HC Deb 12 January 1998 vol 304 cc15-6
36. Mr. Clifton-Brown

If he will make a statement on the impact on National Audit Office expenditure of the recent enlargement of its scrutiny role. [20231]

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission)

The scrutiny role of the National Audit Office will increase as the Government's policy to introduce resource accounting comes into effect and as new agencies and business units are set up, as for example in the Ministry of Defence. Those are the main determinants that require an increase in the National Audit Office's budget of some £2.6 million or 2.8 per cent. in real terms in 1998–99, as approved by the Public Accounts Commission in December 1997. Other important areas of developing scrutiny include changes in the way in which Government Departments deliver their services, for example through the private finance initiative and the office's increasing attention to performance measurement and the quality assurance of the services provided to the citizen.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer and ask him a question of which I have given him notice. The housing association movement has a outturn of around £1 billion this year. Can he confirm that the National Audit Office has no remit to audit individual housing associations? Given that the Harambee housing association collapsed with debts of £500,000 in 1994 and that, in 1996, the Focus and Circle 33 housing associations were investigated for fraud, would it not make sense for the National Audit Office remit to be enlarged so that all housing associations could be audited on a national and consistent basis, and such financial failures might be avoided?

Mr. Sheldon

I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman, who has identified a clear gap in the work of the National Audit Office. The £1.8 billion covered by housing association accounts is a substantial sum. The fact that the NAO has no access to those accounts is a glaring omission. The Public Accounts Committee and the commission have recommended that that should be changed.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, under the National Audit Act 1983, the NAO has a responsibility to follow taxpayers' money—public money. My right hon. Friend may, like me, regard national lottery revenue as a form of voluntary taxation. Is there not an argument for extending the role of the National Audit Office—perhaps the 1983 Act should be amended—to allow it to pursue the use of lottery revenue, which is public money, to ensure proper value for money?

Mr. Sheldon

It is a number of years since 1983. I agree that some of those issues need to be looked at again. I hope that the Government will give urgent attention to the gaps in the ability of the NAO to follow public money. The 1983 Act requires some revision in that respect.