HC Deb 24 October 1994 vol 248 cc623-4
25. Mr. Ian Bruce

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission if he will make a statement on the National Audit Office expenditure on value for money inquiries relating to capital spending on buildings.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (on behalf of the Public Accounts Commission)

In the absence of the right hon. Member for Horsham (Sir P. Hordern), who is away on a parliamentary delegation, I have been asked to reply.

The Comptroller and Auditor General selects topics for investigation based on a review of all Government spending and the risk to value for money. Where those reviews identify the need to examine the capital spending on buildings, the Comptroller and Auditor General will include studies in his programme. The National Audit Office has published three reports on capital projects: the benefits centre project, the prison building project and the Trident works programme. All were published in July this year.

Mr. Bruce

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply. Will the Public Accounts Commission look further, particularly at defence office block building and the enormous overruns which have occurred on so many projects such as the MOD headquarters in Whitehall?

Mr. Sheldon

The hon. Gentleman will know that that is a matter for the Public Accounts Committee, but the Committee does have the power to ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to examine certain projects and to come to a conclusion as to which will be the subject for examination. I shall pass the hon. Gentleman's message to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role and I hope that it will presage an unprecedented case of getting accurate answers to questions in the Chamber. Will he extend the role of the National Audit Office to look at the vast amounts of taxpayers' money being thrown away on unnecessary changes to Norman Shaw North, where a listed building is being changed irrevocably in a way which has not been consulted about and which can only damage both the fabric and the use of the House of Commons?

Mr. Sheldon

As I said in reply to an earlier question, that is a matter for the Public Accounts Committee, but I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

26. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission how many staff are employed by the National Audit Office; and how many are qualified accountants.

Mr. Sheldon

I have been asked to reply. As at 30 September this year the National Audit Office employed 768 staff. Of these, 308 are qualified accountants and a further 124 staff are undertaking professional accountancy training.

Mr. Marshall

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his temporary position. Does he believe that the number of qualified accountants employed is adequate?

Mr. Sheldon

The staff are doing very well, in fact. Not only are the accountants taking the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy qualifications, but they are becoming chartered accountants. That means that they are able to deal with Government Departments in the same way as the leading accountancy firms in this city are able to handle such matters. That gives the NAO accountants a much greater status and standing, to the benefit of the public administration.

Mr. Winnick

Would it be possible for the NAO to employ sufficient accountants and to have the authority to look into cases where Members of Parliament receive payments from outside sources, the money involved, the services provided and, for example, how much money is given for putting down parliamentary questions? In the absence of any other form of regulation, would it not be desirable for the NAO to have such authority?

Mr. Sheldon

As my hon. Friend says, the NAO does not have that kind of power and it would rest upon the House to give it that power, which I think might be rather difficult to achieve.