Report - House of Commons Governance - House of Commons Governance Committee Contents


3  How does the House match up?

24. The House's primary purpose is its constitutional one as the central institution of our democracy.[23] It is a representative assembly whose core functions include legislation, authorising taxation, debate, and holding the government to account. Those functions are fulfilled by its Members, who act on behalf of their constituents. And those constituents have a constitutional right of access to their representatives. With that right of access go other obligations, not just to explain and inform but also to engage and promote. In an age where the electorate to whom we are answerable are increasingly questioning what we do and how we do it, not only access to the Palace of Westminster, but also our educational and outreach activities are more and more important, and central to maintaining the legitimacy of the institution.

25. Thus, as an organisation, the House's real purpose includes both its traditional core functions as a representative assembly and its institutional obligations to the electorate. The Deputy Speakers told us that it was important to consider the House's primary purpose and to focus on how Members can be enabled to do their jobs, although there was also a duty to operate efficiently. The primary purpose of the House service must be to support Members in the effective discharge of their parliamentary responsibilities.

26. The governance arrangements for the House have developed over time often in response to particular issues or events. This has resulted in a situation where the complexities which are inherent in the character of the House as a legislature have been compounded by layers of interventions which have built on and adapted what went before rather than rationalising or restructuring it.

27. In essence, the position of the House in respect of its administration is not that different from its position in respect of its proceedings and privileges. It is sovereign. But where it has legislated explicitly, those statutes have force and cannot be overruled by resolution or other methods of internal decision-making. Under the House of Commons Administration Act 1978 (the 1978 Act), the House of Commons Commission, not the House, is the employer of the House's staff (with a few specific exceptions). The Commission is also responsible for determining the Estimate, and thus the House's financial resources.
Evolution of House of Commons Governance

The two Houses of the UK Parliament occupy what has always been, and remains, a Royal Palace. In 1965 they were formally granted permanent use of the Palace with the Speaker acting on behalf of the Commons in respect of the Commons areas. Maintenance of the Palace and responsibility for the rest of the parliamentary estate remained in the hands of the Government until 1992.

The basis for the current administration of the House was shaped in the 1970s. The Compton Inquiry in 1974 was followed by the Bottomley Committee in 1975 which recommended changes to the administration of the House that are reflected in the House of Commons Administration Act 1978. This set up the House of Commons Commission in its current form (replacing various historic provisions including the House of Commons Offices Act 1812). The 1978 Act meant that for the first time the House was formally responsible for its staffing and expenditure. At the same time a Board of Management was set up which has now evolved into the Management Board.

Since 1978 there have been three separate management reviews of the House:

·  Ibbs (1990) led to recommendations about financial management in the House and the transfer of the estate to the House (making the Clerk responsible under the 1992 Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act);

·  Braithwaite (1999) recommended the Finance and Services Committee develop a closer relationship with the Commission, created the Audit Committee, proposed that the Clerk should be supported on corporate issues by a small office (the Office of the Clerk) and that both the Commission and Management Board should become more strategic;

·  Tebbit (2007) recommended the Management Board become a more strategic body with revised membership including non-executives and supported by an upgraded Office of the Clerk called the Office of the Chief Executive. It also proposed further shared services including Estates and Works (with the Lords as a partner rather than customer of the Commons).

28. In 1965 The Queen agreed to transfer responsibility for management of the Palace of Westminster (which was and remains a Royal Palace) to the two Houses, with separate arrangements for Westminster Hall and the royal rooms in the House of Lords.[24] In the House of Commons the responsibility was vested in the Speaker on behalf of the House. The Speaker thus became, in practice and in common law, the 'householder' for the Commons parts of the Palace. By contrast, the Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992 makes the Clerk of the House the legal owner of the House's property and gives him or her authority to enter into contracts on its behalf.

29. The House itself can make decisions about its own administration through the usual procedures of debate and decision, as, for example, when agreeing to the savings programme or to arrangements for the filming of a documentary.[25] In practice, through the combination of the statutory powers given to it and the impracticality of using proceedings on the floor of the House for regular decision making on administrative matters, the Commission has acquired over time many of the strategic responsibilities and powers which a governing board might be expected to have. But they have not been codified or explicitly endorsed by the House. There is no published list of them and it remains the case that actions proposed or decisions taken by the Commission, other than in pursuit of its statutory powers, could be challenged, amended or reversed on the floor of the House.

