Clause 11

Part of Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 1:30 pm ar 3 Mawrth 2011.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury) 1:30, 3 Mawrth 2011

It is probably worth noting that we are moving on to part 2 of the Bill, which is about amendments to and reforms of the National Audit Office and the office of Comptroller and Auditor General, and to the architecture that accompanies those important elements of our constitution, which oversee the sound and prudent use of public money. In many ways, the NAO and the work of the CAG and the Public Accounts Committee are more important and far more serious than the subject of some of the discussions that we have had today, but because they are of long standing—I think that the Comptroller and Auditor General post has existed since 1866—they often pass without much comment.

The term “comptroller” is derived from a conjunction between the English word “controller” and the French word for account—“compte”—and hence the notion of the “controller of accounts” was set up. In Welsh, as stated in the Bill, the term is Rheolwr ac Archwilydd Cyffredinol. This is an important appointment, and I am glad that the office will continue and that the appointment will be made by Her Majesty in response to an address of the House of Commons, prompted by a motion from the Prime Minister. Those are fundamental issues. This whole part of the Bill, in some ways, reflects a rather unfortunate piece of the most recent history of that office respecting certain expenses, accounts, allowances and so forth that were reported in the British media, prompting many people to query whether the structures for checking expenses and the accounts of the office of the CAG were adequate. The Public Accounts Commission commissioned John Tiner to do an inquiry and review.

As a consequence, a series of recommendations were made, including a set of reforms to the law, which the previous Labour Administration sought to put into what is now the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, but due to the wash-up before the general election, there was no time to give the provisions full and proper scrutiny, so the Government rightly brought them forward and appended them to the Bill. The new structures are already in place. As with the OBR, we are essentially doing a bit of post-hoc scrutiny, given that the new arrangements are up and running but we are here debating the legislation. I always dislike that approach to legislation slightly—I find that I would rather legislate before changes happen—but it seems to be a recent trend in certain circumstances. I suppose needs must.

I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee 13 years ago—I think before nearly any other Committee member had been elected to this place. It shows my age. Obviously I am getting on in years.