Government keen to restrict Bourn’s powers

The Lords will tomorrow debate a renewed government bid to block Sir John Bourn from having unrestricted access to information on all quangos and other non-departmental government bodies.

Earlier this week Treasury ministers used Labour’s massive Commons majority to overturn an earlier Lords amendment to their Government Resources and Accounts Bill giving him the powers – and making provision for Parliamentary Orders authorising each individual access instead.

Economic Secretary Melanie Johnson astonished MPs with her claim: ‘The C&AG’s prime role is not to seek out and identify fraud.’

She earlier objected claiming a widening of his powers would give him ‘unrestricted access’ to everyone with whom the government deals, including individual taxpayers and benefit claimants as well as contractors and suppliers. The move would lead to additional burdens on business, over-regulation and overlapping functions, she said.

But Public Accounts Committee Chairman David Davis objected saying this ‘provides the Treasury with the right to decide which bodies the C&AG can or cannot have access’.

Labour Public Accounts Commission chairman Robert Sheldon said: ‘Access by the C&AG should be the result of a right and should not involve permission.’

He joined senior Labour PAC member Alan Williams in abstaining on the vote.

The government is keen to push the Bill through and wants the issue of C&AG powers left to a review headed by Lord Sharman.

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