How the House of Commons is governed |
The House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978
1. The framework for the governance of the House of Commons
was established by the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978
which set up the House of Commons Commission. The Commission employs
the staff of the House, ensures that their terms and conditions
remain broadly in line with those of civil servants, appoints
an accounting officer, lays the Estimate (budget) for House of
Commons services and determines the structure and functions of
the departments of the House.
It is also required by the Act to publish this annual report.
Commission membership and secretariat
2. The membership of the House of Commons Commission is composed
according to section 1(2) of the House of Commons (Administration)
Act. At the start of the financial year 2003/04
the membership was as follows:
The Speaker (The Rt Hon Michael J Martin MP, by
virtue of his office) (Chairman)
The Rt Hon Eric Forth MP (Shadow Leader of the House of Commons,
nominated by the Leader of the Opposition)
Mr Stuart Bell MP (also Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee)
Sir Archy Kirkwood MP
Sir Patrick Cormack FSA MP
3. The Rt Hon John Reid MP became Leader of the House
on 4 April 2003 and by virtue of his office became a Member of
the Commission. He was replaced by the Rt Hon Peter Hain MP on
13 June 2003. Mr Oliver Heald MP replaced Mr Forth on the Commission
on 10 November 2003, following his appointment as Shadow
Leader of the House. Mr Bell was knighted in the New Year's Honours
4. The Secretary to the Commission is Robert Rogers and the Assistant
Secretary is Shona McGlashan. The Commission is attended by the
Clerk of the House, Roger Sands, who is Accounting Officer, and
also Chief Executive of the House Service.
5. The Commission met on eleven occasions during
the year. Minutes of Commission meetings are available through
the Commission's pages on the Parliament website.
Questions to the Commission
6. Parliamentary questions addressed to
the Commission are answered by Sir Archy Kirkwood on behalf
of the Commission. During the year he replied to six questions
orally and gave 43 written answers. In addition, chairmen of domestic
committees responded to seven written questions.
The House of Commons Commission. (From left: Roger
Sands, Clerk of the House; Sir Stuart Bell MP;
Sir Archy Kirkwood MP; Mr Oliver Heald MP (Shadow
Leader of the House); Sir Patrick Cormack FSA MP; Rt Hon Peter
Hain MP (Leader of the House); Rt Hon Michael J Martin MP, The
Speaker (Chairman). In attendance: Robert Rogers, Secretary to
the Commission, and Shona McGlashan, Assistant Secretary.
Finance and Services Committee and
7. The Finance and Services Committee of the House
of Commons is set up under Standing Order No. 144. It has responsibility
for detailed scrutiny of the draft budgets for the House administration
and advises the Commission on the financial and administrative
implications of recommendations by the domestic committees. The
Committee is chaired by a member of the Commission and has ten
other members, including the chairmen of the domestic committees.
8. The domestic committees (Accommodation and Works, Administration,
Broadcasting, Catering, and Information) provide advice to the
Commission and serve as a channel for the views of Members of
Parliament at large about the services provided by the House administration.
Other responsibilities were set out in a scheme of delegations
to domestic committees made by the House of Commons Commission
in April 2003.
Board of Management
9. While the House of Commons Commission
is the supervisory body of the House administration with responsibility
for setting the strategy and taking major decisions, it is advised
and assisted by the heads of the six House departments, together
with the Clerk of Committees. The duties of the Board are set
out by the Commission in an instrument of delegation.
10. The following were members of the Board of Management
throughout the financial year:
Roger Sands, Clerk of the House, Chief Executive,
Chairman of the Board of Management
Priscilla Baines CB, Librarian
George Cubie CB, Clerk of Committees
Sir Michael Cummins, Serjeant at Arms
Bill Garland, Editor of the Official Report
Sue Harrison, Director of Catering Services
Andrew Walker, Director of Finance and Administration
11. The Board of Management secretariat is provided
by the Office of the Clerk. The staff of the Office include the
Secretary of the Audit Committee and a small team responsible
for information, communications and coordination between departments.
