§ Mr. Ancram
I beg to move amendment No. 344, in page 49, line 34, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 345, in page 49, leave out lines 37 and 38.
No. 346, in page 49, line 43, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.
No. 347, in page 49, line 43, after 'before', insert'the House of Commons and'.No. 348, in clause 102, page 50, line 28, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.
No. 349, in page 50, line 34, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.
§ Mr. Ancram
The clause allows the Auditor General for Wales to investigatethe economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the Assembly has used its resources in discharging its functions.It goes on to allow him lay his report before the assembly. We believe that that permissive attitude is insufficient in this instance, where it is important that Auditor General should work in a disciplined and structured way.
Amendment No. 344 would require him to make such investigations and amendment No. 346 would require him to lay the report before the assembly, rather than leaving 912 it to his discretion. Amendment No. 347 would require the report to be laid before the House of Commons as well. The reason for that is that the resources in question will have been voted by the House of Commons and, where there is a report into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which they have been spent, it is right that the House should have sight of it.
Amendment No. 345 is slightly different. As it stands, the Bill does not permit the Auditor General for Wales to question the merits or otherwise of the assembly's policies. I concede that there may be reasons for that, but it is an unnecessary restriction which could make it less easy for the Auditor General to carry out the permitted examination into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which the assembly has used resources to discharge its functions. It could be germane to such an examination to question the merits of the policy objectives in order to assess whether the resources used in pursuit of those objectives have been used in an economic, efficient and effective way. The clause as it stands, therefore, places an unnecessary hurdle in the way of the Auditor General.
§ Mr. Ancram
The Auditor General, who was spoken of earlier in glowing terms as an independent and responsible man, is not likely to do that, and to refuse to allow him to take such considerations into account is to restrict him overmuch.
Amendment No. 349 is the last in the group. The Audit Commission may lay before the assembly a statement on any report by the Auditor General for Wales, and it may also take evidence on behalf of and report to the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. There should be a requirement on the Audit Commission to lay such a report and to act on instructions from the Public Accounts Committee. The PAC, of which I was once a member, is the House's watchdog over the way in which resources voted by the House are spent and it should have that responsibility and power in respect of the Auditor General for Wales. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration, if not to these particular amendments, to the thought that lies behind them.
§ Mr. Hain
The Public Accounts Committee will have the right to look into any aspect of the assembly's finances and no amendment is required to enable it to do that, because it acts on behalf of this sovereign House.
The drafting of clauses 100 and 102 reflects, as closely as possible, the present arrangements involving the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee under the National Audit Act 1983. The 1983 Act gives the Comptroller and Auditor General the power to carry out examinations into the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which resources are used, but does not oblige him to do so.
Amendment No. 344 would remove any discretion from the Auditor General for Wales, and I am not sure whether that was the effect intended. Under the 1983 Act, the Comptroller and Auditor General has no power to question the merits of the policy objectives of the 913 Government or public bodies. Amendment No. 345 would allow the Auditor General to do that with respect to the assembly. We believe that that would be a significant change.
Amendment No. 346 would require the Auditor General to lay before the assembly the report of any examination carried out by him. The Comptroller and Auditor General is under no such obligation under the 1983 Act, and it is not uncommon for reports to be prepared for action by management only, without being published or laid before the PAC.
Amendment No. 348 would oblige the assembly's audit committee to consider and report on every set of accounts or reports laid before it by the Auditor General for Wales or his auditor. While I imagine that the PAC considers a large proportion of accounts and reports that are laid before the House, I doubt very much that it is required to consider and make a report on them all.
The amendments would leave the assembly—
§ It being Eight o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN, pursuant to the Order [15 January] and the Resolution [2 February], put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ THE CHAIRMAN then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.
§ Clause 100 to ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 101 to 104 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedule 5 agreed to.