Authorising Government expenditure: steps to more effective scrutiny Contents

1This inquiry

Members of the House of Commons.

Estimates for the public services will be laid before you.

The Gracious Speech at the State Opening of Parliament1

1.Our first inquiry of this Parliament concerned the Government’s proposals for new Standing Orders to implement its policy of ‘English votes for English laws’ (EVEL) in the House of Commons.2 In the course of that inquiry it became clear to us that the Government’s proposals had substantial implications for the House’s procedures in considering and authorising Government expenditure—the process known formally as ‘supply’. As the epigraph above makes clear, this duty falls exclusively upon the House of Commons.

2.In our interim report on the Government’s EVEL proposals, issued in October 2015, we observed that

although the Government has amended its proposals to make it clear that any Member may take part in all proceedings on Supply and Appropriation Bills, ways and means resolutions and money resolutions (except those relating to the Budget), the present operation of those procedures, and the constitutional conventions on financial initiative, make it largely impossible for Members concerned about the spending consequences of bills to exercise any effective control over the Government’s proposals for public expenditure which the House is invited to approve.3

We therefore undertook to consider the adequacy of the House’s procedures for examining and authorising Government proposals for expenditure.

3.In January 2016 we began to consider the House’s procedures for examining Supply Estimates—the formal requests for authorisation of expenditure made to the House by the Government—and passing the legislation which authorises such expenditure subject to annual control. We invited written evidence on the following:

4.We set out below our findings and our recommendations for change to how the House considers and authorises the Government’s requests for expenditure out of money provided by Parliament.

5.Financial procedure will continue to be a priority for the Committee throughout this Parliament. During this inquiry we received evidence on the overall adequacy of the UK’s arrangements for scrutiny by the legislature of the executive’s budgetary proposals, particularly in relation to the systems operated in other OECD member states. In November 2016 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced plans to present Budgets in the autumn of each year, rather than in the spring as has generally been the case. This offers an opportunity to consider the Estimates timetable afresh. In this report we therefore set out some areas for further examination.

6.We received 13 memoranda in the course of our inquiry and took evidence from 13 witnesses.4 We also held an informal discussion on the approach of the private sector to consideration of budgeting and expenditure plans with Lord Levene of Portsoken, former Minister for Defence Procurement, and Sir Peter Gershon, who conducted a review of public sector efficiency for the then Prime Minister and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2003 and 2004.5 We are grateful to all those who have assisted us in the course of this inquiry.

1 Variations on this formula have been used in every Speech from the Throne since the State Opening of the first Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1801.

2 Procedure Committee, First Report of Session 2015–16, English votes for English laws Standing Orders: interim report, HC 410.

3 Ibid., para 85

4 Lists of the written evidence received and the oral evidence taken are at pages 44 and 45.

18 April 2017