Liaison Committee: Press Notice

21 April 2008

MPs call for more effective scrutiny of Government expenditure

A report today (21st April) from the Liaison Committee, made up of the 31 chairs of the House of Commons Select Committees, seeks to improve the House's ability to scrutinise Government expenditure.

The report, Parliament and Government Finance: Recreating Financial Scrutiny (HC 426), concludes that for far too long the House has shirked the task of providing itself with the means to carry out financial scrutiny effectively. Improved financial information, combined with increased scrutiny by select committees, would be a powerful influence in raising the quality of Government departments' financial management.

The report makes a number of recommendations, including:

- simplification of the Government's over-complex financial system, which would benefit Government as much as Parliament.

- improving the quality of the financial information provided to Parliament, which currently does not meet the House's needs. The report says that better quality information is needed rather than more information and commends the Treasury's Alignment Project as a step toward this.

- increasing the information available to select committees about PFI contracts, by ensuring committees have similar access on a confidential basis to that already enjoyed by the NAO . It is inherent in the House's right to control expenditure that it receives enough information about PFI contracts to decide whether they offer value for money.

- creating more opportunities for Members to challenge the Government in financial matters and hold it to account. There are currently only three days available each year for debating individual departmental estimates . The House should take back the right to debate and, if necessary, to vote on, individual Government programmes, or items of expenditure.

- making the results of Spending Reviews the subject of a day's debate on the floor of the House some weeks following the initial announcement, and timing them so as to allow select committees to report first on those results. That the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review was discussed for only an hour and a half in the Chamber makes a mockery of the House's right to scrutinise government expenditure.

Rt Hon Michael Jack MP, who helped to prepare the report, said:

"The proposals in this report would strip away the mystery from the Government's finances, changing the Government's reporting of what it spends to something which ordinary people can understand. They would make it possible for Parliament to examine the Government's financial proposals with much greater knowledge and understanding, to the benefit of all, including the Government itself."

The Liaison Committee is appointed to consider general matters relating to the work of select committees; to advise the House of Commons Commission on select committees; to choose select committee reports for debate in the House; and to hear evidence from the Prime Minister on matters of public policy.

The Committee held a deliberative session on improving financial scrutiny in October 2006 and subsequently appointed a working group, consisting of its Chairman and the Chairmen of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Public Accounts and Treasury Select Committees (Rt Hon Alan Williams, Rt Hon Michael Jack, Mr Edward Leigh and Rt Hon John McFall) to conduct a more detailed examination. The working group's examination formed the basis of this report.

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