House of Commons Commission - Twenty-fourth Annual Report

Twenty-fourth Annual Report 2001-02


Commission Annual Report 2001-02
Report by the Board of Management

Membership[1] and duties

Sir William McKay, KCB Chief Executive, Chairman of the Board of Management
George Cubie Clerk of Committees, representing the Department of the Clerk of the House
Michael Cummins Serjeant at Arms
Priscilla Baines Librarian
Andrew Walker Director of Finance and Administration
Ian Church Editor of the Official Report
Sue Harrison Director of Catering Services

The Board of Management-: Left to right George Cubie, Sir William McKay KCB, Michael Cummins, Sue Harrison, Ian Church, Priscilla Baines, Andrew Walker.

1. The duties of the Board of Management are set by the House of Commons Commission in an Instrument of Delegation which was revised on 24 July 2000 to reflect decisions taken on recommendations contained in the Review of Management and Services: Report to the House of Commons Commission of July 1999 (the "Braithwaite report"). [2]

2. The Board exercises the functions of employer of House staff on behalf of the Commission[3] and is responsible for ensuring that conditions of service conform to the requirements of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978.

3. The Board also has a responsibility to co-ordinate matters relating to the services provided for the House of Commons by House departments and to advise both the House of Commons Commission and the Finance and Services Committee on these matters. It considers draft estimates for expenditure on House administration before these are submitted to the Finance and Services Committee and the Commission. Decisions by the Board on expenditure are subject to the control of the Clerk of the House as Accounting Officer.

4. The Clerk of Committees was added to the Board with effect from October 2000 in fulfilment of the Braithwaite recommendation that the Clerk of the House, as Chief Executive, should be freed from the responsibility of representing his own department. The Board has continuous access to legal advice from the Legal Services Office, headed by Speaker's Counsel (Mr John Vaux). The Board secretariat is provided by the Office of the Clerk, which also includes the Secretary of the Audit Committee, the Communications Adviser and the Freedom of Information Officer.

Further implementation of the Braithwaite recommendations

5. The Board of Management has continued to work within the framework recommended by the Braithwaite report, as agreed by the House of Commons Commission. A key aspect of this has been the development of a strategic approach to planning House services.

6. The Board prepared a draft outline strategic plan for 2001-06 for consideration by the Commission, which was adopted in October 2001. The Board then continued detailed work on implementation in partnership with the Finance and Services Committee.

7. While many of the initiatives underpinning the strategic plan are already in progress, and are described in the course of this report, work is continuing on the costing of larger developmental projects that are scheduled for implementation in the middle and later years of the planning period. These will be reflected in the three-year financial plans to be agreed for 2003-06.

8. The working methods of the Board and its supporting mechanisms have been improved and streamlined along the lines recommended by Braithwaite. The Board now receives quarterly management reports which include financial and activity measures. Summaries of this information, including a commentary on significant variations against budget, are passed on to the House of Commons Commission and the Finance and Services Committee.

9. The system of cross-departmental committees has been overhauled and all now take the strategic plan as their main point of reference. Cross-departmental project structures are now in widespread use, especially in the fields of information management and in respect of services to the public.

10. A new approach to business planning has been adopted. While the six Heads of Department continue to be responsible for planning and delivering their specialised services to the House (as described elsewhere in this report), the Board was able to agree a corporate approach to co-ordinating the work of the departments in fulfilment of the strategic plan.


11. Departments have long been aware of the need to provide a secure environment for the work of the House and to make preparations for essential work to continue in the face of adverse conditions. Although the threat of Thames flooding receded in the 1980s, the risk of terrorist attack has remained and the new dependency on information technology gives rise to additional risks. In the summer of 2001 the Board of Management received a report from the Internal Review Service[4] on the state of its contingency planning and the need for improvements, especially to ensure continuity in IT systems.

A fire drill at the Palace of Westminister

12. It was against this background that the Board responded to the events of 11 September 2001 by forming a new Contingency Planning Group, which is chaired by the Serjeant at Arms and on which all departments are represented. A draft framework for a House of Commons Contingency Plan has been produced and individual contingency plans are being developed to ensure continuity.

