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Appointment of the Chair of the Charity Commission Report published

28 February 2018

After rejecting Baroness Stowell for new Charity Commission Chair, DCMS Committee calls for new powers to question Ministers in the Commons over public appointments.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is publishing a report today on the appointment of the Chair of the Commission, Baroness Stowell.

The Report

This report expands on the arguments raised in the Committee's letter to the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Matt Hancock MP, on 20th February when MPs unanimously rejected her appointment. The Committee remains concerned about Baroness Stowell's lack of charity and regulatory experience, and her perceived political independence.
 
The Secretary of State has publicly reaffirmed his full backing of Baroness Stowell. But MPs on the Committee say his response was hasty and showed “scant regard” for both due process and for Parliament's role in public appointments. 
 
The Committee will work with others to introduce a procedure which would ensure that, if a committee rejects the nominee for a public appointment, a debate would be held on the floor of the House of Commons at which appointing Ministers would need to defend their nomination, followed by a vote.
 
The Committee is also calling for clarification on why there was a last minute delay in holding the pre-appointment hearing, which was originally due to take place on 12th December 2017. In written evidence to the Committee, charities allege that Baroness Stowell was not the favoured candidate of the independent assessment panel, and that there was another preferred candidate "reported to be highly experienced and politically neutral," but this person was not selected for the role by Ministers.

Chair's comment

Chair of the Committee, Damian Collins MP, said: 

“Baroness Stowell, although clearly a dedicated public servant, last Tuesday failed to persuade the Committee that she would be a good candidate for this vitally important leadership role in the charity sector- especially at a time when it is in need of strong and independent leadership.
 
“It's not just the DCMS Committee who feel this way- a large swathe of the voluntary sector has raised serious concerns about her lack of political neutrality, charity experience, and the sectors' needs and challenges. Political neutrality – and the perception of political neutrality - is particularly important in the Charity sector; the Charity Commission, as a regulator, is tasked with determining whether a charity has breached the law on political purpose.
 
“Select Committees interview the candidate for these appointments in advance for a good reason- to help reassure the public that these important roles are subject to a fair and open process, and that we get the best person for the job. We will be taking this opportunity to work with other Committees who support our call for the ability to trigger a debate in the Commons to hold Ministers to account and allow them to defend their decisions. If the candidates have Ministers' full support, the Government should be easily able to explain that to the House.”

Further information

The Committee have now written to the Liaison Committee to seek their support on this matter.
 
MPs have previously written to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport expressing concerns about the processes of making public appointments, highlighting the fact that candidates for public appointments seem to be emerging from a ‘narrow pool of establishment figures.
 
They are requesting a response to their report from the Department within a fortnight, a shorter period than the normal time for Government responses of 8 weeks.

Further information

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