House of Commons Commission - Twenty-Third Annual Report

Department of the Clerk of the House Annual Report 2000-01

1. Introduction


The Clerk's Department is responsible for providing advice and services to the House as a whole, the Speaker and Deputy Speakers, the Committees appointed by the House and their Chairmen and to individual Members. As an overriding priority, the Department must ensure that the House and its Committees have at all times the necessary procedural advice and administrative support.

The Head of the Department, the Clerk of the House, is the Chief Executive of the House administration and the House's principal adviser on procedure and privilege. In his role as Chief Executive and Accounting Officer for the House of Commons, the Clerk is supported by the recently established Office of the Clerk (see page 25). The Department also provides the secretariat of the House of Commons Commission.


In the central task of advising the Speaker and Deputy Speakers and Members in the Chamber, the Clerk is supported by the Clerk Assistant and five other Heads of Office within the Department sitting at the Table of the House. The main Department is organised into five Offices:

Committee Office Overseas Office
Journal Office Table Office
Legislation Service

Also within the Department are:

  • The Legal Services Office (headed by Speaker's Counsel), which provides legal advice to the Speaker, to the joint and select committees on Statutory Instruments, European Scrutiny and Deregulation; and to Departments of the House;

  • The Broadcasting Unit, headed by the Supervisor of Broadcasting, which oversees the arrangements for sound and television broadcasting of proceedings of both Houses and the Parliamentary recording unit;

  • The Vote Office, which is responsible for providing documents to the House, Committees and Members; and has taken the lead in contractual arrangements for printing the House's papers; and

  • The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) which operates as an independent unit with its own Parliamentary Board. For management purposes it is treated as part of the Clerk's Department. POST's purpose is to provide advice to Members of the two Houses and to Committees on current and anticipated issues of scientific concern. It is funded from the House of Commons Vote, 30% of the cost being recovered from the House of Lords. This arrangement was made permanent following a decision of the House in November 2000.


Because the work of the Department is so directly related to the work of the Chamber and Committees and other subordinate bodies of the House, the primary goal must be to support those activities as effectively and efficiently as possible. The main goals for the year were:

  • to maintain a complete procedural service to the Speaker, the House and its Committees in all circumstances;

  • to meet demand for new or changed services agreed by the House; and

  • to improve the administration of the Department broadly in line with developments in the public service where appropriate - including preparing for the introduction of manpower planning and resource accounting.


In section 2, the outputs of the Offices in the Department in 2000-01 are set out, together with a report on the achievements against the Department's business plan. These achievements must be set in the context of:

  • increasing demand for new services eg new Committees on Human Rights and Tax Simplification Bills;

  • increase in time for debates in Westminster Hall;

  • new procedures for programming legislation and deferred divisions; and

  • the loss of experienced staff to regional assemblies and secondments to Government Departments.

2. Plans and Achievements


The Department met its primary goal of supporting the work of the Chamber of the House and its Committees within planned resources during an extremely busy year, particularly for Committees of the House.

Each Office in the Department reported to the Clerk of the House upon a comprehensive set of objectives and performance measures. These relate to the regular work of the Offices in serving the House and its Committees. Particular attention is paid to quality, accuracy and timeliness in all regular work and to the achievement of special tasks and projects on time and within resources. A high level of reliability and accuracy was attained in challenging circumstances. Below, each Office reports its achievements against plans, but there were a number of areas of activity to which more than one Office contributed:

  • sittings in Westminster Hall, extended in hours of sitting from December 2000, were supported by a team of staff drawn from all of the Offices in the Department in addition to their regular duties and so there was no direct cost to the House for those services;

  • new procedures were introduced relating to the programming of bills and for deferred divisions;

  • the Department has satisfactorily completed its second manpower plan; taken an important role in the committees supporting the Board of Management; participated in the implementation of agreed recommendations of the Braithwaite report; and reviewed the management responsibilities of its senior staff;

  • steady progress was made towards recognition as an Investor in People. The Department has opted for continuous assessment and the Assessor's initial report showed that a wide range of IiP Indicators were already met, but that more work was needed in the area of team-management. This is being addressed during 2001-02;

  • staff were trained successfully in the new software for the electronic handling of Bill texts introduced in the Public Bill Office and IT skills were updated generally within the Department. Training was also given in writing, language and presentation skills; in part to support the Department's contribution to the induction of new Members after the general election; and

  • in line with the Wilson Report on civil service reform, the Department agreed arrangements for secondments to and from the civil service and from the National Audit Office. In addition clerks were appointed to take up senior posts in the National Assembly for Wales, the Greater London Assembly and the History of Parliament Trust.


