HC Deb 12 December 1977 vol 941 cc40-50

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, at this day's sitting, Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any questions necessary to dispose of the proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr. Robert Sheldon relating to Civil and Defence Estimates as soon as the House has entered upon the business of Supply.—[Mr. Jim Marshall.]

Mr. Ron Thomas

I should like to call to your attention, Mr. Speaker, the amendment on the Order Paper relating to the Defence Supplementary Estimates. There are many of us on the Labour Benches who cannot let pass without some comment the demand for an additional sum of over £400 million for defence. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that we shall be as brief as possible, as we fully realise that there is to be a Supply Day debate on an extremely important issue.

I am not sure how the motion will be put to the House. However, about the same time last year there were separate motions put to the House, both in terms of the Vote on Account and in terms of Supplementary Estimates, and about 45 Members on this side of the House were able to put down an amendment simply and solely on the Defence Supplementary Estimates. I hope there will be separate motions because there are a number of us on the Government side of the House who want to express our disapproval of the fact that the Government now want another £427 million for defence commitments.

We have isolated—taken out of the amendment as it were—those Votes which refer to the pay of members of the Armed Forces. There is no question of our wishing to reduce their pay in any way. In fact, many hon. Members on the Government side of the House feel that the ordinary squaddie at least has an extremely good case for an increase in excess of 10 per cent. Therefore, we have tried to isolate the other Votes which do not deal with pay.

Secondly, I want to make it clear that while there are 39 names to this amendment, several others of my hon. Friends would have signed it—including my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne)—had they had the opportunity to do so last week.

Thirdly, I want to make it absolutely clear that we are looking at this increased demand of about £427 million, but are considering the sum that would be left if we take out the pay increases, namely, £259 million. That is the sum upon which I wish to concentrate.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have been listening with great care to the hon. Gentleman because I realised that if he were able to make his point it might shorten our proceedings. But I must advise him now—and it might clear up things in his mind—that all that we can discuss at the moment is whether we should accept the Prime Minister's motion, and what are the reasons for it. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that when it comes to putting the Estimates to the House, I shall have to put four separate Questions. Of course, if the motion is carried I shall not put the amendment.

Mr. Thomas

Would you be kind enough, Mr. Speaker, to help me? When the Question is put on the Supplementary Estimates for Defence, shall I be able to speak at that point in the proceedings?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid not, because the House will have decided that the Question be put forthwith.

Mr. Frank Allaun

I do not wish to discuss the merits of the case at all, although I think you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, of my opinion of them. What I wish to do is to oppose passing on the nod, without debate, the spending of an additional £427 million on defence.

May I give a relevant illustration? In local government, it has been known for a council to spend a whole afternoon discussing whether to spend £900 on a public lavatory. This discussion has been used to divert attention from the fact that a sum of £2 million or so was being spent on building a new police station. This matter is far more worthy of debate than that which we shall debate later this evening, which is merely the question whether a certain clause in the European Assembly Elections Bill shall be discussed tomorrow or at some other time. We should have a sense of proportion about this.

Further, there is no explanation at all of these items, and we are entitled to one. I refer to one item. It says in the Supplementary Estimates that we are to spend £99 million extra on "Defence Procurement: Land Systems". There is not one sentence, not one word, to explain why an additional £99 million must be devoted to that item. This is a democracy, and surely we are entitled to debate this matter.

This is government without explanation, government by concealment. It is happening continually, and I and many other hon. Members feel very strongly about it.

This is not the first occasion this year that this has occurred. According to the document, we have already spent £1 billion supplementary on defence in addition to the £6.3 billion originally in the Estimates. There was no debate on that occasion. Therefore, in view of the strong feelings on the Government side, I believe that we should oppose the Prime Minister's motion.

Mr. Gow

I rise to oppose the motion, because if there was one reason above all for which Back-Bench Members were elected to this House it was in order to scrutinise the conduct of the Executive and, above all, the expenditure of very large sums of money by the Executive.

