GOVERNMENT RESOURCES AND ACCOUNTS BILL
Memorandum by Her Majesty's Treasury
1. The Government Resources and Accounts Bill (the
Bill) was introduced in the House of Commons by the Chancellor
of the Exchequer on 18 November 1999 and was brought from the
House of Commons on 1st March 2000. The Bill completed its Third
Reading in the Lords on 12 July 2000. The House of Commons will
consider the amendments made by the Lords on 24 July 2000.
2. The Government was defeated at Third Reading in
the Lords on a series of opposition amendments relating to the
powers of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG). As part
of its consideration of the Lords amendments the Government will
ask the House of Commons to disagree with these amendments to
the Bill. However, the Government has proposed a further amendment
to the Bill relating to the powers of the C&AG. This memorandum
considers this proposed amendment which contains order making
3. Assuming that the House of Commons accepts the
Government's motion to disagree with the opposition amendments,
the House of Lords will consider the amendments proposed by the
House of Commons later in the week commencing 24 July 2000.
Powers of the C&AG
4. The opposition amendments successfully introduced
into the Bill would grant the C&AG access for the purpose
of carrying out his examinations to any documents (regardless
of who holds them) to which a department or any of its non-departmental
public bodies has, or could obtain, access. These amendments break
the link between the access clause (clause 8) and the audit of
departmental accounts thereby turning it into a general right
of access for the C&AG. This would give the C&AG access
to bodies and individuals contracting with, receiving grants from,
paying tax to, or otherwise having financial dealings with a department
or non-departmental public body.
5. The Government believes that such provisions could
pre-empt the work of the review team, headed by Lord Sharman,
which has been set up to consider the arrangements for audit and
accountability in central government. It is expected that consideration
of the access rights of the C&AG will form a major part of
the review. Lord Sharman is expected to report around the end
of this year.
6. The Government disagrees with the Lords amendments.
If these are reversed then the link between the access clause
and the audit of departmental accounts would be restored. In addition
the Government has proposed an amendment which would give the
Treasury a power to change the C&AG's access rights in relation
to his audit of departmental accounts by order. This would enable
any agreed recommendations made by Lord Sharman regarding access
to be implemented.
7. The proposed amendment is to what is now clause
25 of the Bill. It builds on and is complementary to the existing
order making power which would enable the Treasury to appoint
the C&AG as the auditor of a non-departmental public body.
8. As this is a power that when exercised might affect
a wide range of bodies it seems appropriate that this order making
power should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure
in both Houses of Parliament.