Seal of approval

February 21, 1997

With or without the N, qualifications agency chief executive Nick Tate is one of the few people in British public life who can bask in approval from all political parties. Since Christmas, all the main appointments made by Parliament - and in the Government's gift - have been subject to the arcane procedure whereby civil servants "suggest" to ministers that the opposition be consulted on the appointee's suitability. This routine has been applied over time to such appointments as that of Terry Burns as permanent secretary of the Treasury, on which Labour was consulted in 1992.

But according to Peter Hennessy of Queen Mary and Westfield College, there is an ambiguity. The fact of being consulted seems to carry no right of veto. So if the opposition wins it may still find itself working with someone it was asked about but did not much care for.

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