The government’s chief whip in the House of Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, insisted that a ‘long-standing convention’ requires that the facts in a report are agreed between comptroller and auditor general and the accounting officer of the department concerned to prevent the Public Accounts Committee judging between them.
He explained: ‘Accounting officers may have some reservations about the interpretation of the facts in the report. Where such differences are not capable of resolution in discussion, they are explained in the report with the reasons for the differences of opinion clearly stated.’
McIntosh, the government chief whip in the upper house, said: ‘The conclusions and recommendations of the report are, however, for the C & AG.’
But Lord Dixon-Smith asked if he was confident he could satisfy the public about the integrity of reports. Lord Bruce of Donington, an accountant, said that in practice the dividing line between fact and opinion was obscure.
He said: ‘The public are entitled to complete confidence in the NAO and it is desirable in the public interest, never mind tradition, that nobody should interfere with the report which the C & AG seeks to make on his own initiative.’
And Lord Saatchi, for the Tories, said the NAO’s core values included a belief in open communications. He demanded: ‘Will the Government authorise the NAO to disclose on what occasions and in what respect its reports have been altered by ministers?’
Lord McIntosh said the reports to Parliament from the NAO were factually correct ‘and steps are taken to ensure that they are’. He added: ‘Where there are disagreements they are explained in the report, with the reasons for the differences of opinion clearly stated.’
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