The Board also has continuous access to legal advice from the
Legal Services Office, headed by Speaker's Counsel.
12. The Board has a responsibility to coordinate
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.
13. The Board of Management continues to work within
the framework recommended by the 1999 Braithwaite report.
It is also keenly aware of other pressures affecting services
and the way in which they are delivered:
- changes in the way the House works, including
those instigated since 1997 by the Modernisation of the House
of Commons Committee, and the hours it sits;
- changes to employment practices and aspirations
in the wider public sector;
- the need to comply with recent legislation which
applies, or will apply, to the House of Commons as an organisation;
- changes in the technology of information and
- concerns over security; and
- the need to plan for the induction of new Members
after the next general election.
The Board of Management. (Back row, from left: Sue
Harrison, George Cubie CB, Priscilla Baines CB, Andrew Walker.
Front row, from left: Sir Michael Cummins, Roger Sands, Bill Garland).
75 per cent of Members who responded to the survey
of services described the House as a good or excellent place to
Survey of services
14. In June 2003, the House Service gave Members,
their staff, and House staff the opportunity to express their
views on the range and quality of services it provides through
a survey, primarily conducted on-line.
15. The results of the survey, which were presented
to the Board of Management in October 2003, were generally encouraging,
with 75 per cent of Members who responded describing the House
as a good or excellent place to work and only three per cent describing
it unfavourably. The survey did, however, identify areas of service
provision where improvements could be made, such as information
provision on facilities and services for Members and mechanisms
for providing feedback. In response, the Board of Management approved
an action plan to tackle the areas where service provision could
be improved which was discussed at a joint meeting of the Board
and the Finance and Services Committee in February 2004. Work
is now ongoing within departments and cross-departmental working
groups to implement the action plan (see paragraph 248).
House of Commons staff
16. The Board exercises the functions of employer
of House staff on behalf of the Commission
and is responsible for ensuring that conditions of service conform
to the requirements of the House of Commons (Administration) Act
1978. Negotiations on pay and conditions of service, and consultations
on personnel issues, were conducted during the year through the
recognised unions, the Whitley Committee and its sub-committees.
During 2003/04 multi-year pay deals were agreed for most House
staff for the first time. Separate pay arrangements are in place
for senior Commons staff.
17. During 2003/04 the average number of staff employed
in the House service was 1,517 full-time equivalents, 2.7 per
cent more than last year. Further details of how this figure was
made up, by department, may be found on page 44. The number of
individuals on the payroll is typically some 200 higher, which
illustrates that the House employs part-timers in many posts as
a way of supporting its commitment to diversity, fairness and
In May 2003 the House Service was awarded Investors
In People accreditation for high
18. In recent years, the departments of the House
have each individually achieved Investors in People (IiP) accreditation,
which reflects high standards in personnel management and internal
communications. In May 2003 the House Service as a whole was awarded
IiP status. Recommendations for further improvement will be the
subject of a voluntary interim assessment in autumn 2004, before
a routine, full reassessment in 2006.
19. Diversity initiatives delivered in 2003/04 include
the new staff ethnicity survey, using updated categories, which
generated an initial 71 per cent response rate. This compared
favourably with the response rate to similar surveys elsewhere
in the public sector. The childcare policy was also reviewed,
resulting in an increase and extension to the childcare voucher
scheme. A revised procedure for dealing with harassment complaints
was also introduced, in consultation with the trades unions. The
Young Apprentice scheme, sponsored by Mr Speaker, was launched,
with the first intake of ten students coming to work here in administrative
and IT roles. The scheme will be developed further in 2004/05.
Six new posts for adults with learning disabilities were also
House of Commons Expenditure
20. The Commission is responsible for the House of Commons:
Administration Estimate (but not for Members' salaries and allowances,
which are paid from a Government Estimate, nor for Members' pensions).
21. The House administration has implemented resource
accounting and budgeting in accordance with specific provisions
relating to the House in the Government Resources and Accounts
Act 2000. The second set of resource accounts to be audited by
the National Audit Office covered the year ending 31 March 2003
and were published in December 2003.
