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Questions were also asked about resources and whether the chair of the OBR should report each year on whether he has sufficient resources. There will be transparency of reporting through the Treasury Estimates and accounts. The non-executives will be expected to inform Parliament of any concerns they have over the independence of the OBR and its resources, and the OBR will present its annual report and accounts to Parliament through the Treasury. There will be ample opportunity, through direct contact with the Treasury Select Committee, to air any concerns on resources.
In answer to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Myners, I can give him an absolute assurance that the OBR will have full autonomy over its work programme, and within its statutory duties it will not be required to secure the Treasury's approval of its work. On another dimension of independence raised by the noble Lord, Lord Myners, and my noble friend Lord Higgins, regarding whether the minutes will be published, that will be a matter for the OBR but I am sure that it is listening carefully to this debate.
Questions then followed about the accuracy of the forecasts and peer review. The crucial point about these sorts of forecast is that they will be wholly transparent. Each time the forecasts are published, the
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The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, asked about meetings between the OBR and Treasury Ministers. This is something on which the OBR has been reflecting, and it has decided that in order to ensure that communications with the Treasury are transparent, the OBR will aim to publish a log of contact twice a year, each autumn and at the time of the Budget. This will begin with the autumn forecast on 29 November. I know that the noble Lord has tabled a Question for Written Answer on that point.
A number of questions were put to me about the functions of the non-executive directors. When I first saw the Bill there was a distinction between professional and non-professional. I hope noble Lords will agree that expert and non-expert improves the drafting a little, but I take the point that, equally, the words executive and non-executive could be used. For the moment I will say that the legislation follows what is common in other legislation establishing statutory bodies, including Natural England, Ofgem, the Office of the Rail Regulator, the Office of Fair Trading and the UK Statistics Authority. I will reflect on the points made about the non-executives, but the critical point is that it will be for the first meeting of the board to decide exactly what the remit should be. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Burns-I hope I will be forgiven if it was not him-who described the remit and his description encapsulated it rather well.
Questions were asked about the relationship with the Bank. It is expected that the OBR will have a good relationship with the Bank and there will be a regular exchange of views. But it is critical that there should be no collusion between them in any sense in producing their forecasts. They should be completely independent.
Lord Barnett: Before the Minister does that, he said that the Freedom of Information Act applies. The Chancellor referred to the audit done by the OBR on his comprehensive spending review. Will we see that?
Lord Sassoon: I have already said that the next forecast will be produced by the OBR before the end of this month. Clearly, that will include forecasts based on all decisions taken by the Government, including the comprehensive spending review. We have approximately three weeks to wait for that.
I want to spend one minute on the points made about the National Audit Office. The critical point is that credit is due to the Public Accounts Commission for its work that led to the Bill brought forward by the previous Government and on which we have built. In answer to the points made by my noble friend Lady Browning, the provisions enshrine the independence of the Comptroller and Auditor-General. A similar point was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, to whom I am grateful for his welcome of the provisions relating to Wales. I will respond in writing to his detailed point that the period should be five years rather than two years or what was proposed by the Public Accounts Commission. I am grateful to noble Lords for confirming our direction of travel on the National Audit Office provisions.
Lord Myners: Before the Minister concludes, would he like to have a second try at answering the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, about the terms of Clause 6(1)(b), which require the Treasury to give guidance on the meanings of the words "objectively, transparently and impartially"? Why would the Treasury need to give guidance on such matters? Surely it should be for the courts to determine that in any situation in which those words were subject to debate or criticism.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am conscious of the time and of the conventions of this House. I have explained at some length-but clearly not with sufficient clarity for the noble Lord, Lord Myners-that guidance will be given. That does not override in any way or compromise the three critical tests set out in Clause 5. I do not for one minute think that it should be necessary to get into questions of interpretation in the courts or anywhere else.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, in my next sentence I was about to say that I will of course respond to the challenge from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, which was repeated by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, if he thought that I was building up to a grand conclusion where I would propose to withdraw the clauses in Part 1.
We have had an interesting debate. I will reflect on a number of points and I have endeavoured to answer as many as possible. Nevertheless, the tone of the debate from the majority of speakers this afternoon confirms to me that we are absolutely on the right track, generally, and that we should press ahead. There has already been considerable scrutiny of and discussion about
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