Motion made and Question proposed,
That, at this day's sitting, if proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr. Nigel Lawson relating to Civil and Defence Estimates have not been disposed of by Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker shall proceed, notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (2)(c) of Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply), to put forthwith any Questions necessary to dispose of the said Motions.—[Mr. Jopling.]
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
I am most grateful, Mr. Speaker. I shall not delay the House for many minutes, probably not much longer than the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) with his supplementary question on the statement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.
As I have said before, I believe that we should not take with great equanimity our procedure for voting these enormous Supplementary Estimates on the nod, which is the prospect that we face once again tonight. I hasten to say, Mr. Speaker, that there is not a word of criticism of the Chair in my remarks, because I realise perfectly well that you have no choice in these matters, but the House needs to look hard at this procedure. I understand that tonight, once again, we shall be asked to vote £2¼billion of winter Supplementaries which for the most part have never been debated or explained in any shape or form. I do not think that that is at all satisfactory.
Among other items in the Supplementaries is provision for yet another overspend on cash limits by the Ministry of Defence. That is a particularly large item. We were told the other day by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that cash limits were not an appropriate discipline for the Ministry of Defence. That may be true, but I submit to the House that, it would be much more satisfactory if, before we had to vote these massive sums of Supply, we had an opportunity to hear from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence what alternative discipline on the housekeeping of the Ministry of Defence would be more suitable. It would be entirely germane to hear from the Ministry on the subject of the Supplementary Estimate that is before us tonight.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House responded most considerately to the pressures which I and other hon. Members have put with regard to the way in which we vote Supply by announcing his intention to establish a Procedure Committee to look into the way in which we handle Votes on Supply. That is eminently satisfactory, but I am bound to say that one would be interested to know what exactly has happened to it. We were promised that new Procedure Committee during the summer. We are now back to the winter Supplementary Estimates, and it has still not been set up.
I fear, therefore, that we face the prospect of being asked tonight to vote this enormous sum on the nod, and when the spring Supplementaries come round in three or four months it looks to me alarmingly as though we shall also be invited to vote them on the nod. That is not good enough.
From what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said last week—no doubt he will correct me if I am wrong—I formed the impression that it is the Opposition, 167 who, God knows, have other problems on their hands, of which we are all aware, who have been so dilatory as to delay the establishment of the Committee. That is deplorable. We have lingered on with this procedure for far too long. The House does not subject these enormous sums of public expenditure to proper scrutiny. We need to set up the Committee right away so that it can work quickly. As the Leader of the Opposition is here, I am bound to say to him that he might be better employed in helping urgently to establish the Committee than in some of the rather ludicrous activities in which he is at present engaged in the manipulation of his Front Bench.
The House must come to a decision on these matters soon. I for one—and I should like to hope that others, too—am not prepared indefinitely to accept the proposition that we should agree to motions to allow this business to proceed without any scrutiny at all. Unless we have made progress by the time this issue next comes forward, I shall certainly seek to divide the House against the business motion.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Leader of the House of Commons and Minister for the Arts (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) for raising this matter in his usual trenchant way. I congratulate him on his persistence in pursuing a matter which is of vital importance to the House of Commons. It was as a result of his activities and those of a number of other hon. Members that I announced that it was the Government's intention to appoint a Procedure Committee to consider this matter urgently and to make a report to the House so that we could act speedily, consider the proposals and see what could be done to improve our procedures.
I have been nagging—I think that that is the right word—Opposition Members to get the Committee appointed and names put forward. I fully realise that the Opposition have been in difficulties because of Shadow Cabinet elections and also because they have had to appoint other Front Bench spokesmen. Therefore, there has been some delay. But that election, for good or ill, has now been accomplished, and the second rank of "shadowy Ministers" has also been appointed. Therefore, there is no reason why we should not go ahead, and, provided that the usual channels act with even more than their usual expedition, I hope that we shall be able to put down a motion to appoint the Committee later this week.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)
I am quite happy that the Committee should be appointed. We hope that it will proceed with its work with considerable speed. The hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) was fully entitled to raise this matter, just as many of my hon. Friends have raised it on previous occasions. I hope that the House will be able to secure a satisfactory settlement.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That, at this day's sitting, if proceedings on the Motions in the name of Mr. Nigel Lawson relating to Civil and Defence Estimates have not been disposed of by Ten o'clock, Mr. Speaker shall proceed, notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (2)(c) of Standing Order No. 18 (Business of Supply), to put forthwith any Questions necessary to dispose of the said Motions.