The Commission had previously decided that it would be unacceptable
to delay the publication of this annual report until the retrospective
audited accounts are ready: provisional outturn figures for 2003/04
are provided in annex 2. In line with Government departments,
and with the approval of the Audit Committee, the House Service
has agreed with the National Audit Office that the date on which
the annual accounts are published should be brought forward so
that, ultimately, they can be published before the commencement
of the summer recess. The accounts for 2003/04 are due to be published
in the autumn.
22. The Estimate for 2003/04 was presented to the
House by The Speaker on 19 April 2004.
The Audit Committee
23. The Commission appoints the members of the Audit
Committee and approves its terms of reference. The Committee's
report appears on pages 77 to 79.
House of Lords Chamber
(above and right).
House of Lords
24. 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 managed by the Serjeant at Arms
(Estates, Works Services and Communications) provide services
to both Houses. There are a number of smaller units which are
based in one House or the other, but provide services to both
by agreement: the House of Lords Record Office (The Parliamentary
Archives), the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology,
the Parliamentary Education Unit, the Occupational Health, Safety
and Welfare Service and the new Central Tours Office (CTO). Arrangements
for the CTO are agreed
25. There is also long-standing formal and informal
collaboration between the Serjeant and Black Rod over ceremonial
(especially in respect of Westminster Hall), security and contingency
26. There has been considerable progress in joint
working in information systems over the last two years, including
the launch in 2002 of a shared Information Systems Programme with
a Programme Board drawn from the senior officials of both Houses
with a non-executive external adviser. One of the key projects
is a collaboration between the Libraries of both Houses (Parliamentary
Information Management Services - PIMS - see paragraphs 83-4).
There has also been close collaboration in the development of
the shared Parliament website (www.parliament.uk) and the
parliamentary intranet. During the year, officials from both Houses,
led by Sir Michael Cummins, the Serjeant at Arms, conducted a
review of Parliament's IS/IT governance arrangements (see paragraph
Implementation of the strategic plan
27. In 2001 the Commission adopted an
outline strategic plan for the House of Commons administration,
setting values, core tasks and developmental objectives for the
years to come. The outline plan is reproduced on page 12. The
strategic plan sets out four enduring core tasks for the House
of Commons administration. This report is again arranged to reflect
the four core tasks. The plan also includes eight developmental
objectives, to enhance the performance of the four core tasks.
In the Plans for the future section of this report we explain
how we are progressing with these objectives and the challenges
that face us in the next two to three years.
28. Business planning by individual departments of
the House was introduced in 1998 and must now reflect the strategic
plan agreed by the Commission. In October 2003 a corporate business
plan was published for the first time. It reflects the key items
from individual departmental plans, but also places emphasis on
a number of House-wide initiatives. The corporate plan will now
be updated on an annual basis.
29. Management of the parliamentary estate, within
the constraints imposed by the availability of resources and the
nature of the estate, is a key developmental objective and during
the year a high-level review of accommodation was undertaken.
A strategy is being developed to encourage Members to locate their
staff in the constituency. This is intended to rationalise use
of Members' accommodation at Westminster, reduce the number of
constituency offices based on the parliamentary estate, and to
provide incentives for new Members to base their operation in
the constituency. Progress with this strategy is likely to require
some modifications to the structure of Members' allowances. This
matter has been drawn to the attention of the Senior Salaries
Review Body (SSRB), which is currently reviewing the allowances.
Performance management and risk management
30. In the sections which follow, and
in Annex 1, we present selected key indicators of performance
against each of the four tasks. For the most part we are not able
to follow other public sector organisations in measuring their
effectiveness in terms of the impact of their work on the world
at large. The House of Commons, as a political institution, determines
or influences laws, policies and expenditure and holds the government
of the day to account for enforcement and implementation. Procedures
and structures within the House are also determined by decisions
of the House itself. The House of Commons service contributes
to these processes in significant ways by facilitating and advising.
But its contribution is so closely meshed with political processes,
for which officials are not responsible, that it cannot be readily
measured separately - nor would it be appropriate for the activities
of the House to be judged in that way.
