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Public Accounts Committee (United Kingdom)

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Public Accounts Committee (United Kingdom)

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) (strictly, the Committee of Public Accounts) is a select committee of the British House of Commons. It is responsible for overseeing government expenditures to ensure they are effective and honest. The PAC is seen as a crucial mechanism for ensuring transparency and accountability in government financial operations, having been described by Professor Peter Hennessy as "the queen of the select committees...[which] by its very existence exert[s] a cleansing effect in all government departments."


  • Overview 1
  • Notable failures highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee 2
  • Membership 3
    • Changes 3.1
  • Chairmen of the Public Accounts Committee (1861–present) 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The recommendation for the creation of a committee to oversee government accounts was first put forward in 1857 by a small group of interested Members of Parliament led by Sir Francis Baring. The structure and function of the PAC date back to reforms initiated by William Ewart Gladstone, when he was British Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1860s. The first Public Accounts Committee was established in 1861 by a resolution of the British House of Commons:

There shall be a standing committee designated "The Committee of Public Accounts"; for the examination of the Accounts showing the appropriation of sums granted by Parliament to meet the Public Expenditure, to consist of nine members, who shall be nominated at the commencement of every Session, and of whom five shall be a quorum. 31 March 1862.

The form has since been replicated in virtually all Commonwealth of Nations and many non-Commonwealth countries. A minister from Her Majesty's Treasury sits on the committee but, by convention, does not attend hearings. The Chair of the committee is always drawn from the main opposition party and is usually a former senior Minister.

The Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1866 appointed The Committee of Public Accounts to oversee the work of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) [1] The Committee continues to be assisted by the C&AG who is a permanent witness at its hearings, along with his staff of the National Audit Office, who provide briefings on each report and assist in the preparation of the Committee's own reports.

Notable failures highlighted by the Public Accounts Committee

The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the expenditure on numerous government projects over the years, such as:

  • the NHS National Programme for IT, which was described as one of the worst fiascos ever in the history of public sector contracts.[2]
  • the decommissioning of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing site, noting the cost of decommissioning had now reached £67.5 billion, and there was "no indication of when that cost will stop rising".[3][4]


As of 12 November 2012, the members of the committee are as follows:

Member Party Constituency
Rt Hon. Margaret Hodge MP (Chair) Labour Barking
Richard Bacon MP (Deputy Chair) Conservative South Norfolk
Stephen Barclay MP Conservative North East Cambridgeshire
Guto Bebb MP Conservative Aberconwy
Jackie Doyle-Price MP Conservative Thurrock
Meg Hillier MP Labour Co-op Hackney South and Shoreditch
Chris Heaton-Harris MP Conservative Daventry
Stewart Jackson MP Conservative Peterborough
Fiona Mactaggart MP Labour Slough
Austin Mitchell MP Labour Great Grimsby
Chloe Smith MP1 Conservative Norwich North
Nick Smith MP Labour Blaenau Gwent
Ian Swales MP Liberal Democrat Redcar
Justin Tomlinson MP Conservative North Swindon

1 Chloe Smith was elected to the committee because she is Economic Secretary to the Treasury, but by convention generally does not attend or vote.
Source: Public Accounts Committee


Occasionally, the House of Commons orders changes to be made in terms of membership of select committees, as proposed by the Committee of Selection. Such changes are shown below.

Date Outgoing Member
& Party
Constituency New Member
& Party
Constituency Source
2 November 2010 Eric Joyce MP (Labour) Falkirk Dr Stella Creasy MP (Labour Co-op) Walthamstow Hansard
24 October 2011 Dr Stella Creasy MP (Labour Co-op) Walthamstow Meg Hillier MP (Labour Co-op) Hackney South and Shoreditch Hansard
Rt Hon Anne McGuire MP (Labour) Stirling Fiona Mactaggart MP (Labour) Slough
31 October 2011 Justine Greening MP (Conservative) Putney Chloe Smith MP (Conservative) Norwich North Hansard
27 February 2012 Jo Johnson MP (Conservative) Orpington Stewart Jackson MP (Conservative) Peterborough Hansard
12 November 2012 Matthew Hancock MP (Conservative West Suffolk Guto Bebb MP (Conservative Aberconwy Hansard
James Wharton MP (Conservative) Stockton South Justin Tomlinson MP (Conservative) North Swindon

Chairmen of the Public Accounts Committee (1861–present)

