Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,790,089,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending on 31st March 1976 for expenditure on Civil Services, as set out in House of Commons Paper No. 28.—[Mr. Robert Sheldon.]
It is right, before leaving this Supplementary Estimate, that the House should be told how sums in excess of £3 billion have been incurred over and above the Estimates put before the House in the Budget as recently as last April. Will the Government not give us an explanation? This sum amounts to £60 per head of population above that which was originally forecast. We should not allow the Government to escape with a forecasting error of that magnitude without questions being asked and answers being given.
It is not right for the House to leave the Supplementary Estimates and to pass on to debate something else on all occasions. Sometimes it might be right, but clearly the only way in which this House can regain control of the expenditure of this profligate Government is by questioning the spending of these very large sums of public money. We have the opportunity at the time of the Budget, and sometimes during public expenditure debates, to question Government spending as a whole, but when the Government incur £3 billion more expenditure than their already bloated spending forecast in the Budget, the House is entitled to an explanation.
The Secretary of State for Employment has accused some of his colleagues of economic illiteracy. Perhaps we can have a little more economic literacy about how this situation has arisen. The Government would do well to answer now why they have overspent to this absurd degree. If they were contrite and apologised, told us the reasons for it and promised to do better next year, I am sure the House would be happy to move on to the next business, which I recognise is important. But it is wrong that sums exceeding the Estimates to that extent should be allowed to go through on the nod and without explanation. I therefore ask the Government at least to do us the courtesy of apologising for their slipshod housekeeping before we go on to allow them to spend another £162·5 million.
I know that the House is anxious to get on to the next business and I shall therefore be brief. The House would not get into this situation if it insisted that its Select Committee on Expenditure and the sub-committees did the job of vetting the expenditure proposals in the Estimates as they should. Therein lies the proper method of giving the House adequate scrutiny over Government expenditure which manifestly at present does not exist.
I wish to underline my hon. Friend's point about the importance which the Government should attach to the presentation of huge Supplementary Estimates of this kind. It is quite improper for these procedures to take place when the Government are unwilling to tell the House what their current expected borrowing requirement for the year is. It is also wrong when the Government fail to make time available for a debate on this year's expenditure White Paper and when we have no assurance of early publication of next year's White Paper.
I hope that the House will fully appreciate the extent to which one-off decisions of the kind which can so easily be taken in the context of any particular issue are the very decisions which contribute to expanding inflation and borrowing requirement of this kind. The next debate will give an important example of how the House should get this gross overspending under control.
The Question is,
That a further Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,790,089,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending in 31st March 1976 for expenditure on Civil Services, as set out in House of Commons Paper No. 28.
As many as are of that opinion say "Aye". To the contrary "No". I think the Ayes have it. The Ayes have it. Mr. Sheldon.
Bill ordered to be brought in upon the foregoing Resolutions relating to Defence Estimates, 1976–77 (Vote on Account), Civil Estimates, 1976–77 (Vote on Account), Defence Supplementary Estimates, 1975–76 and Civil Supplementary Estimates, 1975–76 by the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Edmund Dell, Mr. Joel Barnett, Mr. Robert Sheldon and Mr. Denzil Davies.