COMMONS

Liaison Committee guidelines for select committees holding pre-appointment hearings

1. In its Third Report of Session 2017-19, Pre-Appointment Hearings (HC 2307) the Liaison Committee established the following guidelines for select committees conducting pre-appointment hearings with the Government’s preferred candidate for certain public appointments.

2. In these guidelines, the term ‘relevant select committee’ means the committee appointed under Standing Order No. 152 to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Government department which sponsors the public body to which the appointment is to be made, or, in the case of appointments sponsored by the Cabinet Office, the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee.

3. Select committee pre-appointment hearings have the following purposes and objectives:

  • 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, including providing the public with an insight into the candidate’s views on the policy issues related to the role.

4. The process involves the relevant select committee taking evidence from the Government’s preferred candidate for an appointment, and subsequently publishing a report setting out the committee’s view on that candidate’s suitability for the post. Any concerns the committee has about the recruitment process, including policy concerns it may highlight, should be directed to the appointing Minister or the departmental permanent secretary not the preferred candidate. In such cases the committee may wish to call Ministers or officials to give evidence. The committee may also wish to consider any information provided by the Commissioner for Public Appointments about the appointment process.

5. While committee observations on a candidate’s suitability are, in most cases, not binding on Ministers, it is expected that the appointing Minister will consider any relevant observations made by a committee before deciding whether to proceed with an appointment.

6. Committees are not obliged to hold a hearing. They may take written evidence, including from the candidate in the form of a questionnaire, to inform any decision about whether or not a hearing should take place. In all cases the decision on whether to hold a pre-appointment hearing or scrutinise an appointment in any way rests with the relevant select committee.

7. The posts which the Government considers suitable for pre-appointment hearings to be held by select committees are listed in Annex A to the Cabinet Office publication Guidance on pre-appointment scrutiny by House of Commons select committees. The Liaison Committee will publish periodically on its website a list of pre-appointment hearings held by select committees.

8. Committees are not confined by the Cabinet Office list. They may wish periodically to review the list of public appointments in their subject area and decide which merit a scrutiny hearing. In 2017 the Commissioner for Public Appointments published a longer list of ‘significant appointments’ which require a Senior Independent Panel Member to be a member of the Advisory Assessment Panel which committees may wish to consider. The Committee should give notice to the Department so that arrangements can be made to notify the committee in good time of the proposed appointment.

9. The presumption is that the relevant select committee will hold the hearing. There may be occasions where appointments may be scrutinised by a committee or committees other than the relevant select committee, including through a joint hearing. Such arrangements should in the first instance be negotiated between the committees concerned, in consultation with the appointing Minister. Any dispute which cannot be thus resolved may be referred to the Liaison Committee.

10. For certain posts it may be appropriate for the select committees that scrutinise the work of the Northern Ireland Office, the Scotland Office and the Wales Office to be consulted.

11. Nothing in these guidelines shall be considered to fetter any select committee’s right to invite, and power to summon, any individual.

12. Cabinet Office guidance requires the sponsor department to consult the Chair of the relevant select committee on the proposed selection process to fill a post subject to a pre-appointment hearing before any recruitment exercise begins. Committees may expect to receive drafts of the job description and person specification for comment.

13. The appointing Minister may wish to invite the Chair or another Member of a committee to be part of their Advisory Assessment Panel. Before accepting they should seek the agreement of the Committee, and recuse themselves from any subsequent Committee proceedings on the appointment.

14. Departments are expected to discuss a suitable date for the eventual hearing with the relevant select committee at an early stage. Committees will want to consider how far in advance of the scheduled hearing it will require the Department to notify it of the name of the preferred candidate, in order that the Committee has sufficient time to prepare for the hearing. The Cabinet Office requires Departments to ensure that the end of the selection process for a post subject to pre-appointment hearing does not coincide with any long periods of adjournment.

15. Where an incumbent reaching the end of a term of office is to be reappointed to the post, the Cabinet Office requires the sponsor department to inform the relevant select committee before the reappointment takes effect. It will be for that committee to decide whether it wishes to hold a further formal hearing or whether it wishes to examine the post holder in the course of its programme of scrutiny.

