MPs want greater say in top public appointments
Johnstone | 5 September 2011
Parliament should be given a greater role in the selection
of senior public officials, MPs said this week.
The Commons liaison committee wants select committees
to scrutinise appointments more and for the number of posts selected jointly by
Parliament and the government to be increased from four to 12.
In a report
published yesterday, Select committees
and public appointments, the
MPs analyse the pre-appointment hearings introduced three years ago. These have
covered posts such as the children’s commissioner, those in charge of public
service regulators, and the
chair of the UK Statistics Authority.
The committee, which is made up of 33 select committee
chairs, concludes that this
process has led to a ‘small but significant increase in ministerial accountability to Parliament’.
MPs want the role of the hearings,
which are not currently binding, to be enhanced. They recommend that about a dozen appointments should effectively
be made jointly by Parliament and government, with the terms and conditions of the post, including
remuneration, agreed with the relevant select committee over before the post is advertised.
These posts would be confirmed by a vote in the Commons.
There would also be ‘parliamentary lock’ on sackings, requiring ministers to consult the select committee on whether to
put the dismissal before the House.
This model is
already used in the recruitment of the auditor general, the parliamentary commissioner
and the chair and independent members of the Office for Budget Responsibility.
The MPs want it to be extended to eight other ‘top tier’ posts.
cover those where the holders exercise major constitutional
functions, regulate the activities of ministers, or protect citizens from the
government, including the chair
of the UK Statistics Authority, the information commissioner and the
commissioner for public appointments, and the chair of the Equality and Human
For another 24 regulatory and
inspector posts, Parliament should exercise an ‘effective veto’ over
appointments. Ministers would be required to justify any decision to reject a
committee's recommendation and any disputes would be debated in the Commons.
The MPs reviewed 34 pre-appointment
hearings and found that a minority ‘caused concern’. Chief among these was the
2009 appointment of the children's commissioner. The then children, schools and
families select committee made a negative recommendation on the government’s
preferred candidate but the secretary of state Ed Balls went ahead with the
Committee chair Sir Alan Beith said the MPs wanted an undertaking that
the government would not go against committee views again.
He said: ‘Scrutiny of major public appointments is essential if the
public are to have confidence that those appointed are fully independent of the
‘Pre-appointment hearings are now an established – and valued –part
of select committees' role, but there is still some uncertainty about exactly
what should happen if a committee is not happy about a proposed appointment.
For certain key posts we want an undertaking from government that they would
not go ahead with an appointment in the face of an adverse report from a