some default text...

Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 275M:

Page 28, line 25, at end insert--
("( ) In this section "enactment" includes an enactment comprised in or made under this Act.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 65, as amended, agreed to.

The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No. 276:

After Clause 65, insert the following new clause--

Statement of proposed expenditure etc

(" .--(1) The Scottish Executive shall after the first financial year of the Parliament make an annual written statement showing--
(a) the total amount of the expenditure which it proposes to incur for that year; and
(b) on what it proposes to incur that expenditure,
and shall present it to the Parliament for approval.
(2) After the Parliament has approved the proposed expenditure for that year, a statement under this section shall be published by the Parliament as soon after being made as is reasonably practicable.").

The noble Earl said: The idea behind the new clause is to make quite certain that the Scottish parliament, after its first year in office, produces a budget of its expenditure similar to that produced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place. In my experience of legislation in respect of local government there has always been a surprising difference between my friends in local government in England and those in Scotland. Those in England always ask for more accurate forecasting of what the local authority wishes to spend than appears to be required by Scottish local authorities.

30 Jul 1998 : Column 1711

It is important that local authorities should be able to give an accurate forecast of their proposals. The budget can then be discussed and alterations may then be required. I see nothing in the Bill covering the point I am raising. I beg to move.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My question relates to emergencies. I vividly remember the night of the appalling tragedy at Lockerbie and travelling North with Mr. Donald Dewer. Apart from the terrible scale of the tragedy, there was the immediate problem that the local authority did not have the funds to deal with such an emergency. I believe that application was made to the contingency reserve and funds were provided independent of the local authority.

Will the Minister give a reassurance that there is nothing in the legislation to prevent the Scottish executive applying to the contingency reserve if there is an emergency, which I sincerely hope never again happens in that form?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: Amendment No. 276 would place an obligation on the Scottish executive to make a statement of its proposed expenditure to the Scottish parliament. There is a similar provision in the Welsh Bill and the noble Earl may well have had that in mind when he tabled this amendment. However, there are two important differences between the Scottish parliament and the national assembly for Wales in this respect. The national assembly does not have a separate executive, nor can it enact primary legislation. In this particular case, those are crucial differences. It is the Scottish parliament that will hold the executive to account and it will legislate for that.

Clauses 62 and 66 provide that the Scottish parliament has to make legislation covering the circumstances that payments may be made out of the Scottish Consolidated Fund as well as the arrangements for financial control, audit and accounting. I have no doubt that the parliament's procedures will meet all the essential points made by the noble Earl. But we should not attempt to tie it down to such detailed arrangements.

I assure the Committee that the Government are satisfied that the Bill strikes the right balance through providing a framework for the parliament to make robust financial arrangements while leaving it the scope to decide its own affairs. Only in that way do we believe that the parliament can really take ownership of its procedures and, it is hoped, ensure their success.

I can give the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, the reassurance that he seeks. There is nothing in the Bill to stop what he has spoken about. I am sure that all Members of the Committee will join with him in hoping that such a terrible event never happens again, but there is nothing in the Bill to prevent the procedure that he described. I ask the noble Earl to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Balfour: Once again, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, for her explanation. I am satisfied that my wishes are covered in the Bill. Perhaps I did not pick up all the points, even when I read the Bill.

30 Jul 1998 : Column 1712

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 66 [Financial control, accounts and audit]:

The Earl of Balfour moved Amendment No. 277:

Page 28, line 26, at beginning insert ("Subject to directions given from time to time by the Treasury,").

The noble Earl said: Once again, I have always felt that the Treasury must have the last say. That is why my amendment provides:

    "Subject to directions given from time to time by the Treasury".

Also in this group is Amendment No. 278 which stands in my name. I believe that the presentation of the accounts produced by the Scottish parliament must be such that the Treasury is satisfied in the way in which those accounts are kept.

I know from my limited experience in business that sometimes there has been an awful row between the auditor of the accounts and the company secretary that the two accounts are not being kept to the satisfaction of either of them. Such a tragedy can sometimes happen and create a great many difficulties. That is the basic reason behind my amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I have two amendments grouped with the amendments to which my noble friend has just spoken. My noble friend and I are looking at the same issue and perhaps approaching it in a slightly different way. I suggest the removal of Clause 66(3) which simply states:

    "Standing orders shall provide for the consideration by the Parliament of accounts and reports laid before it in pursuance of subsection (1)(f)".

I am including rather firmer proposals which are much more detailed and outline some specifications for the accounts. Like my noble friend, I agree that the Treasury should have the right to give any directions from time to time.

I suspect that we shall have to return to this matter on Report because I am not entirely convinced that my amendments achieve what I want them to achieve. That is one of the problems of being in opposition. However, sometimes the Government have clauses which do not achieve what they want them to achieve. The Minister has, in fact, deleted a couple of clauses from his own Bill. Therefore, I am not too ashamed that my amendment does not do exactly what I should like it to do.

