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Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): The hon. Gentleman has a long pedigree in these matters and a great interest in them. Indeed, he has written about the subject. I have a three-part question. First, has he explored these matters through written questions to Ministers? Secondly, in his analysis he seems to ignore the role of Select Committees, especially the Treasury Committee, on the departmental matters he raised. Thirdly, I am surprised that he has not mentioned the Public Accounts Committee, which is particular to our Parliament—there are parallels in other democracies, but our Committee is a good model. How does he view the role of those Committees in bringing the Executive to account in the way that he recommends?

Mr. Allen: The hon. Gentleman has followed my logic so impeccably that he anticipates the very points that I am about to make.

As a former member of the Public Accounts Committee, I believe that it was the doyen of all our parliamentary Committees. I felt uneasy that it was jealous of the 900 accountants who worked for it in the National Audit Office. I have even suggested to its Chairman, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), that that incredible asset should be shared with other Select Committees without being diluted. It is for the Liaison Committee to discuss how the change might be made. Perhaps it could involve commissioning with the authority of the Public Accounts Committee one, two, three or four reports a year to be debated by individual Select Committees.

Mrs. Dunwoody: My Committee has already availed itself of the sterling efforts of the National Audit Office. I not only strongly support such an approach, but believe that there is a case for widening the remit and moving closer to arrangements such as those in America in relation to the General Accounting Office.

Mr. Allen: My hon. Friend is very experienced in these matters and has attempted to move the agenda along in the Liaison Committee, as have other colleagues in the

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Modernisation Committee. Good work is being done, but, perhaps at her expense, I must say that unless Opposition parties above all realise the weakness of this House in the face of the Executive, there is not much hope for the rest of us. It is very important that Oppositions of all parties come together to discuss and agree where they wish to go if they reach power. Many Labour Members discussed for long and barren years how we would make progress on greater and more effective parliamentary scrutiny of finance. It is all well and good for Opposition Members to chide particular Ministers, but the long-term answer must be that commitments and promises of a read-my-lips nature should be made by parties of all descriptions inside and outside the House, so they are committed wholly and irrevocably in opposition to do things when they get into power, as were Norman St. John-Stevas and the Conservative Opposition before 1979. When colleagues become members of the Executive, they seem to lose that radical edge on needing to keep the Executive under control, with the implication that it is okay providing that they are pulling the levers. It is not okay, and I hope that Opposition Members will add to that radicalism and ensure that their promises are very clear.

Mr. Tyler: I apologise for intervening on the hon. Gentleman during his speech, which I have followed with great interest. Will he comment on another extraordinary anomaly? After a general election, or at the time of a reshuffle, the Prime Minister can completely alter the geography and architecture of the administration of Whitehall. He can give different responsibilities to different Ministers, perhaps making continuity in policy and allocation of resources even more difficult, without any reference to the House of Commons or any opportunity for Parliament to hold the decision to account.

Mr. Allen: The great loss of potential in our democracy is that Executives of all parties fail to see Parliament as a possible partner. Parliament is always an institution that can undermine or deflect Government from their given course. Those in government are increasingly beginning to realise that they cannot do everything, and need partners. The work of hon. Members on Select Committees makes it clear that they can assist the Government in achieving policy objectives, providing better value for money and chasing policy initiatives to fruition.

If the Government could only give of themselves by becoming a partner and listening to both Chambers, and make that approach clear to the Governments of the nations of our country and to local government, we could achieve a lot more. We could certainly achieve a great deal more in getting value for the tax pounds that we all pay in public expenditure and which nominally go through this House—the issue to which I should like to return. The House has some fundamental weaknesses in scrutinising expenditure. It is still largely backward looking. We consider money as it is being spent or wasted, or afterwards, rather than before, and we still do so against narrow criteria. We ask whether money was correctly accounted for and supervised rather than whether it was spent productively. We do not ask whether it was spent in the best way, or even whether it was sensible in terms of achieving the declared object.

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Involving the House in considering how we might better spend public money would not merely be a political investment but a sound financial investment on the part of the Government. Although the Executive sometimes appear not to believe it, there is immense talent in the House and great specialist expertise that should be put to work on the nation's behalf. Our system still militates against creative spending by Ministers. Departmental spending is still locked into particular programmes or departmental functions.

Ministers are penalised for having a new idea about what to do in their Departments. They are faced with a choice between begging the Chancellor and then the House for a supplementary estimate, or, far more likely, carrying through their brilliant new idea at the expense of equally valuable existing projects. We all have experience of the results in our constituencies, especially in health and education. Many ideas and initiatives have been proposed that could deliver genuine improvements in their respective services, but when they are rolled out locally, they are often achieved only by squeezing existing initiatives in health, education and other sectors.

An allied problem is that public expenditure proposals and their scrutiny are still locked into an annual cycle. Despite a great deal that was said early in the current Administration's term of office, many of those accounting regimes persist in government, even though it is clear that many policy objectives need sustained investment rather than what is provided when there is a need to bid again every year. The House has almost no opportunity to examine the progress of public investments over a longer cycle, and still less ability to call for new objectives of sustained public spending and investment. The consequences of annual budgeting are felt locally and will be familiar to every hon. Member. Important local programmes live from hand to mouth and are never certain whether the central funding that sustains them will be maintained from one year to another.

There are a couple of examples in my constituency. The Bulwell toy library involves one person who provides a service in the local community by getting toys to kids from poorer areas, but who did not know until a week ago—just a couple of weeks before the end of the financial year—whether she would be employed from 1 April. What nonsense. It is a waste of time and effort for a dedicated person to have to bid for their job and not know whether it will continue. The result is that we lose good, public-spirited, community service-oriented people who decide that they cannot tolerate it any longer and seek more stable positions elsewhere. I found out about another local example by talking to my chief constable, who laid off 100 people connected with our burglary reduction initiative. As a serious manager who was uncertain whether the initiative would be renewed at the end of the year, he had to decide whether to keep on the employees until the end of that period, when there might be no funding, or to make a rational managerial decision and lay them off.

We must do better in spending public money and sustaining such projects. What about the answers? I shall leave them to my hon. Friend the Minister. He seems to have many answers to many issues, and I am confident that he can come up with a few in this context. We have talked about the Liaison Committee, the Modernisation Committee, a wider role for the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committees themselves.

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I propose a more general answer to my own question by urging Governments of whatever political colour to view parliamentary scrutiny of public spending not as a threat or an insult, but as something that will benefit government and Government programmes. No Minister should feel affronted by the House having different ideas on how to spend their Department's money or suggesting that they could spend it in a different way. The House should be a valued partner in matching spending to policy—not a lapdog, a scold or an enemy.

I hope that my hon. Friend will consider these matters seriously, as he did those that I raised in the Christmas Adjournment debate, and I look forward to his comments. This is a long-term question for all hon. Members and for all parties. We must decide whether to give our Parliament a real role as we enter a new century or to continue to play at discussing policy issues without getting to the heart of policy implementation, which is finance. If this place does not scrutinise finance and get involved in the detail and authorisation of public expenditure, it is nothing.

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