Call to give Parliament veto over 'cronies'

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Parliament should be given powers to veto senior appointments to quangos under a system of senate-style hearings to cut down on "cronyism", Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative leader, said yesterday.

The Conservatives want Commons' select committees to interview candidates for influential posts on task forces, government bodies and advisory groups. They should have a veto over posts including the chairmanship of the BBC or membership of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee.

Mr Duncan Smith accused Tony Blair of becoming "corrupted" by the power of patronage and called for reform to make decisions on public appointments more open.

The proposed power echoes that of the American Senate, which vets all senior presidential appointments and subjects all candidates to lengthy public questioning.

The Conservatives want select committees to be able to question senior government candidates for such posts about their political affiliations, any party donations they may have made and their backgrounds.

Under the plan, MPs could also question candidates about their qualifications. The proposal follows controversy over the role of Lord Birt, a former BBC director general, in reviewing long-term transport policy, and the position of the Labour peer, Lord Haskins, as chairman of the Government's rural recovery task force.

Ministers also faced accusations of cronyism after the appointment of the former government adviser on economics Gavyn Davies, as the chairman of the BBC, and the decision to make Lord Puttnam, a Labour peer, chairman of the General Teaching Council.

Speaking on the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme, Mr Duncan Smith said the public was increasingly concerned about the Prime Minister's power of appointment. "They worry about a Government that has abused Parliament and closed it down," he said.

"We are going to have Senate-style hearings on anybody appointed to quangos. We are going to make sure they come in front of the House and are interrogated about what their political allegiances are, what skills they have before they are appointed.

"We are talking about appointments where we have people who are in charge of vast budgets in the health service, or the business task forces that are set up by the Government, where the only person who makes a decision is the Prime Minister. He does it behind closed doors and, suddenly, it's announced.

"As a Prime Minister if I was to be elected I don't want that sort of level of patronage to corrupt my government the way it's corrupting this Government. I would, therefore, give that up and hand that power of scrutiny to the House of Commons as they do in America."

David Davis, the Conservative Party chairman, said: "Confidence in our democracy is at an all-time low. All too often, elected politicians are able to hide behind quango chiefs who wield immense power over our daily lives in areas like health, education and transport. We need to make these people publicly accountable."

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