Select Committees and Public Appointments: The Liaison Committee Strikes Back

So: nine months after the Liaison Committee’s report on public appointments (let’s empower parliament in a more structured and effective way), government issued its response (thanks but go stuff yourselves). Three months after that, the Liaison Committee has issued a magisterial further report responding to the government. It’s wonderfully written. You don’t even really need to translate it from dry committee-speak; the contempt drips off the page. It’s almost bitchy. A few choice quotes:

While we deplored the delay, we hoped that at least it would mean that the Government’s response would have real substance, and take us forward to a new stage in the accountability of ministerial appointments. We were disappointed.

But, overall, the response fails to engage with our recommendations, and is somewhat dismissive in tone, even where the Government declares itself in agreement with us.

[The response] says that Ministers should give “careful consideration” to Committee reports and reasons but notes the “considerable legal constraints” as to what the Minister can take into account in reaching a final decision. These constraints are not elaborated upon. We find it odd that these constraints were not raised at an earlier stage in our dialogue with Government.

The response takes no account of the list of posts we proposed in our report, saying only that it “has considered [it] … with interest”. […] It seems that, in this respect, we are no further forward than last year.

The response entirely ignores our recommendation that political appointments, such as the UK’s European Commissioner, or ambassadors or High Commissioners appointed from outside the career diplomatic service, should be subject to pre-appointment scrutiny by an appropriate select committee.

The response merely “notes” our draft guidance “with thanks”. […] The response states that the guidance is still to be “agreed between Government and Parliament” but the Government does not appear to be seeking our agreement to it.

I’ll quote the conclusion in its entirety:

The Government’s response to our report on Select Committees and Public Appointments misjudges the mood of this Committee and—we believe—the mood of the House and the expectations of the public. It is unacceptable that it is seven months late. It is inexcusable, given the time taken, that it does not take us further forward in strengthening the accountability of ministerial appointments. We will be pursuing this matter with Ministers and we draw our concern to the attention of the House.

Will post again on this when it comes (as I’m sure it will) before the House.

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