Meetings

Oral Answers to Questions — Public Accounts Commission – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd May 1988.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport 12:00 am, 23rd May 1988

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission when the Public Accounts Commission next expects to meet; and what subjects will be discussed.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen , Nottingham North

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission when the Public Accounts Commission next expects to meet; and what subjects will be discussed.

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

Neither the date nor the agenda for the next meeting of the Commission has yet been fixed.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

When my hon. Friend next meets the Commission, will he ask it to estimate the savings that could be made by moving the National Audit Office to the regions? If he has any problem, I am sure that Stockport council will be only too pleased to assist.

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

The costs of the London headquarters building have been carefully considered in the past, both by the Public Accounts Committee and the Commission. My hon. Friend may wish to know that the National Audit Office currently employs 655 staff in the headquarters building, 65 in other London offices and 176 in other parts of the country and abroad. He and the House may be assured that the Commission will continue to examine closely the costs of maintaining major premises in London, particularly if in future more offices of Government Departments are dispersed to other parts of the country.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen , Nottingham North

Will the hon. Gentleman place on the next agenda of the Public Accounts Commission a review of the practices of the Audit Commission, to see whether anything can be learnt about them? It appears that when the Audit Commission discovers even 12 paperclips bought by local authorities that are surplus to requirements, that is front page news. Will he therefore explain why the Ministry of Defence can overspend at will, sometimes by up to £1 billion a project, without being brought fully to account by the House or the Commission?

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

The Public Accounts Commission carefully examines the estimates and the corporate plan of the National Audit Office, but it does not seek to inquire into its findings. That is the task of the Public Accounts Committee, which is so ably chaired by the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman draws his right hon. Friend's attention to this point?

Photo of Tim Yeo Tim Yeo , South Suffolk

Does my hon. Friend agree that the House will probably be relieved to know that the Commission has not yet set a date for a further meeting, in view of the inevitable costs associated with such meetings? Given my hon. Friend's heavy programme of engagements at home and abroad, I am sure that that will be for his convenience as well.

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I cannot say that the costs of the Public Accounts Commission are considerable, unlike some other Standing Committees and Select Committees of the House. Unfortunately, the Public Accounts Commission never goes abroad, and I think that the same can be said of the Public Accounts Committee, so, I think that extra costs are unlikely to arise.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission when the Public Accounts Commission last met; and what subjects were discussed.

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I have just given.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

May I ask the hon. Gentleman a question of which I have given him notice? Will the Public Accounts Commission reflect on the view of Sir Frank Cooper, the former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, as to whether—he said this in the Suntory lecture—the Prime Minister's press secretary should be paid out of public or party funds?

Photo of Mr Peter Hordern Mr Peter Hordern , Horsham

I do not think that the Prime Minister's press secretary's salary is a matter for the Public Accounts Commission, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise it, it may be a matter for the Public Accounts Committee. In any event, it is scarcely likely that the press secretary would have high on his list of priorities the activities either of the Public Accounts Commission or of the National Audit Office.