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Volume 716: debated on Tuesday 5 January 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families did not consult Parliament about the appointment of the first chair of Ofqual.

My Lords, following an open competition, Kathleen Tattersall was appointed in April 2008 to chair interim Ofqual. We made it clear that she would be the first chief regulator following the passage of the relevant legislation and have repeatedly said that since. In June 2008, the Government announced that appointments of new candidates to various posts, including that of chief regulator, should be subject to pre-appointment hearings and that existing appointments, such as that of Kathleen Tattersall, would fall outside those arrangements.

My Lords, I am quite aware that the Secretary of State was not obliged to consult the Select Committee, but that is not the point. Does the Minister not recall how many times during the passage of the apprenticeships Bill only a few weeks ago she tried to reassure me of the Government’s commitment to a really independent Ofqual? In the light of that, would it not have been consistent and demonstrated that commitment, let alone been wise and uncharacteristically gracious, if the Secretary of State had consulted the Select Committee before finally appointing the chair of Ofqual?

My Lords, I am not quite sure where to start with that question, but I will do my best. I would say that my Secretary of State, the right honourable Ed Balls, is incredibly gracious and characteristically so.

My Lords, I wanted to cover that point as a starter. I say seriously on the point that the noble Baroness makes that I have looked carefully at this and asked officials to go through it in some detail to make sure that this is the case. Through the passage of the ASCL Bill, we were absolutely clear about the process for the appointment of the chief regulator and the chief executive of Ofqual. I am slightly bemused over how there could be such a misunderstanding about how the appointment of the chief regulator should be made. We made it clear when the interim chair was advertised, through the advertisement and the candidates’ packs, as well as in quotes in the media, that once appointed as the interim chair the successful candidate—Kathleen Tattersall—would go on to become the chief regulator subject to the passing of the Bill. Also, the right honourable Jim Knight wrote to the chairman of the education Select Committee setting out how the process would work. I am slightly bemused as to how the misunderstanding has arisen, because we have been very clear.

My Lords, does the Minister not consider that Ms Tattersall might have welcomed the opportunity to answer questions from the Select Committee following her useful period as interim regulator and before confirmation of the appointment? Why was it thought right to deny her that opportunity?

My Lords, I am sure that the chief regulator would welcome that. In her role as interim chair of interim Ofqual, I am sure she would have welcomed any invitation from the chairman of the Select Committee. There is absolutely no doubt about that, but it is not what we are talking about. We are talking about a proper, correct process that was independently monitored and scrutinised in the appropriate way by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. When you introduce a new policy, as I think was the case on 2 June 2008 when the Government announced the appointments that would be subject to pre-appointment process, there has to be a line. This appointment fell before that line, and so it has always been the case that Kathleen Tattersall would be, subject to the legislation creating Ofqual, appointed as the chief regulator. The Select Committee has the opportunity, whenever it wishes, to see Ofqual’s chief regulator. I am sure that that will happen in due course.

My Lords, given that there were no pre-appointment hearings or consultation, how will Ofqual be held to account by Parliament? Are we to infer from what my noble friend has just said that it will be done by the Select Committee, or will there be any other way in which it will be held to account?

My Lords, Ofqual will report to Parliament, and the Select Committees for the Department for Children, Schools and Families and for BIS will have the opportunity to scrutinise its work.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that she misunderstood the Question that was put to her by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley? The noble Baroness did not ask for a reiteration of the history of the events; she asked why the Government did not consult Parliament.

To be fair to the noble Lord, I think I have answered that Question. I am happy to say again that the reason is very clear. As the noble Lord is well aware, when you introduce a policy, there must be a line. This appointment fell before that point. We have been absolutely clear and consistent from day one in articulating our approach to the appointment of the chief regulator.