Selection of a new Chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments: Government Response to the Committee's Third Report of Session 2009-10 - Public Administration Committee Contents

Appendix 1 - Government Response

Letter from Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, to the Chairman of the Committee, 30 November 2009

I am writing in response to the report you published on 27 November following your pre-appointment hearing with Rt Hon Lord Lang of Monkton in relation to the post of Chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments.

I welcome your conclusion that Lord Lang has the professional competence and personal independence required for the post of Chair of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA). He was asked to take on the role on the basis of his experience, gravitas and credibility, a role in which he has the full support and confidence of the other members of the Committee and of the Government. I very much welcome the initiatives that Lord Lang has already introduced in relation to the Committee's working methods and governance arrangements.

In relation to the appointments process, it is clear that the Committee has concerns about the method used to appoint chairs of this Committee. These have been in force, as you point out, for many years under successive Governments. Whilst the Government is happy to look at this again, working with the Commissioner for Public Appointments, I would point out some particular circumstances pertaining to the Committee. Its remit is narrow and confined to individual casework for a relatively small number of people. It is for this reason that we believe that the membership must have experience and understanding of the Business Appointment rules and procedures to have credibility in the areas in which they are advising. This must be taken into account when considering the cost of recruitment processes and the added burden on candidates that the full process involves.

I also believe your concerns about a former Cabinet Minister with business appointments of his own taking on this role to be unfounded. If we were to exclude from this sort of appointment anyone in this position we would be severely limiting our potential appointees, and excluding people who have significant knowledge and experience to offer to such a role and to public life. The Cabinet Office followed the established process and practice which has been used before by making the appointment of the Chairman from within the existing members. This does not make it irregular, but we will be looking at this again with the Commissioner.

I also note that in your three reports published during this Parliament about, or touching on, the Advisory Committee, you have not made any recommendations about the membership process. However, we have always been clear that we would use the current process to refresh the Committee to work with the Commissioner for Public Appointments on an appropriate process in the future. We are fully committed to doing so. I have also asked that the points made by you in this Report also be taken into account.

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