The terms of the agreement – reached just before the current row betweenDowning Street and the BBC over Iraq – were spelled out by Tory spokeswoman Baroness Buscombe as she withdrew controversial proposals to insert a clause in the Communications Bill providing statutory NAO access.
And they were confirmed by government spokesman Lord Mackintosh of Haringey.
Under it, the audit committee of the BBC will agree with comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn specific reviews to be undertaken, some by private contractors and some by the NAO.
Baroness Buscombe said C&AG reports would be laid before parliament and it would be up to MPs how to deal with them.
And she urged Sir John to report within two years on how the arrangements were working out.
However, the arrangements come with a clear warning that any backtracking by the governors of the BBC will result in more formal provisions being written into its charter.
Lord McIntosh said the government believe the outcome, based on proposals that originated with Lord Sharman, ‘offers a workable basis for strengthening BBC accountability to parliament and licence fee payers while preserving the corporation’s independence’.
He said a dialogue between the BBC audit committee and the C&AG would establish the reviews, allocating some of them to be carried out by the NAO.
He said the government would listen to any review of the arrangements during its review of the BBC Charter, and stressed the incentive was for the BBC to make the arrangements a success.
During the Lords debate, former Public Accounts Committee chairman Lord Sheldon, who has campaigned for other extensions of the NAO’s remit, cautioned against having accountants review the effectiveness of the BBC when it was impossible to define what was meant by the term.
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