House of Commons Commission - Twenty-fourth Annual Report

Twenty-fourth Annual Report 2001-02

Department of the Clerk of the House Annual Report 2001-02
1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose

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 Office of the Clerk (see page 9). The Department also provides the secretariat of the House of Commons Commission and the Public Accounts Commission.

1.2 Functions

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 six other Heads of Office 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 Regulatory Reform; and to departments of the House;

  • the Broadcasting Unit, headed by the Director of Parliamentary Broadcasting, which is charged with ensuring the efficient conduct of the televising of the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament and Committees. It also maintains the archive (the Parliamentary Recording Unit) which stores the master videotapes of proceedings and sells copies to authorised users;

  • 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. Its 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.

1.3 Plans and Objectives 2001-02

Because the work of the Department is so directly related to the work of the Chamber and Committees of the House, the primary aim 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;

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

  • improve the administration of the Department broadly in line with developments in the public service (including the introduction of HR planning) and implement other Commission and Board of Management policies and initiatives.

1.4 Context

In section 2, the outputs of the Offices in the Department in 2001-02 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:

  • changes in the structure of Select Committees after the general election;

  • further demands for new services and for development of electronic means of service delivery; and

  • changes in the House administration following the Braithwaite Report.

2. Plans and Achievements

2.1 General

The Department met its primary goal of supporting the work of the Chamber of the House and its Committees within planned resources. Each Office in the Department reported to the Clerk of the House upon a comprehensive set of objectives and performance measures relating both to their regular work and to the achievement of special tasks and projects on time and within resources. Particular attention is paid to quality, accuracy and timeliness. 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 a number of Offices contributed:

  • experimental procedures relating to sittings in Westminster Hall, the programming of bills and deferred divisions were continued in the new Parliament and supported by the Department within current resources;

  • the process was begun of augmenting the administrative organisation of the Department to support the changes in management of the House service under the Board of Management following implementation of the Braithwaite report, particularly in relation to HR planning and training;

  • recognition as an Investor in People was achieved after the Department had addressed the issues of team-management and communications as suggested by the Assessors;

  • the Department made a full contribution to the induction of new Members after the general election; and

    * progress was made in the use of IT in the work of the Department in

­ the electronic handling of Bill texts by the Public Bill Office;

­ production of Early Day Motions in the Vote Bundle project;

­ introduction of the select committee database; and

­ production of the Votes and Proceedings, the Journal and the Standing Orders.

2.2 The Committee Office

The Committee Office provides the secretariat of each Select Committee and advice and support to the Select Committees of the House generally. Details of the staffing and work of each committee are published in the Sessional Return (for Session 2000-01, HC (2001-02) 1).
The prompt appointment in July of departmental select committees after the election was followed after the recess by a rapid build-up of committee activity to a high level. A reallocation of staff from other offices, and some limited recruitment, were required to reduce staff workloads. A fuller reinforcement of staff based on a specialist unit to cover pre-legislative and financial scrutiny combined with some enhancement of individual committee secretariats is planned, in line with the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee.
In financial year 2001-02, select committees held a total of 666 formal and 113 informal meetings. The departmentally-related committees produced 130 reports compared with 160 and 120 respectively in the two previous financial years.

Number of formal Committee meetings per financial year









598 816 860 931 887 524 1,199 1,067 1,104 666

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 27 committees. The failure of targets by the other four committee staffs related to typographical errors in publications, minor failures of administration, or in one case, the shortage of staff provision.
The Office also:

  • implemented improvements in the appearance of reports in advance of a more comprehensive redesign project;

  • took steps to increase the proportion of written evidence submitted and sent for printing in electronic format;

  • completed the redesign of the committee websites and (with the Communications Adviser) made progress in developing improved methods of publicity for reports;

  • introduced the select committee database to support and improve committee administration;

  • took steps to provide members of the public attending select committee meetings with more information to help them to follow proceedings;

  • began the process of adapting its use of accommodation in 7 Millbank following the decision that the Office's move to Norman Shaw South will not go ahead; and

  • made progress with tendering for the provision of transcription services for select committee evidence, with a new contract expected to be signed in May 2002.
2.3 The Journal Office

The Journal 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. During the year:

  • the daily Votes and Proceedings was produced electronically and was available first thing the following morning. Levels of accuracy, particularly in relation to the main part of the Vote, were significantly higher than in recent years;

  • the Journal for 1999-00 of 804 pages was published on 19 June 2001. It has a cover price of £110. The Journal is typeset from electronic copy used for the Votes and Proceedings; and both parts of the index are also typeset electronically;

  • origination of publication of Standing Orders was done electronically. Two complete reprints were issued during the year, together with two addenda, produced by the Print Services Unit of the Vote Office;