The House of Lords

13. In many areas of activity the House of Commons Administration works very closely with that of the House of Lords. Three of the four directorates under the Serjeant at Arms (Communications, Estates and Works Services) provide services to both Houses. A range of other units work to both Houses in areas of common concern, including the Record Office (Parliamentary Archive) which is managed by the House of Lords, and the Information Architecture Support Unit. The Board of Management recognises the need for close collaboration, while respecting the fact that the House of Lords has its own priorities and system of governance.

What has been achieved?

14. The outline strategic plan adopted by the House of Commons Commission on
29 October 2001 defines "business as usual" in terms of four permanent core tasks of the House of Commons Service. The summaries below highlight some of the key areas where the Board has exercised its co-ordinating role. Detailed information about performance may be found in the departmental annexes that follow.


15. Key support services for this task are provided by the Clerk's and Serjeant's Departments, by the Official Report and by the Library. It is important to note that the House expects its core services to be continuously available when the House is sitting and to be reactivated at short notice at any time in the event of a recall of Parliament (see below).

16. Overall activity levels reflected the fact that the House was dissolved in May 2001 for the June 2001 general election. The House sat on 143 days (compared to 159 in 2000-01) and on 81 days (99 in 2000-01) there were sittings of the House meeting in Westminster Hall. Levels of committee activity remained high (although lower than last year): there were 666 formal meetings of select committees (investigations and scrutiny) and 352 meetings of standing committees (legislation and debates on matters referred). More information and detail appears in the departmental annexes to this report.

17. In two areas, 2001-02 was a particularly challenging year for the House Service. The House was recalled three times during the 2001 summer recess: on 14 September for Members to react to the events of 11 September; and on 4 and 8 October to debate the international coalition against terrorism. At the very end of the year Westminster Hall had to be prepared in the course of a few days for the Lying in State of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and for the large numbers of visitors who came to pay their respects. The House was also recalled to mark the occasion.

18. Short-notice emergency recalls, particularly those that occur during the summer recess, are a challenge to staff. Works projects have to be curtailed and rooms made fit for use. Business papers have to be prepared within 24 hours. In all cases staff of the House ensured continuity of service, and were thanked by the Speaker for their efforts. Work on risk management and contingency planning will enable departments to continue to provide similar levels of service at short notice when required.

19. The Service has also been managing the implications of a significant increase in the number of written questions tabled to government departments. These affect the Clerk's Department, the Official Report and the Library. 47,916 written questions and 17,481 oral questions were tabled in 2001-02, compared to 34,056 and 16,264 in 2000-01.

20. The Board intends to maintain the high standards of support provided for the House and its Committees. It has contributed from an administrative perspective to the Modernisation Committee's inquiry into the reform of sitting hours and stands ready to implement any changes that the House may decide to make.


Key roles here are played by the Serjeant's Department (offices and related services, IT and communications), the Department of Finance and Administration (salaries and allowances) and the Library (research and information). All services are required to be timely and appropriate to need.

22. As noted elsewhere in this report, Members' salaries and allowances are paid out of a separate Vote and are not the responsibility of either the House of Commons Commission or the Board of Management. However, payments under the Members' Vote are administered by the Department of Finance and Administration and officials were closely involved in implementing the changes agreed by the House on 5 July 2001.[5]

23. With the calling of the 2001 general election the work of the New Members' Induction Group came to fruition. The objective was a more comprehensive and better-coordinated induction process for newly elected Members. All new Members were sent a 'Welcome Pack' containing key documents such as the Members' Handbook and the 'Green Book' on pay and allowances. At a reception area in the Upper Waiting Hall members could find out about the work of House departments in more detail. A series of briefings was held.

24. A survey of new Members carried out in January 2002 showed a high level of satisfaction with the services provided as well as giving some pointers for improvements in the future. A successor group has been established to keep the Handbook up to date and to begin planning for the next election.


The House provides information to the public in printed and electronic formats, by telephone and by e-mail. Members of the public also have access to the House to attend sittings of the House and of Committees, to meet and lobby their MPs and, under the arrangements for the summer opening, to view the historic Palace of Westminster. The ongoing work of the Information Office and the Education Unit is described in the annex on the Library. A group of senior officials, the Group on Information for the Public, established in January 2000, reports to the Board of Management on wider issues of information and access, and co-ordinates initiatives in this field.

