HC Deb 03 June 1991 vol 192 cc15-6
38. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission how many certification audits were carried out by the National Audit Office in each of the past two years.

Sir Peter Hordern (on behalf of the Public Accounts Commission)

The National Audit Office certified 466 accounts in 1989–90, and 463 in 1990–1.

Mr. Banks

The National Audit Office is obviously working hard and extremely efficiently, and on behalf of the whole House we should like to thank it. Am I correct in saying that it also examined the social security accounts, paying particular attention to computer technology and the assessment of income support? Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great deal of suffering that underestimating or overestimating income support calculations inflicts on the clients of the DSS? Will he have a gentle word in the ear of the Comptroller and Auditor General and suggest that he looks again at the use of computers in the Department and perhaps that he comes to my constituency, to the DSS office at Jubilee house, to see how inefficiently the computer system there is operated?

Sir Peter Hordern

I am sure that the Comptroller and Auditor General does examine the accounts to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. However, these matters are more properly within the province of the Public Accounts Committee than within that of the Public Accounts Commission; but I am quite certain that the Comptroller and Auditor General will take note of what has been said.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Does the hon. Gentleman think that the recommendations of the Procedure Committee, which I strongly oppose, to widen the remit of the National Audit Office so that it has to report to Select Committees will prejudice the work done by the NAO on certification and the relationship that it has with Government Departments, which is very much based on trust? That trust might be endangered if the work of the NAO is drawn into the political haranguing that may sometimes occur in Select Committees.

Sir Peter Hordern

The Public Accounts Commission has not yet considered that matter, although we may do so. I should greatly regret anything that diminished the authority or role of the Comptroller and Auditor General or the close association that he has with the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr. Soames

Will my hon. Friend pass on to the Comptroller and Auditor General and to the National Audit Office the gratitude of the whole House for the excellent work that the organisation undertakes? Does he agree that by the structure and content of its reports the NAO has greatly increased, through the clarity of its presentation, the information available to ordinary Members of this House?

Sir Peter Hordern

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, as I am sure the Comptroller and Auditor General will be. I shall pass on my hon. Friend's remarks.

Dr. Kim Howells

Given the precedent set by the investigations of the National Audit Office into the financial consequences of the sale of the Rover car company, will the NAO be able to examine the results of the horse trading that is taking place to try to capture the Channel 3 franchises of television companies?

Sir Peter Hordern

That will not be a matter for the Public Accounts Commission. I am sure that the Comptroller and Auditor General will examine anything which the hon. Gentleman may care to put to him. I have no authority in the matter.