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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] its very existence exert[s] a cleansing effect in all government departments."



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 lead by Sir Francis Bearing.

The structure and function of the PAC date back to reforms initiated by William Gladstone, when he was British Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1860s. The first PAC 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.

Today's Public Accounts Committee consists of sixteen members. Members are nominated at the beginning of each Parliamentary Session on the basis of a motion made by a Government minister, after consultation with the Opposition. Changes in membership are made from time to time during the Session, often because Members have become Ministers or front-bench opposition spokesmen.

The party proportions of the Committee, like other committees, are the same as in the House. At present this gives nine Labour; five Conservative; and two minority party members (at present Liberal Democrats)

A Minister from Her Majesty's Treasury sits on the committee but, by convention, does not attend hearings. Currently this is the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, Angela Eagle MP, but previously it has been the Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

The Committee chooses its own Chairman (currently Edward Leigh), traditionally an Opposition Member. The Committee is assisted by the Comptroller and Auditor General (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.


The current members of the committee, as of 27 October 2009, are:

Member Party Constituency
Edward Leigh MP (Chairman) Conservative Gainsborough
Richard Bacon MP Conservative South Norfolk
Angela Browning MP Conservative Tiverton and Honiton
Paul Burstow MP Liberal Democrat Sutton and Cheam
Douglas Carswell MP Conservative Harwich
Rt Hon David Curry MP Conservative Skipton and Ripon
Ian Davidson MP Labour Glasgow South West
Nigel Griffiths MP Labour Edinburgh South
Rt Hon Keith Hill MP Labour Streatham
Sarah McCarthy-Fry MP1 Labour Portsmouth North
Austin Mitchell MP Labour Great Grimsby
Dr John Pugh MP Liberal Democrat Southport
Geraldine Smith MP Labour Morecambe and Lunsdale
Rt Hon Don Touhig MP Labour Islwyn
Rt Hon Alan Williams MP Labour Swansea West
Phil Wilson MP Labour Sedgefield

1: Sarah McCarthy-Fry is a non-attending ex-officio member in her role as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury

Source: Parliament Website



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

Date Outgoing Member
& Party
Constituency New Member
& Party
Constituency Source
Feb 9, 2009 Philip Dunne MP (Conservative) Ludlow Douglas Carswell MP (Conservative) Harwich Hansard
Oct 26, 2009 Angela Eagle MP (Labour) Wallasey Sarah McCarthy-Fry MP (Labour) Portsmouth North Hansard

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (1861-2008)

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 Artur 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 Lewis John Edwards Labour
1952-59 Sir George Benson Labour
1959-63 Rt Hon Harold Wilson Labour
1963-64 Rt Hon ALN 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 due to 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-Present Mr Edward Leigh Conservative

See also


  • 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


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