30. People do not become Members of Parliament because they want to run the House of Commons, a point endorsed by Nigel Mills MP.[26] The services provided by the House, at every level and of every category, whether advice on parliamentary privilege or on procedure in the Chamber, or information and policy analysis, or security and access control, or accommodation, or catering, are there to facilitate the work of Members in serving their constituents. It is generally only when those services go wrong, and they interfere in or obstruct that work, that questions about how the services are provided, and who makes decisions about them, become of interest to Members. [27]

Changing work of the House

Throughout the last 50 years the size of membership of the House has remained relatively constant, but the scale of the work undertaken by Members, and the numbers and work of staff in the House Service, has changed immensely. These changes include the establishment of Departmental Select Committees in 1979, a huge increase in constituency related-work for Members (the number of Members' staff has more than doubled since 1990; new Members in 2010 have reported spending around 60 per cent of their time on constituency issues), far fewer Members combining their role with significant jobs outside, greater public engagement by the House plus greater exposure to the work of Members through televised coverage, 24-hour media and engagement with social media. The House has responded to these changes; for example, in 1979 the House had around 550 employees; it now has over 1,700 (which includes the transfer of maintenance and catering staff during the period, but excludes the growth in Members' staff).

The role of the Speaker

31. The Speaker is elected by the House to preside over its proceedings and to be its representative both formally (for example on state occasions) and informally (for example through his or her involvement in public engagement activities: an area of much-increased activity in recent years). But as the statutory chair of the House of Commons Commission and as 'householder' for the Commons areas of the Palace, s/he also has important administrative responsibilities.

32. The extent of the Speaker's non-procedural responsibilities is not well understood. There is no published list of them. Sometimes the Speaker may be asked to act because there seems to be no one else who appropriately could do so. S/he has a range of statutory responsibilities either on behalf of the House (eg in the Parliament Act 1911 or the Freedom of Information Act 2000)[28] or to discharge functions which have a parliamentary dimension but must be the responsibility of someone above the political fray (eg as chair of the four permanent Boundary Commissions[29] or of the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission).[30] S/he has thus a position of leadership within the House, without being fully in charge. Indeed it would not be appropriate that s/he should be. As the Leader of the House, Rt Hon William Hague MP, told us:

    It is only possible for it to proceed on a collective basis, which is as it should be in a Parliament: there should not be any one figure in charge in the same way there is a Secretary of State who has to be in charge and is accountable to Parliament for being in charge of his or her Department. It is different from a Government Department in that respect.[31]

33. From the start of the 2010 Parliament, the House has elected the Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means and the two other Deputy Speakers. Previously they were, in effect, chosen by the Whips. As with select committee chairs, this welcome reform has increased their authority and status in the eyes of the House. Like the Speaker, they have been chosen by the House to preside over its proceedings.

34. With one exception, the Deputy Speakers have no role in deputising for the Speaker in her/his administrative roles. The one exception is that the 1978 Act provides that the Deputy Speaker 'may exercise the functions of Mr Speaker' as chair of the House of Commons Commission in the latter's temporary absence.[32] To the best of our knowledge this provision has never been used.[33] The only formal involvement which any of the Deputy Speakers has in the administrative side of the House is that the Chairman of Ways and Means is a member of the Finance and Services Committee and is Chair of the Panel of Chairs with general responsibility for the work of general committees.

35. The physical distance between the Speaker and his deputies (whose offices are on the opposite side of the building) seems emblematic of a functional distance. In our view, the Speaker and Deputy Speakers should always operate as a team. The Speaker and Deputy Speakers should consider reviewing whether the Deputy Speakers should be available to support the Speaker in his responsibilities outside as well as inside the Chamber. We consider this further in paragraph 138.

House of Commons Commission

36. The Commission is established under the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 (the 1978 Act). The Commission is a body corporate. Under paragraph 6(2) of Schedule 1, the Commission may determine its own procedures. It presently consists of the Speaker (ex officio), the Leader of the House (ex officio), a nominee of the Leader of the Opposition, and three other Members appointed by the House who are not Ministers of the Crown. Past service on the Commission is not a bar to nomination or appointment as a member of the Commission. Under the statute, the Speaker is the Chairman of the Commission. Upon a dissolution of Parliament, the Speaker continues in office as a member of the Commission until a Speaker is chosen in the new Parliament.

