Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Written Evidence

Memorandum from Services Information Group (SIG) (M17)



  1.  This paper sets out the arrangements that were put in place for new Members, and the briefings and advice which were available to those Members at the start of the 2005 Parliament. It also provides an outline of the lessons learned and the probable consequent changes to the arrangements at the next General Election.


  2.  The approach adopted by the House Service to welcoming new Members was to invite them to proceed on arrival at Westminster to a single area where all Departments could provide what they considered sufficient and appropriate information in a corporate setting. An attempt was made to co-ordinate House Service and party briefings for new Members. However, only limited co-ordination was achieved.

  3.  This approach built on the successful format of the 1997 and 2001 post-election arrangements. Its main advance was to bring into one place, for the convenience of new Members, the issuing of passes, the provision of IT equipment and information and a financial registration and advice cell.


  4.  On election night Returning Officers gave all Members of Parliament an introductory letter from the Clerk of the House which stated when the House would meet. It also explained the arrangements for access to the parliamentary estate as well as giving a small amount of other essential information. Instructions on how to access more detailed information via a password protected web site (see paragraph 8 below) were provided.


  5.  Arrangements were made to meet new Members on arrival and escort them to a reception area that was set up on the first floor of Portcullis House. In the reception area, Members were able to:

    (a)  Obtain their security passes;

    (b)  Discuss their salary and allowances or their accommodation needs;

    (c)  Obtain a laptop, discuss their IT requirements, and following a short briefing, gain access to the Parliamentary Network; and

    (d)  Meet staff from all the Departments and receive advice and information on the House and its Committees, the House Service and the facilities available to Members.

  6.  The reception area was open on the Friday after the election and remained open during the first two weeks of the Session. Most of the new Members had visited the reception area by the end of the first week and so Members' staff were invited in the second week. A family room was provided with play equipment for Members who were accompanied by young children.


  7.  Members received a welcome pack that included the Members' Handbook, a guide to pay and allowances, a short guide to procedure, a list of briefings available to new Members and guidance on taking the oath and the courtesies and conventions of the House. The Code of Conduct and other standards material was distributed separately by the Commissioner for Standards. A checklist was included in the welcome pack that was designed to help them identify key things to do or organise in their first few days.


  8.  All returned Members were sent a new edition of the Members' Handbook. For the first time it included colour maps and colour coded pages to indicate content likely to be of interest to new Members. The Members handbook was also placed on the intranet.


  9.  A special password-protected website was created for new Members. The website reiterated essential information provided in the welcome pack, Members Handbook and other material, and also provided a list of local hotels. It also contained links to information elsewhere on the parliamentary intranet relating to, for example, pay and allowances.


  10.  Temporary office accommodation was made available to Members for the period between arriving at Parliament and being allocated a permanent office. The temporary office accommodation was located in the main building, and provided Members with access to a desk, telephone and computer.


  11.  A concerted effort was made to coordinate briefings and information available to new Members. A programme of the briefings which were arranged for Members was placed in each welcome pack. In addition, copies of the programme were also made available in the Whips' offices; in the lower Table Office and in the main Vote Office. Procedural briefings were also advertised in the all-party whip, and e-mails were sent to all new Members in advance of each briefing.

  12.  The briefings available to Members were:

    (a)  Procedure and the business of the House and its Committees;

    (b)  Standards in the House, the Code of Conduct and Outside interests;

    (c)  Security and risk management;

    (d)  Health and Safety; and

    (e)  Employment Responsibilities of Members of Parliament .

  13.  The content of the individual briefings was left to the relevant department, who also produced individual briefing packs. (A list of paper briefings given to Members is attached as an Annex). The briefings on employment responsibilities and on standards and privileges were organised on a party basis and were well attended. The other briefings, including the procedural briefings, were not offered on a party basis but were open to all new Members. They were less well attended.

