Public Limited Companies (Financial Regulation)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:22 pm on 13th March 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 4:22 pm, 13th March 2003

With the greatest of respect, I do not think that the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford is up to date. It is quite correct that, as far as this year's accounts are concerned, Sir John Bourn has ruled that, as non-departmental public bodies are not consolidated, Network Rail should be consolidated into the Strategic Rail Authority, although there is no need to consolidate the SRA into the Department for Transport's accounts. The Department should have full notes of the contingent liability. That is the position for this year.

However, when we move to the whole of Government accounts—I confirmed the details with the National Audit Office just two days ago—the position changes. The rule then is that non-departmental public bodies should, in principle, be consolidated, particularly if they meet the FRS 2 test. That test is about equity control in relation to subsidiaries. On that basis, Sir John Bourn has made it quite clear that the debt should be consolidated into the Department for Transport's accounts. As he pointed out, if that is so, the ruling of FRS 2 is that the Government have equity control. That blows out of the window the mythology that the Government do not have that control and that it rests with the directors.

It is on the basis of that mythology that the national statistician has sought to argue that, for EUROSTAT purposes, the liability does not have to be included in the Red Book borrowings. We are dealing with obscure but classic examples of the sort of clever stuff that people have got up to with off-balance-sheet accounting in the private sector.