HC Deb 28 February 2000 vol 345 cc18-20
31. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What assessment he has made of the adequacy of the resources available to the National Audit Office. [110628]

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

With permission, I shall reply on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission, to whom I am sure the whole House will want to send good wishes for a speedy recovery.

It is a main concern of the Commission to ensure that the Comptroller and Auditor General has the right resources to undertake his work. The Commission last met on 2 December 1999 to consider the supply estimate of the National Audit Office for next year. The Commission took account of the NAO's growing work load and recommended additional funding for 2000–01 as a result. Although the Commission will continue to monitor the situation, I am satisfied that, at present, funding for the work is adequate and that, were the Comptroller and Auditor General to need more staff or other resources in future, he would request extra funding from the House when compiling his annual Supply estimate.

Mr. Bercow

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply and echo what he has said about the distinguished Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission. The whole House wishes him a full and speedy recovery and looks forward to the display of his talents in the Chamber as soon as possible.

In the light of the recent NAO report, which highlighted the Department's slow progress in securing internet access, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that the NAO commands both sufficient resources and adequate specialist expertise to be able to follow up the findings of that report, monitor progress and ensure an improvement in the performance of Departments?

Mr. Williams

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his gracious comments, which I shall obviously pass on to my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-underLyne.

The NAO constantly makes use of outsider, specialist advice when it thinks that it is needed. It bids for the financial resources that it feels it needs. We have met what has been requested, and I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

I associate myself with my right hon. Friend's comments about my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Will my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) communicate to the NAO and its officials the appreciation of the membership of the House of Commons of its excellent work in unravelling the costs associated with the buildings of Thames house and Vauxhall cross—the headquarters of MI5 and MI6?

Mr. Williams

My hon. Friend and I have served with my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne on the Public Accounts Committee, and I thank him for his kind comments.

I share my hon. Friend's suspicion that the higher the indiscretion, the higher the classification of document obtained. When I read press reports on security buildings, my only reassurance was that my hon. Friend is a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, so I am sure that he will ensure that the services are fully accountable.

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

I join others in expressing hopes for the rapid return of the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon). I received a letter from him today, in which he said he was feeling very fit and looking forward to being back with us very soon.

On the substantive question, the budget was drawn up while the Gavyn Davies report on the BBC was still extant. Was there money in the budget to allow an investigation into the BBC? Does the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) think that that would have been a good use of money?

Mr. Williams

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I know that he visited my right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne the day after he was taken ill and that the visit was much appreciated by my right hon. Friend and his wife.

On the issue of the BBC, I read with some fascination the suggestion that the NAO is not an appropriate body to monitor such matters because it has no understanding of consumer issues. As one of the few Members of Parliament who has been a completely independent consumer Minister, may I allay the fears of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport? To help him, I should like to point out, as his Department has not, that between them the NAO and the PAC have produced reports on the water industry, in relation to quality of services; the telecommunications industry, on anti-competitive behaviour; the gas industry, in relation to giving consumers a choice; and "The Office of Fair Trading: Protecting the Consumer from Unfair Trading Practices", which has only just been completed. I hope that my right hon. Friend will now revise his decision.

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