Armed Forces Bill [Money]

Clause 1 – in the House of Commons at 5:57 pm on 2nd April 2001.

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Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Photo of Dr Lewis Moonie Dr Lewis Moonie Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans) 5:58 pm, 2nd April 2001

I beg to move, That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Armed Forces Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase attributable to the Act in the expenditure of the Secretary of State in respect of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary. The Ministry of Defence police are already inspected by Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary by invitation. Inspections occur every four years or so. As a result of amendment No. 8, which we shall discuss later, the process will be placed on a statutory basis comparable to that which applies to the inspection of Home Department police forces. That will not of itself give rise to significant additional costs. However, because a statutory duty will rest on the inspectorate, it is necessary that the House should agree to a resolution authorising that the cost be met from public funds.

I commend the motion to the House.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury 5:59 pm, 2nd April 2001

The Opposition cannot carp at this money motion as it will cover a proposition put by us in Committee; and we are grateful to the Government for putting it on the Order Paper. Indeed, we are so grateful that, later on, I shall not have to move new clause 1.

Nevertheless, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence makes an extraordinary statement. I had not expected a money motion to be tabled at all at this stage; normally, one would expect it to occur after a Second Reading Division. The Minister says that the advice of his Department is that it is expedient to introduce such a motion. Will he answer a simple question? How much did the previous inspection cost? That would give us a clue to what is anticipated, because in the report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary for the last year available—1999–2000—we are specifically told that the costs of the inspectorate are funded directly by central Government and provided through the policing and crime reduction group of the Home Office and that, each year, the inspectorate receives income from two separate allocations. The day-to-day running costs are subject to a specific funding allocation, while income and capital spending are accounted for separately, and the expenditure is controlled by Government accounting rules.

Photo of Dr Lewis Moonie Dr Lewis Moonie Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

Perhaps I can answer the hon. Gentleman's question. The cost is difficult to predict, but we have made an allowance of approximately £100,000 to cover all the costs related to the forthcoming inspection.

Photo of Robert Key Robert Key Conservative, Salisbury

I am grateful to the Minister, but I asked him what the previous inspection cost. I am sure that that answer will be forthcoming, but I am glad that he has specified the figure of £100,000. As he has already been able to tell us that the inspection will cost up to £100,000, I should be grateful to him if he could explain why the report of Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary states: Police authorities and police forces in England and Wales are not charged for any inspections: the reports of inspections of individual forces and thematic inspection reports are also issued without charge. It continues: The cost of undertaking all inspections is funded from the annual running cost allocation of funds. Unlike some of our partner organisations any external income generated through inspecting non-Home Office forces such as British Transport Police and Isle of Man Constabulary cannot be used to increase the running costs provision. So what will that £100,000 be spent on, because it is clearly not going to Her Majesty's chief inspector of constabulary or to the Home Office? If the Minister will kindly answer those straightforward questions, I am sure that we can make progress.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst 6:02 pm, 2nd April 2001

The Minister very kindly told us that no significant extra costs would be involved, but under extreme pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), he then told us that he had made an allowance of £100,000, presumably per annum—

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

The Minister corrects me. Perhaps we shall find out how often those inspections are expected to take place in due course, but that figure is not stated in the money resolution.

One of the great difficulties with such money resolutions is that, unlike many of the other financial matters brought before us in which either specific amounts or upper limits are specified, we tend to face wording of the kind that we are considering now. The resolution states that it is expedient to authorise the payment … of any increase attributable to the Act … in respect of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary. It one thing for the Minister to say in his characteristically open and honest way that he expects only £100,000 to be involved in this case, but that is not what the money resolution states. It states: for any Act resulting from the Armed Forces Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money … of any increase attributable … in respect of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Constabulary. If I were a more cynical and unbelieving chap, I might say that the money resolution, if we were to approve it, would seem to give carte blanche to the Secretary of State to spend almost any sum that he wanted in respect of Her Majesty's inspectors of constabulary. The Minister looks perplexed, so perhaps he thinks that the money resolution will allow him to spend only the £100,000 that he anticipates will be spent on inspections, but the motion does not say that. We are faced with the difficulty that, in the current circumstances, this Minister, knowing what he now knows, envisages that an inspection will cost about £100,000, but, of course, circumstances and, dare I say, Ministers can change, and this genial and helpful Minister might not always be in charge of such matters. Indeed, this Secretary of State may not be in charge of them. So we are really being asked to say that, whoever the Secretary of State is and in whatever circumstances he finds himself, he will be authorised to pay any increase in expenditure that he sees fit in respect of the inspectors of constabulary. In effect, that is a blank cheque.

I should have been more reassured, frankly, if the money resolution had stated, "£100,000 per inspection"; or I might have been prepared to accept it if it had stated, "£150,000 per inspection", to provide some leeway and allow flexibility for any contingency I am worried about the gap between what the Minister knows—he has told us, quite openly, what he envisages—and what the wording will allow. By agreeing to such a money resolution, I wonder whether the House is doing its job properly as the custodian of taxpayers' money and as the authority that can spend, which is the role that we have developed for ourselves over the centuries.

Perhaps this is not the right occasion to consider it because the amounts involved are not that great, but I occasionally wish that the House would reject a money resolution of this kind to force the Government to introduce more specific money resolutions. That would at least give us some sort of fig leaf which would enable us to tell our constituents, the taxpayers and the voters that, yes, we are looking after their money responsibly and, no, we are not allowing the Government to get away with murder and to spend as freely as they would, no doubt, wish to do. Unfortunately, this might not be the occasion because as my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury has said, it appears that the Government have accepted his inexorable logic and wisdom, have altered the Bill appropriately and, therefore, have asked the House to approve the extra expenditure.

I shall gloss over the fact that my hon. Friend seems to be contributing to an increase in public expenditure. He and I can perhaps have a word about that later. Perhaps this is not the occasion on which the House should make the gesture that I believe it should make on money resolutions, but I wanted to tell the House that, at the moment, we are issuing blank cheques and, however genial the Secretary of State and the Minister may be, I am not sure that I would trust them quite that far. So, as time unfolds, we shall have to keep an eagle-eye on the Minister to ensure that, somehow, we can hold him to his £100,000 and that there is no question of expenditure on Her Majesty's constabulary running riot as a result of this rather over-generous money resolution.

Photo of Dr Lewis Moonie Dr Lewis Moonie Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans) 6:08 pm, 2nd April 2001

Given the number of resolutions to which the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has spoken, I should have thought that he would understand their purpose. They are not intended to authorise the expenditure of specific sums; nor do they set a budget.

Photo of Dr Lewis Moonie Dr Lewis Moonie Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Ministry of Defence) (Veterans)

No, they should not; there is another appropriate procedure for that. They are an authorisation to spend money under a particular heading when that heading is placed on a statutory basis. When the statutory basis of expenditure in the Department is changed under primary legislation, there must be a money resolution to cover it.

I do not have the figure for the cost of the old inspection because I did not imagine that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) would want to know it, so I suspect that I shall have to tell him in writing. The provision of £100,000 is for a non-statutory inspection where we meet the legitimate charges of Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary. In fact, under the new statutory basis, we shall, in turn, be obliged to supply officers to carry out inspections elsewhere, so we shall not be charged for the inspections. Nevertheless, a money resolution is necessary because there is a possibility of expenditure and because there is a change to our statutory responsibility. So the £100,000 that we have talked about will not be involved, but, alas, our procedures being what they are, a money resolution is required to cover the eventuality.

Question put and agreed to.