Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill [HL]
Lord Bach (Government Whip (technically a Lord in Waiting, HM Household); Labour)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for raising this issue. In our view, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, had it absolutely right. She speaks with a lot of experience of local government—some of us have some experience of local government but not to the extent that she has. The point she makes is right. Efficiency is very much about the internal workings of a local authority. I will not say that it has a specific meaning, but it has a pretty clear meaning in local authority terms. Efficiency is about the internal workings of local authority regulatory services. The LBRO is looking at the external manifestation of regulation: the effects or effectiveness of regulation.
The efficiency of local government is a matter that is looked at by the Audit Commission. We are not afraid of clashes with the Audit Commission—the noble Lord is wrong about that—but he is aware of our belief that the Audit Commission already performs the role of seeing that a local authority is performing efficiently and it has performed that role perfectly well. It would be ironic to have two public bodies performing the same function in the name of efficiency and, in the process, to put local authorities under a duty to account to both at the same time. To have to account to the Audit Commission is a responsibility on each and every local authority. We are just confusing issues if we say that there should also be an obligation under this Bill to the LBRO.
The word "effective" in the LBRO's objective seeks to capture maintaining what can only be described as regulatory outcomes, which sounds rather clichéd; for example, consumer protection, which is key to the policy behind the LBRO. We do not think that the use of the word "effective" in the context of the Audit Commission has the same meaning. For that reason, we see no clash with regard to the term "effective" from the quotes given to us by the noble Lord when moving his amendment. It is not because it adds an extra word to the Bill—although in general terms my noble friend Lord Desai is right that we will add the words "in writing" later this afternoon—but because there is a confusing of roles. Efficiency is a matter for the Audit Commission and effectiveness is very much a matter for the LBRO. I am sorry that I cannot accept the amendment.