  • in addition to general advice on Privilege, support was given to preparations for the hearing of a case before the European Court of Human Rights and of an appellate hearing in the House of Lords;

  • deposit of Delegated Legislation and other Papers: 2,428 papers (compared with 2,813 in 2000-01), mainly from government departments, were received, examined and recorded in the Votes and Proceedings; 32 issues of the Statutory Instrument list were published;

  • research and advice: The Office advised on application of legislation on human rights, data protection and freedom of information, also contributing to the House-wide preparation for the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000; and

  • the Office edited and prepared for publication the Sessional Returns, which contain statistical information on the business of the House and Committees. The Returns for Session 2000-01 were published on 26 July as HC(2001-02)1, within the target of six weeks of the opening of the new session of Parliament.

2.4 The Legislation Service

The Legislation Service supports the overall work of the House and its Committees in considering public and private bills; and provides advice and support for House of Commons scrutiny of Statutory Instruments, of EU Documents and of deregulation and regulatory reform 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 five private bills, compared to nine in 2000-01. Three received Royal Assent as against four in the previous year. The House took opposed private business on three occasions compared to six in the previous year.

The Public Bill Office was again at the centre of significant new procedural developments. The re-introduction of programming for all government bills without all-party agreement but in modified form maintained the pressure on Standing Committee Clerks to provide impartial advice to all Committee members and reliable briefing for Committee chairmen. This was the case not only in Standing Committee but also at meetings of Programming Sub-Committees which draw up the details of the timetable.

The Office is primarily responsible for administering the procedure for deferred divisions which was also reintroduced after the general election. The requirement to staff the desks in the No Lobby during the voting period from 3.30 to 5.00 pm on Wednesday afternoons was not as onerous as in the previous year as few deferred divisions have taken place.

Other planned developments during the year included:

  • the full introduction of the new format for public bills and Acts of Parliament, produced using specially designed FrameMaker software, was achieved and teething problems with the system were successfully overcome; and

  • the project to prepare minutes of proceedings of Standing Committees on laptop computers brought into the Committee Room was regularly used, resulting in a saving in printing costs.

The table below provides an indication of the Office's workload over the last five years. Full statistics of legislative and standing committee activity for Session 2000-01, the latest full session, are published in the Sessional Returns.[1]

1997-98 1998-99 1999-2000 2000-01 2001-02
(long session) (short session) (to 31 March 02)
Members' Bills 149 104 104 63 63
Sittings 411 376 517 229 298
Tabled 5,852 7,254 11,692 2,254 4,571

The Delegated Legislation Office: Standing Order changes to replace the Deregulation Committee were agreed just before the dissolution in May, thus allowing the new Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee to begin work early in the new Parliament. Much of the Committee's work in the early part of the year involved defining its relations with Whitehall, and completing work already under way on deregulation proposals laid under the former procedure. But the Committee's year as a whole was, as anticipated, much more active: it reported on three deregulation and six regulatory reform proposals, and on four deregulation and three regulatory reform Orders, publishing 11 reports in all.

As planned, further progress was made towards the rationalisation of services for the three committees in the Office. This largely concerned the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, the support teams for both being now headed by a single Clerk, sharing the same corridor in 7 Millbank as the Legal Services Office and the European Scrutiny Committee, and some common services. As a result all procedural, administrative and legal support for the three committees is now co-located, and the benefits of closer co-operation and cross-fertilisation of ideas are already being felt.

Eighteen months of re-organisation and re-location continued to have some effects on the work of the Joint and Select Committees on Statutory Instruments until the autumn of 2001, and report publication for the first months of the year still failed to meet the punctuality targets set by the Department. During the year the Joint Committee considered 1,881 instruments (compared with 1,474 in 2000-01), and published 36 reports, drawing the attention of both Houses to 117 instruments. The Select Committee published three Reports and considered 61 instruments, drawing the attention of the House of Commons to three. By the beginning of 2002 targets for report publication were again being met or exceeded.

The European Scrutiny Committee reported on 1,212 documents and recommended 52 for debate (compared with 1,408 and 39 in 2000-01). The Committee in the new Parliament decided to pick up one of the main issues arising from the Nice summit and embarked on a new major thematic inquiry into Democracy and Accountability in Europe. Towards the end of the year the Committee's staff, together with other staff of the Delegated Legislation Office and the Overseas Office, were also becoming increasingly drawn into support for the United Kingdom Parliamentary Representatives to the Convention on the Future of Europe. In both these exercises the National Parliament Office in Brussels was playing a pivotal role, demonstrating the considerable advantage to the House of having its own base, albeit a small one, close to the main EU institutions. In other respects the National Parliament Office continued to provide invaluable support for the regular work of the European Scrutiny Committee and other select committees. Advantage was taken of the dissolution period to send a number of committee staff, of all grades, on short training attachments to Brussels and Strasbourg in order to raise awareness of EU activities among other committee teams.

