Clause 25

Statistics and Registration Service Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 6:00 pm on 23rd January 2007.

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Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

I beg to move amendment No. 89, page 10, line 25, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘must’.

Photo of John Butterfill John Butterfill Conservative, Bournemouth West

With this it will be convenientto discuss the following amendments: No. 201, page 10, line 25, leave out ‘any or all’ and insert ‘one or more’.

No. 90, page 10, line 31, leave out ‘as soon as possible thereafter’ and insert ‘concurrently’.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

With our amendment, we are once again having a gentle tilt at the parliamentary draftsmen, but the amendment is wholly uncontroversial and I hope that the Government will help us with it. Clause 25 concerns the board’s function in reporting to Parliament. Subsections (1) and (2) set out the procedure for annual reporting, and state that the board “must” produce an annual report and lay it before Parliament and the devolved Assemblies. Subsections (3) and (4) then state, for no obvious reason, that it “may” undertake other reports on matters relating to the exercise of its functions, and leave it open as to whether any such report should be laid before Parliament and the devolved Assemblies. That prompts the question as to what they are preparing such reports for—in a vacuum for their own amusement, perhaps.

The clause is about embedding the reports of the board in parliamentary accountability. What we suggest—changing “may” to “must”—is meant as a drafting improvement. It is certainly intended in that spirit, and I hope that the Minister will take it as such.  

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 6:15 pm, 23rd January 2007

I have already discussed amendments Nos. 89 and 201 with the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him for raising this matter and for his constructive approach. Under the present drafting of the Bill, reports produced under clause 25(1) must be laid before Parliament and the devolved legislatures. In contrast, under clause 25(3), the board has only an option of laying discretionary reports before Parliament or the devolved legislatures. Looking at the matter, I find myself in agreement with the hon. Member for Twickenham. If the board produces a report under subsection (3) about a matter relating to the exercise of its functions, it must lay the report before one or more of Parliament or the devolved legislatures. That is entirely consistent with the Government’s desire for parliamentary scrutiny to be at the heart of the new arrangements. I will be happy to accept amendments Nos. 89 and 201.

Photo of Vincent Cable Vincent Cable Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

That is quite overwhelming. In 10 years of dealing with financial, immigration, asylum and benefits legislation in the House, this is the first time that an amendment I have tabled has been accepted. I will add the experience to my CV. I do not know what the courtesies are—perhaps I should send a bunch of flowers or a case of wine to the Treasury. Whatever is required, I appreciate the Minister’s flexibility of mind, and I am glad that we are proceeding on it.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 201, page 10, line 25, leave out ‘any or all’ and insert ‘one or more’.—[Dr. Cable.]

Clause 25, as amended, ordered to stand part ofthe Bill.

Clause 26 ordered to stand part of the Bill.