Schedule 2

Part of Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 3 Mawrth 2011.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 2:15, 3 Mawrth 2011

As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, schedule 2 sets out the various details of the National Audit Office’s constitutional functions, including rules on its membership, status and the appointment of members and staff. There are several different parts to that, as the Committee can no doubt see. He raises the question of whether all this governance will be somehow unwieldy in relation to Parliament’s role in scrutinising. That is a fair point to make.

I, too, have a huge amount of respect for Baroness Noakes in the other place. She has raised the issue of the challenges and concerns surrounding the expenses of the previous incumbent. She also referred to how, at the time, the House of Commons had not picked up on that or expressed concern. It may be that, with hindsight, we will see that the challenges that Members of this House had surrounding their expenses were part of the backdrop to an environment in which it was felt that the CAG’s expenses were not something to be raised. However, schedule 2 sets out a strong governance structure for the NAO.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the total cost of change and of setting all this up. I do not have a specific figure for him right now, but I am happy to write to him with that. Our expectation is that the cost will be very small. As he is aware, there is already an NAO; it is just not a body corporate. In many respects, we are putting in place in legal footing for something that is already there. I take on board that point, but I suggest that the costs will not be excessive.

On the rest of the questions that the hon. Gentleman raised on parliamentary oversight, I should point out to him that the Public Accounts Commission will have to hold accountable not just the CAG—who is, of course, chief executive of the NAO—but the NAO chair. The Bill increases the Commission’s scrutiny role by requiring it to approve more of the NAO’s work than it did in the past. That includes the NAO strategy, the estimate, the code of practice on the relationship between the CAG and the NAO in paragraph 10 of schedule 3, and the annual report. He is right to point out that there is a desire to ensure that we are clear-cut about how the NAO will work alongside the Comptroller and Auditor General, and how both those roles will work alongside Parliament.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about non-executive appointments to the NAO being made by the Public Accounts Committee. That happens because the NAO and its members are Officers of Parliament. The OBR is entirely independent and is a non-departmental public body. That is the reason for the difference, although he was right to pick up that point.