Government will not change appointments process after Stowell, says minister

Tory peer Lord Ashton of Hyde, a minister in the digital, culture, media and sport department, says the recruitment process for public appointments is 'fair and open'

Lord Ashton of Hyde
Lord Ashton of Hyde

The government has no plans to change the appointments process that is set to result in a Conservative peer becoming the next chair of the Charity Commission, peers have been told.

Matt Hancock, the culture secretary, said this week that he would appoint Baroness Stowell as chair of the regulator, even though a cross-party committee of MPs unanimously rejected her appointment after a hearing on Tuesday.

In the House of Lords on Tuesday afternoon, Lord Ashton of Hyde, a minister for digital, culture, media and sport, was questioned by Baroness Barker, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on the voluntary sector, about the process of appointing the regulator’s chair.

"Perhaps more than ever, we need a Charity Commission that is strong, effective and respected by all charities, big and small," said Barker.

"Yet, for the second time, the government has nominated as its chair someone who has no noted experience of charities and no noted experience of regulation.

"Does the minister agree that to safeguard the independence and authority of the commission, there now needs to be a depoliticisation of the appointment process?"

But Ashton said: "The appointment process is a fair and open recruitment process, in line with the government’s code for public appointments and regulated by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, so there are no plans to change the process."

Ashton pointed out that Stowell, a former leader of the House of Lords, had said she would resign the party whip and move to the crossbenches should she be appointed to the role.

"She is well aware of what it takes to be impartial and I am sure she will do a good job, as has been said by many people in the charity sector," said Ashton.

It is expected that Stowell will be confirmed in post on Monday. William Shawcross’s five-year term comes to an end tomorrow.

In 2015, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations called on the government to give control over the appointment of the chair of the Charity Commission to parliament in order to depoliticise the process.

"Perceived independence – being seen to be independent – is just as important as actual independence," the umbrella body said at the time. "It is not necessary to accept that the accusations of political bias levelled against both current and previous commission boards have any merit in order to see that they can be damaging."

Sir Stuart Etherington, chief executive of the NCVO, said this week there were "still significant problems with the appointment process for this role", but he believed Stowell was a good appointee.

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