The Prime Minister has seen fit to place on the Order Paper a motion requiring that three motions that would ordinarily be debateable in this House should not be debateable at all, but should be put to the House and approved or rejected without any explanation from the Front Bench and without any opportunity for Back Benchers to question the Ministers responsible, We are invited this afternoon to approve expenditure for 1978–79 totalling £17,945 million and for the current year Defence Supplementary Estimates of £427 million, a total of public expenditure of more than £18,000 million. In considering the Estimates for 1978–79, I wish to advance arguments as to why we are entitled to an explanation from the Government about them. On the last page, for example, we have a figure of—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. He knows, as does the whole House, that I in no way wish to prevent hon. Members from asking questions. I wish only to remind the hon. Gentleman that these questions are coming out of the time allotted for the Supply Day debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is aware of that.

Mr. Gow

I am very aware of that, Mr. Speaker, but it is no fault of the Opposition that this motion appears on the Order Paper today. I do not think that it would be right for Back Benchers, however insignificant, to allow these motions to pass without protesting that we have no opportunity to debate the matter. I am aware of what you say, Mr. Speaker. Nevertheless, the control of public expenditure is a matter of key importance for Back Benchers. If we allow this motion to go through without debate, I believe that we shall betray the trust of those who are opposed to it.

I wish to refer to some of the items which appear in the Supply Estimates for 1978–79. What, for example, is the sum of £317,000 for the Crown Estate Office? What is the Vote of nearly £2 million for the Paymaster-General's office?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is anticipating somewhat a debate which he hopes will take place if the motion is not carried. But he cannot discuss now the details of the Estimates. He must merely discuss whether we shall support or reject the motion in the name of the Prime Minister, and give his reasons accordingly.

Mr. Ron Thomas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you be kind enough to advise me if it is the case, as I understand the hon. Member to have put it, that 12 months ago, on 14th December 1976, we were able to debate these Estimates under their separate headings? Do I understand that the Government may put down a motion that to all intents and purposes prevents all debate on a total defence cost of over £6,000 million and another £400 million of Supplementary Estimates? Is that the position?

Mr. Speaker

The whole House can read what is on the Order Paper in the name of the Prime Minister. The motion is clear.

Mr. Arthur Latham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You previously arrested two of my colleagues in their remarks on this proposition. It is somewhat difficult to comprehend how one may discuss whether it is right to debate or not to debate a matter without making some references to that which it is proposed to debate or not to debate.

May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that whilst it would perhaps be out of order to anticipate a debate which might or might not take place by discussing the merits or demerits of the inclusion of particular items, it is surely not out of order to refer to their inclusion or explain why the items that are printed in the paper before us are inadequately presented? Surely it is in order to do that?

As no amendments are tabled to the other items of Supply and Supplementary Estimates, and as this item is the subject of not one but two amendments, signed by Members who may appear surprisingly to be of one mind on the subject today, and as it is also the subject of representations from the Opposition Benches, would not it make sense not to impede the half-day Supply debate but for the Government to withdraw the item and provide proper time? Then the House may discuss it without embarrassing you, Mr. Speaker, and we may be able to obtain the information to which we are entitled.

Mr. Speaker

May I say in answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question that of course it is in order to make a passing reference to items that are included, but to seek details of any item as though we were debating the subject would, in my judgment, anticipate the decision on the Prime Minister's motion. The hon. Member for East-bourne (Mr. Gow) was, I think, addressing the House.

Mr. Gow

The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Thomas) is correct. A year ago when these or similar motions stood upon the Order Paper, we had an opportunity to debate them. The reason I am opposing the Business Motion in the Prime Minister's name is in order to pretest that this year we are following a different procedure. I can remember taking part in a debate about a year ago on motions similar to this when we were allowed time to debate it.

It is all very well for the Government, when they proposed this motion to prevent us from discussing the matter, to say "Oh well, these are the sums which have been set out in documents", but if you look, Mr. Speaker, at the Vote on Accounts 1978–79, page 9 of the Supply Estimates, you will see that the sum of £100 is allocated to the Public Trustee. Why should he be allocated £100? When you look at the Cabinet Office Vote—

Mr. Speaker

I do not want to look at it. The hon. Gentleman must realise that he cannot now debate the contents of the Estimates in detail. There is no need for me to tell him how to get around these difficulties.

