Debates on Estimates days: piloting new arrangements Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

A new procedure for allocating Estimates Day debates

1.We recommend that the pilot scheme proposed by the Procedure Committee in April 2017, whereby the Backbench Business Committee determines the Estimates to be debated on each Estimates day, on the basis of bids from Members or groups of Members, be implemented without delay for the remainder of the 2017–19 Session. (Paragraph 7)

2.We expect the Government, in line with precedent, to bring forward in due course a motion to increase the number of allotted Estimates days in the current Session, to reflect its exceptional length and to remain in line with the annual Estimates cycle. We recommend the following allocation of Estimates days for the current session:

Implementation of the pilot for the 2017–18 Supplementary Estimates

3.The proposal to broaden out access to applications for Estimates day debates to all backbenchers provides a challenge to the present assumptions underpinning the provision of information to the House. Under the pilot we propose, the bids for Estimates day debates are expected to be more closely linked to the content of Supplementary Estimates. We therefore recommend that the Treasury give serious consideration, within the constraints of its own timetable, to bringing forward as far as possible the date of publication for Supplementary Estimates for the 2018–19 and 2019–20 financial years, and to providing the maximum period between that date and the date on which the Government seeks approval from the House for those estimates. Where possible, the Treasury should provide to the House an indication of the Departments which will be seeking a supplementary estimate, and the broad outline of the reason for the changes sought, no later than the second week of January. (Paragraph 22)

4.We encourage Members contemplating bids for debates on Estimates in the first round of this pilot to discuss with the House of Commons Scrutiny Unit, and with subject specialists in the Research and Information teams of the House of Commons Library, the prospects for the forthcoming Estimates round and the basis on which bids for debates might be prepared. (Paragraph 24)

5.We will undertake an initial evaluation of the operation of the pilot after the debates on the Main Estimates for 2018–19, with a further evaluation at the end of the 2017–19 Session. (Paragraph 25)

6.Our objective for this pilot is for the House to demonstrate to the public that it is undertaking its constitutional function of controlling supply to the Government, and is examining critically the Government’s requests for expenditure. We will be evaluating the outcome of the process, and the success of Estimates day debates and debates on select committee reports, against this overall objective. (Paragraph 26)

18 January 2018