HC Deb 25 November 1991 vol 199 c624
40. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission when he next intends to meet representatives of Her Majesty's Treasury to discuss the estimates of the National Audit Office.

Sir Peter Hordern (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission)

I have no plans to do so. Section 4 of the National Audit Act 1983 requires the Public Accounts Commission to examine the National Audit Office estimate and to lay it before the House, having regard to any advice received by the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury. Treasury advice takes the form of a written memorandum. The Commission is due to consider the National Audit Office estimate for 1992–93 on 10 December.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Can the hon. Gentleman imagine what might happen if the National Audit Office were given the right to start crawling over the accounts of the European Community, and perhaps producing the odd value-for-money report? Is it not about time that Members of the European Parliament demanded a far higher level of accountability in regard to taxpayers' money that is being used for the Commission's expenditure programme?

Sir Peter Hordern

That is a matter for the Comptroller and Auditor General, and I have his views.

I hope that, at the Maastricht meeting, full consideration will be given to the development of public audit in the Community. The European Court of Audit does useful work, but it is small in relation to the vast task of auditing Commission expenditure. There are also no real, regular arrangements for clear financial reporting, for the court's reports to be debated by the European Parliament, for the Parliament to make clear recommendations to the Commission or for the Commission to publish its response.

In other words, there is no mechanism similar to ours involving a Public Accounts Committee supported by a National Audit Office. It may take some time to go fully down that path, but I think it important that we move in such a direction with more urgency than has been shown up to now.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Is it not a problem that, although the Court of Audit cannot deal with the whole range of European expenditure, there is no back-up to ensure that the work that it does produce is properly considered—and receives the media attention that would make the 300 million people in the European Community realise where good work is being done in Europe, and where there is frightening waste, inefficiency, corruption and cheating?

Sir Peter Hordern

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no mechanism whereby the Commission must account to the European Parliament, and I think that there should be.