Review of Management and Services: Report to the House of Commons Commission Part 14



14.1    Before turning to our detailed recommendations, we now set out some broader principles and judgements which underlie them.

The Ibbs principles

14.2    We see the key principles of the Ibbs settlement as:

  • clarity: of structures and responsibilities, separating policy and execution
  • accountability: through a clear chain of decision–making, and through reporting and audit of performance
  • information: both financial and management information necessary for the proper planning and delivery of services, and information for, and views from Members, about services
  • an incremental approach, building upon existing structures but ready to make changes where necessary
  • balance: recognition of the complex and sensitive environment of the House, and of the relationship between political control and efficient administration; accepting therefore that undue “tidiness” may not be possible or desirable, and reflecting the fact that the House is an organism as well as an organisation

14.3    Although events have moved on since the Ibbs Report, these principles remain essential to any system of governance within the House. They underpin our recommendations, which build on the Ibbs settlement.

The extent of progress

14.4    Our survey of the progress since the Ibbs Review shows that the culture and approach have changed out of all recognition; and in many cases our recommendations are designed to buttress achievements already made, or to assist progress which is already well under way. But there are areas in which a great deal of work will have to be done if the House is to have the quality of governance which it needs. We nevertheless emphasise how far the administration of the House has come from the state of affairs which confronted the Ibbs team.

Core Parliamentary functions

14.5    The starting point of the Ibbs inquiry was accommodation and, to a lesser extent, catering. This led naturally into an analysis which focused on the provision of services to Members to enable them to do their jobs as individual Members.

14.6    This was entirely appropriate to the circumstances; but strategies for the long term should give due weight to the core functions of the House Service. Support of the business of the House, of its legislative, regulatory and investigative committees, and of its information needs, is an integral and essential part of the Parliamentary process, and needs to be reflected in long–term planning.

14.7    A corollary of this is the importance of support given by non–core functions to the carrying out of core functions in other Departments.

The House as employer

14.8    Both because of its national prominence, and for reasons of self–interest, the House should value its staff; and its treatment of them should reflect that. Any well–managed private or public sector organisation recognises that its key asset is well–trained, well–motivated and loyal staff. The complex Parliamentary environment requires a high degree of professionalism and performance, in which the House is well served.

14.9    The House does not employ Members’ staff. This raises important issues, which we noted in paragraph 12.17, but on which we are not in a position to make recommendations.

Quality and economy

14.10    It is easy to interpret a search for better financial management, control and audit as implying waste or inefficiency in the way that people do their own jobs. Many tasks in support of the House are in fact carried out with an efficiency and economy which would be hard to match anywhere, for example:

  • the ability of the Library to produce nationally authoritative briefing within hours of the publication of a Bill or a policy announcement
  • a Departmental Select Committee staff of four people expertly sustaining two, three or more major Committee inquiries at the same time, with a fraction of the resources which would be normal in equivalent activities outside the House
  • the achievement of the Fees Office in coping with the demands of a Dissolution and a General Election

14.11    One of the purposes of our recommendations is to help provide better co–ordination and planning to support the exercise of such skills.

The profile of the House

14.12    We have compared the present House with that of the 1987 Parliament to see whether there have been significant changes in the characteristics of its membership.

14.13    Apart from party proportions, the main change in the composition of the House over the last three Parliaments has been in the number of women members. This now stands at 121, or 18% of the House, compared with 6% in the 1987 Parliament and 10% in the 1992 Parliament. Women Members tended to be more critical than men (for example on accommodation and working conditions) in the opinions recorded in the JLA survey.

14.14    The average age of Members has remained remarkably constant over the last three Parliaments. At the start of the present Parliament it was 49.3 years, compared with 48.9 in 1987 and 50.0 in 1992.

14.15    Unsurprisingly in view of the number of new Members (243) elected in 1997, the average length of Parliamentary service has declined significantly: 9.7 years in 1987, 10.2 in 1992 and 7.9 in 1997. Of the 659 Members at present in the House, 301 (or 46%) have no experience of the pre-Ibbs arrangements.

14.16    The occupational backgrounds of Members have not changed dramatically over the last three Parliaments. The proportion of those in the three main parties from professional backgrounds remains at just over 40%. Those with business backgrounds declined from 26% in 1987 to 18% in 1997, and there was a slight reduction in those who were formerly manual workers.

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Prepared 26 July 1999