Orders of the Day — Civil Estimates, 1977–78 (Vote on Account)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th December 1976.

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Motion made, and Question proposed,That a sum, not exceeding £13,301,368,000, be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, for or towards defraying the charges for Civil Services for the year ending on 31st March 1978, as set out in House of Commons Paper No. 7.—[Mr. Robert Sheldon.]

3.54 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I do not think that the House should part with the sums of money contained in these Estimates without some small protest. In these four Estimates, we are asked to vote £17,621 million. Of that, £15·8 billion is in respect of Votes on Account for next year, and that sum we can hardly grudge. But there are also Supplementary Estimates of £1,798 million, and a protest must be made about the way in which the House is presented with these enormous sums of money, expected to pass them, and then to proceed to debate the Bill which is before the House. It is quite wrong that the House does not have a far more effective way of controlling the expenditure of this Government.

I wonder about the timing of this Supply Day. Is it coincidence that it is the day before the statement on the IMF loan? Are the Government trying to sneak it through before tomorrow? Is that what it is all about? It seems to me that some explanation from the Treasury would not be amiss to tell us why these Estimates are being put through in this peculiar timing. I should have thought that the Chancellor might well be referring to cuts in public expenditure tomorrow. But, no, we are told that we have to pass these Estimates today, irrespective of what the Government's policy may be. It seems totally wrong.

I am horrified to see the motion on the Order Paper on the Supplementary Estimates on Defence in the names of 46 Government supporters suggesting that Votes 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12—

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. Is he confining himself to the first of the Estimates, or is he beginning to stray into the others? We are discussing the first Estimates on their own.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I did not know that it would be wrong to refer to the whole package. It would perhaps take more of the time of the House if I were to make four separate speeches, but, if that is your wish, Mr. Speaker, I shall do so.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

So be it. It is not up to me how long hon. Members wish to take, but we must stay in order.

Photo of Hon. Nicholas Ridley Hon. Nicholas Ridley , Cirencester and Tewkesbury

I shall try to save the time of the House by not referring at length to the Defence Estimates except to say that for Government supporters now to be seeking to remove supplies, miscellaneous services, administration, common services and all the defence procurement systems Estimates from the Forces is to make a nonsense. To have soldiers without weapons and billets is ridiculous.

The cuts should come in these first Estimates. That is where the Government's over-spending is at its worst. It is in the Civil Estimates and not in the Defence Estimates that Government supporters should seek to be making economies, because we all know in our heart of hearts that we cannot afford to go on spending these large sums of money which are not represented by earnings, production and income to the Government. They are sums of money spent for political reasons and in trying to win votes. They are not for purposes related to the productive capacity of the country.

I shall not delay the House further, except to say that, as long as the House treats the control of these vast sums of money in such a cavalier fashion, the House will not be able to reassert its control over public spending in the way that it should, in the way that it has in the past and in the way that it must in the future if we are to get on top of our economic situation.

3.59 p.m.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

Taking up the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), I must make the point that it is clear that the House and the country are extremely concerned about the total in the Defence Estimates under discussion—

Mr. Frank Allaunc:

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understood that we were discussing the Civil Estimates. You found it necessary to call to order the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), and now the hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) is talking about the Defence Estimates.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) for being in the Chamber because my attention was distracted. The hon. and gallant Member for Winchester (Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles) must confine himself to the first Estimate.

Photo of Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles , Winchester

Shall I have an opportunity to speak on the Defence Supplementary Estimates?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

I fear that that is so.

4.1 p.m.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

I hope to speak to the correct Estimate but that is only a hope. I support what the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) said. The time has come when the House of Commons—whether it approves the Estimates or not—must find better ways of examining them. What we are doing today is the custom of the House. We are simply voting sums of money to which the Government are entitled by custom to carry out their responsibilities in the next year.

If this country were a commercial firm it would be bankrupt or insolvent. The time has come to find ways of examining these Estimates, which are always expected to go through on the nod. I support the hon. Member, not in wishing to hold up the proceedings but in urging on the Government that they should find a better way of debating expenditure.

Question put and agreed to.