Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [Lords]

– in a Public Bill Committee at on 1 March 2011.

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[Dr William McCrea in the Chair]

Photo of William McCrea William McCrea Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow DUP Leader of the House of Commons 10:30, 1 March 2011

Before we begin, I would like to make a few preliminary announcements. Members may, if they wish, remove their jackets during Committee sittings, but they need to ensure that their mobile phones and pagers are turned off or switched to silent mode. As a general rule, I and my fellow Chair do not intend to call starred amendments that have not been tabled with adequate notice. The required notice period in Public Bill Committees is three working days, and amendments should therefore be tabled by the rise of the House on a Monday for consideration on a Thursday, and by the rise of the House on a Thursday for consideration on a Tuesday. There is a money resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the room.

Not everyone is familiar with the process of Public Bill Committees, so I will give a brief explanation of how we will proceed. The Committee will first be asked to consider the programme motion on the amendment paper, for which debate is limited to half an hour. We will then proceed to a motion to report written evidence, and then to line-by-line consideration of the Bill. I call the Minister to move the programme motion.

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I beg to move,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 10.30 am on Tuesday 1 March) meet—

(a) at 4.00 pm on Tuesday 1 March;

(b) at 9.00 am and 1.00 pm on Thursday 3 March;

(c) at 10.30 am and 4.00 pm on Tuesday 8 March;

(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 9; Schedule 1; Clauses 10 to 20; Schedule 2; Clauses 21 and 22; Schedule 3; Clauses 23 to 26; Schedules 4 and 5; Clause 27; Schedule 6; Clauses 28 to 31; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill.

(3) The proceedings on the Bill shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm on Tuesday 8th March.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea, and I look forward to your skill in chairing the Committee over the coming sittings. I also welcome the other members of the Committee.

The Bill is important, as it puts the new independent Office for Budget Responsibility on a statutory footing, and puts in place reforms to the corporate governance of the National Audit Office. As members of the Committee will be aware, the Bill has already been debated extensively in the other place, and has also benefited from the inquiry undertaken by the Treasury Committee. I am  pleased to say that the Bill is very much in line with the recommendations in that Committee’s report, and it has also been improved by Lords amendments.

I hope that all members of the Committee agree that the programme motion is sensible and non-controversial, but they might have noticed that, contrary to customary practice, the motion proposes that we deal with schedule 1 after clause 9. That is because it makes most sense to debate the functions and the remit of the Office for Budget Responsibility before we consider its governance structure. Schedule 1 is first mentioned in clause 3 because we cannot discuss the remit of the office before it is technically set up by an earlier clause. Clause 3 establishes the office, and the Bill then moves on, in clause 4 and beyond, to consider the office’s duties and remit, with schedule 1 setting out the governance framework. Hopefully, that means that members of the Committee have the chance to debate what the Office for Budget Responsibility will be doing and, in the light of that, can look at how it should be structured and what the governance arrangements should be. The National Audit Office schedules will be debated in the usual order. I look forward to the forthcoming debate.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I welcome all Members to the Committee.

As the Minister has said, there was a fair degree of debate on the Bill in the other place, and in the Treasury Committee and on Second Reading in this place, and we made it clear on Second Reading that we do not oppose the general thrust of the Bill. We have, however, tabled a significant number of amendments that challenge some of the detail. In seeking to put on a statutory footing an institution such as the Office for Budget Responsibility, which has been running for a while on a non-statutory basis, it is important that we get the framework absolutely right. Some of the amendments seek to get the office working properly and, above all, to ensure that its workings are as transparent as they can be, given the sometimes confidential nature of its work, and that it is accountable to parliamentary institutions. We agree that the six sittings that have been timetabled will probably give us enough time thoroughly to debate the Bill and to give it the attention it deserves.

A point was raised at the Programming Sub-Committee yesterday about whether schedule 1 should be considered after clause 3, which is when it is introduced in the Bill. Our view is that it would be more appropriate to follow the normal practice and deal with schedule 1 at that point. I do not accept the Minister’s argument that it is better to look at what the Office for Budget Responsibility will be doing before looking at its structure and how it is governed. That is a point on which we disagreed yesterday, but we will go along with the programme motion.

Quite a lot of things, such as the charter, are not included in the Bill. I will come to that point in my amendments. It is disappointing that the Committee will not have the opportunity more thoroughly to debate what is included in the charter.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Justine Greening.)