2.5 The Overseas Office

The Overseas 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 assemblies and their staff, the Office organised outward missions to, among other countries, Armenia, Russia and Zambia.
This activity was complemented by the regular programme at Westminster for attached clerks and by inward visitors from 76 countries, including 14 Speakers and 63 Clerks and other senior officials. The Office also assisted the UK Branch of the CPA at the Jubilee Conference held in London and Oxford from 10 to 16 March 2002.

The European Section provided support to the UK Delegations to four International Inter-Parliamentary Assemblies. The Office assisted 61 Members and Peers attending 232 separate Committee meetings and 13 Assembly plenary sessions overseas. The Office also organised a number of incoming visits for Assembly Committees during the year. In addition arrangements were started for the UK Delegation to host the annual Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2004.

2.6 The Table Office

The Table 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 (the Vote Bundle); and supports the Clerks at the Table in the discharge of their duties.
Since the general election there has been an unparallelled increase (70%) in the number of Questions tabled for written answer and a smaller but significant increase in the number of names added to Early Day Motions. The table below shows the average daily activity recorded for the three regular measures of performance.

Table Office record of activity 1997-98 1998-99 1999-2000 2000-01 2001-02
Database Records created 434 479 460 480 568
(EDMs tabled, Signatures
added and oral questions
entered for the Shuffle)
Questions examined (except 337 349 303 302 460
oral questions to the
Prime Minister, which are
mainly in standard form
on his engagements)
Pages of the Vote Bundle 136 158 176 169 160
passed for publication

Notwithstanding the increased workload, the Office has maintained a high level of accuracy. Of the eleven measures of performance kept, three recorded 100% accuracy (compared with five in 2000-01) and for four others accuracy greater than 99.9% was recorded.
During the year the Office contributed to the arrangements for newly-elected Members of Parliament after the election, including procedural briefings on Questions and Motions, and submitted evidence to the Procedure Committee's inquiry into Parliamentary Questions. It also contributed to the successful full implementation of the first stage of the Vote Bundle project (see below) and to the planning of the second phase, including further IT training for editorial staff and preparing for their relocation from the Parliamentary Press to Westminster (planned for autumn 2002).

2.7 The Legal Services Office

The Legal Services Office, in addition to its regular work in relation to Private Bills, has made substantial progress in its support for the scrutiny of delegated legislation and the work of the Delegated Legislation Office. It has also developed its role as the provider of advice on legal matters to Departments of the House. During the year the Office:

  • contributed significantly to the reorganisation and development of the work of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, enhancing the scope and timeliness of its reports;
  • participated in the evolution of the role of the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee;
  • assisted the European Scrutiny Committee, particularly in its work in the field of Justice and Home Affairs ­ for example in its reports on the European Arrest Warrant;
  • contributed significantly to the management of litigation with which the House was concerned, ensuring a co-ordinated approach by House Departments and maintaining contacts with the Treasury Solicitor; and
  • offered general legal advice on issues including employment and discrimination, procurement, data protection, freedom of information and electoral law.

2.8 The Vote Office

The Vote Office has maintained the highest standard of service to the House in the provision of documents. As a result of discussions with the members of the Administration Committee, a display of recently received documents has been introduced on the counter of each issue office, which has been well received by Members and other users.

The contract with The Stationery Office has continued to operate satisfactorily except that the end of year adjustment mechanism designed to protect both the House and tSO from excessive variation in demand failed to meet this objective in its original form and had to be reviewed, as already described in the Board chapter (page 25). The arrangement, also revised to take into account the sittings of the House in Westminster Hall, has worked well in an election year, where expenditure, especially on legislative papers and select committee publications, has been low. Total cash expenditure of £9.74 million was therefore substantially less than the £11 million required last year.

Whole House of Commons ­ Annual Spend on Publishing and Publication

The project to devise new production methods for the Vote Bundle has realised its first year of saving on printing expenditure as, since the House assembled after the general election, EDM production up to final print and electronic publication stage has been entirely achieved in-house. Work has continued on the development of the Questions module to be in place by November 2002.

The IT section has continued to support the Department in achieving its goals and objectives. In conjunction with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and the House of Lords, further refinement of the software for the production of bills and Acts of Parliament in the new format has taken place and it has been used to produce all bills introduced in this session of parliament. Work has been carried out to assist the Committee Office with the production of material in new file formats. The section has also been preparing departmental systems for the introduction of Windows 2000 desktops and network operating systems in the forthcoming year.

William McKay

1   The Return for 2001-02 will appear within three months of the end of that session.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