Page last updated at 10:20 GMT, Wednesday, 21 October 2009 11:20 UK

Committee's powers 'seem a sham'

Barry Sheerman
Mr Sheerman called Mr Balls "a bit of a bully" earlier this week

MPs' ability to scrutinise appointments to government posts are a "bit of a charade and a sham", the schools select committee chairman has suggested.

Barry Sheerman criticised Schools Secretary Ed Balls for choosing Maggie Atkinson as children's commissioner, despite the committee's reservations.

He said it showed MPs' vetting powers "aren't really that strong".

But Mr Balls told the committee it had never been promised a "veto" and that Ms Atkinson was the best candidate.

She is due to take over as children's commissioner for England from Sir Al Aynsley Green when he steps down in March 2010.

The children's secretary was criticised earlier this week after ignoring the select committee's call to restart the selection process.

Mr Sheerman, himself a Labour MP, said Mr Balls could be a "bit of a bully" and others asked why committees should bother vetting appointments if they were ignored.

'What's the point?'

Select committees only recently began scrutinising government appointments and this is the first time one has not supported the government's choice.

At a hearing, Mr Sheerman asked Mr Balls: "Are you, as a secretary of state, actually... listening to select committees, or is it all a bit of a charade and a sham?"

He said: "This power was launched by the prime minister as a renovation of democracy... It seems that those powers aren't really very strong."

A fellow committee member, Liberal Democrat MP Paul Holmes, said: "What is the point of pre-appointment hearings if the candidate has been selected and told they have been appointed?"

Mr Balls told the MPs that committees had "an important role".

He said there was a "a case, if someone hasn't got the skills" for reconsidering the appointment.

Mr Balls said: "It wasn't, it isn't, and I don't think it was ever meant to be a veto for the select committee over the appointment and it's a legitimate debate over whether it should be, but that isn't the position I was in."

He added: "To have a veto would move us to a very different place."

Mr Balls added that the Conservatives were against the idea of having a commissioner in the first place, which had influenced their criticisms of the appointment of Ms Atkinson.

He also said: "There were some people who didn't want the expertise but a different person with more PR experience...

"I don't think we should appoint not the best person to be children's commissioner because of these issues."

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