26. The summer guided tours of the Palace of Westminster attracted over 86,000 visitors in 2001, despite a downturn in the tourism industry, and these are to become a permanent feature. Construction of the new Jubilee Visitor Café took place during 2001-02 and the Speaker officially opened the new facility in May 2002 (see Commission report, paragraph 34).

27. A new corporate design for public information materials has been developed, to provide a more modern 'look and feel' without any increase in annual production budgets. The new design has been developed in close consultation with the Print Services unit of the Vote Office and a range of users, and is aimed at providing a flexible system which will be simple and functional both for authors and those responsible for production; wider implementation will continue into 2002-03. Work has started on a glossary of Parliament, which will primarily be a database driven research tool.

28. A feature of the past year was the continuing decline in the average print order for the daily edition of Hansard (the Official Report), now down to 2,387, coupled with a remarkable 21% increase in the usage of the electronic version on the parliamentary website, which now sometimes exceeds 400,000 user sessions per month. This means that reports of the proceedings of the House and its Standing Committees are almost certainly reaching a wider audience than ever before.

29. In addition to this, a one-year pilot webcasting scheme was launched in January 2002, with providing 'gavel to gavel' coverage of the chambers of both Houses, including Westminster Hall, and a range of Select Committees. The pilot will be evaluated towards the end of the year; meanwhile, early audience figures suggest a strong level of interest.

30. Arrangements and contracts for the printing and publishing of official House documents are monitored by the Printing and Publishing Management Group (PPMG). The membership of the Group currently comprises the Clerk Assistant as chairman, the Director of Finance and Administration, the Editor of the Official Report, the Clerk of the Journals, the Director of Information Systems of the Library and the Deliverer of the Vote. During the financial year the Group held two contract performance review meetings with the relevant managers of the Stationery Office Ltd (tSO).

31. Several members of the Group were also involved in the Vote Bundle Project, the aim of which is progressively to originate data for the different elements of the bundle in electronic form, under the direct control of the House. The basic hardware and software systems for this purpose have been established, and Early Day Motions have been produced by the new process since the beginning of the present Parliament in June 2001. Detailed software development for the Questions phase of the project is proceeding, with a view to full initiation of that phase in November 2002. A contract with tSO for the provision of the necessary inputting staff, on a facility management basis, was agreed during the course of the year.

32. During the process of agreeing final settlement of the printing charges payable in respect of financial year 2000-01, deficiencies became evident in the complex charging formulae in the House's contracts with tSO, which are intended to smooth out the financial consequences for either party of abnormally high or low workloads from one year to another. The formulae were not achieving the intended result because average workload ranges for the different document categories had altered significantly since the contracts were originally drafted. Following negotiations with tSO under the contractual change control procedure, revised page ranges have now been agreed. These revisions will not, in themselves, have any adverse effect on the House's financial projections. But the generally increased page count that has been experienced since the general election, particularly in respect of questions, will if sustained inevitably have an impact on the charges payable under the printing contract.

33. The Office of the Clerk continues to act as a central point of contact for media enquiries, and all departments now make use of the advice and support available for domestic and corporate issues. A strategy to enhance the media coverage of Select Committee work is now being implemented, and a broader strategy for corporate and domestic issues is under development.

34. Two additional staff have been appointed as part of the work to achieve the House's objective of providing better public information and access: a Communications Officer, supporting the Communications Adviser, commenced work in October 2001, followed by a Web Content Manager in January 2002.


Responsibility in this area lies primarily with the Serjeant's Department (for buildings), the Record Office and the Library. The Palace of Westminster has to be maintained to a standard consistent with its status as a Grade I listed building and world heritage site. Officials of the House also work closely with the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art.


36. All four core tasks involve the management of staff and of financial resources. Members, their staff and visitors, and staff of the House also require refreshment and a range of other facilities. While some services are provided by outside agencies (e.g. the Travel Office), a wide range of "back office" services, ranging from internal audit to fire safety advice, are provided by staff of the House. Detailed accounts of these services may be found in the separate annexes recording the work of the Serjeant's Department, the Refreshment Department and the Department of Finance and Administration.

