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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
'Cronies' charges prompt veto demand
Tony Blair
"Tony's cronies" has become a familiar attack on the prime minister
Parliament should have a veto over public appointments to end accusations that Tony Blair gives key jobs to his friends, says an influential MPs' committee.

The heads of major watchdogs and the chairman of the BBC are among the people the Commons public administration committee wants Parliament to approve.

The MPs say there had been "considerable improvements" since Lord Nolan's standards committee urged to clean up public bodies eight years ago.

Just because 'Tony' rhymes with 'crony', the media feed public suspicion about public appointments
Tony Wright
Chairman, public administration committee

But new safeguards are needed to ensure public trust, says the committee in a report published on Thursday.

Labour MP Tony Wright, who chairs the committee, said: "Much of the business of governing Britain is done by appointees, and the public need to have confidence in this system.

"We also have to make sure that we are attracting a broader range of people to serve on public bodies.

"We think it is time for Parliament to have a role in looking at the key appointments proposed by ministers."

Public faith

Dr Wright said he hoped the idea would not be resisted by the government.

"Just because 'Tony' rhymes with 'crony', the media feed public suspicion about public appointments, as though the Nolan rules had never been invented, but we think that we have devised a system that can finally lay such charges to rest.

"We also need to value the public service involved in serving on public bodies and open this up to many more people."

Under the proposed scheme, competition for a job could be reopened if MPs did not like the candidate put forward by ministers.

An independent Public Appointments Commission would take over the routine appointments of thousands of members of public bodies like scientific advisory committees or hospital trusts.

Recruitment criticised

The committee also urges ministers to do "much more" to encourage women, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people to apply for posts on public bodies.

The public appointments commissioner has described members of current public body boards as still being overwhelmingly 'male, pale and stale', say the MPs.

The report follows criticism of Mr Blair for appointing Labour donors like Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies to top posts in the BBC.

"Cronyism" charges emerged too when broadcaster Trevor Phillips was made chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality.

All three men have stressed their independence from the government.

This week, public appointments commissioner Dame Rennie Fritchie said Farming Minister Lord Whitty had breached the government's code of practice by appointing an expert to an advisory committee without him being interviewed for the job.

The committee's recommendations would not affect ministerial appointments, an issue in the spotlight after Mr Blair promoted his former flat-mate, Lord Falconer, to the cabinet.

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