1 Select committees
and public appointments|
1. The involvement of select committees in public
appointments has been of interest to this Committee for some time.
Our predecessor Committee's report Shifting the Balance: Select
Committees and the Executive published in March 2000, observed
that although committees had no formal role in appointments, some
did hold "confirmation hearings" for major public appointments.
The Treasury Select Committee, for example, has held hearings
with newly appointed members of the Monetary Policy Committee
of the Bank of England since the Bank was made independent in
1997. In its 2000 report our predecessor committee stated that
it would seek "statutory acknowledgement of this process
in new legislation".
The Government did not agree. They stated that no formal role
should be given to select committees in scrutinising appointments
as it would: (a) break the accountability of ministers for appointments;
(b) risk the appointment of 'lame duck' appointeesappointed
by the minister but without select committee approval; and (c)
contravene the role of select committees as scrutiny bodies rather
than decision-making bodies.
2. Our predecessor Committee returned to public appointments
when it drafted its list of 'core tasks' for select committees
in 2002, in response to a similar list proposed by the Modernisation
Committee and endorsed in a Resolution of the House.
The Liaison Committee defined core task number 8 as: "To
scrutinise major public appointments made by the department".
Committee practice in relation to this task is reported in their
annual reports, and their experiences are collated in this Committee's
own annual report. Some Committees have attempted to insert a
confirmation-type hearing into their evidence sessions with newly
appointed officials. Others have ensured that they take evidence
from key newly appointed public officials soon after they have
3. The Public Administration Select Committee has
also had a long-standing interest in this area. Their 2003 report
on public appointments considered the role of the Commissioner
for Public Appointments and discussed the practice of some select
committees in taking evidence from recent appointees in a manner
akin to confirmation hearings. The Committee decided against recommending
pre-appointment confirmation hearings for all public appointments
because of "practical and constitutional difficulties".
Instead they recommended what they believed to be "an explicit
yet proportional role" for select committees in the appointments
ministers should agree a list of key appointments
with relevant select committees and notify them of the names of
proposed appointees for these posts as they arise. Committees
could decide, if they chose, to hold a meeting with proposed appointees,
and would be able to enter a Letter of Reservation as a result
of such a hearing in any case where there was a decision to do
so. In such circumstances the competition for the post would be
4. The Government rejected this proposal on the basis
that the existing practice of select committees of taking evidence
from newly appointed public officials was "the right approach".
Again they cited the arguments that the current practice was "robust"
and provided "a clear line of accountability", as well
as avoiding the perception of the politicisation of appointments.
1 Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 1999-2000,
Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive,
HC 300 Back
Ibid., para 24 Back
Liaison Committee, Second Report of Session 1999-2000, Independence
or Control? The Government's Reply to the Committee's First Report
of Session 1999-2000 Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and
the Executive, HC 748; Select Committee on Modernisation of
the House of Commons, First Report of Session 2001-02, Select
Committees, HC 224, para 34 Back
On 14 May 2002. See Liaison Committee, First Report of Session
2002-2003, Annual Report for 2002, HC 558, para 13. Back
Public Administration Select Committee, Fourth Report of Session
2002-03, Government by Appointment: Opening up the patronage
state, HC 165-I, para 105 Back
Public Administration Select Committee, Government by Appointment:
Opening up the patronage state, paras 109-110 Back
Cabinet Office, Government response to the Public Administration
Select Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2002-03 "Government
by Appointment: Opening up the patronage state", December
2003, Cm 6056, p6 Back