The Office provides advice and support to the Select Committees of the House generally and the secretariat of each Select Committee. In 2000-01, the Office provided the staff for the sixteen departmentally-related select committees (and five sub-committees), the six domestic committees, the select committees on Environmental Audit, Modernisation of the House of Commons, Public Accounts, Public Administration, Standards and Privileges, and the Liaison Committee, as well as the "Quadripartite" committee on strategic export controls. The Office also staffed the Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill and provided the Commons staff for the new Joint Committees on Human Rights and Tax Simplification Bills. Details of the staffing and work of each committee are published in the Sessional Return[9].

Select committees held a total of 1,104 formal and 134 informal meetings in the financial year. The departmentally-related committees produced 160 Reports compared with 120 and 136 respectively in the two previous financial years (a 33% increase in the period 1998-2001).

Number of Committee meetings per financial year


The sustained level of committee activity meant that staff workloads also remained high; and three additional committees (two of them permanent) were supported without an increase in resources. Following the submission by the Liaison Committee[10] to the House of Commons Commission and the Finance and Services Committee, the Office is assessing how select committees should best be supported in the new Parliament.

The performance of committee staffs was assessed against a range of measures including quality and timeliness of advice, the production of publications and administrative efficiency. Despite heavy workloads, all targets were met by the staff of 23 Committees; of the remaining seven, five only missed one objective and then only by a narrow margin.

The Office also:

  • continued to develop and support a range of innovative select committee working methods;

  • took part in the review of committee work and recommendations instigated by the Liaison Committee;

  • completed the development phase of the Select Committee Database (to improve committee administration and provide a variety of management information) and began preparation for its introduction;

  • produced proposals for improving committee websites and (with the House's Communications Adviser) began an assessment of select committee publicity and press relations; and

  • brought into use Committee Rooms in Portcullis House.


The Office advises on parliamentary privilege and procedural developments; produces the daily and permanent legal record of proceedings of the House; receives all papers formally laid before the House; and supervises the orderly presentation of public petitions.

The daily Votes and Proceedings was transmitted for overnight publication each sitting day of the year even when the House sat as late as 4.09 am. By July, the Vote was being produced electronically and this method of preparation has continued without fail ever since, while established levels of quality and accuracy have been maintained.

The Journal for 1998-99 was published consisting of 578 pages and 101 pages of index. It was sent for printing in May - only six months after the end of the Session - and published in July at a cover price of £90, maintaining the cost reductions reported last year. It included electronic preparation of Part II of the Index as planned.

Electronic Publication: The Office has made progress in electronic production of all of its publications. Electronic origination of publication of Standing Orders was achieved in the May 2000 edition and, subject to the procurement of appropriate software, this method will be used in future.

Privilege: Support was given to ongoing discussions on implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Joint Committee on Parliamentary Privilege and in preparation of new legislation on corruption.

Deposit of Delegated Legislation and other Papers: 2,813 papers (compared with 2,609 in 1999-2000), mainly from government departments, were received, examined and recorded in the Votes and Proceedings. Organisations intending to lay papers frequently sought advice from Journal Office staff. A new guidance note was issued to Government Departments and Agencies during the financial year. The Office increased the frequency of publication of the Statutory Instruments list, 37 issues being published compared with 29 in 1999-2000. Procedures were established to include legislation under the Northern Ireland Act 1998.

Research and advice: The Office has advised on application of legislation on human rights, data protection and freedom of information.

The Sessional Return: The Office is responsible for editing, co-ordinating and preparing for publication of the Sessional Return, which contains statistical information on the business of the House and Committees. Session 1999-2000 ended on 30 November and the Return was published on 9 February[11], just outside the target of six sitting weeks between end of session and publication.


