The business of “ways and means” is the process by which the government sets out its economic policy (through the presentation of a budget) and obtains parliamentary approval to raise the necessary revenues (through taxation). A principle fundamental to the ways and means process is the requirement that taxation originate in the House of Commons.
The budget presentation and taxation measures are initiated through ways and means motions. For a budget, the ways and means motion seeks approval of the budgetary policy of the government; for legislation, the motion sets out the terms and conditions of the proposed measures, most notably the rates and incidence of taxation.
Only a Minister can move a ways and means motion. Once adopted, such a motion forestalls the passage of any amendment that would infringe on the financial initiative of the Crown.
A bill based on a ways and means motion is referred to as a “ways and means” bill.
A formal budget presentation offers a comprehensive assessment of the financial standing of the government and gives an overview of the nation’s economic condition. It also declares if and how the burden on the taxpayer will be increased or reduced. The budget is prepared following extensive pre-budget consultations by the Standing Committee on Finance.
Occasionally in the House, the Finance Minister may make a financial statement that does not constitute a formal budget presentation.
An Order of the Day for the budget presentation, giving the date and time it will be made, is designated at the request of a Minister of the Crown.
At the specified time, the Minister of Finance moves a ways and means motion approving the government’s budgetary policy and delivers the budget speech. The Minister may table other notices of ways and means motions during the budget presentation.
The contents of the budget are kept secret until the Minister of Finance actually presents it in the House. Budget secrecy is a matter of parliamentary convention rather than one of privilege. The secrecy convention exists because of the impact the budget may have on financial markets.
The budget debate allows the House to debate the Government’s overall financial plan.
After the Minister’s speech is concluded, a Member of the Official Opposition speaks briefly and moves the adjournment of the debate, following which the House is adjourned.
The Standing Orders provide up to four additional days of debate on the budget. They also set out a strict timetable with respect to possible amendments and subamendments during the budget debate.
Before a bill that imposes a charge on the taxpayer can be introduced, the House must first adopt a ways and means motion.
Charges on the people, in this context, refer to:
Industry levies and service fees imposed by departments do not constitute charges on the people.
Taxation proposals are effective as soon as the Minister tables a notice of a ways and means motion, even though the government’s taxation plans have not yet been officially adopted by way of legislation.
Bills that are intended not to raise money but rather to reduce taxation do not need to be preceded by a ways and means motion.
A Minister may table a notice of a ways and means motion at any time during a sitting.
A ways and means motion cannot be moved during the same sitting in which the notice is tabled, or until the motion approving the budget has been voted on.
No debate or amendment is allowed on a ways and means motion except on the ways and means motion for the budget debate
When a ways and means motion is adopted, it becomes an order to bring in a bill (or bills) or to propose an amendment (or amendments) to a bill already before the House.
A bill based on a ways and means motion that contains provisions relating to government expenditure also requires a royal recommendation. The House must both authorize the government to proceed with the taxation measures, by adopting the ways and means motion, and give leave to introduce the bill. If a ways and means bill does not require a royal recommendation, it can be given first reading as soon as the motion on which it is based has been adopted.