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Each publication contains detailed spending information covering a number of outturn years, as well as spending plans for future years. Data are broken down in a variety of ways, and include departmental groups, central and local government, and public corporations by country, region, and function. They also include copies of the Budget and Pre-Budget Reports going back to 1998; detailed information about Treasury spending controls, including past and forthcoming spending reviews that set budgetary limits on spending by government departments; and the public sector finances databank, which is updated monthly and contains runs of data for various aspects of expenditure and finance.

This list is by no means exhaustive but, I hope, gives a flavour of the large amount of public expenditure information that is already made available on the Treasury’s public website. This is in addition to the expenditure information available on other government department websites, such as departmental reports. Such reports also provide information on public service agreements to show not only how much we spend but, just as importantly, what we are achieving with those resources.

Crucially, work is already under way in the Treasury to further expand the quantity of expenditure information

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on the public website, as well as to restructure the information to make it easier to navigate and search. This means that the public website will, additionally, hold detailed background and guidance material related to public spending issues. The Treasury’s aim is to have this enhanced website material in place on its public website later this year.

This Bill’s requirement—the creation of a new website specifically for spending data—would be contrary to the recommendations arising from the review of public services by Sir David Varney, Service Transformation: A Better Service for Citizens and Businesses, A Better Deal for The Taxpayer, which was published on 6 December 2006. This review, which is available on the HMT’s public website, recommends,

It also recommends that,

The Varney review was referred to in the main Pre-Budget Report document, also published on 6 December, which again is available on the Treasury’s public website. It stated:

While I would argue that the reasons that I have given thus far are sufficient to justify this House expressing reservations about this Bill, I feel that I should also refer to one of the Bill’s specific provisions. Section 1(4) requires that,

Although the Treasury seeks monthly expenditure information from all government departments and already makes some information available on its public website, as I have mentioned, such information is inevitably very provisional and could not be regularly produced at a detailed level without a significant impact on resources. It is therefore simply not cost-effective to do this. Most public spending data currently made available relate to full financial years, whether outturn or plans. Audited resource accounts for government departments provide the most comprehensive and accurate information on actual expenditure outturn. The Government have made strides to speed up provision of such information, and faster closing of resource accounts now requires that they are presented to Parliament before the Summer Recess. What is most important is that detailed, accurate and independently audited information about public spending is made available as soon as it is reasonable to do so.

Before I conclude, may I deal with three points? The first point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, on the improvement in public services. As the

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noble Lord knows, departments agree public service agreements with HM Treasury to show the main aims for which the resources are used. These targets are published by all departments. Secondly, I can confirm that the role of the Treasury includes ensuring value for money for public spending, a point that I have made before. The Treasury agrees service targets with all departments. Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, mentioned the American Bill. That Bill applies to all spending over $25,000 but it applies only to federal awards, mainly grants and contractual payments. As we know, a great deal of American spending is at state level.

In conclusion, I would urge noble Lords to consider the points that I have made and to conclude that detailed government spending information is already made freely and publicly available and that setting up additional government websites would be contrary to work currently underway to improve the provision of public information and service delivery through government websites.

4.20 pm

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for taking part in today’s debate on my Bill. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for supporting it and for pointing out the important behavioural impact that the Bill would have on civil servants and on those who deal with government. They would know that information about their actions would be available if the Bill became law. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for pointing out that if it can be done in the US, then we can do it in the UK.

Naturally, I was a little disappointed by the response of the noble Lord, Lord Evans. He started by providing a long list of the information already available on the Treasury’s website and on other departmental websites. I accept that a large amount of individual information is available, but the Minister did not address the point of my Bill—the provision of a single publicly searchable website on which information on expenditure would be brought together. At the moment, you can access various parts of Treasury’s website and perform multiple searches; you might obtain a few bits of information; but you certainly would not be able to answer the sorts of questions that should be answerable—for example, how much was spent on EDS and on travel and entertaining. Information at that level is not provided; only a different type of information is provided, not information on value for money.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, it may be helpful if I remind the noble Baroness that I said that work was already underway in the Treasury to produce a single website that will be the one that the public go to. That recommendation by Sir David Varney has been accepted by the Government.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, I was going to say that I was grateful also for what the Minister said about the work that was being undertaken to expand

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the available information. We shall have to wait and see what information is made available.

The Minister referred to Sir David Varney’s report, but that was aimed at service delivery, not at value for money in public expenditure, which is completely different. The Minister mentioned that that would have to go through a ministerial committee; I am talking about a Bill that would be approved by Parliament, and that is a separate issue. We should not confuse what Sir David Varney was considering with the aim of this Bill.

The Minister raised some detailed points. He said that the US Bill covers only federal expenditure and that a lot happened under state law. That is indeed the case, but the US Bill also covers the ability to trace through sub-awards, and many of those go through the states. So it is quite powerful when fully implemented, which it is not initially. Just as my Bill has a phased implementation, so, too, does the US Bill.

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The noble Lord also referred to information not being available within 30 days. That, too, is based on the US legislation. If information is captured within 30 days of expenditure, it should be capable of being accessed via a website. It does not need to be intermediated through some Treasury information system; it just needs to be available. That is the whole point of my Bill: it is about openness and transparency and about ensuring that there are enough powers to make government departments make all this information available in the right sort of detail.

I had hoped for a warmer welcome from the Treasury, because the Bill is about giving it more weapons in the battle to get value for money. I hope that the House will look favourably on my Bill, and I certainly hope that it will give it a Second Reading today.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

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