16. Departments are required to provide to the relevant select committee the name of the Government’s preferred candidate for a post, relevant details about the candidate (including a CV and any declaration of interests) together with information on the selection process and the field of candidates. This information should include the number of applicants, the numbers shortlisted and interviewed, diversity information about the field of applicants and those progressed to each stage (where appropriate), and the membership of the Advisory Assessment Panel.

17. In preparation for the hearing, committees are encouraged to issue a written questionnaire to the candidate, inviting the candidate to disclose any conflicts of interest, to demonstrate their experience and expertise, their independence, and to indicate their initial priorities once in post. This may help to avoid the need for a hearing, or to shorten the hearing by enabling the committee to focus solely on matters of interest. The Liaison Committee has published a model questionnaire that Committees may wish to adapt (see below).

18. The presumption is that all material received by the Committee will be made available to the public at the hearing and published with the Committee’s report.

19. The Clerk of the select committee may brief the preferred candidate on the format of the hearing and the Committee’s likely approach.

20. Select committees holding pre-appointment hearings should observe the following guidelines:

  • The Chair of the Committee should ensure that committee members are aware that their questions must remain relevant to the professional competence and personal independence of the candidate. Questions eliciting background information about the candidate's past career and about the selection process for the post are also normally acceptable.
  • The candidate will need to be able to withstand parliamentary and public scrutiny should he or she take up the post, and part of the purpose of the session is to test this. Questioning may also cover some areas that might not have been appropriate at the candidate’s interview, such as party-political activity or political donations, where these are relevant.
  • The Chair should intervene if, in the opinion of the Chair, questions are irrelevant, unduly personal or partisan, or discriminatory.
  • A candidate unable or unwilling to answer a question put to him or her by a committee member in the course of a hearing is entitled to appeal to the Chair.

21. Committee members with pecuniary or non-pecuniary interests relevant to the hearing should declare them at the start of the hearing.

22. A committee undertaking a pre-appointment hearing should meet in private immediately after the end of the pre-appointment hearing to consider a report to the House on the candidate’s suitability. This will ensure that the evidence is fresh in the minds of Members and that Members not present to hear the evidence do not influence the content of the report. It also ensures that speculation over the outcome of the hearing is not unnecessarily prolonged.

23.In cases where it is not possible to meet immediately after the hearing concludes, or where agreement on a report cannot be secured at that meeting, the committee should reconvene at an early opportunity to consider a report. In such cases, only those members of the committee who participated in the pre-appointment hearing should deliberate and vote on the eventual report.

24. A copy of the agreed report on a pre-appointment hearing should be provided to the candidate, and to the appointing Minister, at least twenty-four hours before the intended date and time of publication of the report.

25. Pre-appointment hearings provide opportunities for exploring the priorities of the candidate on taking up post and for allowing the candidate to understand Parliament's expectations of the post-holder. It is therefore an appropriate outcome of the kind of discussion which takes place at a pre-appointment hearing for the committee to set out priorities, approaches to the job and areas of interest which it has discussed with the candidate. It may also be appropriate for the report from the committee to refer to any resources, support, or in-service training needs which the hearing has brought to light. The committee may also wish to direct its Chair to write to the relevant Minister with any opinions on the candidate it wishes to express privately, to supplement the published report.

26. A committee which has reservations about the suitability of a candidate, should normally raise such concerns privately with the Minister in the first instance rather than issuing a report immediately.  Ministers may wish to consider, in the light of such representations, whether it is advisable to press ahead with the appointment, and may advise the candidate of the reservations expressed. Ministers and candidates may also be asked, or choose, to provide further information or assurances to the committee in response to the issues raised.

27.  A committee holding a pre-appointment hearing may wish to conduct a broader inquiry into the work of the body to which the appointment is to be made. In such circumstances the pre-appointment hearing should be undertaken separately from any evidence sessions relating to the inquiry. Any report on the hearing should normally be issued as a separate report and not subsumed into the report of the inquiry.

28. The appointing Minister is expected to ensure that the decision on appointment is made fairly and takes all relevant considerations into account. Such considerations should include the views of the relevant select committee on the suitability of the candidate (particularly if they are negative).

