Select Committee on Public Administration Fifth Report

The Appointed Members

Principles of appointment

128. The same essential principles will apply to the appointed members as to the elected ones. For the new second chamber to be credible and have authority, its appointed members must be independent minded people, not just perceived as the recipients of party patronage. They must bring expertise from the professions, science, the arts and other walks of life which are under-represented in politics. And they must help to redress the imbalances amongst the elected members and to promote diversity.

Balance between independent members and party nominees

129. With 60 per cent of the members elected, the balance remaining to be appointed is 40 per cent. Of the appointed members, we propose that half (20 per cent of the total) should be party nominees, and half (20 per cent of the total) should be independent members sitting on the cross benches.

Justification for retaining party nominees

130. In their separate proposals published during our inquiry, both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have proposed that all the party representatives in the new House should be elected members, leaving appointment only for the cross benchers. We believe there continues to be a justification for some party nominees, but not in the proportion (55 per cent) proposed in the White Paper. That is why in our proposals we have reduced the proportion of party nominees to 20 per cent.

131. We expect the parties to continue to nominate members of two kinds. First, former Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, party leaders and other senior MPs who want to continue to serve in Parliament, but to retire from the House of Commons. In future such figures would have no routine expectation of a seat in the second chamber, but would have to take their chance within their party's quota. However, those who have served with distinction in Parliament and Government can and should be able to make a contribution in the second chamber. We do not subscribe to the denigration of party politicians and believe that they may have a valuable role to play in the reformed second chamber. Second, the parties will continue to nominate experts similar to those who sit on the cross benches, but who have a party affiliation. Not all experts are non-political: to take examples from three recent appointments, Lord Winston professor of gynaecology (Labour), Lord Wallace of Saltaire, professor of international relations (Liberal Democrat), and Lord Norton of Louth, professor of government (Conservative) are all distinguished experts in their respective fields who take the party whip. We hope the parties will continue to nominate such people, and not take an unduly narrow view of who is 'sound' politically, and not simply use their lists to recycle MPs. Examples of MPs 'selling' their seats to the party managers, often just before General Elections, in exchange for places in the Lords, is the sort of practice that brings discredit on all concerned, and on the institution itself.

132. We believe that there should be a robust filter to ensure that those nominated by parties are acceptable, and that the Appointments Commission (see below) should have the final say. This would help to underpin the credibility of these appointments, by subjecting them to a check that would ensure that they were people of merit and not merely the recipients of party patronage. This recommendation was fundamental to the Royal Commission's report, and we very much regret that it was not accepted by the Government in the White Paper. In his evidence to us, Lord Wakeham described the practical advantages to the parties themselves in having a body of this kind to make the final selection.[59] The Lord Chancellor, in talking to the Committee, seemed willing to contemplate such a role for the Commission, as long as it selected from shortlists supplied by the parties.[60]

133. We recommend that the parties should submit lists of party nominees to the Appointments Commission, ranked if they wish in order of preference, but that the Commission should make the final selection. If the Prime Minister can choose the Archbishop of Canterbury from names submitted to him by the Church of England, there should be no difficulty about an independent appointments commission choosing from names submitted by the parties. The Appointments Commission would take the final decision on those who are to represent their parties. If the Government is unable to agree to this recommendation, which we regard as fundamental, then we recommend that there should be no separate element of party nominees in the second chamber and that its composition should consist of 70 per cent directly elected members and 30 per cent independent appointees.

134. We note that the Government is completely silent about the process by which nominations from the parties will be found. We find this a disturbing omission. There is no mention of the 'Nolan' principles on public appointments or of the need for the selection process to be open to public scrutiny. We believe that the parties should be required to publish the details of their procedures for selecting their nominees for the second chamber and that these procedures should be monitored by the Appointments Commission.

Length of term for appointed members

135. The Royal Commission proposed 15 year terms for both appointed and elected members. The Government do not believe that the two categories of members need necessarily serve terms of equivalent length. We believe that they should as far as possible, to underline the equivalent status of each category, and to ensure parity of esteem between them. Under the White Paper proposals and under our revised scheme three quarters of the total members are likely to get into the Lords because they have been nominated by their party, whether for election or for appointment. The same considerations about buttressing their independence from their party apply in each case.

136. If elected members are allowed a single two-Parliament term, then we believe a limit of ten years should apply to appointed members; with no possibility of gaining a second term by switching categories.