There was considerable debate about this problem in the other place which was led by my honourable friend Mr. David Davis who is the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. I wondered about putting anything down at all on this matter, because it is very much a House of Commons matter. But, in fact, when it was left in the other place, Mr. David Davis expressed the hope that Members of this Chamber would explore the issue. That is what we are doing.

In the other place there is a very well-honed system consisting of the Public Accounts Committee and the Comptroller and Auditor General. Indeed, the Public Accounts Committee is, arguably, quite the most fearsome of all the committees in the other place. It is always chaired by a Member from the main Opposition

30 Jul 1998 : Column 1713

party. That is why my honourable friend, David Davis, is currently the chairman and why the Member so assigned in the last Parliament was a Labour Back-Bencher, and a very powerful one at that with considerable Treasury experience behind him.

Therefore, the other place has a system whereby it can call into account all the expenditure of departments, and so on. It ensures that, if the Comptroller and Auditor General reports adversely, the Treasury Committee will hold hearings. Indeed, I believe that has been happening during the past few days as regards my former department on the subject of benefit fraud, which, if I recall, was not supposed to exist when we said it did. However, I am glad to see that everyone now accepts that it does exists and that we must try to get rid of it. Nevertheless, I should point out to the Government that that is easier said than done.

However, this is an extension of the earlier debate that we had in which I suggested that the Secretary of State ought to be satisfied that proper controls were in place in order to check and audit the expenditure in exactly the same way, or in a similar way, to the way in which the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee do in the other place. Therefore, my amendment would firm up what subsection (3) talks about in two lines. It would be much more specific than just saying that, "standing orders shall provide".

Clause 66 specifies a limited framework of accountability, if one reads through the first section and the various subsections that follow. It sets out in a limited way the accountability and scrutiny which the Scottish parliament must adopt, but the parliament will remain largely free to devise its own procedure. I will probably be told by the Government that I should leave this to the good sense of the parliament. Indeed, that is the response I get when I suggest that something should go into the legislation. However, when I suggest that perhaps something should come out, as I did with the Liberal Democrat Benches on the last day of Committee, I am told that it must be left in. It is all very complicated and I make no apology for weaving a bit, because the Government are also weaving around on this issue as regards what should and should not be specified.

I accept that it will be up to the parliament to devise its own procedures. However, my amendment would give the Treasury the power to make directions in such matters if it thinks it needs to do so. I suspect that what will actually happen, even without my amendment, is that the Scottish parliament will discuss these matters informally with the Treasury and that the procedures established will be perfectly satisfactory. But, if they are not perfectly satisfactory, I believe that the Treasury should have some power to insist. My reason is the same one as I used earlier; namely, that the £14 billion will come from money raised by the Treasury at the instruction of Parliament--in other words, it will come from British taxpayers--but, as we have already heard, the procedures down the corridor for overseeing expenditure by government departments will not cover

30 Jul 1998 : Column 1714

that money. It seems to me to be right and proper that the Treasury should be satisfied that proper monitoring and control is in place in Scotland.

The second half of my amendment, Amendment No. 278B, relates to the Auditor General for Scotland. However, I believe that I ought to have tabled an amendment to remove subsections (4) and (5) from Clause 66 because the second part of my amendment would replace those subsections. I hope that the Minister will accept an apology from me in that respect. Nevertheless, I am quite sure that he and his officials saw clearly what I was trying to do.

Amendment No. 278B would set up the appointment of the Auditor General, who would be an independent person and appointed by Her Majesty. It also specifies the way that he or she should be removed. However, there is one significant difference; namely, that the removal contains no specification as to the majority, whereas the Government have a qualified majority of two thirds in the Bill. Subsection (5) provides that,

    "the number of members voting in favour is not less than two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament".

We do not have such qualified majorities here. Indeed, we have never felt that they were needed. The other place operates on a simple majority, as does this Chamber. I wonder why the new parliament requires a qualified majority.

I may be told that we should not necessarily ape Westminster, but if we are being consistent as regards the usual explanation that we should trust the parliament, we ought to be able to trust it with a straightforward ordinary majority. Before the Government Ministers tell me how important qualified majorities are, I remind them of the scathing dismissals I received from the Government Front Bench when I suggested that referendums ought to have qualified majorities. It seems to me that if the Government think that a totally unqualified majority in a referendum is good enough, I suggest that the Auditor General could be dismissed on an ordinary straightforward majority without qualification.

9.30 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour: I support my noble friend in respect of the auditors. I know that some quite big companies can change their auditors almost by a simple majority. I do not say that we quite want that, but is it wise to have this larger majority--two-thirds--to change an auditor? I should have thought not.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page