The National Audit Office employs 328 staff who do not currently have a professional qualification. Included in that number are 91 staff who are training for a professional qualification and 100 others who have been trained to a high standard in the professional disciplines required by the office. The remaining 137 include the full range of support staff required by a professional organisation.
Is it not clear that the National Audit Office is doing well and reducing the number of staff because it is working with a Government who are committed to reducing bureaucracy, cutting red tape and getting rid of unnecessary laws? Is it not true that if the Labour party ever got into power, the number of staff, skilled and unskilled, in the National Audit Office would rise dramatically, simply because of the number of rules and regulations that a Labour Government would introduce? Labour does not trust the people and would introduce ever more laws, so more people would be needed in the National Audit Office to check on what was going on.
In 1997–98, a greater volume of work will be done at a lower real-terms cost. As for the second part of my hon. Friend's question, he may well think that, but it would be wrong for me to answer a hypothetical question.
Does the Public Accounts Commission accept that the qualifications of those in the National Audit Office are adequate—indeed, highly suitable—to take on the task of considering the work of the non-departmental public bodies that spend public money? The work of those bodies is not subject to review and has for too long been excluded from proper oversight. Will the right hon. Gentleman invite his colleagues on the commission to consider the resource implications, if any, of expanding its remit in that way?
The main work of the office covers 570 accounts, involving expenditure and income of more than £500 billion. It is also the auditor of half of the 300 or so non-executive agencies to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I shall consider carefully what he has said and bring it to the attention of the commission.
I cannot give the hon. and learned Gentleman an immediate reply, but I shall happily look into the matter and write to him. Alternatively, he may wish to table a specific question. I am not aware of any form of discrimination in the employment of the staff to whom I referred in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen).