MPs urged to exercise free rein on pre-appointment hearings

Liaison Committee says select committees should grill any ministerial appointment nominee they want

Liaison Committee chair Sarah Wollaston Credit: PA

By Jim.Dunton

21 Jun 2019

Members of parliament’s influential Liaison Committee have supported proposals for watchdog MPs to conduct hearings on any ministerial appointment they want.

The committee, which brings together the chairs of parliament’s select committees, said that although the Cabinet Office publishes a list of posts considered suitable for pre-appointment hearings, this should be considered “helpful” rather than binding.

Last year the Liaison Committee, which is chaired by Sarah Wollaston, asked the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee to look at the issue of which ministerial appointments should be subject to confirmatory pre-appointment hearings.


PACAC came up with a list of recommendations in September, which the Liaison Committee endorsed this week following its own hearings.

The Liaison Committee said it disagreed with the government’s arguments that ministers should have the right to determine which appointments were subject to parliamentary scrutiny before being confirmed because ministers were ultimately accountable to parliament for the decisions they made.

“Committees should scrutinise any ministerial appointment they feel necessary, and that as part of their accountability to parliament, ministers should facilitate this scrutiny,” it concluded.

“Although the list of posts suitable for pre-appointment hearings published by the Cabinet Office is a helpful guide for select committees, committees should not feel bound by it.”

The committee, which includes PACAC chair Sir Bernard Jenkin in its ranks, said pre-appointment hearings also provided an opportunity to give the public insight on a candidate’s views on policy issues relevant to the role they are seeking.

“This helps demonstrate the candidate’s independence of mind and enhance their legitimacy,” it said. “The purposes of pre-appointment hearings have been amended to reflect this.”

Earlier this year,  members of the Public Accounts Committee grilled proposed National Audit Office head Gareth Davies on his career to date, which included a spell as a board member at Oxfam that coincided with the emergence of allegations of sexual exploitation perpetrated by aid workers in Haiti. PAC subsequently endorsed his appointment as successor to Sir Amyas Morse.

Last year’s PACAC investigation was prompted by a disagreement between the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the department it scrutinises over a Charity Commission appointment. The government installed Baroness Stowell, a former Conservative minister, as chair of the charity watchdog despite the committee saying it had “fundamental concerns about her suitability for the post”.

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