Clause 9

Part of Budget Responsibility and National Audit Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:00 am on 3 March 2011.

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Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Treasury) 9:00, 3 March 2011

It is a pleasure and a surprise to see you here again today, Dr McCrea.

Clause 9 is about the relationship between the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Government, and what information the office can reasonably request to enable it to carry out its job. These are probing amendments designed to find out why the Government feel the need to spell out in legislation the fact that the office has a right of access to such information only at a “reasonable time” and to information that it may “reasonably require”.

In previous debates, we said that we hope that the relationship between the OBR, the Treasury and the Government will be based on mutual understanding, and that there will be a consensual arrangement with a memorandum of understanding spelling out how they are to work together. I therefore hope that the Government do not assume that the OBR would unreasonably expect access to information, or ask for information that it did not reasonably require for the purpose of performing its duty.

The fact that the Bill includes the phrases “at any reasonable time” and “it may reasonably require” suggests that the Government may want to be able to resist requests for information. That obviously raises the suspicion that the OBR may have a struggle to get hold of Government information. Will the Minister explain what should come within the parameters of information that was reasonably requested, and what she believes it would be unreasonable for the office to ask for?

The underlying ethos that the Office for Budget Responsibility is independent and free from Government interference should mean that it is free to make its own judgment as to what is reasonably needed for it to carry out its job. We will be in dangerous territory if the Government try to interpret for the OBR whether it needs information.