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Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords. As I said, the reason for exclusion from the current scheme is that we feel that they will meet their targets without that aid. But obviously if that position ceases to hold, we will bring them back into the decommissioning scheme.
The noble Lord also asked about flotation suits. We recognise that these can be a valuable safety aid, but they are not currently a requirement of the 1975 safety rules, which are the basis for grant aid. Life rafts are seen by the Marine Safety Agency as a preferable means
So far as full access to the European Union grant system is concerned, the way in which European funding works is that most of the costs of these grants, including the decommissioning scheme, in the end comes from the United Kingdom taxpayerto the extent of about 85 per cent. So fundamentally this is our money, and we have to make our own decisions as to how to spend it. There is no pot of gold into which we can dip for the benefit of our fishermen.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I do not wish to make his first time at the Dispatch Box in his new capacity any more difficult, and indeed I join with other noble Lords in congratulating him. But when he comes to reply to me in writing, perhaps he could look carefully at my main point in this debate; namely, that we used to own two-thirds of the fish in the Community. They were our fish. If anyone came in to poach them, we could send a gun-boat. It is not good enough to say that other people were over-fishing all over the place, or as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, indicated, that we should be sunk without this policy, or that there would be no fish left in the North Sea, or anywhere else. The fact is, they were our fish; we have given them away; and we are giving the Spaniards more money to steal our fish than we give to our own fishermen. That is what I should like my noble friend to concentrate on when he comes to write to me.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not in any way share my noble friend's opinions. I think that he is mistaken in the opinions that he holds. I believe that we achieved an extremely good deal for our fishermen when we entered the common fisheries policy. But clearly, I shall have to write to him at length to convince him.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the updated Code of Audit Practice for Local Authorities and the National Health Service in England and Wales has been prepared by the Audit Commission and is now presented for approval by this House.
Appointed auditors have a duty to comply with the code in carrying out their functions under Part III of the Local Government Finance Act 1982. Responsibility for the code rests wholly with the Audit Commission. As required by the 1982 Act, the Commission has consulted the bodies most directly concerned: local authority associations, and representative bodies for the National Health Service and the accountancy profession. The code has also been the subject of consultation with the commission's own auditorsthe National Audit Officethe District Audit Service and private accountancy firms and government departments.
The commission has taken legal advice on the form and content of the code and is satisfied that it covers all appropriate aspects of auditors' responsibilities. The code can only deal with the auditor's own powers and duties. Other people's responsibilities are mentioned only where it is necessary to explain the auditor's own function. However, the commission has used the explanatory foreword, which is not part of the code, to set the auditor's role in context.
The content of this updated code is not radically different from the current version. Certain changes have been made specifically to bring the code into line with current thinking or to take account of recent developments. The key ones are as follows. References have been added to the auditor's statutory duties under Section 3 of the Local Government Act 1982, which were not enacted when the current code was approved. These are to ensure that, where an audited body has a duty to publish performance information, it has made sufficient arrangements for collecting, recording and publishing the information. Performance indicator work for the National Health Service is not covered by the code as it is done in response to a request from the Department of Health, on a non-statutory basis.
The updated code generally expresses the auditor's duties, including their duty of care, more clearly. This will help auditors themselves, and those who have an interest in their work, to understand better the framework in which they operate. In particular, new paragraphs on the scope of the code (paragraph 1) and the scope of the audit (paragraph 5) seek to dispel any misconception about how the code is to be applied or about what can be expected from the auditor.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the order. I shall be extremely brief. Obviously we welcome the code. Can he tell us how the work of the Audit Commission in future in this respect will relate to the Nolan review, which has undertaken a review of local government and the way in which finances are controlled? If Nolan makes certain recommendations, will it mean a revised code?
Should a part of the Audit Commission's function be to test or evaluate the adequacy of arrangements regarding the conduct of Members and officers? That has been suggested, by the AMA for example. Is that a proper role for the Audit Commission? If not, who should do that? If there were some form of evaluation, it would enable an appraisal to be made of the various authorities and the way in which they implement national codes of practice.
Are the Government entirely satisfied that the code is explicit enough regarding disclosure of pecuniary interests of Members and staff? What are the formal procedures for evaluating auditors' compliance with the code? What is the procedure for ensuring that the auditors who are responsible for carrying out the code in the local authorities and the NHS in fact are doing the job properly?
I have one final question, on which I am sure the Minister has been briefedat least I hope sowhich concerns the legal status of the advice given by the Audit Commission. That point has arisen from a particular case in which a former legal adviser to the Audit Commission, Mr. Childs, gave certain advicehe has since left the commissionwhich has caused some concern over the use of pension funds. What is the legal status of advice given by the Audit Commission? There is a famous judgment to the effect that an auditor is a watchdog and not a bloodhound. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us which of those roles he believes that the Audit Commission fulfils.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am very conscious of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, when he suggested that this was a boring subject. I am an accountant. I do not consider it boring. I consider it deeply fascinating. I should like to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, at great length.
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