PracticePeople In PracticeParliament rows over who should be watchdog to the watchdogs

Parliament rows over who should be watchdog to the watchdogs

Tory peers are swinging behind demands to use the National AuditOffice to monitor the Financial Services Authority.

Shadow Treasury Minister Lord Saatchi signalled their clearintention to push for the responsibility for auditing the FSA tobe given to Comptroller and Auditor General Sir John Bourn.

His declaration of official Conservative support ratchets upthe argument – which the Treasury are determined to resist -that his scope must be widened to ensure full accountability toParliament of all quangos and government-owned companies.

The scene for a serious clash over the FSA was set during theopening debates on the FSA Bill in the Lords when Lord McIntoshof Haringey, the Government Chief Whip, insisted: ‘The chargeof lack of accountability does not stick.’

Since the removal of all but 90 elected hereditary aristocratslast year the upper chamber has been flexing its new-foundlegitimacy and is quite capable of making this a major point ofprinciple.

The other key issue exercising peers is the extent to which theFSA Bill is ‘European Court of Human Rights-proof’ over thepower of the FSA, and where the line is being drawn between thecivil offence of ‘market abuse’ and a crime – because of theprotections the convention accords the accused in criminal orquasi criminal proceedings.

Lord McIntosh made it clear that on accountability ministers’have no intention to add further to the mechanisms set out inthe Bill’ including the Treasury power to order a review , afinancial services and markets tribunal, an ombudsman andscrutiny by Parliamentary committees.

FSA Executive Chairman Howard Davies and officials are beingcalled as witnesses before the Commons Treasury on Tuesday 14March.

But Saatchi, who made it clear the legislation has overall support, questioned whether it was appropriate that reviewsshould be left to the Treasury and insisted Parliament mustsecure the accountability of the FSA.

He said: ‘To argue, as the government does, that because it is aprivate company that does not receive public funds it should notbe examined by the NAO or C&AG is bizarre.’

He was backed by Liberal Democrat Lord Taverne, who insisted theFSA ‘needs more effective monitoring, overall direction andmanagement.’

AccountancyAge.com weekly news focus: Public Services

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