The Service supports the overall work of the House and its Committees in considering public and private bills; and provides advice and support for the House's scrutiny of Statutory Instruments, of EU Documents and of deregulation proposals and draft orders. It comprises the Private Bill Office, the Public Bill Office and the Delegated Legislation Office.

The Private Bill Office dealt with nine Private Bills, compared to 13 in 1999-2000. Four received Royal Assent as against six in 1999-2000. Two Bills (Kent County Council Bill [Lords] and Medway Council Bill [Lords]) were considered in an opposed bill committee which met on 14 consecutive sitting days and the House took opposed private business on six occasions compared to two in the previous year.

In consultation with the Lords Private Bill Office and Parliamentary Agents, a substantial revision of Private Business Standing Orders, begun the previous year, was completed and the House agreed to 113 amendments to Standing Orders on 28 February 2001.

The Public Bill Office was significantly affected by procedural developments. The introduction of programming for all Government Bills without all-party agreement created political controversy and therefore increased the pressure on Standing Committee Clerks to provide impartial advice to all Committee members and reliable briefing for the Committee chairmen, not only in the Standing Committees themselves but also at meetings of the Programming Sub-Committees which drew up the details of the timetable.

The Clerk of Divisions, based in the office, has been primarily responsible for implementing the new procedure for Deferred Divisions. The requirement to staff the desks in the No Lobby during the voting period from 3.30 to 5.00 pm on Wednesday afternoons has added to the burdens on Select Committee staff in mid-week. The votes are then processed manually by Public Bill Office staff, which is a time-consuming process, particularly when a large number of divisions has been deferred. From Members' point of view, however, the new procedure has worked smoothly and has generally operated without controversy.

Other planned developments included:

  • the new format for public bills and Acts of Parliament, agreed by the two Houses in July 1999, was phased in progressively during session 2000-2001, rather than introduced fully at the start of the session, as had originally been planned, the commissioning of reliable software to support the project having taken longer than anticipated;

  • the project to prepare minutes of proceedings of Standing Committees on laptop computers brought into the Committee Rooms progressed from trial to regular use, resulting in a saving in printing costs and staff time;

  • the first bill introduced as a tax simplification bill under Standing Order No. 60, the Capital Allowances Bill, was presented on 9 January 2001 and received the Royal Assent on 22 March; and

  • the first bill to authorise Supply on a resources as well as cash basis also received the Royal Assent, as the Consolidated Fund Act 2001, on 22 March 2001.

The table below provides an indication of the Office's workload during the current Parliament (up to the end of financial year 2000-2001). Full statistics of legislative and standing committee activity for Session 1999-2000 are included in the Sessional Return (op cit.)

1997-98 (long session)
2000-01 (to 31.3.01)

Private Members' Bills

Standing Committee Sittings

Amendments Tabled

The Delegated Legislation Office: Following a review of the work of Speaker's Counsel and his assistants, a separate Legal Services Office was established in October 2000 to provide legal advice to all departments of the House. Although the new service reports directly to the Clerk of the House and is no longer part of the Delegated Legislation Office, it continues to devote the majority of its resources to the support of the three scrutiny committees for which the Office is responsible. Work continues towards the further rationalisation of support for the scrutiny committees by the co-location of all staff in 7 Millbank.

The Joint and Select Committees on Statutory Instruments were most affected by the reorganisation and relocation of legal staff and there was some resulting short-term dislocation in the production of their reports, although not in their throughput of work, which continued at a high level. During the course of the year the Joint Committee considered 1,474 instruments (compared with 1,595 in 1999-2000), and published 31 reports, drawing the attention of both Houses to 104 instruments. The Select Committee published one report, considered 116 instruments, and drew the attention of the House of Commons to four.

The European Scrutiny Committee reported on 1,418 documents and recommended 39 for debate (compared with 1,174 and 39 in 1999-2000). The Committee also devoted much attention to the Intergovernmental Conference which culminated in the Nice European Council; its Report on The Forthcoming IGC was widely circulated in Europe, greatly assisted by the National Parliament Office in Brussels. The latter has now become a well-established link between Brussels and the committees of the House and, in addition to supplying information to Westminster, began during the year to develop techniques for disseminating information about the work of Westminster committees to the European Parliament and other institutions of the EU.

