Public Accounts Committee Press Notice

STATEMENT FROM THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COMMITTEE OF PUBLIC ACCOUNTS

NATIONAL AUDIT OFFICE MEMORANDUM - SAUDI ARABIAN AIR FORCE PROJECT (AL YAMAMAH) DATED 29 JANUARY 1992

The Committee met on 28 June to discuss the issues surrounding this document.

The Committee of Public Accounts has long established arrangements for dealing with sensitive topics. These arrangements were used in 1992 when the Committee agreed that then Chairman (Lord Sheldon) would use his delegated powers to consider the NAO memorandum on Al Yamamah. The Chairman invited the senior Government Member Sir Michael Shaw to assist.

Having read the memorandum and questioned senior staff from the Ministry of Defence, the Chairman decided not to publish the memorandum. In these circumstances the document has the status of unreported evidence to the House from a previous Parliament, is covered by Parliamentary privilege and can only be released on a resolution of the House and not by the present Committee.

In view of this, the Committee decided not to pursue the publication of the memorandum. I would, however, draw attention to a reply given to the House by Rt Hon Alan Williams MP in his capacity as Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission on 13 February 2002 (Hansard C402-3w)

" The report looked at the use of taxpayers' money by the Ministry of Defence in relation to the project. It referred to the confidential arrangements between the governments of the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia. The report was not published because publication would have breached that pledge of confidentiality.

The then PAC Chairman (now Lord Sheldon) was quoted as saying after he and then senior Conservative member of the PAC had considered the report in private in February 1992:

"I did an investigation and I find no evidence that the [MoD] made improper payments. I have found no evidence of fraud or corruption. The deal...complied with Treasury Approval and the rules of government accounting."