Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fifth Report


26. Besides making supplementary provision of £234.5 million for transfers to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund, the Spring Supplementary Estimate for Class XV, Vote 2 (Transfers to the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund) also re-organised the four principal sub-heads of the Estimate, each of which dealt with a separate category of expenditure, into a single sub-head with a provision for £7.4 billion of public expenditure.[42] A similar change was also introduced at the same time in respect of Scotland,[43] but not Wales. No reason was given for this change.

27. We therefore asked the Northern Ireland Office why the change had been made. The explanation was that the Treasury determined, in agreement with the Northern Ireland Audit Office, that it was "not practicable to exercise the level of control over expenditure implicit in a four sub-head arrangement."[44] No evidence was supplied to support this assertion.

28. Although this is an apparently technical change, a single subhead for this Vote reduces still further the already limited amount of information available to the House on sums to be voted for the benefit of the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund. Given that this was an Estimate presented to the House by a United Kingdom department, we are surprised that the Comptroller and Auditor General does not also appear to have been consulted and we have drawn the matter to the attention of the Public Accounts Committee. In our view, it would have been helpful if the Supplementary Estimate had drawn attention to this change, and the reasons for it. More generally, as far as we can see, the House has been given no substantive information on the reasons for this Spring Supplementary Estimate. The corresponding Scottish Estimate, on the other hand, provided a useful summary of its purpose. We commend this model to the Northern Ireland Office for the future.

42  HC 256 (2000-01), p. 184. Back

43  HC 256 (2000-01), p. 175. Back

44  Appendix 3, p. 28. Back

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Prepared 29 June 2001