HC Deb 30 June 1982 vol 26 cc938-9

Lords amendment: No. 15, in page 5, line 15, after "shall" insert ", after the like consultation,"

Mr. Wyn Roberts

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Amendment No. 15 provides that the Secretary of State must consult the organisation specified in clause 5(2)—the local authority associations, the accountancy and the employees bodies—not only about the membership of the commission but about the chairmanship and the deputy chairmanship.

The chairman and deputy chairman must be members of the commission. I have no doubt that there would be consultation with those bodies anyway before the appointments were made. These are extremely important posts. We accept that it should be made clear in the legislation that appropriate consultation must take place before the chairman and his deputy are appointed. Therefore, we were happy to respond to Opposition pressure in the other place for an amendment to this effect to clause 5.

Mr. Graham

The Minister fairly said that the Government had responded to pressure from the Opposition in another place. That opposition was exactly the same as the opposition expressed to the Minister and his colleagues in the House. There is no difference. Opposition Members had a constant battle about consultation. There was not much of a concrete response in Committee. However, the Government said that they were willing to consider the matter. Somehow, the Minister was unable to concede to Opposition Members in Committee that the force of the arguments that we deployed merited some concessions.

Mr. King

We always need a little time to think about that.

Mr. Graham

If what we have tonight is the product of a little time, I hope that it gets a lot of time in the future.

Mr. Christopher Price

I, too, welcome the sinners back from repentance. I am pleased that they have come round to consulting the bodies that are laid down in the clause about the chairman, deputy chairman and other members of the commission. I still think that the proof of this stodgy pudding will be in the eating.

I notice that the words "Conservative Party" do not appear among the bodies that are to be consulted before the chairman of the audit commission is appointed.—[Interruption.] I shall not table an amendment, but if the Minister tabled a manuscript amendment to insert the words "Conservative Party" that might accord more with reality.

It is right that the Government have tabled the amendment. Who eventually becomes the chairman and deputy chairman of the audit commission will decide whether it is a credible body. It is extremely important that the Government get this matter right and do not go in for a "jobs for the boys" policy, as they recently did over health authorities. If the health authorities are any guide to the mood that the Conservative Party is in for quango appointments, it augurs badly for the audit commission.

I hope that the Government take great care, not only with the chairman and deputy chairman, but with all the other members of the commission, to keep at arm's length from their mates in the private accountancy firms. I hope that they try to arrive at some names for chairman and deputy chairman that command general assent across the House and throughout the whole of local government. What the Government have recently done in the Health Service has been extremely damaging in its impact on people's ability to run that service.

I have put down that marker with no real confidence that it will be adhered to. I hope that the Government will take it on board. To that extent, the amendment is welcome.

Question put and agreed to.

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