More effective parliamentary scrutiny of government spending needed

19 April 2017

The Commons Procedure Committee calls for MPs to have a more direct and effective role in the scrutiny of Government expenditure proposals.

The report focuses on the annual Estimates process, the system the House uses to control Government spending of money raised through taxation.

It is published on the day (19 April) when the Government presents its Main Supply Estimates to Parliament, formally asking the House to approve the expenditure of taxpayers' money.  In April 2016 the Government sought formal approval for the expenditure of over £500 billion in this way.

Under the present system, three Estimates days formally allocated for the consideration of Government spending plans in each session are allocated by the Liaison Committee for debate on select committee reports.

Though the committee reports may be related to an Estimate, it is rare for the Government's proposals for expenditure to be examined and debated on such days.

Report recommendations

The report recommends that, in future, the Backbench Business Committee should choose actual Estimates to be debated on Estimates days, with the Liaison Committee in return receiving three backbench business days for debating select committee reports.

The Committee also recommends:

  • A Government commitment to debates in the House on the outcome of each Spending Review
  • Presentation, consideration and authorisation of Main Estimates before the start of the financial year to which they relate
  • At least five weeks between the presentation of each set of Estimate and debates on them in the House
  • Two days of debate on Main Estimates, with effect from the 2017–18 Session
  • Clearer, simpler and more consistent presentation of Estimates information, and online publication of the figures to meet open data standards
  • Publication of details of calculations leading to changes in block grants under the Barnett formula

Chair's comment

Chair of the Procedure Committee, Charles Walker OBE MP commented:

"MPs must scrutinise Government spending proposal effectively, and must also be seen to do it effectively.

MPs currently approve plans to spend billions of pounds following debates on select committee reports that are often only loosely related to a couple of departmental estimates. Select committees, the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office have a crucial role in scrutinising Government expenditure, but under our present system this scrutiny all happens after the fact.

Holding the Executive to account through scrutinising proposals for the spending of taxpayers' money is one of the most vital jobs of parliamentarians. The committee's proposals will be a significant step in ensuring that spending plans get the scrutiny in the Chamber that they deserve.

We expect the Procedure Committee in the new Parliament to pick up this Committee’s work on House scrutiny of Government expenditure plans."

Further information

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