Select Committee on Liaison First Report

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.[1] 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".[2] 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' appointees—appointed by the minister but without select committee approval; and (c) contravene the role of select committees as scrutiny bodies rather than decision-making bodies.[3]

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.[4] 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 taken post.

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".[5] Instead they recommended what they believed to be "an explicit yet proportional role" for select committees in the appointments process:

… 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 re-opened.[6]

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".[7] 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.[8]

1   Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 1999-2000, Shifting the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive, HC 300 Back

2   Ibid., para 24 Back

3   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

4   On 14 May 2002. See Liaison Committee, First Report of Session 2002-2003, Annual Report for 2002, HC 558, para 13. Back

5   Public Administration Select Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2002-03, Government by Appointment: Opening up the patronage state, HC 165-I, para 105 Back

6   Public Administration Select Committee, Government by Appointment: Opening up the patronage state, paras 109-110 Back

7   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

8   Ibid. Back

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