Select Committees and Public Appointments - Liaison Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

What are pre-appointment hearings for?

1.  It is a proper function of Parliament to oversee the role of regulators. In any event, we do not see any contradiction between the role of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA) to ensure the conduct of a fair and transparent selection process and select committee scrutiny of how Ministers have arrived at their decision about who the preferred candidate should be for particularly significant posts. They each perform a specific and distinct function. However, the purpose and objectives of pre-appointment hearings would benefit from greater precision which we would characterise as:

  • scrutiny of the quality of ministerial decision-making, which is a proper part of ministerial accountability;
  • providing public reassurance (in addition to the private processes of the OCPA) that those appointed to key public offices are selected on merit;
  • enhancing the appointee's legitimacy in undertaking their function;
  • providing public evidence of the independence of mind of the candidate.

In addition, the hearings provide opportunities for exploring the priorities of the candidate on taking up post and for allowing the candidate to understand Parliament's expectations of the post-holder. It is an appropriate outcome of the kind of discussion which takes place at a pre-appointment hearing for the committee to set out priorities, approaches to the job and areas of interest which it has discussed with the candidate. It may also be appropriate for the report from the committee to refer to any resources, or support, or in-service training needs which the hearing has brought to light. (Paragraphs 18, 19 and 20)

Agreeing the job specification

2.  We welcome the Minister's willingness to involve committees at an early stage of the recruitment process. It is important, however, that committees are not over-burdened and that it remains clear that this is consultation rather than endorsement. Arrangements should be put in place for committees to be consulted at an early stage of any pre-appointment process on the specification of the job and the criteria against which candidates are to be assessed. The consultation should be neither onerous nor bureaucratic but we would expect it to become generalised and accepted good practice for all major public appointments subject to the pre-appointment process. (Paragraph 28)

Information about other candidates

3.  We recommend that departments should provide committees with an oral or written brief about the conduct of the selection process and the nature of the shortlist in advance of a pre-appointment hearing. (Paragraph 36)

Power of veto

4.  There are number of posts over which the House should exercise formal control on the pattern provided by arrangements for the appointment of the Comptroller & Auditor General or the Chair of the Office of Budget Responsibility. These should relate specifically to posts where the remits are associated with the functions of Parliament or to holding the Executive to account as a constitutional proxy for Parliament. (Paragraph 40)

5.  We recommend that for a top-tier of the most significant public appointments the appointment process should involve not just a pre-appointment hearing but should clearly engage the House as an equal partner. This should include agreement over the terms and conditions of the post including remuneration arrangements before the start of the recruitment process and before the post is advertised. (Paragraph 49)

6.  For the next layer of appointments, we recommend that the model of an "effective veto" is the right one to follow. The arrangements which underpin such a model will need to make clear that Ministers must properly take account of the advice of a committee in reaching their final decision on appointment. (Paragraph 50)

7.  We recommend that, where it concludes that it is appropriate, the committee should raise concerns about a preferred candidate in private discussion with the Minister, as an alternative to issuing a report in the first instance. Depending on the outcome of these discussions, Ministers will want to consider whether or not it is advisable to press ahead with approving the appointment. (Paragraph 51)

8.  We recommend that the holders of posts falling into our category A should, having been approved by Parliament, require parliamentary control over their dismissal. Where a Minister is minded to take such a step, he or she should as a matter of course consult the appropriate committee as to its view on whether a further resolution of the House is required. (Paragraph 55)

Which posts should be subject to hearings?

9.  If enhanced parliamentary scrutiny for a small number of top tier posts is to work effectively there is a need for a more discriminating list of particularly significant posts. We therefore recommend a tri-partite list of posts in which select committees and Parliament more widely will be involved in the selection and appointment process in different degrees.

  • Category A posts should become, effectively, joint appointments between Parliament and the Executive (where they are not already). They should be confirmed by a vote on the floor of the House of Commons, and the dismissal of a post-holder before the expiry of his or her term of office should also require ratification by the House if a select committee so recommends. We recommend that gradually, as legislative opportunities arise, arrangements for appointments to these posts should be put on a statutory footing (or that this be done by means of a specific Act of Parliament).
  • Category B posts should be subject to an enhanced form of pre-appointment scrutiny, and be subject to an effective veto by a select committee (in other words, if the committee recommended against the appointment of the preferred candidate the onus would be on the Minister to show why the appointment should proceed if they were so minded). It would be open to either the Minister or the committee to seek a resolution on the floor of the House if they were unable to agree on the choice of candidate.
  • Category C posts should be those which are offered to the appropriate committee at the outset of the process of filling the vacancy, so that the committee could choose whether or not to require a pre-appointment hearing. (Paragraphs 59 and 61)

Political appointments

10.  We recommend that persons who are offered political appointments, other than appointments of Ministers, made under the exercise of prerogative powers, should have their appointments submitted to scrutiny by an appropriate select committee before the appointment is confirmed. (Paragraph 63)

Guidance on the process

11.  We recommend that the guidance on pre-appointment hearings should be reviewed and updated to reflect what has now become accepted practice as well as these further reforms. It is not acceptable for the Liaison Committee and the Cabinet Office each to give guidance which does not fully correspond. Therefore we reassert our predecessor Committee's position in favour of a single consolidated guidance document. We provide a first draft at Annex 4 as the basis for further discussion. (Paragraphs 67 and 68)

previous page contents next page

© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 4 September 2011