Pre-Appointment Hearings: Further Government Response to the Committee's Second Report of Session 2009-10 (The Work of Committees in 2008-09) - Liaison Committee Contents

Government response

Scrutiny of major public appointments

1. (Recommendation 6) The Government's original rationale for pre-appointment hearings was based on "increasing democratic scrutiny of public appointments" and on providing "greater public reassurance that those appointed to key public offices are appointed on merit". The UCL Report concludes that this objective "has been achieved" although the improvement brought about was "simply an incremental step - and quite a small one". On balance, we concur with the cautious assessment of the new arrangements and in principle support the continuance of the pre-appointment hearings on a permanent basis... (Paragraph 68)

The Government welcomes the Committee's support for pre-appointment hearings. In line with our commitment to strengthen the powers of select committees to scrutinise key appointments, this Government will offer pre-appointment hearings for major public appointments to select committees on a permanent basis. It will, of course, remain a matter for individual select committees to decide whether or not to hold hearings on a case by case approach.

2. (Recommendation 7) We recommend that a list of criteria governing the posts subject to pre-appointment hearings be established and a revised list of such posts agreed between the Government and the Liaison Committee. (Paragraph 70)

The Government agrees. The current list is illogical and inconsistent. As an early priority, the Government will work with the Liaison Committee to review and agree new criteria and to revise the list of posts suitable for pre-appointment scrutiny.

3. (Recommendation 8) We recommend that departments consult the relevant select committee on the job specification of any post that is to be subject to a pre-appointment hearing prior to the start of the recruitment process. (Paragraph 71)

The Government is committed to strengthening the role of committees in scrutinising major public appointments. However, we are equally committed to maintaining an appointments process that is proportionate, attracts candidates of the highest quality and represents value for money for the taxpayer. The Government will, therefore, need to consider this recommendation further to be satisfied that this would not result in additional delays in making public appointments or deter good candidates. We would also need to be reassured that such an approach was compliant with the requirements and principles of the Code of Practice issued by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.

4. (Recommendation 6) We recommend that existing guidance relating to the hearings process be consolidated—if agreed between the Cabinet Office and the Liaison Committee—in a single document containing precise indications of the purpose and possible content of pre-appointment hearings. (Paragraph 68)

5. (Recommendation 9) We recommend that the revised set of guidelines governing pre-appointment hearings include provision for a private meeting between a Minister and a committee at the committee's discretion, in cases where a committee is inclined to make a negative report on the preferred candidate for an appointment. (Paragraph 72)

The Government will explore with the Committee the need for consolidated guidance. As part of this, we will examine further the need for new procedures in cases where committees are minded to recommend against Ministers' preferred candidates.

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Prepared 2 November 2010