Clause 2 - Relevant authorities

Local Audit and AccountabilityBill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 5th November 2013.

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Photo of Andy Sawford Andy Sawford Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 2:00 pm, 5th November 2013

I beg to move amendment 76, in clause 2, page 2, line 9, after ‘regulations’, insert

‘, but only after consultation with such persons as may be affected by any changes,’.

The Minister will be pleased to note that the amendment is fairly brief. We have tabled several similar amendments to the Bill, because many elements will require further regulations. We have some concern about the number of areas that are still to be set out in regulations, and we were hoping for more clarity from the Government after the Lords stages. Does the Minister accept the point that the amendment is designed to make, and will he give us an assurance that there will be consultation with persons affected by the change? It may be an individual authority that is affected, or it may be a group of authorities as set out under schedule 2; I think the latter is more likely.

The Minister and his officials will have had in mind when drafting the clause that circumstances might arise in which relevant authorities no longer needed to be covered by the regulations governing local audit. It is difficult for me to foresee which, if any, of the relevant authorities’ accounts we might no longer want to subject to scrutiny or proper independent audit. There may well be a straightforward explanation, such as the qualifying size of an authority’s budget or turnover, and I could understand if that were the intention. Will the Minister set that out for us?

When does the Minister intend to consult, and what does he expect the regulations to cover? Will he give a broad commitment—we do not want to repeat this debate at each point at which we have asked for consultation—of the Government’s intention to ensure relevant parties are consulted before regulations are written?

I would also be grateful if the Minister could address a point that was debated in the Lords about the means by which a relevant authority might cease to be affected by the regulations. In its report on the Bill, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee raised a concern, the relevance of which the Minister will doubtless understand better than I, that the clause might lead to a  problem of hybridity. When the matter was debated in the Lords, the Front-Bench team picked up that point and asked for examples, but the Minister there could not envisage any. It may be that their lordships, in giving the Bill their usual fine scrutiny, are envisaging a circumstance that could never arise. If the Minister could address that point as well, that would be very helpful.

Photo of Brandon Lewis Brandon Lewis The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to consult persons affected before bringing forward regulations to add to, modify or remove entries in the list of authorities contained in schedule 2 to which the Bill applies. I am sympathetic to the purpose of the amendment, which is to ensure that bodies are consulted before being added to or removed from the public audit regime. It is our intention to consult on any significant changes to the schedule 2 list. All regulations that may be made to alter the list of authorities in schedule 2 will also be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, so Parliament will have an opportunity to scrutinise these alterations and the extent of our engagement with the bodies concerned. There is no intent at the moment to bring forward any regulations. We are talking about a reserve power that might be needed, for example, where a body ceases to exist. We have shared with the Committee draft regulations in key areas—for example, on audited panels—so we do not consider it necessary to add further legal requirements for consultation to the statute book. With those reassurances, I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Andy Sawford Andy Sawford Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Minister for those assurances. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.