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Government Expenditure: Scrutiny

Volume 565: debated on Thursday 27 June 2013

5. What progress he is making on the introduction of measures to improve financial scrutiny of Government expenditure. (161798)

9. What progress he is making on the introduction of measures to improve financial scrutiny of Government expenditure. (161802)

The coalition Government are keen to build on the success of the alignment project in simplifying Government financial reporting. We intend to do this by working with Select Committees to support better scrutiny of Government expenditure and to promote greater efficiency and improved value for money in all Departments.

What assessment has the Deputy Leader of the House made of estimates day debates in scrutinising Government expenditure? Could they be a useful tool to monitor the ever-escalating costs of projects such as HS2?

The three estimates day debates each Session present a valuable opportunity for Select Committees to hold Departments to account, but too often the debates are focused on specific Committee reports rather than departmental expenditure as such. We are keen to explore with Select Committees any ways in which we can enable these debates to focus on a wider range of financial and performance-related documentation. I am sure, for instance, that as part of that process the Transport Committee would want to pick up on the issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised in relation to HS2.

The public believe that Parliament scrutinises Government expenditure. When I talk to people they are surprised that in fact we have a few debates about very specific items on estimates days and do not even look at the entirety of one Department’s expenditure. Will my right hon. Friend look urgently at options to reassure the public that Parliament does look at expenditure in these areas, whether through debates in this place, Westminster Hall or Select Committees? We have to hold the Government to account.

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Some Select Committees do provide the level of scrutiny that he wants. For instance, the Health Committee and the Transport Committee look at the estimates carefully. I am pleased to say that at least one of the estimates day debates, on 3 July, is a broad one that will look at public expenditure on health and care services.

As we drive forward the necessarily tough reforms and efficiency savings in the public sector, I urge the Government to keep their foot on the pedal in driving that revolution through the internal mechanics of Government. What steps can this House take better to scrutinise Government expenditure and, indeed, expenditure in the House, so that we can show the public that we are putting our own house in order?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. As I have stated, more effective use could be made of estimates day debates. We have a range of Select Committees that look at financial matters. I think most people would agree that they are effective in doing that.