31. The Commission and the Board of Management recognise
this political dimension and the constraints that it places on
conventional performance measurement. Nonetheless, performance
against objectives is monitored continuously wherever practical.
In addition to the survey of services conducted in 2003 (see paragraphs
14-15), Members of Parliament have a variety of other channels
to offer feedback and suggestions about services - for example,
through the domestic committees and the Liaison Committee or through
day to day contact with senior staff. The performance of individual
staff is monitored and managed through an appraisal process.
32. The House has a risk management policy statement
and implementation strategy which is based on the best practice
recommended by HM Treasury, although adjusted to reflect the facilitation
and support role of the House Service. A set of nine high-level
corporate risks have been identified, and the management of each
risk is monitored by a pair of members of the Board of Management.
Assisted by a risk management facilitator, a first analysis of
the management of the key corporate risks was presented to the
Board in January 2004. A further assessment is due shortly, after
which the risks will be assessed to ensure they remain valid in
a changing environment.
33. Corporate risks, and risks within individual
departments, provide a focus for the assurance work undertaken
by the Internal Review Service, in support of the Statement of
Internal Control included within the annual accounts (see paragraphs
|An outline strategic plan for the House of Commons administration 2001-2006
(As adopted by the House of Commons Commission on 29 October 2001)
The House of Commons Service supports, informs and records the work of the House of Commons as an elected parliamentary chamber in accordance with the decisions of the House and its Commission. Whenever feasible It makes its work and information about that work accessible to the general public, while maintaining the heritage of parliamentary buildings and documents in trust for the public and future generations. It also contributes to parliamentary democracy by sharing its knowledge with parliaments and assemblies worldwide.
The House of Commons Service seeks to achieve high ethical standards, value for money and professional excellence in all that it does. As an employer, the House of Commons Commission recognises and values the diversity of its staff and is committed to fairness and best practice.
Core tasks and objectives
The House of Commons Service has four permanent core tasks:
- Supporting the House and its committees
- Supporting individual Members (and their staff)
- Providing information and access to the public
- Maintaining the heritage of buildings, objects and documents.
While these tasks are permanent, the specific needs of the House and its Members are constantly evolving. The technological, environmental, social and constitutional contexts in which the House works are also changing. In the light of the Braithwaite review the House of Commons Commission has recognised that a more strategic approach to resource planning and priorities is needed.
It has therefore adopted a strategic plan with objectives for the period 2001-2006 that recognise the need to develop, adapt and improve. In particular it seeks:
- to provide services that meet the changing needs of the House and its Members as efficiently and effectively as possible; and to develop mechanisms to ensure that this happens
- to manage the parliamentary estate in such a way as to provide Members, their staff and staff of the House with a safe, secure, modern and efficient working environment, within the constraints imposed by the availability of resources and the nature of the estate
- to ensure that House of Commons processes of corporate management comply with the highest standards of public sector governance
- to achieve demonstrable value for money in every aspect of the House service
- to be demonstrably committed to employment best practice and diversity, providing the House with a motivated and committed workforce which has the specialist skills to meet its current and changing needs
- to improve public understanding and knowledge of the work of the House and to increase its accessibility, subject to the requirements of security
- 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
- to identify areas where service levels might be improved by the option of electronic delivery and, where appropriate, produce costed proposals.
The governance structure of the House of Commons administration
1 The governance structure of the House administration
is shown on page 13; the internal organisation of each department
is shown in annex 3 Back
Dates in the format 2003/04 refer to the financial year; those
in the format 2003-04 refer to the parliamentary session Back
The major changes were set out in the 2002 report, HC 1002, 2001-02,
pp 8-9 Back
With the exception of a small number of specified posts and subject
to the procedures agreed by both sides of the Whitley Committee Back
For more information about the House of Commons: Members Estimate,
see paragraphs 114-15. The relative sizes of the Administration
and Members Estimates for 2004/05 are shown in annex 2 of this
HC 67, 2003-04 Back
HC 467, 2003-04. The cash breakdown of the Administration Estimate
for 2004/05 is shown in annex 2 Back