Select Committees should scrutinise any appointment they feel necessary, says the Liaison Committee in its review of Pre Appointment Hearings, published today.
The Government has argued that Ministers should have the right to determine which appointments are subject to parliamentary scrutiny in advance, as it is Ministers who are ultimately accountable to Parliament for the decisions they make. However, the Liaison Committee – the Committee of all the Chairs – disagrees, arguing that committees should scrutinise any ministerial appointment they feel necessary, and that as part of their accountability to Parliament, Ministers should facilitate this scrutiny.
Although the list of posts suitable for pre-appointment hearings published by the Cabinet Office is a helpful guide for select committees, committees should not feel bound by it, says the Committee.
The report also concludes that pre-appointment hearings provide the public with insight into a candidate’s views on policy issues relevant to the role they are seeking, and that this can help to demonstrate the candidate’s independence of mind and enhance their legitimacy. The purposes of pre-appointment hearings have been amended to reflect this.
Since 2008 House of Commons select committees have held oral evidence sessions with Ministers’ preferred candidates for a small number of senior public positions prior to their being formally appointed. These are called pre-appointment hearings.
In 2013 our predecessor Committee defined their purpose as:
- scrutiny of the quality of ministerial decision-making, which is a proper part of ministerial accountability to Parliament;
- providing public reassurance, in addition to the processes of the Office for the Commissioner of Public Appointments, that those appointed to key public offices have been selected on merit;
- providing public evidence of the independence of mind of the candidate;
- enhancing the appointee’s legitimacy in undertaking his or her function.
In March 2018 the Liaison Committee asked the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) to review the process of pre-appointment hearings. This was in response to the conclusions of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s Report following its pre-appointment hearing with the Government’s preferred candidate for Chair of the Charity Commission.
PACAC produced draft revised guidelines in their report. This has subsequently been subject to further internal consultation with select committees, including the production of a model questionnaire for candidates drawing on committees’ experience and the work of Professor Robert Hazell and colleagues from the Constitution Unit at University College London.