§ 34. Mr. Bayley
To ask the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission what assessment the commission has made of the adequacy of the resources available to the Comptroller and Auditor General to evaluate whether private suppliers of services purchased by public authorities are meeting the terms of their contracts and providing value for money. 
§ Mr. Robert Sheldon (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission)
The commission regularly meets to assess the adequacy of the resources available to the Comptroller and Auditor General. Resources required to examine the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of services purchased by public authorities and provided by private suppliers are included in the estimates, but are not assessed separately. The Comptroller and Auditor General does not, however, have a guaranteed right of access to the records of contractors where the activities of Government Departments are contracted out. The then Chairman of the commission and I recommended to the previous Administration that the Comptroller and Auditor General should have such access and I hope that we can achieve that aim under the present Administration.
§ Mr. Bayley
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission for his useful response. Will he consider the position of passenger rail services which, 16 as a result of privatisation, now attract a much larger public subsidy than when they were run by British Rail? Does the Chairman agree that the audit trail is inevitably much more complicated when one has to follow it through to contractors? Does he also agree that access to private rail operators' records is necessary if the Government are to ensure that value for money is achieved as a result of that increased public subsidy?
§ Mr. Sheldon
There is unquestionably a need for greater access. The Comptroller and Auditor General does not have access to contracted-out functions. In addition, he does not have the same rights of access to final recipients of European Union funds in the United Kingdom, although the European Court of Auditors does. That is a gap, and I shall continue to press for Government action to fill it.
§ Mr. Rowe
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman, whose chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee has been long and distinguished.
I also welcome this opportunity to place on record for the first time in this Parliament that, as a Conservative Member, I share the right hon. Gentleman's view that there is a big gap in the Comptroller and Auditor General's powers. The capacity to follow public money and its effectiveness further than is currently the case is an indispensable part of an effective Public Accounts Committee and of the Comptroller and Auditor General's function. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will make every effort to urge the new Administration to take that on board.
§ Mr. Sheldon
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks.
There was unanimity in the Public Accounts Committee on the need to follow public money into some areas where private contractors are involved. As the hon. Gentleman said, we shall have to make progress on that issue.