29. In all cases (including those where the Committee may have declined an invitation to hold a pre-appointment hearing) the Minister should write to the Chair of the Committee with formal notification of the decision. 

30. Certain appointments are made under statute, and there may in such cases be statutory constraints on the considerations the appointing Minister may take into account when making a final decision on appointment. Where an appointment subject to a pre-appointment hearing is a statutory appointment, the Department is expected to notify the relevant select committee of the statutory provision concerned and the requirements (if any) which the Minister must observe in making the appointment.

31. Appointments of the Chair and of the independent members of the Office of Budget Responsibility are subject to procedures laid down in Schedule 1 to the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011. The provisions of this Act require the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons to agree to these appointments. While the procedures for such appointments should broadly follow those described above, local variations to meet the requirements of the Act can be expected, and the explicit consent of the Committee must be formally recorded in a report. Section 18 of the Bank of England and Financial Services Act 2016 provides that the Chief Executive of the Financial Conduct Authority cannot begin their term of office prior to appearing before the Treasury Select Committee, or three months elapsing. 

32. Separate statutory procedures apply for appointments to the parliamentary posts of Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Health Service Commissioner for England (PHSO), members of the Electoral Commission and members of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. For recent appointments preferred candidates for C&AG and PHSO have been subject to pre-appointment hearings by the Public Accounts Committee and PACAC respectively.

33. A number of market sensitive appointments made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are subject to a confirmation hearing by the Treasury Committee after they have been announced. Such hearings proceed under arrangements made between that Committee, the Bank of England and the Treasury.[1]  Bespoke arrangements are also in place for scrutiny of the appointment of the Chair of the Office of Tax Simplification.[2]  The Government has also given an undertaking that it will not appoint a person to the office of Information Commissioner in the face of an adverse recommendation from the relevant select committee.

Introduction

34. This is a model questionnaire for use with Minister’s preferred candidates prior to a pre-appointment hearing to elicit further information to help inform an oral evidence session alongside the candidate’s CV, and information provided by the appointing department. See the Liaison Committee’s guidance for select committees holding pre-appointment hearings for the information committees should expect the appointing department to provide.

35. It is intended as a starting point for Committees and they may wish to amend, add to or subtract from the questions below to reflect the specific nature of the role, the candidate and the Committee’s interests.

36. It is ultimately for committees to decide what questions they wish to ask a candidate, although they should be mindful of the Liaison Committee’s guidance that; “questions must remain relevant to the professional competence and personal independence of the candidate. Questions eliciting background information about the candidate's past career and about the selection process for the post are also normally acceptable.”

37. It is normal practice for a candidate’s completed questionnaire to be published either as written evidence or appended to the committee’s final report. This should be made clear to the candidate.

Motivation

38. What motivated you to apply for this role, and what specific experiences would you bring to it?

39. If appointed are there specific areas within your new responsibilities where you will need to acquire new skills or knowledge?

40. How were you recruited? Were you encouraged to apply, and if so, by whom?

Personal Background

41. Do you currently or potentially have any business, financial or other non-pecuniary interests or commitments, that might give rise to the perception of a conflict of interest if you are appointed? How do you intend to resolve any potential conflicts of interests if you are appointed?

42. If appointed what professional or voluntary work commitments will you continue to undertake, or do you intend to take on, alongside your new role? How will you reconcile these with your new role?

43. Have you ever held any post or undertaken any activity that might cast doubt on your political impartiality? If so how will you demonstrate your political impartiality in the role if appointed?

44. Do you intend to serve your full term of office? [if appropriate] Do you intend to seek re-appointment?

The [public body]

45. If appointed what will be your main priorities on taking up the role? 

46. What criteria should the Committee use to judge [your/the public body’s] the performance over your term of office?

47. How will you protect and enhance your personal independence and the institutional independence of [organisation] from the Government/Ministers? 

48. How do you assess the public profile and reputation of [organization]?

49. What risks do you think [the public body] will face over your term of office? How do you intend to manage them?

50. [any specific questions on the candidate’s views on relevant policy issues or current events]


1  The posts and procedures were summarised in correspondence from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Chair of the Treasury Select Committee dated 15 February 2015.
2 ibid

Guidelines for select committees conducting pre-appointment hearings