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 Justine Greening Justine Greening The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 9:00, 3 March 2011

Good morning, Dr McCrea; it is lovely to see you resuming your chairmanship of the Committee.

I very much agree with the hon. Lady that the OBR should have timely and comprehensive access to the information required to produce its forecasts and analyses. I assure her that the use of “reasonable” in this context is a legal clarification to ensure proportionality. The provision is based on the power of the Comptroller and Auditor General to demand information from public bodies; it does not diminish the OBR’s ability to access information any more than it diminishes the Comptroller and Auditor General’s ability to do so. The provision is consistent with other legislation, including the National Audit Act 1983, which sets out the reasonableness test for the Comptroller and Auditor General.

The hon. Lady asked for some examples. If the OBR made a request at midnight or at 2 o’clock in the morning, and insisted on having the information instantly, that would probably not be reasonable. We want to ensure some sort of proportionality. Behind that legal concept lies the ability for interested parties to define the term widely in their working practices, but in extremis a dispute over interpretation would ultimately need legal resolution, based on precedents elsewhere.

We have tried to add some common sense, in that the provision is rooted in existing law and the existing understanding of what “reasonable” means. We wanted to use the same approach as previous Governments on information rights to other bodies, such as the Comptroller and Auditor General, which also operate in an arena where access is needed to a wide range of data. That needs to be set out in law. I assure the hon. Lady that there is no attempt to fetter the OBR’s access to information. We want to ensure that a common-sense approach is taken.