MPs have refused to approve the appointment of a former Conservative minister as chair of the Charity Commission due to concerns over both her neutrality and experience in the sector.
The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee unanimously rejected Baroness Tina Stowell for the position after questioning her on her credentials for the post.
While MPs do not hold a veto on the appointment for the £62,500 position, the move sends a powerful signal to culture ministers who must now decide whether to proceed with her appointment.
Stowell, who was leader of the Tories in the Lords until 2016 conceded she had “limited experience” of the voluntary sector in the pre-appointment hearing and cast herself as a “veteran outsider” in previous roles at the BBC.
However she rejected the suggestion that she had only taken up recent charity posts in order to boost her CV for the charity commission role.
Within hours of being questioned by MPs, committee chair Damian Collins wrote to Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport secretary Matt Hancock to say he “cannot support” her appointment.
He wrote: “Baroness Stowell has little more than six months of negligible charity sector experience, and a complete lack of experience of working for a regulatory body.”
He added that “her political past is a source of concern for the committee and those within the charity sector.”
“The candidate was a longstanding government minister less than two years ago. The fact that Baroness Stowell had a political career is not itself a bar, and the candidate has publicly committed to giving up the Conservative whip upon appointment. However, her political past is a source of concern for the Committee and those within the charity sector.
“As the umbrella body for voluntary organisations, NCVO, told us in written evidence, “perceived independence – being seen to be independent – is just as important as actual independence. Charities cannot afford for their regulator to be anything other than beyond all suspicion.”
He added that Cabinet Office guidance on pre-appointment scrutiny undertaken by select committees should test whether the candidate is able to withstand parliamentary and public scrutiny.
“On this occasion, it is our judgment that Baroness Stowell was unable to withstand scrutiny. Members asked fair questions that gave the candidate the opportunity to demonstrate her knowledge, skills and experience.
“Indeed, several members made proactive efforts to tease out relevant examples of her interest in, and vision for, the sector, and were disappointed to receive answers that were often lacking in detail or relevance.”