Pre-Appointment Scrutiny Hearings Project Summary

Pre-Appointment Scrutiny Hearings Project Summary
It is estimated that in the UK, Ministers make some 3,800 public appointments every
year. With the growth in regulation and inspection, some of the bigger regulators and
senior public appointments wield significant political power. Up to now, these top
appointments have been made without any parliamentary input or scrutiny. That is all
about to change.
In July 2007, the Brown government laid out its agenda for constitutional reform. One
of its proposals was to introduce the right for parliamentary select committees to hold
pre-appointment hearings for certain high-profile public appointments. In its March
2008 white paper “Governance of Britain,” the government decided to proceed with
its plans for Parliament to hold hearings “on a pilot basis.”
The stated rationale for introducing pre-appointment hearings is that they would
serve to protect the public’s rights and interests by adding transparency to the
appointments process. However, Parliament would not be given a veto over
appointments; the final decision remains in the hands of the Secretary of State. The
government and Liaison Committee agreed that the hearings should focus on the
candidates’ professional competence and personal independence rather than their
private lives.
The broader aim of the study is to establish what value parliamentary preappointment scrutiny hearings would add to the public appointments process. In
other words, do pre-appointment hearings hold power accountable and do they
enhance the rights and responsibilities of the citizen? Therefore, the study will aim to
examine whether pre-appointment hearings are a good way of checking the
executive’s powers in a Westminster system. It also asks whether the select
committees have been given sufficient powers to carry out their duties in scrutinising
public appointments.
The hopes and fears of the advocates and opponents of pre-appointments can be
tested by addressing the following research questions: (1) What value is added to
public appointments; (2) What are the risks of pre-appointment scrutiny hearings; (3)
What happens when a Select Committee issues an adverse report; (4) What are the
lessons from these pilots.
The government and the Liaison Committee agreed to a list of 60 posts which might
be subject to pre-appointment scrutiny hearings. As of 31 August 2009, 14 preappointment hearings have taken place. The appointment (or reappointment)
processes for these 14 posts will form the case studies for this research project. The
study uses three main research methods: (1) examination of official literature,
including committee reports, transcripts of hearings, the job advertisement and the
recruitment pack; (2) interviews with those involved in each recruitment exercise
such as the executive search consultant, lead official in the sponsoring department,
the clerk and chair of the Select Committee and the successful candidate; (3) media
monitoring using Lexis Nexis to see how much publicity the hearings receive and
whether the coverage is negative or positive.
The main output from the project will be submitted to the Liaison Committee and the
Cabinet Office.