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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.