From The Guardian
Given the widespread disquiet at what is perceived as Hutton’s extraordinary lack of balance, a wider question immediately arises: how was he chosen at the outset, and on what criteria? The key requirements after all should have been rigorous independence and strict impartiality. And now will these requirements be fully met by the appointment of Lord Butler’s committee, with its rather convoluted terms of reference and its meetings been held in secret? Perhaps we should pay rather more attention to how these committees of inquiry are set up in the first place because the process by which they’re formed may (subconsciously, as Hutton would have put it) influence a good deal of the final report.
Both Lords Hutton and Butler were of course chosen by the Prime Minister acting on the advice of senior officials. In my experience in Whitehall, most Departments of State, and also No. 10, keep a voluminous catalogue of names in reserve for every kind of high-level appointment, both the so-called ‘great and the good’ as well as very many others, selected mainly by senior aides and officials and occasionally by Ministers. A brief characterisation of the qualities and experience of each name is also appended in most cases. There may or may not be comments added on the reliability of the person for particular government tasks. From this reservoir a range of potential names is selected where a key role needs to be filled, whether the chair of an important advisory body, an ambassadorial or top civil service appointment, or top posts in standing commissions. Once a short list is agreed within the Prime Minister’s inner circle, advice and recommendations are then put to him, and he makes the final selection.
This process often works satisfactorily, but occasionally it does not. An obvious example is the Widgery inquiry into the Black Sunday killings in Northern Ireland in 1972, the conclusions of which were so strongly disputed for a quarter of a century that another inquiry had to be set up, under Lord Saville, to reassess the evidence further. Similarly, Lord Denning’s judgement in the Profumo affair in 1963 that people of great eminence could not misbehave so badly appears now (and then) rather antiquated and other-worldly. But such cases of concern are not confined to learned judges conducting solo inquiries. In the grey interface between the realm of politics and the scientific expertise demanded by an increasingly technological society, very considerable effort is put in Whitehall into choosing chairpersons who, their undoubted academic and technical merit notwithstanding, can be relied upon to deliver ‘sound’ or ‘safe’ verdicts which will not embarrass the government in highly sensitive areas of policy. Their capability and integrity is not at issue; what is called into question is the rigour of their independence from Establishment influence.
From The Guardian