The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report finds a vote of the House of Commons should be needed for ministers to override a select committee’s concerns about a new senior public appointment.
Currently, ministers can press ahead with an appointment without any pause for reflection, even if a select committee raises serious concerns about a candidate following a pre-appointment hearing.
Pre appointment process
Since 2008, preferred candidates for fifty of the most important public appointments appear before a select committee for a pre-appointment hearing before they are appointed by a minister. PACAC launched its inquiry in March after the Culture Secretary’s controversial decision to appoint the new Chair of the Charity Commission despite the unanimous objections of the cross-party DCMS Select Committee.
Commons vote needed
PACAC concluded that the pre-appointment hearing process should not be adversarial, and the majority are in fact a positive opportunity for committees to engage with candidates and scrutinise ministers’ decision making. However, where a committee has raised concerns about a preferred candidate, ministers have often not given these concerns serious consideration. Ministers are accountable to Parliament for making public appointments, so PACAC is recommending that, there must be a vote in the House of Commons to allow the minister to set aside the Committee’s refusal to approve the appointment.
Select committees can also do more to “concentrate the minds” of government departments on the need to improve the diversity of public appointments through asking ministers and civil servants to give evidence on the steps their departments are taking to improve diversity. Currently, fewer than a third of the chairs of public bodies are female, and only 4% are from ethnic minorities.
Chair of PACAC Sir Bernard Jenkin said:
"Ministers need to show us all that they are appointing suitable people to these top jobs, which affect the lives of millions of people. On the rare occasions when a cross-party select committee raises concerns about a candidate, ministers must consider them seriously if people are to have confidence in the transparency of this system.
Our constructive proposals will help to ensure that, where a committee raises concerns, there is an incentive for a pause for reflection by the Government before it presses ahead. Ultimately, it is about strengthening ministers’ accountability to Parliament."
About Parliament: Select committees