Ratification of Appointments

The Ideas Factory is a chance for you to pitch your own idea of what should be in the next Liberal Democrat manifesto. The proposal here is not the policy of the Social Liberal Forum. We will however be passing it – and the response it generates – onto the Manifesto Working Group.

The Proposal

Thomas Hemsley: As part of a wider effort in strenghtening select committees (through allowing members to be elected by the Commons/Lords themselves) and democratising the second chamber, I feel we should look into having US-style ratifications for government appointees.

housecommonspa_468x278These ratifications would not be for ministers, but for members and heads of QUANGOs/NDPBs. So, for example, ratifications would be held for the Director General of the BBC, as well as the Chairman of the Trust and its members, and would be done so by the second chamber’s DCMS committee.

Similarly, the Chairman of the Environment Agency would be ratified by the second chamber’s DEFRA committee. I feel this would increase accountability over the executive and allow the second chamber a key role in scrutinising the Govt.

Responses

Paul Holmes MP: The ratification suggestion is a good idea and on the Children Schools and Families Committee we have established that in future the Head of OFSTED (which is supposedly answerable to Parliament through the Select Committee), will be ratified in this way. This could be extended considerably.

Allowing members to elect Select Committee members and Chairs is not quite so straightforward in a Parliament which is highly distorted due the effects of the first past the post electoral system. A straightforward majority vote under the present structure would certainly see all but Labour and Conservatives largely squeezed out entirely. Until proportional representation changes the dynamics a short term solution would be allowing the relevant Party MPs to cast a secret ballot for ‘their’ share of the Select Committee membership and for their agreed ‘share’ of the Select Committee Chairs. This would not only remove power of patronage from Government Whips but from ‘minority Party’ whips/leadership too!

Dr David Hall Matthews: This is a very good idea. Due process can sound dull, but it is at the heart of the creation of progressive societies. In order to have enabling states, it must be guaranteed that key state functions cannot be captured by interest groups or self-interested parties. Careful, robustly-structured democratic scrutiny is the only way to do this – and a revived, democratised upper house would have a key role in making the UK state structure more progressive.

James Graham: I would actually go further and increase Parliamentary scrutiny of ministerial posts as well, particularly in light of the current government’s recent obsession with so-called “GOATS” (Government Of All the Talents). The US cabinet is subject to scrutiny by Congress, why not here?

The other aspect that should be put under greater scrutiny is the Prime Minister’s power to create, merge and abolish departments. Prime Ministers have become obsessed with this in recent years and it is hard to see how such fundamental changes can be justified without Parliamentary oversight.

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4 comments on “Ratification of Appointments
  1. I agree with James that ministers should be included in any improved system of ratification. I would also argue that we should consider limiting the total number of ministers, to constrain the Executive’s dominance of Parliament. In most departments, I think one cabinet-level minister and one junior minister should probably be sufficient.

  2. Ned says:

    The total number of paid ministers is limited, and there’s not many MPs doing a full-time ministerial job unpaid. Of course, it’s not limited as much as you suggest, Bernard. :)

  3. Brian Robson says:

    I’d favour some sort of prior parliamentary review of appointments, but it’d need to be carefully arranged so it wasn’t merely a formality, but also so it doesn’t turn into a partisan bun-fight. I guess Paul Holmes’ suggestions go some way to countering this.

    Parliamentary review of appointments also happens in Canada in a constitutional set-up that’s more comparable to ours than the US.
    http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/library/PRBpubs/prb0621-e.pdf

  4. Chris White says:

    I am actually a member of a quango (the Audit Commission). I was offered up by the LGA Lib Dem Group as one of two political nominees. Both of us had to fill in a form and were interviewed. We then had to fill in departmental forms and were interviewed by civil servants and the Chair of the Commission. The process was testing. I won’t comment on the result.

    The problem is that no-one else is aware of it. For all the public knows, I am a purely political nominee – an anonymous seat filler. So I would welcome the opportunity to answer questions from parliamentarians and indeed from other interested parties – the Audit Commission deals with local government so you could make a case that the public scrutiny should include those who are eminent in local government.

    I don’t agree with restricting the numbers of ministers unless there has already been massive devolution. In my experience ministers are hopelessly overloaded under the current centralised system. Devolve then cut!

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