  14.  Attendance at the procedural briefings was as follows:

DateBriefing Morning attendanceAfternoon attendance
18 MayIntroducing the House of Commons 40
24 MayA User's Guide to the House of Commons 96
7 JuneQuestions on Questions and Answers 112
14 JuneBills and Standing Committees (Q&A) 5 4
21 JuneEuropean Scrutiny System 40
28 JuneHow Select Committees Work 20

  15.  A small number of new Members attended more than one of the briefings and a small number asked if they could bring their staff. The events had been intended to be a Members only forum but with attendance so low staff were allowed to take part. In one case where only a member of staff turned up a one-to-one briefing was given.


SIG Evaluation

  16.  SIG conducted an evaluation of post-election services and reported to the Board of Management in October 2005.  A questionnaire was sent to all 123 new Members, 60%. of whom responded. Individual House departments also examined how well the arrangements had worked from their own perspective. New Members seem to have been happy with the arrangements. Of those who responded at least 84% were satisfied with the reception facilities and 88% said they felt the information packs were useful. Almost everyone found the letter from the Clerk a useful innovation. Some new Members felt overwhelmed by all of the information. Some felt coordination with the Whips could have been better. There were complaints about delays in the provision of laptops and other IT equipment, and the biggest complaint from new Members was about the time taken to allocate accommodation. The arrangements were thought overall, to have worked well. (For a more detailed note of findings, see the First Report from the Administration Committee, HC 777 of Session 2005-06, Ev18-21.)

Administration Committee

  17.  The Administration Committee, which replaced most of the Domestic Committees at the start of this Parliament, published a Report on Post-election services in December 2005 (Post-election Services, First Report from the Administration Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 777). This focused mainly on accommodation and related facilities such as computers, and on services for former Members. The Committee recommended that the House Administration "should investigate ways of making the information of most use and interest to new Members easily available to be digested in Members' own time". The Commission's reply accepted these points, and the Services Information Group are considering how to implement those recommendations as it plans for the aftermath of the next general election.

Hansard Society

  18.  On 5 December 2006, the Hansard Society published its report, A Year in the Life: from member of public to Member of Parliament, conveying the results of monitoring a group of 21 newly elected Members of Parliament, and including a chapter on "the early days". Earlier this year SIG held a useful informal meeting with the author of the report, Gemma Rosenblatt. In addition to raising the general issue of accommodation, several Members are recorded in the report as emphasising that they would have welcomed more information on parliamentary procedure and process. The report also highlighted the wide variation in the level of new Members' previous knowledge and experience of the Commons, and the priority they all give to constituency concerns.


  19.  It is envisaged that the same basic elements of the package will be provided again but with a number of refinements. We are currently considering the following:

    (a)  an initial welcome pack which will focus on the core tasks that a new Member will need to undertake in the first few weeks at Westminster;

    (b)  a better strategy for the provision of information which avoids overloading Members;

    (c)  greater liaison between the House Authorities and the Whips over the content and timing of briefings; and

    (d)  the establishment of a help-desk for Members, located in the e-library in Portcullis House.

  20.  The information provision strategy will provide newly joined Members with material which is very tightly focused on information essential for effective performance in the first few weeks at Westminster. Links and references will be available which will allow a new Member to delve further into a subject should they want to. These links will be on paper with directions to the parliamentary intranet and probably on DVD or CD which could also provide the more detailed information. This is in line with the recommendation of the Administration Committee in its Report on Post-election services. SIG has considered producing an inter-active DVD which would provide information in a more varied and more interesting format. However, given the cost of this approach, the very limited distribution and likely use of any DVD, this idea has not been taken further

  21.  With the agreement of the Chief Whips of the three main parties we have also made contact with Jeff Janas, Director of Committee Operations, Committee on House Administration, who is responsible for the induction programmes for U.S. Congressmen in Washington. There may be lessons to be learned from the American experience.

