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Clause 81 starts by being entirely sensible. Subsection (1) states that the Audit Commission and CSCI may exercise their functions jointly. Subsection (2) states that they must co-operate with one another. But the clause goes downhill from there with the appearance of the usual suspectthe Secretary of State.
Subsection (3) seems mild enough and says that the Secretary of State may give guidance to CSCI and the Audit Commission about which should undertake studies. But the sting is in the tail of subsection (4), which states that CSCI and the Audit Commission must take the guidance into accountthat is, it is not guidance but a direction. If one compares Clause 81 with Clause 57 it is apparent that a quite different approach is taken to CHAI. There CHAI is put in the lead and it is left to CHAI to agree with the Audit Commission if it wants the Audit Commission to help.
Will the Minister explain why a different approach has been taken as to the allocation of functions between CHAI and the Audit Commission on the one hand and CSCI and the Audit Commission on the other? Will he further explain why the Secretary of
Baroness Barker: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 352 and 353. They are probing amendments to tease out the relationship between CSCI, the Audit Commission and the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Amendment No. 352 deals with areas where there should be joint reviews or studies, the requirement to publish information and the fact that CSCI is to produce information to those bodies. Amendment No. 353 requires that the Comptroller and Auditor-General shall report to both Houses on those matters.
The amendments are trying to tease out some kind of coherence between the different regulatory bodies that will be brought together in the hope that we get streamlining rather than a profusion of reports and a duplication of work. It is quite clear that all those different bodies have a role to play in determining the value and effectiveness of social care services. It is not clear how all of them will work together in the perfect harmony that the Minister has assured us the Secretary of State will bring to these matters. I would be pleased to know what he thinks of that point.
Lord Warner: We have already gone over the ground covered by Amendment No. 351, that CSCI and the Audit Commission have a different relationship with local government from that which CHAI has with the NHS and healthcare. The Audit Commission's role in value for money studies is removed in relation to the NHS. In view of time constraints I shall not repeat all the arguments that I made on the previous amendment.
Under normal circumstances we would anticipate that CSCI and the Audit Commission will agree a programme of studies and determine the leadership for each individual project. However, it is possible that there may be circumstances when they are unable to reach such an agreement. Following that, it may be the case that CSCI and the Audit Commission will decide to engage in separate but ultimately very similar studies looking at the same aspects of local authority services. Such duplication would be an unnecessary waste of the resources of the two commissions and, perhaps more significantly, place an unnecessary burden on service providers. Thus in our view it is important that the Secretary of State has the power to prevent such duplication through intervening when there are disagreements between the two commissions. It would be a brave person who, looking into the future, would suggest that there will never be any disagreement between commissions, although it is unlikely.
Issuing guidance as to how they should work together is important. That power to issue guidance is contained in Clause 81(3) and (4) and it is that power that the proposed amendment seeks to remove. I am sorry that the noble Baroness thinks that the clause goes downhill after subsections (1) and (2). We think it retains equilibrium and we do not think that the amendment is appropriate.
We do not think that Amendment No. 352 is necessary because CSCI and the Audit Commission are each required to publish a report of any studies that they carry out under Sections 33 and 34 of the Audit Commission Act 1998, and Clause 80 of the Bill respectively. So it follows that they would have to publish a reportseparately or jointlyof any studies which they carry out together in exercising these powers. The NAO already has a right of access to information held by CSCI should it need it for the purpose of auditing CSCI.
On Amendment No. 353, I do not believe that giving the NAO a specific power to report to Parliament on the work of CHAI and CSCI under Part 2 of the Bill is necessary or appropriate. The NAO can already report to Parliament in relation to CHAI because of the Comptroller and Auditor-General's powers under the National Audit Act 1983. The Comptroller and Auditor-General is the auditor of the NHS summarised accounts, which cover all NHS spending and for which there is no equivalent on the local authority side. In undertaking that audit, the Comptroller and Auditor-General will of course need to know of anything identified by CHAI in its work, in order to consider whether it should affect the response given in his audit. That is the principal reason why CHAI is required to provide copies of reports.
However, in addition, CHAI will be taking over responsibility for all national and local studies of NHS provision that are currently carried out by the Audit Commission. Thus, it will take on the responsibility to provide, at the Comptroller and Auditor-General's request, any material relevant to reviews or investigations it undertakes. That is made clear in Clause 60.
On local authority services, the Audit Commission will retain responsibility for value-for-money studies in relation to local authorities and will also retain the responsibility for providing information to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. CSCI will carry out value-for-money studies about local authorities under Clause 80 of the Bill and can be required to provide copies of reports produced under this section to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. Furthermore, the Comptroller and Auditor-General already has powers under the National Audit Act 1983 to report to Parliament.
We do not think this power is anything like necessary. To say that it demonstrates perhaps a lack of trust is putting the matter too lightly. It is a real unwillingness to let go of the levers of power and control. I can quite understand why the Secretary of State might want to have a lever over the Audit Commission because it can be jolly inconvenient at times. The Secretary of State and people in the health department have found that out, because it is fearless and independent.
We should think very carefully about whether or not we give the Secretary of State power in effect to call the Audit Commission off a particular area. This is getting into extremely difficult and dangerous territory and one that may well compromise considerably the independence of the Audit Commission to the detriment of accountability. I shall read Hansard and consider carefully what the Minister has said. I should say that this matter is far from closed. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
"( ) to consult any person specified in the regulations before publishing any such statement;"
Page 34, line 29, after "authority" insert "or to an English local authority social service provided by, or pursuant to arrangements made by, that authority"