37. The new refreshment outlets in Portcullis House have been highly successful, but the Board of Management is aware that there are still major problems of congestion at peak times in refreshment facilities in general and is co-operating with the Catering Committee, which is carrying out a review of access and congestion.

Plans for the future

38. The strategic plan, as agreed by the House of Commons Commission, requires the Board of Management to oversee the further development of infrastructure and resources in eight areas:


Departments of the House will continue to adapt the services they offer to the House and the Board will co-ordinate where necessary. In particular, during the coming year, the Board will monitor the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee and consider their implications for House staff and services. The Board also intends to oversee in 2003 an independently conducted survey of the needs and views of Members, Members' staff and staff of the House of the work of the administration. The last similar survey was conducted in 1999. During 2002-03 each department will draw up a succinct statement of the services that it currently provides and the levels of service that it seeks to meet.


The Accommodation Strategy Working Group (ASWG) has recently reviewed the House of Commons current and potential future demands for accommodation. The present accommodation available for the House is the result of a number of decisions taken over recent years. When the House gave approval to build Portcullis House it was envisaged that this would lead to a situation in which sufficient accommodation would be available for Members and all other occupants. Since then requirements and, in particular Members' expectations, have changed.

41. The Serjeant at Arms, as Accommodation Officer for the House of Commons and chairman of the ASWG, has commissioned a consultancy to assist him to conduct a comprehensive review of the House of Commons areas of the Parliamentary Estate and to develop an accommodation strategy for the period 2003-08 in order to make the best use of current assets.


42. Responsibility in this area lies with the Clerk of the House as Accounting Officer (advised by the Audit Committee), with the Board of Management and the Department of Finance and Administration. Much of the preparatory work for the Board is done by the Business Planning Group (BPG), which is chaired by the Director of Finance Policy.

43. The Board of Management has followed closely the application of the Turnbull principles to central government and public sector agencies. It has decided, with the support of the Audit Committee, to introduce equivalent internal control and risk management frameworks throughout the House Administration. This will allow managers to identify, assess and control the risks most likely to prevent the achievement of the strategic objectives and affect the delivery of services to Members and the House. It will also enable the Accounting Officer to receive and sign a full statement of internal control (covering all operational activities and not just financial activities), similar to those prepared elsewhere in both Central Government organisations and the wider public sector, by the end of 2002-03.

44. Resource accounting and budgeting was introduced and a detailed timetable agreed with the National Audit Office to ensure that accounts were prepared within the required timescales. The 2001-02 accounts, to be published later this year, will be the first issued resource accounts for the House of Commons. Information about assets and stocks was compiled and will form an integral part of the final set of accounts.

45. The House planning cycle is such that the financial year 2001-02 saw the approval of 3-year financial plans for 2002-05 and of an Estimate for 2002-03, but also the beginning of the next business planning exercise, which will roll the process forward, informed by decisions on the strategic plan. One of the key priorities throughout the year was to ensure that planning focused on meeting the needs of the House as efficiently and effectively as possible. A resource investment strategy, for the planning of capital expenditure, is being developed.

46. The Business Planning Group set a timetable for the preparation and review of departmental business plans and issued guidance on the content and format of plans so that they were clearly focused on achieving corporate strategic objectives. The Group reviewed the draft plans in detail, in particular to ensure consistency for cross-departmental projects and initiatives.

47. The Group is also responsible for developing and implementing corporate financial and procurement policies to ensure that the House complies with the highest standards of public sector governance.

48. The Board of Management agreed to the appointment of a Director of Procurement for the House in February 2001, and an interim director was appointed in March 2001. He undertook a review of procurement activity within the House, recommended the setting up of a corporate procurement directorate within the Department of Finance and Administration and began a review of current contracts and major areas of risk within the House.


All major new investments are subject to a rigorous business case analysis and post-implementation review. The Board of Management will continue to use project or programme management techniques wherever appropriate. The Board was gratified by the conclusion of the Comptroller and Auditor General that the House had achieved value for money in the project to construct Portcullis House and will take account of the detailed recommendations of the National Audit Office in relation to future construction projects.

