a round robin because they have no decision to make. The idea of a debate here is to enable us to make any changes that we have in mind. It is not whether or not the Member voted.
These are the points I want to bring to the House’s attention; mainly that there is precedent for it; mainly that the executive itself was party to the process. It was the representative of the Government, by way of the Minister of Finance, who submitted to the House, on the House’s behalf, the Appropriation Bill approved, as amended, without a division and therefore it is quite out of order for the Members to come now and suggest that in principle this was a problem.
Thank you very much. [Applause]

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Profession: Economist
Speeches delivered:(33) | Motions Laid:(15) | Questions asked:(12)

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Speeches delivered:(33)
Motions Laid:(15)
Questions asked:(12)

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