21 May 2018

The former senior MP has been made a Conservative peer. Daniel Thornton argues that this is incompatible with his position as chair of the Competition and Markets Authority

Andrew Tyrie, a former MP and chair of the Treasury select committee, has recently got two new jobs. On 18 May he was appointed to the House of Lords as a Conservative peer. Tyrie has also been appointed as chair of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which has the power to block takeovers, such as the proposed takeover of Sky by Rupert Murdoch.

Tyrie was a rigorously independent chair of the Treasury select committee and did not hold back from criticising the Government, as the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee noted when it reported on his appointment. But the effectiveness of the CMA as a regulator in making politically sensitive decisions depends upon the perception and the reality of its independence from government. This was why the committee argued that Tyrie should “not undertake any business or party-political roles that could be perceived as a barrier to his continued independence.”

Tyrie himself said during his hearing with the committee “I do not want to do this job if this Committee has doubts, if Parliament has doubts or if they think I am going to be party political in the way I conduct this job”.  He also said that “I will be very cognisant of the fact that I am no longer a politician.” 

Tyrie should resign one job or the other

Tyrie’s robust independence of spirit may be precisely one of the reasons he was appointed, but it is the custom for appointees to regulators and other sensitive public bodies to resign their party whip and become cross-benchers. For example, Baroness Tina Stowell recently resigned the Conservative whip when she was appointed as chair of the Charity Commission. Although Baroness Dido Harding did not resign the Conservative whip when she was appointed as chair of NHS Improvement, she was urged to do so by the Health Select Committee. This case is the exception rather than the rule.

The House of Lords appointments process takes several months. Although it is not known, it is possible that Tyrie knew during his hearing last month that he was being considered for a peerage. More importantly, the Prime Minister must have known. She might have assumed that someone with such a record of independence from government might escape criticism. But as the BEIS Committee made a clear statement on Tyrie’s party affiliation, its role will be in question if it does not return to the issue. They should signal to the Government that the practice of resigning from party affiliations when taking roles which require independence from government should be continued.

The Government has made a mistake by highlighting Tyrie’s party affiliation shortly after his appointment to a role that requires independence from government. It is important for the credibility of the CMA and for the appointments process that Tyrie should resign from the CMA, or the Conservative whip.

Further information

Following publication of this article, the Government announced that Andrew Tyrie will sit in the Lords as a non-affiliated peer 

Comments

More power to your elbow - keep on the attack, unless Tyrie sits as a Crossbencher and eschews voting on Brexit issues. What next from this dysfunctional Government?

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