Benn: “Unacceptable” there is so little debate and no vote on spending review

It is "simply unacceptable" for the government to devote such little time to the Comprehensive Spending Review, and for there to be no vote, writes Hilary Benn.

Our guest writer is Hilary Benn MP, shadow Leader of the House

This week the Prime Minister will come to the House of Commons twice. Today he will tell us about the shape of our armed forces for years to come. Tomorrow, the Comprehensive Spending Review which will – in his own words – “affect our economy, our society – indeed our whole way of life… for years, perhaps decades, to come”.

The total time allowed for Parliamentary debate on this? An hour today, an hour tomorrow and a one day debate on the CSR a week next Thursday. Simply not enough time to consider the impact on each area of society bit by bit. And no vote.

The Government’s response to this? Why don’t the Backbench Committee of the House arrange a debate, according to Sir George Young, Leader of the House of Commons. But this is simply unacceptable.

We all understand that the announcements this week will profoundly change the society we live in. They will be at the heart of our political debate for years to come. The public are deeply concerned about the future. Yet the politicians elected to play a part in this process are being cut out of this very debate and are being denied the chance to cast a vote on it. What place democracy?

The public will simply not understand it if their elected representatives are denied the opportunity to vote on the CSR, and I note that Sir George has not responded to my specific question on this point both in the House and in a letter I sent to him over the weekend.

So far the Coalition’s “new politics” does not treat Parliament and Parliamentarians with the respect we had been told were at its heart. The Academies Act hammered through; the Bill that would legislate for the AV referendum inexplicably tied together with legislation to substantially reduce the number of MPs and redraw every constituency boundary; and now this.

Every year the Budget receives at least four days of debate and often more in the House. The end of this debate sees votes on an array of issues. The CSR deserves a similar level of public scrutiny. And that means there must be substantive votes.

In the absence of both, I’m sure many will be forced to conclude that Government fears giving Parliament the chance to express a view.

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