January 2007


WhatWho Where
Letter enclosing: Registration formCommissioner/Registrar Commissioner/Registrar Pack
A folder containing:Commissioner/Registrar Commissioner/Registrar Pack
ContentsCommissioner/Registrar Commissioner/Registrar Pack
The Code of ConductCommissioner/Registrar Commissioner/Registrar Pack
Guide to Rules (incl Appendix with Resolutions on Code of Conduct) Commissioner/RegistrarCommissioner/Registrar Pack
Advices notes (6)Commissioner/Registrar Commissioner/Registrar Pack
Procedural Notes (6)Commissioner/Registrar Commissioner/Registrar Pack
Information from the Electoral Commission Commissioner/RegistrarCommissioner/Registrar Pack
IndexCommissioner/Registrar Commissioner/Registrar Pack
Advice note on declarationCommissioner/Registrar Commissioner/Registrar Pack
A welcome to DFA sheet DFA DFA Pack
Green Book DFADFA Pack
Quick Guide DFADFA Pack
Information on allowances, including forms: DFADFA Pack
Incidental expenses provision Members reimbursement form DFADFA Pack
IEP/staffing allowance Direct payment of suppliers form DFADFA Pack
IEP/staffing allowance Periodic payment forms DFADFA Pack
Additional costs allowance forms DFA DFA Pack
Forms, factsheets and information on appointing staff, personnel advice service staff pensions and staff pay DFADFA Pack
Staff training forms DFA DFA Pack
Pensions forms including notice of nomination, for the PCPF DFADFA Pack
Members travel reimbursement and claim forms DFADFA Pack
Information on Members travelcard DFA DFA Pack
Occupational health service information DFADFA Pack
Gym leaflet DFADFA Pack
Business of the House: Short Guide to Procedure & Practice Clerk'sNew Members Pack
Swearing-in LeafletClerk's New Members Pack
Guide to courtesies and conventionsClerk's New Members Pack
Green BookDFANew Members Pack
Quick guide to Green BookDFA New Members Pack
New Members ChecklistOffice of the Clerk New Members Pack
List of contentsOffice of the Clerk New Members Pack
Guide to servicesOffice of the Clerk New Members Pack
Members' handbookOffice of the Clerk New Members Pack
TrombinoscopeOffice of the Clerk New Members Pack
Guide to RD services RDNew Members Pack
Note on what to do in the event of an emergency SAA New Members Pack
Guide to the travel officeTravel Office New Members Pack
PCD Binder containingPCD PCD/PICT Pack
ContactsPCDPCD/PICT Pack
Summary of Services—including PCD Service Catalogue PCDPCD/PICT Pack
Centrally provided equipmentPCD PCD/PICT Pack
TelecommunicationsPCD PCD/PICT Pack
Tips and guidancePCD PCD/PICT Pack
Newsletters (empty)PCD PCD/PICT Pack
TrainingPCDPCD/PICT Pack
Glossary of termsPCD PCD/PICT Pack
A leaflet describing the Speaker's Chaplain's work ChaplainReception area
A leaflet about the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft ChaplainReception area
A guidebook of St Margaret's ChurchChaplain Reception area
Business of the House: Short Guide to Procedure & Practice ClerksReception Area
Business of the House: Committee Guide ClerksReception Area
Swearing-in LeafletClerks Reception Area
The Department of the Clerk of the House—Brief Guide for New Members 2005 ClerksReception area
Handout for Reception AreaCommissioner/Registrar Reception Area
DFA Guide to servicesDFA Reception area
Information Sheet-IEPDFA Reception area
Incidental Expenses Provision—Member's reimbursement form C1 DFAReception area
Incidental Expenses Provision/Staffing Allowance—Direct payment of suppliers C2 DFAReception area
Incidental Expenses Provision/Staffing Allowance Form B Periodic payment form DFAReception area
Information Sheet-Travel Allowance DFA Reception area
Additional Costs Allowance—Notification of Member'shome addresses ACA1 DFAReception area
Members' Claim Form: ACA2DFA Reception area
Information sheet-Members staffing allowance DFAReception area
New starter's envelope: Salary ranges, Specimen job description, Specimen contract, P46, Pay rates, Office of the Clerk Guide, Proof of right to work in UK, A/L form, Contract checklist, Guide to personnel adv service, Employee pension a/f, SA1 form DFAReception area
