National Audit Office

Oral Answers to Questions — Public Accounts Commission – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 5th November 2001.

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Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel Liberal Democrat, Newbury 2:30 pm, 5th November 2001

What resources the Commission has made available to the National Audit Office for the audit of spending by the European Commission in the last 12 months.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams Labour, Swansea West

As the Comptroller and Auditor General does not audit the European Commission's operations, under the treaties establishing the European Community, responsibility for the external audit of the European Community revenue and expenditure, including that of the Commission, rests with the European Court of Auditors. However, the CAG audits the expenditure of the money that the United Kingdom receives from the European Community budget that is spent by UK Departments and agencies. The CAG's estimate provides for the resources to discharge its responsibility.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel Liberal Democrat, Newbury

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his response. Will he comment on the way in which the appointment of the British member of the European Court of Auditors is carried out? Does he believe that such a person should have considerable experience of audit, probably being a fully trained auditor? Does he also believe that the Comptroller and Auditor General should have a greater say in that appointment?

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams Labour, Swansea West

The situation seems to be very in-house, to put it mildly. It is a closed shop for ex-civil servants. There have been three appointments since 1977 and everyone appointed has been an ex-civil servant. The individual who is due—no doubt quite justifiably—to take the fourth appointment next December is also an ex-civil servant.

It concerns me that there is no formal arrangement or facility for the CAG even to be consulted. The nature of the job is such that it has a near-sinecure status. Once appointed, the individual can be dismissed only by the European Court of Justice, and even then, only at the invitation or request of the Court of Auditors.