Government to appoint Baroness Stowell as chair of the regulator despite MPs' concerns

Members of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee had said the Conservative peer should not be given the role

Baroness Stowell (Getty Images)
Baroness Stowell (Getty Images)

The government has decided to press ahead with the appointment of the Conservative peer Baroness Stowell as chair of the Charity Commission even though a committee of MPs said she should not be given the role.

Stowell, who was identified last month as the government’s preferred candidate for the position, appeared before MPs on the Digital, Media, Culture and Sport select committee yesterday in order for them to assess her suitability for the job.

Despite the overwhelming majority of candidates for public roles being approved by MPs after pre-appointment hearings, the cross-party committee ruled unanimously that Stowell should not be appointed because of concerns about her lack of charity sector experience and her political neutrality, and because she failed to stand up to scrutiny when questioned by the committee.

It is the first time a DCMS committee has not supported a government candidate.

But in a statement, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said Stowell was "not only the best candidate for the job, but also the right candidate", and she had his full backing.

"I’m sure Tina Stowell will be a brilliant chair of the Charity Commission," he said. "This is a crucial time for the commission and the sector."

Stowell had said she would resign the party whip should she be appointed to the role.

"Tina has been absolutely clear about her impartiality in this role," said Hancock. "I know that she will work tirelessly to protect and promote the great work that charities do and ensure they uphold the highest standards of integrity."

Steve Reed, the shadow minister for civil society, said Stowell's appointment should not go ahead. 

"The government has spent eight years undermining, underfunding and sidelining the sector," he said. "Now they are ignoring MPs’ unanimous opposition to the flawed appointment of the Charity Commission’s new head.

"The commission needs a chair who is independent enough to stand up to the government and strong enough to help charities with the challenges they face.

"Instead, ministers are arrogantly imposing a Tory crony who is in the Prime Minister’s pocket but not up to the job."

The government is understood to consider that Stowell, a former leader of the House of Lords, was clearly the best candidate for the position and Hancock was unswayed by any of the concerns put forward by the DCMS select committee.

The letter from the committee said Stowell had "little more than six months of negligible charity sector experience and a complete lack of experience of working for a regulatory body".

It said she was also unable to demonstrate "any real insight, knowledge or vision for the charities sector" during the hearing yesterday.

It added that her "political past is a source of concern for the committee and those within the charity sector".

Charities and umbrella bodies had already expressed concerns about Stowell’s possible appointment to the role. Andrew Hind, a former chief executive of the Charity Commission, wrote to the DCMS committee before the hearing expressing concerns that her "fit with the published person specification is poor" and that she had little direct experience of either charities or regulation.  

According to figures from the parliament website, of 96 candidates who appeared before select committees for pre-appointment hearings between July 2007 and December last year, only five failed to secure the backing of the committees that examined them. 

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