16 January 2008
PASC ENDORSES COMMITTEE HEARINGS FOR KEY PUBLIC APPOINTMENTS
Pre-appointment hearings would add value to a rigorous selection process by ensuring strong accountability to Parliament and the public.
report released today, the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) endorses the idea that Ministers’ nominees for some of the most important public positions should be vetted in public by select committees before their appointment is confirmed. The suggestion for non-binding hearings was one of the proposals floated by Government in its summer Green Paper on the Governance of Britain. The relevant Minister would consider the Committee’s views on the appointee before deciding whether to confirm them in the post.
The Government has not so far spelt out exactly who it would expect to be subject to the proposed new hearings. PASC says it would expect the hearings to apply to the major auditors (such as the new head of the National Audit Office), ombudsmen and other complaints investigators, regulators and inspectors, and to those responsible for the appointments process itself. The hearings would only be used for posts where accountability to the public and Parliament was an important part of the role.
PASC concludes that the value a select committee could add to rigorous and impartial recruitment processes would be in exposing the chosen candidate for an important public service role to parliamentary and public scrutiny, once the main part of the selection process had been completed but before ministerial approval had been given. They would not interfere with impartial selection processes, but would ensure that final decisions taken by ministers - politicians themselves - faced a public, cross-party check. .
The Commissioner for Public Appointments has said that she would prefer that pre-appointment hearings did not apply to posts within her remit, but PASC points out that this would be an “arbitrary” step that would exclude some of those posts for which accountability is most important and in which Parliament has a particular interest.
The Committee also recommends that hearings should be extended to the occasional appointments made by Ministers which do not follow the usual processes for making public appointments on merit, for example where former Members of Parliament are appointed to the Diplomatic Service. PASC states that “such appointments may occasionally be appropriate, but they deserve to be tested in public by a cross-party committee”. In these cases PASC suggests the committee’s views could be binding on the Minister confirming the appointment.
While the Committee endorses most of the Government’s proposals, they are “not attracted” to the Government’s suggestion that there should be hearings after an appointment had been confirmed but before the appointee had started work for “market-sensitive” posts such as Governor of the Bank of England. The Committee argues that it is “not clear what the value would be of a hearing which was able neither to influence the appointment of a candidate nor to allow an office-holder to account for their performance” and suggests the possibility of private pre-appointment hearings for these posts with relevant documents published after the appointment had been confirmed.
The Committee considers the possible risks of pre-appointment hearings, for example the suggestion that they might put off candidates from the private sector, but concludes that these risks can be managed by ensuring that clear guidelines for hearings are agreed and followed and by keeping the system under review.
Tony Wright, Chairman of the Committee, said:
“For a number of key public appointments, it seems to us right that the final ministerial decision on whom to appoint is informed by public scrutiny. For example, Sir Christopher Kelly has told us that his appointment as the new Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life would have had more authority if he had been involved in a pre-appointment hearing in Parliament.
“If used sensibly, this new role for Parliament can strengthen public confidence in key appointments.”
For more information about the work of the Committee, visit our website at
Committee Membership: Tony Wright (Chairman) (Lab) (Cannock Chase), Mr David Burrowes (Con) (Enfield, Southgate), Paul Flynn (Lab) (Newport West), David Heyes (Lab) (Ashton under Lyne), Kelvin Hopkins (Lab) (Luton North), Mr Ian Liddell-Gr