MPs: Stowell’s ‘hasty’ appointment was indicative of a ‘worrying trend’

The appointment of Baroness Stowell was “hasty” and showed “scant regard” for the appointment process and for parliament’s role in public appointments, MPs have claimed.

Baroness Stowell was last month appointed as the new chair of the Charity Commission, despite a number of objections from MPs and charity bodies, who expressed concerns around her ‘lack of experience’ for the role.

In written evidence submitted by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, MPs said the government’s response to its “hasty” decision was indicative of a “what could become a worrying trend”.

“Since 2005, appointing Ministers have put aside negative committee pre-appointment findings on four occasions, including [the appointment of Baroness Stowell]. The other most recent example – that of the Chief Inspector for Ofsted in July 2016 – bears many similarities […] Regardless of the committee’s important concerns, the government appointed the candidate anyway,” the statement said.

The committee said following a pre-appointment hearing, it wrote to the appointing Secretary of State, Matt Hancock setting out “strong concerns” about Stowell’s suitability for the role.

It said the letter identified three specific concerns: the candidate’s performance on the day; her ability to be impartial; and reservations about the recruitment process.

However, in its evidence, the committee argued its concerns were dismissed immediately through the press, rather than straight to the committee.

“The committee received no prior warning of this decision, nor any substantive response to the concerns we raised. When the committee again sought a reply to our individual concerns, the Secretary of State’s response failed to meaningfully address any of our four major reservations about the candidate’s suitability for the role,” it said.

The committee added that throughout the duration of the process, members “continued to feel that they had no satisfactory answer" as to why Matt Hancock had failed to take its concerns into account.

“As its stated in its report, the committee believed the government’s hasty decision showed scant regard for both due process and for parliament’s role in public appointments. But the government’s response was also indicative of what could become a worrying trend,” it said.

MPs suggested parliament instead introduce a Standing Order, requiring ministers to debate an appointment for 90 minutes on the Floor of the House, should the relevant committee reject the government’s desired candidate.

“This measure would restore parliament’s rightful authority to scrutinise the pre-appointment process, and allow select committees to fulfil their statutory obligations.

“We strongly believe that the government must do more to ensure that senior public positions are accessible to all who are qualified, and that it must prove to parliament and to the nation that it is genuinely committed to presenting a public face more representative of modern British society.”

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