37. The functions of the Commission set out in the 1978 Act are:

a)  To prepare and present to the House for printing a report on the exercise of its functions in each financial year. The report must mention any delegation of the Commission's functions or change in existing delegations.

b)  To appoint the staff in House departments; this excludes the Clerk of the House, any Clerk Assistant, the Serjeant at Arms and the Speaker's personal staff.

c)  To keep the terms and conditions of staff of House Departments, including pay and grading, broadly in line with those of the Home Civil Service. The pensions of staff are to be kept in line with or provided under the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme.

d)  To prepare and lay before the House an Estimate for expenses of the House Departments or expenses otherwise incurred for the service of the House (the Administration Estimate).

e)  To appoint the Accounting Officer for the Estimate.

f)  To allocate functions to House Departments and Offices and to increase or decrease their number.[34]
Current Committees and Boards

The current Commission are supported by a number of Committees (set up by standing order) and Boards. These are set out with their membership below:

·  House of Commons Commission: Rt Hon John Bercow MP (The Speaker), the Leader of the House, Rt Hon William Hague MP, the Shadow Leader of the House, Angela Eagle MP, Frank Doran MP, Sir Paul Beresford MP, Rt Hon John Thurso MP.)

·  Management Board: David Natzler (Acting Clerk of the House), John Borley (Director-General of Facilities), Andrew Walker (Director-General of HR and Change), Myfanwy Barratt (Director of Finance), Dame Janet Gaymer (external non-executive) and Barbara Scott (external non-executive). The Director-General of Chamber and Committee Services/Clerk Assistant, the Director-General of Information Services/Librarian and the Director of PICT are also members of the Management Board but these posts are currently filled on an acting basis. The Board is currently chaired by Dame Janet Gaymer.

·  Finance and Services Committee (responsible for scrutinising and monitoring the expenditure of the House and advising the Committee on the annual estimate): Rt Hon John Thurso MP (Chair), Sir Paul Beresford MP, Clive Betts MP, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Robert Flello MP, Rt Hon Sir Alan Haselhurst MP, Rt Hon George Howarth MP, Rt Hon Lindsay Hoyle MP (the Chairman of Ways and Means), Rt Hon Sir Greg Knight MP, Robert Syms MP, Iain Wright MP.

·  Administration Committee (considers the services of the House, advising the Commission): Rt Hon Sir Alan Haselhurst MP(Chair), Conor Burns MP, Thomas Docherty MP, David Evennett MP, Michael Fabricant MP, Tom Harris MP, Mark Hunter MP, Marcus Jones MP, Nigel Mills MP, Tessa Munt MP, Robert Syms MP, Mark Tami MP, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Ben Wallace MP, Dave Watts MP, David Wright MP.

·  Audit Committee (supports the Clerk of the House and Chief Executive by advising him in relation to his responsibilities as Accounting Officer): Dame Janet Gaymer (Chair, external member), Angela Eagle MP, Barbara Scott (external member), Rt Hon John Thurso MP, Rt Hon Sir Alan Haselhurst MP, Stephen Brooker (external member).

38. We support the principle of a statutory body with functions including those currently held by the Commission which is accountable to the House through, for example, parliamentary questions. Such a body provides clarity and certainty at the apex of the governance structure because statutory responsibilities can be amended only by further legislation. In a House where the Executive will almost always have a majority it is a protection against Executive interference.[35]

39. But we have concluded that as currently constituted the Commission lacks the authority and the capability to provide consistent strategic direction. Its members told us that, faced with specific issues, it could be an effective decision-making body, but that it was less good at taking a longer term view or setting a strategic framework for the House service as a whole. It was not always clear how issues came to it, or what decisions were required of it.[36] The Speaker told us that the Commission worked relatively well, but that it could be better at following up on decisions and interacting with the Management Board.

40. We heard evidence that corporate board members are expected to spend at least two days a month and sometimes much more on work for the board (in the public and private sectors). Commission members are very busy people with many calls on their time. We suspect that many of them find it difficult to devote as much time as they would wish to their Commission duties.