It is customary for a member of the opposition party to chair the committee.
Year Chairman Party
1861–63 Sir Francis Tornhill Bearing Liberal
1864–1866 Rt Hon Edward Pleydell Bouverie Liberal
1866 Mr George Sclater-Booth Conservative
1867–68 Mr Hugh C E Childers Liberal
1869 Mr William Pollard Urquhart Liberal
1870–71 Rt Hon George Ward Hunt Conservative
1872–73 Mr George Sclater-Both Conservative
1874–76 Rt Hon John George Dodson Liberal
1877–1880 Lord Frederick Cavendish Liberal
1884–85 Sir Henry Holland Conservative
1886 Sir John Eldon Gorst Conservative
1887–88 Sir John Lubbock Liberal Unionist
1889–92 Sir Ughtred Kay-Shuttleworth Liberal
1893 Mr Edmond Wodehouse Liberal Unionist
1894–95 Sir Richard Temple Conservative
1896–1900 Mr Arthur O'Connor Irish National
1901–05 Rt Hon Sir Arthur Hayter Liberal
1906–08 Rt Hon Victor Christian William Cavendish Liberal Unionist
1908–18 Col Robert Williams Unionist
1919–20 Rt Hon Sir Francis Dyke Acland Liberal
1921–22 Mr Aneurin Williams Liberal
1923 Mr Frederick William Jowett JP Labour
1924 Lt Col Rt Hon Walter Edward Guinness Conservative
1924–29 Rt Hon Willian Graham JP Labour
1929–31 Mr Arthur Michael Samuel Conservative
1931–38 Mr Morgan Jones Labour
1938–41 Rt Hon Frederick William Pethick-Lawrence Labour
1941–43 Lt Col Rt Hon Walter Elliot Unionist
1943–45 Lt Col Sir Assheton Pownall OBE TD Unionist
1946–48 Rt Hon Osbert Peake Conservative
1948–50 Mr Ralph Assheton Conservative
1950–51 1, Sir Ronald Cross; 2, Rt Hon Charles Waterhouse Conservative
1951–52 Mr John Edwards Labour
1952–59 Sir George Benson Labour
1959–63 Rt Hon Harold Wilson Labour
1963–64 Rt Hon A.L.N. Douglas Houghton Labour
1964–70 Rt Hon John Boyd-Carpenter Conservative
1970–73 Rt Hon Harold Lever Labour
1972–73 Rt Hon Edmund Dell (Acting chair during Harold Lever's illness) Labour
1974–79 Rt Hon Edward DuCann Conservative
1979–83 Rt Hon Joel Barnett Labour
1983–97 Rt Hon Robert Sheldon Labour
1997–2001 Rt Hon David Davis Conservative
2001–10 Mr Edward Leigh Conservative
2010–present Rt Hon Margaret Hodge Labour

See also


  1. ^ National Audit Office History of the National Audit Office, Accessed 25 September 2012
  2. ^ "NHS IT system one of 'worst fiascos ever', say MPs".  
  3. ^ "Sellafield clean-up cost reaches 67.5bn, says report". BBC. 4 February 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  4. ^ "UK lawmakers criticise management of Sellafield nuclear site". Reuters. 11 February 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014. 
  • David McGee, The Overseers – Public Accounts Committees and Public Spending, Pluto Press, London 2002.
  • Stapenhurst, Rick; Sahgal, Vinod; Woodley, William; Pelizzo, Riccardo; World Bank, 1 May 2005, Policy Research Working Paper WPS3613, Scrutinizing public expenditures: assessing the performance of public accounts committees
  • Pelizzo, Riccardo, Stapenhurst, Rick, Saghal, Vinod and William Woodley, What Makes Public Accounts Committees Work?, Politics and Policy, vol. 34, n. 4, December 2006. pp. 774–793.
  • Riccardo Pelizzo and Rick Stapenhurst, Strengthening Public Accounts Committees by Targeting Regional and Country Specific Weaknesses, in Anwar Shah (ed.), Performance Accountability and Combating Corruption, Washington DC, The World Bank, 2007, pp. 379–393.
  • Jacobs, K. 1997. ‘A reforming accountability’, International Journal of Health Planning and Management 12: 169–85.
  • Jacobs, K.1998. ‘Value for money auditing in New Zealand: competing for control in the public sector’, British Accounting Review 30: 343–360
  • Jones, C. 1987. ‘The Origins of the Victorian Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee’, MA, University of Melbourne.

External links

  • Public Accounts Committee homepage
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