European Scrutiny CommitteeLetter from the Foreign Secretary to the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee (ESI 23)

Thank you for your letter of 8 August about pre-appointment hearings for the Head of the United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the European Union (UKRep).

I would like to reassure you that I attach the utmost importance to the accountability of the Civil Service, including UKRep. As David Lidington, the Minister for Europe, made clear in evidence to your Committee in July the UK Permanent Representative is an official who acts in line with policies that have been agreed by Ministers. In that sense, he is in the same position as the British Ambassador to Washington, Beijing or Berlin, or our Permanent Representative to the United Nations. I believe it is right to maintain the longstanding constitutional distinction that on policy issues ministers are accountable to Parliament and that officials act on the instructions of ministers.

As you note in your letter, Francis Maude, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, has been in discussion with Sir Alan Beith, the Chair of the Liaison Committee, about pre-appointment hearings for those public appointments that are approved by ministers. As the Government has made clear in these discussions, we are committed to increasing transparency and accountability in the public appointments process. Strengthening the ability of select committees to scrutinise major public appointments and to hold ministers to account for their decisions is central to achieving this.

However, I am afraid that I do not agree that diplomatic posts should be subject to pre-appointment hearings. As set out in the Government’s response in December 2012 to the Chair of the Liaison Committee, diplomatic appointments are Civil Service positions. As such, they are covered by the relevant provisions in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The Civil Service Commission’s recruitment principles can be viewed at the below link:,vpcontent/uploads/2012/04/Recruitment-Principles.pdf

3 September 2013

Prepared 28th November 2013