In 2000-01 the Deregulation Committee reported on only two proposals and two draft deregulation orders, but it published three separate Reports on the Regulatory Reform Bill, and its successor committee is likely to be very much more active in response to the much wider range of regulatory reform orders expected under the terms of the new Act.


The Office represents the House overseas; promotes knowledge of its work in inter-parliamentary contacts; and provides the secretariat of the delegations of the House to international Assemblies. In its role of providing expert advice and support to other Parliaments and Parliamentary and international assemblies and their staff, the Office organised outward missions to Armenia, Bermuda, Botswana, Estonia, Kenya, Lithuania, Malawi, Russia, Tanzania and Zambia.

This was complemented by the continuing programme at Westminster for attached clerks and by inward visits by official visitors from 57 countries, including 14 Speakers and 82 clerks and other senior officials.

The Office assisted the UK Branch of the CPA in organising the 46th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference held in London and Edinburgh in September 2000, and hosted the 37th General Meeting of the Society of Clerks-at-the-Table, of which the Clerk of the House was elected Chairman. Departmental expenditure on the Conference was within budget.

The European Section provided support to the UK Delegations to four international Inter-parliamentary Assemblies. The Office assisted 60 Members and Peers attending 237 separate Committee meetings and 9 Assembly plenary sessions overseas. The office organised a number of incoming visits for Assembly Committees during the year, and also provided advice to the UK Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in considering options for venues to host a possible Session of the Assembly in 2004.


The Office receives notices of Questions and Motions; prepares and supervises the printing of the Order Paper and other daily papers necessary to the work of the House; and supports the Clerks at the Table in the discharge of their duties. The level of recorded activities was broadly maintained in the financial year. The daily activity recorded for the three regular measures over the Parliament is shown below:

Table Office record of activity

Database Records created (EDMs tabled, signatures added and oral questions entered for the Shuffle)

Questions examined (except oral questions to the Prime Minister, which are mainly in standard form on his engagements)

Pages of the Vote Bundle passed for publication

In meeting these demands the Office has improved on its customary high level of accuracy. Of the eleven measures of performance now kept, five recorded 100% accuracy (compared to three in 1999-2000) and five more achieved accuracy greater than 99.9%.

During the year, the Office made further progress in its contribution to the project relating to the methods of production of the daily Vote Bundle (see 2.7 below). This involved staff of the Editorial Supervisor's Office working on the trial in the Vote Office print unit.


The Vote Office has continued to provide the highest standard of service to the House for the provision of documents. As a result of difficulties reported last year, the Office has taken the initiative in liaison with Government departments over the supply of documents and this has already produced improvements in supply, especially on high profile occasions.

The new contract with The Stationery Office has operated as planned in its first year. Implementation was achieved without difficulty and the substantial savings anticipated have been delivered. In a year of high activity for Hansard and Select Committee publishing, overall expenditure in cash terms with The Stationery Office has been reduced to under £11 million a level not achieved since the late 1980s.

Whole House of Commons - Annual Spend on Publishing and Publication

The project to devise new production methods for the Vote Bundle has also very successfully reached its first major programme milestone. The new system for the production of EDMs has been implemented and live running commenced in April 2001, as planned.

The IT section has continued to support the Department in achieving its goals and objectives. With its assistance, electronic production of the Vote and Proceedings has been realised and arrangements for the electronic production of minutes of proceedings in the Public Bill Office have been developed and implemented. In conjunction with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the House of Lords, new software has been developed and successfully introduced into the Public Bill Office for the production of bills and Acts of Parliament in the new format.

William McKay

9   Sessional Return, 1999-2000, HC (2000-01) 100. Back

10   Derived from recommendations in the First Report of the Liaison Committee, Session 1999-2000, Shifting the Balance, HC (1999-2000) 300. Back

11   HC (2000-01) 100. Back

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Prepared 17 July 2001