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The Committee of Public Accounts is a select committee of the British House of Commons. It is responsible for overseeing government expenditures, and to ensure they are effective and honest. The committee is seen as a crucial mechanism for ensuring transparency and accountability in government financial operations, having been described by Professor the Lord Hennessy as "the queen of the select committees...[which] by its very existence exert[s] a cleansing effect in all government departments."[1]


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 1862 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.[2]

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) [3] 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 reports

The Public Accounts Committee has criticised numerous aspects of government spending over the years, including:


The Committee's members for the 2019 session of Parliament are as follows:[10]

Member Party Constituency
Meg Hillier MP (Chair) Labour and Co-operative Party Hackney South and Shoreditch
Gareth Bacon MP Conservative Party Orpington
Kemi Badenoch MP Conservative Party Saffron Walden
Shaun Bailey MP Conservative Party West Bromwich West
Olivia Blake MP Labour Party Sheffield, Hallam
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP Conservative Party The Cotswolds
Barry Gardiner MP Labour Party Brent North
Cheryl Gillan MP Conservative Party Chesham and Amersham
Peter Grant MP Scottish National Party Glenrothes
Richard Holden MP Conservative Party North West Durham
Sir Bernard Jenkin MP Conservative Party Harwich and North Essex
Craig Mackinlay MP Conservative Party South Thanet
Shabana Mahmood MP Labour Party Birmingham, Ladywood
Sarah Olney MP Liberal Democrats Richmond Park
Nick Smith MP Labour Party Blaenau Gwent
James Wild MP Conservative Party North West Norfolk

Chairs (1861–present)

House of Commons standing orders give the party of the official Opposition the right to chair the committee.[11]

Year Chairman Party
1861–63 Sir Francis Tornhill Baring 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-Booth 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 Rt Hon Ralph Assheton Conservative
1950–51 Sir Ronald Cross and 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 Rt Hon Sir Edward Leigh Conservative
2010–15 Rt Hon Dame Margaret Hodge Labour
2015–present Meg Hillier Labour and Co-operative

See also


  1. ^ "Holding Government to Account: 150 years of the Committee of Public Accounts" (PDF). UK Parliament. 2007.
  2. ^ "Public Accounts—Committee Moved For". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Vol. 166. House of Commons. 31 March 1862. col. 329–330.
  3. ^ National Audit Office History of the National Audit Office, Accessed 25 September 2012
  4. ^ Kentish, Benjamin (3 July 2018). "Government 'complacency' putting local councils at risk of bankruptcy, MPs warn". The Independent. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  5. ^ "NHS IT system one of 'worst fiascos ever', say MPs". BBC News. 18 September 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2013.
  6. ^ "Sellafield clean-up cost reaches 67.5bn, says report". BBC. 4 February 2013. Retrieved 19 February 2013.
  7. ^ "UK lawmakers criticise management of Sellafield nuclear site". Reuters. 11 February 2014. Retrieved 12 February 2014.
  8. ^ "Covid-19: NHS Test and Trace 'no clear impact' despite £37bn budget". BBC News. 10 March 2021. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  9. ^ ""Unimaginable" cost of Test & Trace failed to deliver central promise of averting another lockdown". UK Parliament. 10 March 2021. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  10. ^ "Public Accounts Committee - Membership - Committees - UK Parliament". Retrieved 21 November 2020.
  11. ^ Standing Order 122B(8)(f)

Further reading