The Black Country MP at the heart of a row which has split the Government has backed the appointment of controversial university access watchdog Les Ebdon.
Adrian Bailey (Lab West Bromwich East) chairs the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, which plunged the Coalition Government into a bitter row when it rejected the decision to appoint Prof Ebdon, the vice-Chancellor of Bedfordshire University, as head of the Office for Fair Access.
But Mr Bailey has now thrown Ministers a lifeline, after he said he accepted that Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, was entitled to overrule it.
The Committee’s ruling created a crisis for the Government when Dr Cable, a senior Liberal Democrat, made it clear he wanted to appoint Prof Ebdon anyway.
Tories including David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove reportedly opposed the appointment.
The Committee objected after Prof Ebdon told MPs he would impose financial penalties on universities which failed to meet targets for recruiting students from poorer backgrounds, or from ethnic minorities which are currently under-represented in higher education.
The MPs responded by publishing a report warning: “We were not convinced by Professor Ebdon’s descriptions of the root causes of the obstacles to accessing universities.”
The Committee added: “We are unable to endorse the appointment of Professor Ebdon as the Director of the Office for Fair Access and we recommend that the Department conduct a new recruitment exercise.”
Dr Cable has now confirmed to the House of Commons that he intends to ignore the Committee’s report.
Mr Bailey said: “The Committee’s report was advisory only; the Secretary of State was under no obligation to follow our recommendations.”
But he added: “I was extremely disappointed that the Secretary of State’s decision was widely reported in the media before the Committee was formally notified.”
Commons Select Committees such as the Business Committee scrutinise the work of government departments on behalf of the Commons as a whole.
Allowing the committees to scrutinise appointments was designed to give the Commons more power over decisions made by Government.