Select Committee on House of Commons Commission Twenty-sixth Annual Report

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.[1] 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[2] 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 2004.

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 domestic committees

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.[3] 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 communications;
  • 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 work.

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[4] 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 best practice.

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 created.

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).[5]

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.[6] 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.[7]

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 planning.

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 ( 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 265).

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 234-36).

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

2   Dates in the format 2003/04 refer to the financial year; those in the format 2003-04 refer to the parliamentary session Back

3   The major changes were set out in the 2002 report, HC 1002, 2001-02, pp 8-9 Back

4   With the exception of a small number of specified posts and subject to the procedures agreed by both sides of the Whitley Committee Back

5   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 report Back

6   HC 67, 2003-04 Back

7   HC 467, 2003-04. The cash breakdown of the Administration Estimate for 2004/05 is shown in annex 2  Back

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Prepared 6 July 2004