Committee of Public Accounts: Press Notice


Publication of the Committee's 2nd Special Report, Session 2007-08

Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"Parliamentary scrutiny of the executive is largely dependent on accurate evidence. Government departments are particularly responsible for ensuring that Members of Parliament are not misled, even inadvertently, by the evidence they provide. I am therefore very concerned that the Department for Transport gave the Committee unreliable information on the rate of evasion of Vehicle Excise Duty.

On the basis of the Department's information the Committee published a report for which I later had to apologise, when the Department published new, more accurate figures. We expect Departments to be accurate, and when they are not sure their figures are reliable, they should say so.

I apologise again to law-abiding motorcyclists and others offended by the figures in our original report. I look to the Department to make a similar apology."

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 2nd Special Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Department for Transport, considered the background to the publication of the Committee's Fifth Report of this Session, on Vehicle Excise Duty Evasion.

In October 2007 the Committee took evidence from the Department for Transport and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) on the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on Vehicle Excise Duty, which had been published in July. In January 2008 the Committee published its own report on the subject, which noted that according to the Department's figures the rate of evasion of duty by motorcyclists was 38%, up from 30% the previous year, and recommended that the Department and the DVLA target motorcyclists evading payment of duty. It also recommended that they should work with motorcycle industry bodies to reduce concern about the reliability of sampling methods used in measuring evasion by motorcyclists. On 14 February the Department published new statistics for evasion, based on a survey carried out in June the previous year. This put the figure for motorcycle evasion at 9.8%. The Department's press release about the new figures made clear that a new methodology had been used in the survey, but did not refer to the difference from previous years' figures.

While the Committee accepts that the Department did not expect the results to be so different from previous years', it is surprising that they had not drawn the Committee's attention to the wide variations in figures in earlier surveys, which should, on grounds of common sense alone, have suggested that something was wrong.