Strengthening the Appointments Commission

137. With appointed members making up nearly half the new House, it is vital that the process of appointment commands credibility and produces lists of members which are significantly different from those which used to appear at the head of the Honours Lists. Membership of the new second chamber should be considered as a job and not an honour. Lord Stevenson said in evidence to us that this is the approach taken by the interim Appointments Commission which he chairs.[61] But the press and public reaction to the first list of cross benchers appointed in April 2001 suggests that the interim Appointments Commission has not managed to develop the necessary credibility. Our evidence from Lord Stevenson convinced us that it is essential for the new statutory Appointments Commission to make a fresh start. We set out below a number of recommendations designed to strengthen the new Commission, both in terms of its credibility and its role.

Who appoints the Appointments Commission?

138. The White Paper proposes that the Appointments Commission should have eight members, four nominated by the parties and crossbenchers, and three politically neutral members, with the Chair recruited through an open and independent selection process. The Commission would be appointed by The Queen in response to an Address from the House of Lords. Its status and method of appointment would be very similar to those of the Electoral Commission.

139. Lord Stevenson told us about the open and independent selection process by which he was appointed .[62] It involved an approach from consultants, and an interview by a panel chaired by the Cabinet Secretary. The recruitment of the first members of the Electoral Commission in late 2000 was organised by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the Home Office, with an interview panel chaired by the Home Office Permanent Secretary.

140. The Committee do not believe that this involvement of the executive in the selection of a body which is meant to be directly accountable to Parliament is appropriate. Parliament should take firmer hold of the process, so that the credibility of the new Appointments Commission can be properly established.

141. We believe that it is time Parliament took full responsibility for the recruitment and appointment of bodies which are directly accountable to Parliament. We suggest that a committee of senior members of both Houses should examine how best this should be done.

142. Lastly, as a signal that the Appointments Commission should take very seriously the aim of producing a House which is more diverse, we recommend that the Commission should itself be more diverse.

Role of the Appointments Commission in maintaining overall balance

143. We are concerned at the lack of clarity in the White Paper about the role to be played by the Appointments Commission in maintaining the diversity of the second chamber. It is not clear, for instance, whether the Commission is intended to have responsibility for the balance simply of the independent appointed members, of all appointed members, or of the chamber as a whole. We believe that it should take on the responsibility for balancing the whole chamber. This is a further reason why it should appoint not just independent members but also those members nominated by parties.

144. We recognise that under our proposals for a predominantly elected House, the Commission would only have direct control over the selection of the 40 per cent of its members who are appointed. This might make its task difficult if there are serious imbalances amongst the elected members. The Commission should be required to publish an annual report about the balances and imbalances in the House as a whole, and to inform the political parties of the imbalances which need redressing. The Commission cannot control the selection process of the political parties, but it should be able to identify those parties which are contributing to the imbalance, and so exercise some influence over their selection criteria.

145. There will also be a need to decide on the correct allocation of appointed members for each political party. We believe that the Appointments Commission should decide the proportions, basing them on the share of the vote won by each party in the second chamber elections. Any other allocation, such as one based on general election shares, would threaten to undermine the credibility of the second chamber elections and mirror some of the least satisfactory features of the White Paper rebalancing proposals. It will take time to achieve this, and realistic timetables would have to be drawn up.

146. We recommend that the Appointments Commission should allocate the numbers of politically nominated members to each party, based on the share of the vote won by the parties in the most recent second chamber election.

147. In terms of appointed members, we have already recommended that the Commission should make the final selection of party nominees as well as independent members. This would also help the Commission in its task of ensuring overall balance. The kind of political rebalancing role envisaged by the White Paper for the Appointments Commission (described by Professor Iain McLean in his written evidence as 'a ZANU-PF conception of democracy')[63] is neither necessary or desirable.

Selection of the independent members

148. One way in which the statutory Commission can signal a fresh start is by seeking out individuals who would not have featured an any conventional Honours List. This is one reason why the initial group of nominations received such a lukewarm reception: they appeared little different from the Establishment figures who appeared on such lists in the past. We wish the Commission to be more innovative and imaginative in encouraging able people from a variety of backgrounds to come forward to serve in the second chamber. This could be achieved by a variety of methods, including nomination from local and community groups and from professional associations: no one can be compelled to serve, and those appointed by this route must be willing to give the same amount of time and commitment to the second chamber as everyone else. What matters is that a distinctive approach (or set of approaches) is adopted to produce a distinctive and fresh set of faces to sit alongside the well known figures with distinguished records of public service who also (quite properly) feature strongly on the cross benches.

149. One possibility that might have merit is to allow the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies to be the nominating bodies for independent appointed members from their nations and regions. This would be a form of indirect election that could be applied more widely as and when regional assemblies are established in England.

59   HC 494-i Q 1-5 Back

60   HC 494-iii Q 425 Back

61   Ibid Q 320 Back

62   HC 494-iii, Q321/2 Back

63   HC 494-II, LR 58 Back

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