The Procedure Committee of the House of Commons is today calling for the rapid establishment of a Budget Committee to properly scrutinise Government spending plans.
Commons needs a dedicated Budget Committee
Setting up a Budget Committee would bring the UK into line with virtually every other major democracy, and would ensure that spending plans can be properly scrutinised before that money is spent.
The Committee notes the excellent work being carried out by the Public Accounts Committee in “after the event” oversight of spending on particular projects and programmes, and by the Treasury Committee in investigating fiscal and financial issues across its broad remit.
However there is currently no Commons Committee specifically tasked with scrutinising spending proposals.
MPs currently sign off the Main Estimates—the Government’s spending plans for the financial year—by passing Supply and Appropriation Bills, after two days of debate on the spending plans of up to four departments. These Bills pass without debate. Although reforms recently recommended by the Procedure Committee have allowed more Members to apply for debates on the Estimates, and have broadened the scope of those debates, the scrutiny these debates afford is no substitute for a detailed examination of the Government’s spending plans.
The Committee is convinced that the Commons needs a dedicated Budget Committee, which would take a leading role in examining the rationale behind decisions made during multi-annual Spending Reviews, and would consistently monitor how those plans are being implemented.
Today’s report also asks the House authorities to consider the case for establishing a Commons Budget Office should be established, to provide specific support to any budget committee.
Chair of the Committee, Charles Walker OBE MP commented:
“The requirement for the House of Commons to approve Government spending plans is a fundamental constitutional principle.
“However MPs have, in the past week, signed off the spending of over £300bn of taxpayer’s money with a cursory amount of scrutiny.
“It is vital that the Government’s plans to spend money can be properly scrutinised before that money is spent, so the plans can be properly held to account by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee.
“We ask whether the time has come to follow almost every other major democracy in establishing a Budget Committee to fulfil this vital task.
“The Committee stands ready to help the House in this endeavour if – as we hope and expect – it so wishes.”