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National Audit Office

Volume 264: debated on Monday 23 October 1995

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To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission how many statisticians are employed by the National Audit Office. [36502]

I refer my hon. Friend to the answer that I gave on 19 June at columns 15–16. The numbers have increased marginally since then. Thirty of the staff of the National Audit Office have degrees in statistics or mathematics, and there are nine full-time professional statisticians or operational researchers.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the quality of the work of the National Audit Office? Does he believe that the office has sufficient powers to check the accounts of agencies and organisations such as the national lottery, which disburses large sums of public money?

Yes, I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. The Public Accounts Commission and the House are extremely grateful to the Comptroller and Auditor General and to the National Audit Office for the work that it does on our behalf. At present, the NAO is responsible for the audit of about half the executive non-departmental bodies. Both the Commission and the Public Accounts Committee are in favour of its being responsible for the audit of all of them and are making representations to that effect.

On the last part of my hon. Friend's question, I understand that the Public Accounts Committee would like to have the right of access to Camelot. The difficulty appears to be that the Department of National Heritage may not have the right to give it permission to do so. However, I understand that Camelot is happy to have conversations with the NAO to see how that might be done.

I call Mr. Llwyd. The hon. Gentleman rose earlier to put a supplementary question. Does he now wish to do so?

The point that I wished to make has been made, so I shall not ask the question.

Given that there are reports in today's paper that the Secretary of State for Social Security may introduce legislation to enable bailiffs to track down over-payment of benefits, will the Chairman seek an urgent meeting with the head of the National Audit Office and the Secretary of State to find out why the Benefits Agency makes mistakes of the order of £600 million per year? Should the bailiffs not be put on the Benefits Agency rather than the claimants?

I think that that would go beyond the work of the NAO. It is certainly true, however, that the NAO has the right of access to the Department of Social Security and no doubt will continue to uncover such faults. As for the activities of bailiffs, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to table a question to the appropriate Ministry.


To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission how many inquiries were undertaken by the National Audit Office in the last 12 months. [36503]

The National Audit Office achieved its planned level of 50 published reports to Parliament in 1994–95, as well as a wide range of additional outputs.

Is it not about time that the National Audit Office found a way to look at organisations such as Nirex, which has so miserably failed in its research programmes? As that organisation is, in effect, owned by the general public, in so far as it has' mucked up its research programme and in so far as the project that it is now promoting in the county of Cumbria is a waste of money and is upsetting the wider public, should not the NAO be allowed to move in?

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will make his own point in his own way. In terms of the National Audit Office, I can at least give him this comfort. If the body concerned is a non-departmental executive body, the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Accounts Commission are agreed that the National Audit Office should be responsible for its audit. To that limited extent only, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not, however, agree with his other remarks because I have no idea whether they are right or not. I strongly suspect that they are not.