Mr. Gow

Of course, I defer to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I do not wish to detain the House, but I do not think it would be right that this motion which prevents the House from discussing the expenditure of very large sums of money should pass without debate. I certainly intend to vote against it.

Miss Richardson

I rise to add my few words of protest to what is happening this afternoon. Most Members had expected at some stage, perhaps not today, that the Government would make some reply about the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham). The House—certainly Back Benchers—expected to be able to question and to ask for clarification about many of the items in the Supplementary Estimates.

The situation strikes me as being ridiculous. Here we are feeling utterly confused about what can and what cannot be debated. If we are confused, imagine the confusion of the citizens of this country whose money we are spending in these Supplementary Estimates. How are they, and the people listening from the Gallery, to find out what is the procedure whereby this Parliament, which is supposed to be the tribune of the people, can question matters of this kind?

We all wish that the procedures of this House could be simpler, but when it takes two or three days in order to find out how one can question matters of this kind, the procedure has reached ridiculous proportions.

Mr. Speaker

The Question is—Mr. Frank Allaun, on a point of order.

Mr. Frank Allaun

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Am I right in believing that if this is voted on today, any subsequent debate would be completely worthless and ineffective?

Mr. Speaker

If this motion is carried, I shall put the Question without discussion on each of the Estimates. That is what it means.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

I shall be very brief because I support the hon. Members who have complained about the action of the Government in tabling this procedural motion and seeking to stifle debate. It seems to be the politics of a madhouse. Here we are about to spend some three hours debating £28 million of Government money while allowing to go through on the nod about f17 billion. I cannot see why the official Opposition are consenting to such a procedure when they have made so much about the control of expenditure. But from whichever part of the House the opposition comes, it must be based on the fact that if Parliament cannot control money it can control nothing.

Mr. Speaker

The Question is—

Mr. Ron Thomas


Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has already addressed the House on the motion.

Mr. Ron Thomas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was already in the middle of my contribution when the hon. Lady interrupted me—

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) referred to people being confused. This is taking things a bit far. I think the whole House thought that the hon. Gentleman had concluded his statement. Would he like to conclude it now, if he had not concluded his statement? I want to be fair, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman, too, will be fair to the House, as I am sure he will.

Mr. Neubert

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in your experience of the House that there should be two interventions before the hon. Member resumes his speech?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Gentleman had probably reached his last sentence. Had he?

Mr. Ron Thomas

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. That I do not think is a sentence. I should like to add a couple of points.

I reiterate what has been said by hon. Members on both sides of the House, that it is unacceptable for the Government to put down this motion preventing us from discussing these Estimates in detail. In the Defence Supplementary Estimates there are some increases of 18 per cent. and some of 22 per cent., yet no real explanation is given.

Lastly, I say to the Opposition that some of the original Estimates may have been in a document of one kind or another, but the Supplementary Estimates are nowhere in a document. We have only this afternoon in which we are able to discuss them.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 243. Noes 82.

