To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission how much the National Audit Office spends on public relations, publicity and parliamentary relations.
The National Audit Office handles its own public relations, publicity and parliamentary relations work and one member of staff acts as press officer. Advance copies of reports are provided to the press and other interested parties at a cost of about £6,000 a year. In addition, the office produces an annual report at a cost of about £8,000 and periodic booklets on its work.
Will my hon. Friend pass to the National Audit Office the thanks of Parliament for its series of reports and ask whether it would be possible for us to have them at a time when Parliament is likely to be sitting rather than at one minute to midnight for the benefit of the press? That would be regarded by the House as a sensible courtesy.
The National Audit Office normally lays reports before the House five to seven days before publication. Once a report has been laid and a copy placed in the Library, it is available for any Member of Parliament to read. The Votes and Proceedings record daily items laid before the House. I understand, however, from the Comptroller and Auditor General that he would be happy to let any Member have an advance copy of a report if the Member indicates his interest. A list giving likely publications by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the coming months will now be made available in the Library.
Does my hon. Friend think that the excellent work of the NAO is sufficiently well understood and appreciated by hon. Members? If not, as some changes will be made to its membership after the election, will he consider writing to all Members explaining how the system works—what the Public Accounts Commission, the Public Accounts Committee and the NAO do?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. I should certainly like to consider it. It is a great pity that hon. Members do not take more notice of the admirable reports that are made by the Comptroller and Auditor General, which are followed up so well by the Public Accounts Committee.
Is not it true that some documents that the Public Accounts Committee receives are not published, such as the memorandum that the National Audit Office drew up for me on the accountability of United Nations agencies? Is not it possible to put many of those documents in the public domain and publish them as Public Accounts Committee documents? Will the hon. Gentleman have a word with the Chairman and members of the Public Accounts Committee about that?
I should certainly like to consider that suggestion. Perhaps I could write to the hon. Gentleman.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a Bill to extend the powers of the National Audit Office to consider the Opposition's policies? Will he consider the staffing levels needed to cost the billions of pounds of wholly uncosted pledges made by the Opposition day after day, week after week? Would not that be an enormous and unfair burden on the NAO?
I think that it would place great strain not only on the Comptroller and Auditor General and his staff but on the budget of the Public Accounts Commission itself if it had to authorise such expenditure.