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The noble Baroness mentioned the pensions body. This is the first time that the Pensions Ombudsman and the Pension Protection Fund Ombudsman have been required to provide annual accounts under the arrangements established on 1 April 2007. Therefore, this is the first time that this issue has arisen in this way. Prior to that, they were within the framework of a department and subject to the departmental budget, which did not give rise to this independent form of accounting. We have taken the opportunity of the order to make sure that, now that they have that independence, they should have it so far as the accounts are concerned as well.
I hear what the noble Baroness says about the NHS trusts. There is a judgment call on the other trusts and how they are audited. She saidwith a slight note of regret, I thinkthat the Audit Commission had been involved early on with regard to the establishment of the trusts under a previous Administration. All along NHS trusts have been identified as providers of local services, as they properly are. Therefore, it is entirely right that they should stay within the framework of the Audit Commission and not be brought under the Comptroller and Auditor-General. NHS Direct provides a national service, which is why we think it is separate
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The noble Baroness mentions the merger. Mr Tiner certainly supported the need for closer co-operation between the National Audit Office and the Audit Commission and recommended an exchange of board membership between the two bodies. We want strengthening of their relationships. Further work is to be done on the concept of the merger. She pressed me for some indication of when we would reach conclusions on that matter. I do not have a date for that, but on the other area she talked aboutcompaniesI can be a little more forthcoming. We certainly intend to bring that order through this year, although not in the next few months, and to respond to the point that was well made by her and others.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I thought that the day would never arrive when Northern Rock passed me by, but it did momentarily. Now it is sharply back in focus. The noble Baroness conceded that Northern Rock was a company operating at arms length from the Government in temporary public ownership, so it will not be subject to government audit in the way a government body would be. However, she knows only too well that the Government need to safeguard big or small amounts of taxpayers money. Northern Rock comes into the first categoryit is a fairly big amount. She will have to wait until the arrangements for the relationship between the Treasury and Northern Rock are put before the House. That will follow the work done in relation to the Commission and the submission under state aid to Brussels. We have indicated all along that one will follow the other. We will present that position in the fairly near future, and the business plan of Northern Rock will also become clear. If she can exercise her usual patience, I have no doubt that we will have plenty to discuss in the fairly near future on Northern Rock.
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