50. The Business Planning Group made proposals for building corporate effectiveness measures linked to each of the four permanent core tasks of the House of Commons Service. Further work will be done on indicators that departments can use to monitor their contribution towards these core tasks. However, any system of performance measurement must recognise that the work of the House of Commons Service is so closely meshed with political processes, for which officials are not responsible, that the outcomes cannot be readily measured separately ­ nor would it be appropriate for the activities of the House to be judged in that way. The Board of Management monitors these aspects of performance by other means, for example by periodic surveys of Members, by regular contact between senior staff and Members, through individual performance appraisal and by matching the use of training, mentoring, and quality assurance to the assessment of risks.

51. For other aspects of value for money work, see the reports of the Audit Committee and of the Department of Finance and Administration.


House-wide human resource issues are co-ordinated by the Human Resources Group (HRG). The Group also forms the official management side of the General Purposes Sub-Committee which met the Trade Union side twice during the year.

53. HRG's main role is to develop a strategic approach to human resource issues, in line with the corporate strategic plan. The aim is to provide the House with a motivated and committed workforce and to be demonstrably committed to employment best practice and diversity. The group plans and co-ordinates new initiatives and shares best practice across departments.

54. One of the main initiatives over the year was the development of an internal communications strategy. A consultant was engaged to run discussion seminars with groups of staff in order to understand current practice and future needs. A programme of activities is planned for the coming year to improve and develop internal communications and to encourage mutual support and shared learning between departments.

55. A key element of the Group's future work programme is the development of a plan to increase the diversity of House staff. A number of activities are already in place, such as equal opportunities training for all staff, recruitment monitoring and work experience schemes, targeted at under-represented groups. HRG has recently initiated a study into staff childcare needs and supported proposals to run a summer holiday playscheme.

56. All of the House departments have now achieved Investors in People (IiP) accreditation, and the Board of Management plans to work towards accreditation on a House-wide basis over the coming year. Many of the IiP objectives relate to personnel issues, and HRG ensures that these are reflected where necessary in its other initiatives, through its Investors in People Working Group.

57. The Human Resources Group works with the Department of Finance and Administration on the development and implementation of all aspects of personnel policy, including training, occupational health, safety and welfare and data protection. Details may be found in the report of the Department.

58. The programme of work for 2002-03 will focus on implementing the internal communications strategy, developing a plan to increase diversity of House staff and preparations for gaining House-wide IiP accreditation.


59. The public information and access theme in the Commission's strategic plan is primarily the responsibility of the Group on Information for the Public (GIP). Market research carried out for the Group early in 2002 illustrated the need to continue improving the services provided to the public. Areas singled out for particular emphasis include: further improvements to the website; consolidation of the currently fragmented approach to visitors and tours; and exploring the scope for partnership with other organisations working in related fields.

60. Plans for 2002-03 include an independent feasibility study of options for an Information and Visitor Centre and examination of options for a permanent Visitor Management Office. There are also plans for development of new public information printed materials and web content. There will be a review of access for disabled people to information and services and another of the House's photographic collections. The webcasting pilot will be evaluated and recommendations made for the future. The Select Committee media strategy will be reviewed.

61. The Board of Management has also initiated a review of retailing and merchandising activities. These include the sale of books and souvenirs at various outlets. The demand for souvenirs is linked to the summer opening of the Palace of Westminster and the new Jubilee Visitor Café. The review will also look at the scope for souvenirs linked to the parliamentary collection of works of art.

62. A Freedom of Information Officer was appointed in 2001, to work with a group of officials in order to ensure that the House makes the necessary preparations for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The main focus of the work this year has been on the preparation of a publication scheme which sets out the classes of information published by the House. It is a requirement of the Act that this scheme is in place by November 2002. The other key priority has been to put in place measures to improve records management in each department, so that information can be retrieved efficiently when necessary. Work will continue over the coming months to prepare for the implementation of individual rights of access in January 2005.


63. Information strategy forms a fundamental plank of the strategic plan adopted by the House of Commons Commission. Information technology and systems have become vital to the everyday work of the House. Much of the work sponsored by the Board of Management in the past year has been directed towards the strategic objective to support the business processes of the House at all levels by developing and maintaining an information infrastructure that is unified, consistent, seamless, and easily accessed by, and appropriate to the needs of, the various user communities.

