Labour eyes US-style hearings for public jobs

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Indy Politics
American-style confirmation hearings for senior public appointments - like that of the Governor of the Bank of England - could be introduced by an incoming Labour government as part of a sweeping programme of parliamentary reform.

Ann Taylor, shadow leader of the Commons, will today announce, with the approval of Tony Blair, the Labour leader, a six point plan for parliamentary and Whitehall reform which she will say is designed to enhance the role of the House of Commons in scrutinising and checking the power of the executive.

Mrs Taylor says the Labour Party plans to consult widely on how Commons select committees could be able to examine some of the most senior of a host of public posts and quango chairmanships on the model of confirmation hearings carried out by US congressional committees. The move could coincide with more staffing help for select committees.

The idea was developed by Mrs Taylor when she was Labour's education spokeswoman and was persuaded that the Commons Education Select Committee could play a valuable role in examining government appointees to bodies like the funding agencies.

Labour sources were cautious last night about how senior the affected appointees would be and whether they could include figures like the chairman of the British Broadcasting Corporation - or in what would be a highly controversial move-the Lord Chief Justice.

But Mrs Taylor will make clear that she wants to start a public debate in a way in which appropriate select committees could be given a role in confirming a range of public appointments. Other points in the plan include:

t A new set of rules for ministerial accountability. The issue is being considered in the wake of the Scott report by the Public Services Select Committee.

t The loan of civil servants to the Opposition parties - including a Whitehall foreign policy adviser in the Leader of the Opposition's Office - as takes place widely in western Europe.

t New rules on the ethics of Parliament and government to cut out sleaze- and a continued role for Lord Nolan's committee in monitoring parliamentary standards.

t Widely trailed enhancement of the role of prime minister's questions - including a new half hour session designed for the genuine purpose of eliciting information from the Government rather than confrontational party point scoring. The idea is to phase out the current "bear garden" atmosphere of the current prime minister's questions which all party leaders acknowledge generate much more heat than light.

t Moves to encourage better legislation such a "first reading" committee to examine bills in draft form; shorter summer recesses and more civilised working hours; and the power to table parliamentary questions in the recess.

Ms Taylor will make it clear that it is Labour's intention to consult with all parties on the proposals and to ensure that they secure a consensus for the plans.

She will say, according to one Labour source last night, that the aim is to make Parliament "more relevant, more efficient, more open, more comprehensible to people, and less confrontational."