Staffing Allowance—Authority to pay salary of Members' employee SA1 DFAReception area
Staffing Allowance—Authority to amend employee's salary SA2 DFAReception area
Staffing Allowance/Incidental Expenses Provision—Authority for the payment of one-off salary and/or expenses to staff SA3 DFAReception area
Staffing Allowance—Authority to cease an employee's salary SA4 DFAReception area
WWP Training course info DFA Reception area
Pension folder DFAReception area
Information sheet- Travel Allowance DFA Reception area
Travel Allowance—Member's monthly car mileage claim form T1 DFAReception area
Travel Allowance—Member's travel reimbursement claim form Form T2 DFAReception area
Travel Allowance—New Member Travel details DFAReception area
Travel Allowance Employee's car mileage claim form Form TE1 DFAReception area
Car Assessment Form DFA Reception area
House of Commons Travel Card—Guide DFAReception area
House of Commons Travel Card—Completing your monthly Travel Card statement DFAReception area
Travel Card Folder DFA Reception area
Travel Card- Delivery ChecklistDFA Reception area
Travel Card—AcknowledgementDFA Reception area
Westminster Gym leafletDFA Reception area
The Dept of the Official Report (Hansard)—A Brief Guide for New Members 2005 HansardReception area
The Dept of the Official Report (Hansard)—A Guide for Civil Servants 2005 HansardReception area
Using the Library guideLibrary Reception Area
Guide to Services of the LibraryLibrary Reception Area
Who Does What in the Library Library Reception Area What the Library can do for you—A Brief Guide to services for Members and their staff LibraryReception area
HoC Service—A brief GuideOffice of the Clerk Reception Area
How the House Services are ManagedOffice of the Clerk Reception Area
Letter from SAAPass office Reception area
Members' spouse/partner pass application Pass officeReception area
Member's car parking permit application Pass officeReception area
Vouch Proforma x 2Pass office Reception area
Registration form for Members' secretaries and research assistants x 3 Pass officeReception area
Pass application and security questionnaire x 3 Pass officeReception area
Folder 1—Parliamentary Communications Directorate. Included: Contacts, summary of services, centrally provided equipment, telecommunications, tips and guidance, newsletter, training, glossary PCD/PICTReception area
Folder 2—PCD Election May 2005 documentation. Included: PDC general, Members support (MUS), Telecom, PCD folder PCD/PICTReception area
PCD Documentation—Election May 2005 on CD PCD/PICTReception area
SO 17—Met Police Service—Palace of Westminster Police PoliceReception area
Malicious CommunicationsPolice Reception area
A Guide to Personal SecurityPolice Reception area
Booklet on Services of the Refreshment Department' RDReception area
Emergency Procedures LeafletSAA Reception area
Access and securitySAA Reception area
Baby care facilities for visitors to the Palace of Westminster SAAReception area
Committee Rooms, Conference, Meeting and Interview Rooms SAAReception area
Exhibitions in the Upper Waiting Hall of the House of Commons SAAReception area
Fire precautions and fire safety measures SAAReception area
Mass LobbiesSAAReception area
Photography, filming, sound recording, painting, sketching, mobile telephones and pagers in the Palace of Westminster SAAReception area
Visitors to ParliamentSAA Reception area
Accommodation and FacilitiesSAA Reception area
Car Parking for Members of Parliament and others working in the House of Commons SAAReception area
Facilities for visitors with disabilities in the Palace of Westminster SAAReception area
Services for Members' spouses or partners SAAReception area
Gallery TicketsSAAReception area
Parliamentary Mail ServiceSAA Reception area
Stationery, post paid envelopes and use of the crowned portcullis SAAReception area
Business of the House: Procedural Series Leaflets (8 Titles) ClerksBriefings

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Prepared 20 June 2007