Clause 5

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 5:30, 1 March 2011

The hon. Lady makes some valid points. She hit the nail on the head, when I asked her to be clear on exactly what contacts she envisaged as needing to be reported. Her amendment refers to publishing full details of all contact. It was helpful for her to clarify that it referred to formal contact and meetings. No doubt, she will welcome the fact that the OBR already publishes a log of substantive contact with Ministers, special advisers and private offices during the forecasting process. In fact, that is its decision; it can publish information relating to its contact with Ministers and officials in the way that it wants.

The amendment is in line with the Government’s objective to ensure that the OBR operates transparently. Clause 5(2) enshrines that and states:

The Office must perform that duty…transparently”.

We agree that there needs to be some transparency on contact with Ministers, special advisers and private officers. That is what the OBR will publish. In the run-up to the Budget, when the OBR is scrutinising the impact of the Chancellor’s policy provisions, details of those meetings can be commercially sensitive if released and might harm the formulation of Department and Government policy.

Publishing all details would place the OBR under an unreasonable burden, but I can assure her that, like all public bodies, the OBR is required to operate under the Freedom of Information Act. Alongside that, it has the standard approach of looking at exemptions. When the hon. Lady’s party was in office, practice was developed on how to strike the balance between transparency for the public and the need for any Government to go through a process of discussing policy without prejudicing that process.

In November 2010, the OBR published a log of all substantive contacts with Ministers, special advisers and private office staff, during the forecasting process shortly after the economic and fiscal outlook. The issue is therefore covered in the Bill, which is why I do not support the amendment, although I welcome the spirit in which it was tabled. I assure the hon. Lady that substantive contact will be published by the OBR, although, because it is independent, it will be its decision to do so.