64. The objective is pursued in close partnership with the administration of the House of Lords. Officials of the two Houses have for some years collaborated closely through the Information Technology Strategy Board which monitors the shared network infrastructure and oversees projects in this area. Two major projects were agreed during 2001-02 and are now entering an implementation phase that will continue into 2002-03: the core operating system and directory service is in the process of migration to Microsoft's Windows 2000 and Advanced Directory Services; and, subject to successful implementation of the new operating system, a virtual local area network for critical services, such as the Official Report and the Vote Bundle, will become operational in 2003.

65. Sustained investment will be needed to ensure that the infrastructure remains secure, resilient and suitably supported. Capacity planning will become critical to the performance of the network as new IS and IT services are deployed and more users are connected. As an illustration ­ the number of PDVN users increased by 20% during 2001-02, with 5,172 connected as of April 2002. E-mail traffic grew by 44% and now exceeds 1,000,000 items per month (see Commission report paragraph 29).

66. This work is complemented in the area of systems and applications by an Information Systems Group which also now spans both Houses. While differences remain between the needs of the two Houses and between some applications, one of the achievements of the past year has been the development and adoption of a combined Commons/Lords information strategy that envisages the introduction of a common user interface (or "gateway") to parliamentary systems and information services, underpinned by a framework for interoperability and coherent information systems.

67. The new parliament-wide framework, once established, will enable locally defined systems to meet corporate needs. Hence the need for "standards" (including XML) and an information architecture that allows information to be shared efficiently between departments and offices. A small Information Architecture Support Unit (IASU) has been set up jointly with the House of Lords to carry this work forward.

68. Two major projects are now at an advanced stage of planning. The Parliamentary Information Management Services project (PIMS) is intended to build on the foundation of the present POLIS service, which is managed by the Commons Library, to expand the range of information readily available to users within and outside Parliament. It will assist the public by presenting information in a structured way that does not presuppose knowledge of parliamentary processes. In the meantime, a more limited redesign of the internet site ( has been undertaken in conjunction with the House of Lords and is due to take effect in 2002-03. This will make it more attractive and usable for the casual enquirer as well as for the specialist.

69. A second major project is for the "House Administrative Information System", at present limited to the Commons but with the potential to be exploited by both Houses. It will replace existing financial and human resource management systems and permit some functions to be devolved to the departments and offices that use them. Implementation will be by stages during 2002-04.


In common with other organisations in the public and private sectors, the House of Commons already relies on electronic media to deliver some of its services and is looking at new areas where service levels might be improved by the option of electronic delivery. The Board of Management will closely monitor proposals for aspects of "e-democracy" and build these into its future plans. The plans described in the previous section have been drawn up with such developments in mind.

71. Last year's report referred to the establishment of a PPMG sub-group (the Electronic Publishing Review Group) to review the arrangements for electronic publishing which were established following the First Report of the Information Committee, Session 1995-96. The review group's full and helpful report, submitted to PPMG at the end of the 2001 summer recess, concluded that, despite the rapid development of technology in this area, the arrangements established in 1996 had stood the test of time and there was no need for the sort of fundamental revisions that would require further reference to the Information Committee. But the report made two specific recommendations: first, that documents should appear on the Parliamentary website not only in (searchable) HTML format but also in PDF format (which enables a document to be downloaded in a form identical to the published version); and secondly, that the process of applying for a licence to reproduce parliamentary material should be simplified and, at least in straightforward cases, should be handled through an electronic ("click-use") facility of the kind developed for Government documents by HMSO, the copyright and licensing agent for the two Houses. HMSO is currently investigating the feasibility and possible cost of extending the facility to parliamentary material.

72. The proposal about electronic publication in PDF format has been discussed with Her Majesty's Stationery Office (because of its implications for the electronic publication
Government documents) and with tSO (because of its potential implications for sales of printed versions of the House's documents). Following a detailed assessment of the costs, publication of select committee reports in PDF format was due to begin in June 2002.

Willliam McKay

1   At 31 March 2002. Back
2   HC 74 of 1998-99. Back
3    With the exception of a small number of specified posts and subject to the procedures agreed by both sides of the Whitley Committe. Back
4    Part of the Department of Finance and Administration Back
5    Following a report by the senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002