Clause 5

Part of Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 1 March 2011.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Treasury) 5:30, 1 March 2011

Obviously, we are looking towards the time when the OBR will be based in another building. The reason why it is important that it is based in another building is distance. We are also looking at other suggestions, such as the idea that staff from the Treasury should not be seconded. The amendment would reinforce the idea of a certain formality in the relations between the OBR and the Treasury. Obviously, it could get into the realms of ridiculousness. If the Minister, as she says, met Robert Chote by the water machine, said hello and perhaps discussed what was on “EastEnders” the night before, we would not expect that to be documented and published, although I am sure that it would be fascinating to know what their conversation consisted of. We are talking about formal contact and meetings to get some idea of how much influence the Treasury seeks to exert.

As I was saying, people have floated proposals seeking to get to the bottom of the influence of lobbyists, campaign groups and commercial organisations on MPs, saying that the details of all our meetings with such groups should be published. For example, if I were to meet the Child Poverty Action Group or one of the organisations that has lobbied on child poverty, that should be a matter of public record. Other people have countered that by saying that if the requirement was that meetings on the parliamentary estate should be made public, anyone seeking to hide something would simply meet off the parliamentary estate, or they would meet over a quiet drink in an informal setting. I appreciate that it is not the easiest thing in the world to record, but it is a starting point.

The principle of a formal distance and the idea that there should be no informal or behind-the-scenes efforts to influence the OBR’s work are important. One could imagine a scenario where, if the relationship becomes tenser, people from the Treasury might make phone calls to the OBR saying, “We aren’t happy with what you are doing,” and try to bang people’s heads together. We want to avoid that situation, which is why we are suggesting that there should be a formal record of contact.