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Pre-Appointment Scrutiny Hearings in the British House of Commons: All Bark, or Some Bite?

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In 2007 British Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed that House of Commons committees should start holding pre-appointment hearings for key public appointments. This was initially welcomed by MPs, who viewed it as an important step towards limiting executive power and strengthening the role of parliament. However, following the appointment of the Children's Commissioner against the advice of the relevant select committee, many MPs became disillusioned with the hearings. Based on extensive interviews with those involved in the appointments process, this article argues that while committees may lack formal veto power over appointments, they do have considerable influence. Most candidates said they would not have taken up their appointment against the advice of the select committee. So pre-appointment hearings should not be dismissed as pointless, but rather seen as an important mechanism through which committees can exert influence over public appointments. This tells us two important things about the powers of legislatures. First, it confirms that legislative influence is far more subtle than the simple exercise of veto powers, as scholars have long noted. But second, it also demonstrates that even the most central actors in the process (the MPs) may not appreciate this fact.

Keywords: United Kingdom; confirmation hearings; oversight committees; parliamentary impact; public appointments

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13572334.2012.673066

Affiliations: 1: School of Public Policy, University College London, UK 2: The Constitution Unit, London, UK< xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">mark.chalmers13@yahoo.com, Email: mark.chalmers13@yahoo.com, URL: http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink mark.chalmers13@yahoo.com, Email: mark.chalmers13@yahoo.com, URL: http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink "> 3: Department of Political Science, and Deputy Director of The Constitution Unit,University College London, UK< xmlns:xlink="" xlink:href="">meg.russell@ucl.ac.uk, Email: meg.russell@ucl.ac.uk, URL: http://www.w3.org/1999/xlinkmeg.russell@ucl.ac.uk, Email: meg.russell@ucl.ac.uk, URL: http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink">

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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