Division No. 46] AYES [4.11 p.m.
Abse, Leo Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Adley, Robert Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Jones, Alec (Rhondda)
Alison, Michael Dean, Paul (N Somerset) Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Anderson, Donald Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Jopling, Michael
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dempsey, James Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Armstrong, Ernest Doig, Peter Judd, Frank
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Dormand, J. D. Kaberry, Sir Donald
Atkinson, Norman Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kaufman, Gerald
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dykes, Hugh Kitson, Sir Timothy
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Eadie, Alex Lamont, Norman
Bates, Alf Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Latham, Michael (Melton)
Beith, A. J. Eyre, Reginald Lawrence, Ivan
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Fairbairn, Nicholas Leadbitter, Ted
Bennett, Dr Reginald (Fareham) Finsberg, Geoffrey Le Marchant, Spencer
Berry, Hon Anthony Fookes, Miss Janet Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Biggs-Davison, John Foot, Rt Hon Michael Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Bishop, Rt Hon Edward Fox, Marcus Lipton, Marcus
Blenkinsop, Arthur Fraser, John (Lambeth, N w d) Loveridge, John
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Freud, Clement Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fry, Peter McCartney, Hugh
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Gardiner, George (Reigate) McElhone, Frank
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Macfarlane, Neil
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) George, Bruce MacFarquhar, Roderick
Bradley, Tom Gilbert, Dr John MacGregor, John
Braine, Sir Bernard Golding, John MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Bray, Dr Jeremy Goodhart, Philip Maclennan, Robert
Brittan, Leon Goodhew, Victor Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Gourlay, Harry Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Marten, Neil
Bryan, Sir Paul Grant, George (Morpeth) Mates, Michael
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Grant, John (Islington C) Mather, Carol
Buck, Anthony Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Mawby, Ray
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Hardy, Peter Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Meacher, Michael
Campbell, Ian Hart, Rt Hon Judith Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Carlisle, Mark Haselhurst, Alan Mendelson, John
Cartwright, John Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Meyer, Sir Anthony
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Hatton, Frank Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Channon, Paul Holland, Philip Mills, Peter
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Cohen, Stanley Huckfield, Les Monro, Hector
Coleman, Donald Hunt, David (Wirral) Montgomery, Fergus
Conlan, Bernard Hunter, Adam Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Cormack, Patrick Hutchison, Michael Clark Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Cowans, Harry Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill) Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Mudd, David
Craigen, Jim (Maryhill) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Neave, Airey
Crouch, David Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln) Neubert, Michael
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Nott, John
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Jenkin Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd) Oakes, Gordon
Davidson, Arthur John, Brynmor O'Halloran, Michael
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Johnson, James (Hull West) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Shersby, Michael Wakeham, John
Page, Richard (Workington) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Palmer, Arthur Sinclair, Sir George Ward, Michael
Pardoe, John Small, William Warren, Kenneth
Park, George Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Watkins, David
Parkinson, Cecil Sproat, Iain Weatherill, Bernard
Perry, Ernest Stallard, A. W. Weetch, Ken
Peyton, Rt Hon John Stanbrook, Ivor Wellbeloved, James
Price, David (Eastleigh) Stanley, John Wells, John
Price, William (Rugby) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Prior, Rt Hon James Stoddart, David Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Stott, Roger Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Rathbone, Tim Stradling Thomas, J. Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Strang, Gavin Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Rhodes James, R. Tebbit, Norman Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E) Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon) Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Roper, John Tinn, James Woodall, Alec
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Tomlinson, John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Tomney, Frank Young, David (Bolton E)
Ryman, John Torney, Tom Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Sainsbury, Tim Trotter, Neville Younger, Hon George
Sandelson, Neville Tuck, Raphael
Sedgemore, Brian Varley, Rt Hon Eric G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Sever, John Vaughan, Dr Gerard Mr. Ted Graham and
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) Mr. Joseph Harper.
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Ashton, Joe Gould, Bryan Newens, Stanley
Atkinson, Norman Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Pavitt, Laurie
Bain, Mrs Margaret Hayman, Mrs Helene Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch
Bell, Ronald Heffer, Eric S. Reid, George
Bidwell, Sydney Henderson, Douglas Richardson, Miss Jo
Burden, F. A. Hooley, Frank Robinson, Geoffrey
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Hordern, Peter Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Canavan, Dennis Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Rooker, J. W.
Carmichael, Neil Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Hughes, Roy (Newport) Selby, Harry
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Jessel, Toby Shelton, William (Streatham)
Clemitson, Ivor Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Kelley, Richard Sillars, James
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Lambie, David Silverman, Julius
Corbett, Robin Lamond, James Sims, Roger
Costain, A. P. Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Skeet, T. H. H.
Crawford, Douglas Litterick, Tom Spriggs, Leslie
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Lloyd, Ian Stewart, Rt Hon Donald
Dodsworth, Geoffrey MacCormick, Iain Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Drayson, Burnaby McCrindle, Robert Townsend, Cyril D.
Dunlop, John McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Watt, Hamish
Edge, Geoff McNamara, Kevin Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Madden, Max Wise, Mrs Audrey
English, Michael Mayhew, Patrick Woof, Robert
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Maynard, Miss Joan
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Mikardo, Ian TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Flannery, Martin Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Mr. Frank Allaun and
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Moate, Roger Mr. Russell Kerr.
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Molvneaux, James
Question accordingly agreed to.
That, at this day's sitting, Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith any questions necessary to dispose of the proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr. Robert Sheldon relating to Civil and Defence Estimates as soon as the House has entered upon the business of Supply.