§ 32. Mr. Dalyell
To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what criteria the commission uses in appointing an accounting officer for the National Audit Office under section 4 of the National Audit Act 1983.
§ Sir Peter Hordern (on behalf of the Public Accounts Commission)
In appointing the serving Comptroller and Auditor General to be accounting officer for the National Audit Office Vote with effect from 1 January 1984, the commission followed the long-standing practice of appointing the officer in the best position to discharge overall responsibility for policy and for the resources allocated to the office. The Comptroller and Auditor General is, of course, by statute, head of the National Audit Office. I have no doubt that, following the appointment of a new Comptroller and Auditor General, the commission will wish to use the same criteria.
Perhaps the House will allow me to pay a tribute to the work of the outgoing comptroller and Auditor General, Sir Gordon Downey, who retires at the end of this month. The NAO and Parliament have been extremely will served by him.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to Sir Gordon Downey. Does the Public Accounts Commission agree that whoever is his successor as Comptroller and Auditor General should tell Parliament to scrutinise the £1,000 million budget of the security and intelligence services?
Sir Peter Horden
That is not a matter for the Public Accounts Commission. The hon. Gentleman may, however, wish to pursue his inquiry with his right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
§ Sir Peter Hordern
That is not a matter for the Public Accounts Commission. I doubt whether it is a matter for the Public Accounts Committee.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Is it not true that the accountability of the security services and the £1,000 million that they spend is not a matter that my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) can deal with? Is it not a matter for the Government? Will the hon. Gentleman respond to the question from my hon. Friend? Will he, as Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, make representations to Her Majesty's Government seeking the right for the Public Accounts Committee — or for a new security services scrutiny committee — to monitor, and indeed to audit, the accounts of the security services in this country?
§ Sir Peter Hordern
The role of the Public Accounts Commission is rather limited. Certainly it would not be our role to tell the Government what to do. However, the Comptroller and Auditor General has complete discretion in areas of Government activity which he may wish to examine and he may do so with the views of the Public Accounts Committee, which he should take into account.