My Lords, this may prove the last time that I speak on the Bill in your Lordships’ House so I thank the Minister for her work on it, although we have not always agreed. I hope all the amendments that we have passed in your Lordships’ House will be approved in the other place. I am looking forward to the affirmative procedure being followed many times as proposals come forward because the Bill has set a direction and is defining a vision for devolution within England. It will empower local areas and for that it is hugely welcome.
I am particularly glad, too, that we have this final amendment on audit committees. It is the consequence of much discussion, both in debates in your Lordships’ Chamber and in meetings with the Minister. I am grateful that we will have audit committees because they are important for the reasons set out in new subsections (2)(a), (b) and (c) in Amendment 13. It is of crucial importance that there is a committee that is seen by the outside world to be assessing the outcomes of delivering total place spending; that is, public sector reform will be driven so that the different departments of state in Whitehall are joined up at a local level and, as a consequence of being joined up, thereby drive efficiencies and more effective services. I am fully supportive of the ambition and detail of the Bill.
I am particularly pleased about the words in new subsection (4) of Amendment 13 that ensure that,
“at least one member of an audit committee is an independent person”.
That is crucially important for external bodies’ understanding that the audit committee is indeed an independent body. In terms of assessing risk, for example, it is very important that that confidence is available. The appointment of those independent persons—I hope that there would be three on an audit committee—is very important and very welcome.