§ Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the decision of the Secretary of State for Defence to ignore the reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on Defence and to announce his decision before making any substantive response to either of those two Committees.The matter is specific and urgent because the House is adjourning for the summer recess on Friday. If the Secretary of State is to be believed, although there is some doubt about whether the implementation of his decision will be included in the Queen's Speech, it appears unlikely, were it to be in the Queen's Speech, that there will be any possibility of the House discussing the reports of the PAC and the Select Committee.
I submit that these Committees are not asked to make reports only for them to be brushed lightly aside. The PAC is one of the most respected Committees of the House. It is chaired, as is normal, by a distinguished Opposition Member, and it is made up of hon. Members of the House who certainly do not represent their local interests in the Committee. The Public Accounts Committee has drawn attention to the fact that it believes that the savings that will come as a result of these proposals will total, over a 10-year period, only £40 million, whereas it also estimates that the Government's proposals over a similar period will cost £60 million to implement. Therefore, over a 10-year period it is possible, if the Public Accounts Committee's fears are justified, that the Navy will have to find an extra £20 million to fulfil these obligations.
The report of the Public Accounts Committee also states that the Ministry of Defence providedno valid basis to judge whether any materially increased efficiency whatsoever attached to the Government's preferred option".The Committee went on to say that it hadsevere misgivings about the thoroughness and the accuracy of the MOD's costings".The Committee concluded:The Ministry of Defence has not provided enough evidence to enable Parliament to assess the financial aspects of all the options.I fail to understand, as, I think, do many fair-minded hon. Members on both sides of the House, how the Secretary of State, against that background of the Public Accounts Committee report, can come to the House and make this decision without producing a shred of evidence or making any attempt to answer the criticisms of the Public Accounts Committee. It is worse than that. The Select Committee on Defence also considered this question and came to a similar conclusion, although not in such a concentrated way.
I think that we owe it to the members of the Public Accounts Committee and to the Comptroller and Auditor General that this provision should not go without an urgent debate. As I understand it, this is the only opportunity for a debate. It is not just a constituency case. I do not believe that the matter can be argued as effectively in a debate on the Adjournment of the House because we wish the Secretary of State for Defence to answer. Although we like and respect the Leader of the House and pay tribute to his 883 great virtues, I think that he would be the last to admit that he should be cast in the role of defending the Secretary of State for Defence, and many of us hope that his wisdom will stop the inclusion of the proposal in the Government's legislative programme.
This is a matter of great concern. Many people's livelihoods are at stake. It raises the spectre of unemployment but, above all else, it raises the question whether under these provisions the Royal Navy will be as adequately and as well served as it has been in the past.
The House has paid tribute in the wake of the Falklands to the work that has been done by the royal dockyards. I suggest that the House owes it to those people in the royal dockyards in this circumstance to examine very carefully the Secretary of State's proposals before they are carried out. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will grant my request.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the decision of the Secretary of State for Defence to ignore the reports of the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on Defence and to announce his decision before making any substantive response to either of those two Committees".I have listened with great care to what the right hon. Member has said. As he knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 10 is to decide whether it should have priority over the business already set down for this evening or for tomorrow. I regret that I cannot find that the matter that he has raised meets all the criteria laid down in the Standing Order, and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.