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Mr. Letwin: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the relationship between a person in one incarnation and a person in another, whether or not they are two creatures, has proved problematic in a number of instances--not least in the case of the utility regulators? Does he also agree that it may well prove difficult for the CAG to reoccur, so to speak, as the Auditor General for Wales without some conflict arising between the two roles?
Mr. Wigley: Theoretically that is a possibility, but I think that the advantages of having Sir John Bourne in the job for an initial period far outweigh the disadvantages, and that we have got off to a good start--largely through drawing on Sir John's experience and that of his staff.
People who have appeared before the Audit Committee--for example, to give evidence about the National Museum for Wales--have said that they never want to be put in the same position again. That is a good omen, because it means that people will sort things out themselves rather than having to be whistled up. Whatever may have happened in Wales in the past, there are indications that we shall run a tight ship in future.
The hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) mentioned the Henry VIII aspects of Lords amendment No. 13. In fact, the Henry VIII powers--for which the Government of Wales Act 1998 provides precedents--are not given to the Welsh Assembly. The orders would come from the Secretary of State, and the powers can be used only when
I want to ask the Minister one or two questions. The first relates to the change in the timetable, and the establishment of a 30 November deadline. Although that allows for another couple of months, it may still be a tight deadline.
As I said, the audit function is vital to the National Assembly, and it needs to be open, transparent and respected across Wales. I believe that the powers that are being transferred will be helpful in achieving that end. For that reason, I shall support Lords amendment No. 11.
Miss Melanie Johnson: Lords amendment No. 13 substitutes a new clause 15 and, as the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has just said, empowers the Secretary of State--in practice, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales--to make changes to sections 81, 85 and 86 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 in consequence of the United Kingdom Government's budget and accounts changing from a cash basis to a resource basis. The intention is that the National Assembly's budget and accounts will move at the same time to a resource basis.
The power will enable the Secretary of State to make appropriate changes to those provisions in the 1998 Act to ensure that the National Assembly's budgetary processes can be changed to a resource basis. As the right hon. Member for Caernarfon said, the power is exercisable by order and will be made by a statutory instrument. Before the Secretary of State can exercise that power, he will have to consult the National Assembly in so far as he is changing section 81, which provides for the Secretary of State to make to the Assembly a statement of his estimated payments for each financial year.
As the right hon. Member for Caernarfon also said, the Secretary of State will then be required to obtain the Assembly's agreement before he can change sections 85 and 86. Those sections deal retrospectively with expenditure by the National Assembly and its statement of proposed expenditure for each financial year.
Additionally, and to ensure that proper parliamentary scrutiny of that power is maintained, the Secretary of State will be required to lay a draft of any order before both Houses of Parliament for their approval. In our view, it is a necessary power. Its limits have been clearly defined, and it is subject to a high degree of parliamentary scrutiny and National Assembly involvement, as is right and proper.
Mr. Letwin: The Economic Secretary said that the process will be subject to a high degree of parliamentary scrutiny. Will she therefore guarantee to the House that time will be found by the Leader of the House for a proper debate--shall we say three hours--of resolutions of that variety, so that there is a genuine high degree of parliamentary scrutiny on the Floor of the House? Or does the Economic Secretary simply mean that such resolutions will go through the normal process, on the nod, with 90 minutes in Committee?
Miss Johnson: They will go through the normal processes. As I understand normal processes, they occur mostly in Committee. I am distressed to hear that the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is such a trivial form of scrutiny, particularly as he spends so much time in
Mr. Letwin: The Economic Secretary is being very courteous in giving way. Is she seriously seeking to persuade the House that the phrase "a high degree of parliamentary scrutiny" is satisfied by cursory examination of such matters, very often with barely anyone present who understands the history of the matter or cares much about the outcome? Does she realise that, whatever the high-flown phrases, that is the reality? Cannot she recognise that some of us are concerned about changing primary legislation by those means when we have so carefully established the system that we have used with this Bill, which goes from Second Reading to consideration of Lords Amendments? Is not that system worth replicating when we are changing the law?
Miss Johnson: I have never found the hon. Gentleman taking any of these matters trivially when he deals with them in Committee. In the past year, I have attended and participated in various debates on similar matters. I have always found that, when it was a matter of some significance, hon. Members took their responsibilities very seriously and pursued their interests very vigorously, albeit the process occurred in Committee rather than on the Floor of the House. I am sure that they will do so in connection with this provision.
I have already set out the safeguards that exist, which involve discussions with the National Assembly. The agreement of the Assembly at key points is an additional factor, as it clearly has a direct interest in these matters.
The amendment on consultation was tabled with the agreement of the National Assembly of Wales and the Auditor General. They were satisfied with it, and the Bill sets out the relationship between the Treasury and the Assembly on accounting matters only.
The hon. Member for West Dorset asked about the role of the Auditor General for Wales. The right hon. Member for Caernarfon gave a thorough answer to that question in his speech. The role of the Auditor General for Wales is set out in the Government of Wales Act 1998. I was delighted to hear about the support that the Welsh Assembly has given to the work of the Auditor General for Wales, and about the way in which it is conducting its affairs.
The right hon. Member for Caernarfon asked about the revised timetable for the accounts, which is agreed by the National Assembly and the Auditor General for Wales. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Assembly's accounts could be qualified by the Auditor General for Wales, and it would be for the Assembly to decide what consequences should flow from the qualification.
Lords amendment: No. 16, in page 13, line 1, leave out from ("2") to second ("are") in line 2
Mr. Letwin: I regret to say that I have a question. Amendment No. 19 in this group mentions "unstamped vouchers" in connection with section 37 of the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1866, and states that they