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3 Dec 2002 : Column 867—continued

10.36 pm

Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): You may have been in the Chamber some years ago, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when I told the First Lord of the Treasury that it was the duty of Labour Members to provide scrutiny and accountability, without fear or favour, and without showing partial affection. That is what I intend to do this evening. This matter deserves scrutiny. It raises an issue that hon. Members have neglected for far too long—our historic duty of voting Supply. We have abdicated that responsibility, but I think that it should be restored. This motion may give us an opportunity to canvass that proposition.

The error also shows that there has been sloppy administration and disregard for the House. In addition, I understand that even if we agree this motion we cannot escape the necessity of passing new primary legislation. I am not sure whether my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary or the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman covered that. I hope that my hon. Friend will confirm whether new primary legislation will be needed to correct the error.

The document in the possession of hon. Members states:

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I took the opportunity during the Division to clarify the fact that the motion will get us through the crisis to which my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary referred and which probably involves the National Audit Office. However, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will probably have to make time available at some stage for new legislation to regularise the matter. The House is entitled to be told the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

In my life I have been guilty of many things, one of them being that I have occasionally criticised the Government. To that, I say, XNo surrender." However, there are also times when it is possible to speak in favour of the Government with great enthusiasm.

Informally, I indicated that I should like to catch your eye in this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I can tell the House that the relationship between us is good, and you said that the motion was very narrowly drafted.

Indeed it is, but there are a lot of matters before us that I do not think the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) has rumbled. I did not see in his hands documents HC 636 or HC 391. If I am wrong, I apologise unreservedly. I know that other people are exercised by this matter, because I can see that they have their copies.

In the Supply estimates on non-operating appropriations in aid, paragraph 3 states:

I have them here. I do not wish to delay the House, but bearing in mind your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think you will that confirm the documents are within the footprint of the debate.

Table 1.3 in both documents—dated February 2002 and December 2001—gives me an opportunity to speak proudly of the Government's achievements. I shall say why in summary, but I want to go into some detail. The table shows growth after growth in major essential public services voted for and provided by the Government. The No. 1 priority is giving everyone the chance, through education, training and work, to realise their full potential and thus build an inclusive and fair society. That was a key part of our manifesto. I had to check with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) that we were talking in millions, but the new net provision is £19 million. Some £2,200 million is to go towards helping people without a job into work through the employment service. I hope that when I read the Official Report I will see the right number of noughts.

Peter Bottomley: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is taking us through the consequences of paragraph 3. I draw your attention to paragraph 1, which states:

We seem to be going back to why those resolutions were passed. It may be worth asking whether we have to listen to the hon. Gentleman's every detail.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): The debate should relate to the proposed modifications and limits for non-operating appropriations-in-aid for the Departments set out in appendix A to HC 121 and to the circumstances that give rise to the need for new authorisation in the present Session. That is the narrowness of the debate on which I gave advice to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), and I hope that he will not try to drive a coach and horses through it by reciting things from the past.

Andrew Mackinlay: Absolutely not, but may I invite you to look at the second sentence of paragraph 3, Mr. Deputy Speaker? It is explicit that we are dealing with non-operating appropriations-in-aid contained in HC 391 and HC 636 and set out in appendix A. I did not print this; the House of Commons did. HC 391 and HC 636 are, I think, within the footprint of the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I must advise the hon. Gentleman that we are debating the circumstances that have necessitated this motion coming before the House tonight. We cannot reopen issues that were discussed and agreed by the House in the past.

Andrew Mackinlay: I understood the Minister to say that they were not agreed. She said that unless we have this authorisation, the Government will be on skid row, or on the ropes with the auditors. I think that the Official Report will show that that is so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We cannot have a rehearsal of the policy behind the various items on which the hon. Gentleman has sought to embark. We are discussing the technical matter of making the correction and the circumstances that have led to it. I really hope that he will take my advice on this.

Andrew Mackinlay: I think that I am in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker; the document makes it clear. I do not think that your ruling excludes us from referring to the contents of HC 391 and HC 636—although I shall not do so.

Peter Bottomley: If the hon. Gentleman will allow—

Andrew Mackinlay: The hon. Gentleman is not Speaker yet. I have a better hope than him—and more chance.

Peter Bottomley: Will the hon. Gentleman look at the verb in the penultimate line of the first paragraph of the document that we are discussing? He questions whether the House of Commons agreed the changes. That paragraph states clearly that they were agreed.

Andrew Mackinlay: But the hon. Gentleman will see that the first word of the next paragraph is XHowever" and that the paragraph continues:

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That is why we are discussing the matter tonight, and that is why HC 636 and HC 391 are fully within the footprint of legitimate discussion—irritating though that must be. I hope that I have convinced you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. What I am saying to the hon. Gentleman is that he may refer to a document but he cannot go over the ground in detail and embark on a recital, as he appeared to be doing, of the various reasons behind it. We are on narrower ground than that.

Andrew Mackinlay: I should not go into detail, because that would involve listing Labour's achievements, and to do that would take us beyond the relevant time tomorrow and we should lose a day's business. I should not do that.

The document relates to public expenditure growth in every key area. That has not been made clear enough. I referred to the Department for Work and Pensions and to the Home Office, where the increased agenda for combating crime is making places safer, improving the Prison Service and helping the Treasury solicitor to bring people to book.

It seems to me that we are entitled to examine every item of expenditure, because previous Parliaments abdicated their responsibility to do that and because the House to which we were elected has not—to our shame—set up adequate machinery for us to conduct that line-by-line scrutiny. The document deals with what is called virement in local government, and that should be the primary purpose of the House of Commons. It was in the past, and it should be so again.

Obviously, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am persuaded by the force of your argument and by the authority of the Chair, but it is important that on some occasions we should look at things in detail. I am bewildered. Why on earth were HC 636 and HC 391 printed if not for us to study? However, there is a lack of procedures for virement and for line-by-line scrutiny of such things. Those documents give detailed breakdowns for every Department.

I should like to go through the Government's great achievements, but as you have asked me not to, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall leapfrog over several pages to demonstrate that I would abuse neither your patience nor the time of the House. The last page of table 1.3 in HC 391 details XPeers' expenses and administration", about which we should perhaps be concerned, as there has been an increase of £74 million.

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