41. The Commission is not well understood even within the House. As Angela Eagle MP told us,

    It was always rather a mysterious thing before I got on to it. … I have to say the management and structure of the place has always been rather mysterious. You only get to come across bits of it by accident, and if you are lucky enough to stay here long enough, you then stumble across more of it.[37]

42. Its meetings are always in private. It publishes only the barest of minutes. Rt Hon Hazel Blears MP suggested that unless a Member had had specific direct contact with the Commission, as she had in connection with the Speaker's Parliamentary Placement Scheme, 'I will hazard a guess that very few will know who the members are and what the responsibilities are.'[38] The Speaker told us that the Commission's profile might be improved if its backbench members were elected and that the elected members could have portfolio responsibilities. He said that, in his view, there should be ex officio places on the Commission for the Speaker, the Leader of the House, and the Shadow Leader. The Deputy Speakers said the Commission should be more accountable and that election of its members would be one way of achieving this.

Finance and Services Committee

43. The Finance and Services Committee (F&S) has 11 members, formally chosen by the House. In the last two Parliaments, one of the members has been the Chairman of Ways and Means. Its chair is chosen by the committee from among its members, rather than elected by the whole House. The responsibilities of F&S are described in Standing Order No. 144. They are to prepare the Estimates for submission to the Commission; to monitor the financial performance of the House administration and to report to the Commission on the 'financial and administrative implications of recommendations made to them by other committees of the House.' In 2010 F&S agreed a remit for itself, to which it then secured the agreement of the House of Commons Commission. The evidence we have received suggests that that remit and the rigour with which the Chair and the committee have stuck to it have played an important part in the constructive contribution which F&S is generally regarded to have made in the current Parliament.

44. We were told that in the past F&S's responsibility to report to the Commission on recommendations made by other committees had led it to unpick carefully-considered packages of recommendations from, for example, the Administration Committee, but that in the current Parliament its decision to focus more exclusively on its financial management responsibilities together with a constructive relationship between the chairs of the F&S and Administration committees had largely obviated this problem.[39]

45. Another important factor in F&S's success has been that its chair is also a member of the Commission.

Administration Committee

46. The Administration Committee has 16 members, formally chosen by the House. Its chair is chosen by the committee from among its members, rather than elected by the whole House. The committee's role is described in Standing Order No 139 as being 'to consider services provided for and by the House and make recommendations thereon to the House of Commons Commission or to the Speaker.' It may 'make rules and give directions to Officers of the House only in respect of such administrative matters as may from time to time be determined by the Speaker or the House of Commons Commission.' The protocol agreed between the Commission and the committee sets out a range of issues on which the committee is invited to advise the Speaker, the House of Commons Commission, the Management Board and individual Heads of Department as appropriate. It lists several delegations, described as being of oversight, nomination or authority. It makes no reference to making rules or giving directions to Officers of the House.

47. It is hard to see how the protocol flows from the standing order. There is no mention in the protocol of what responses the Administration Committee may expect to its advice, whether there is, for example, any obligation on those to whom the committee gives its advice to explain, in cases where this advice is not acted on, why it has not been accepted. The protocol is described as an 'Ambit of Advice from Administration Committee under paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 139', which implies that it sets limits on the subjects on which the Commission and others are prepared to receive advice. But the standing order provides no authority for such limits.

48. The Administration Committee does a necessary job, but, through no fault of its own, works sub-optimally. Its membership is too large; attendance as a consequence is unpredictable and variable. Its role is not clearly articulated. Even those Members who understand that its role is advisory, rather than executive, are frustrated by the lack of feedback (from the Commission and from officials) where its advice is not followed, and by delays in the timely implementation of that advice which is accepted.[40]

49. One element which has worked well is the series of constructive relationships which the Chair of the committee has forged with officials across the House service and PICT.[41] But they have required both patience and time on his part. The absence of any link between the committee and the Commission has, in the Chair's view at least, made it harder.[42]

Liaison Committee

50. The Liaison Committee's remit as set out in Standing Order No 145 does not extend to House administration or governance. But as the committee of chairs of select committees it has unsurprisingly interested itself in the support given by the House to its select committees. Its Chair told us that the committee was in this process 'a consumer rather than a manager.'[43] He went on

    I think it would be wrong for the Liaison Committee or anybody else to become involved in the HR management of staff. However, as Chairman of the Liaison Committee, I work as closely as I can with the management, the Clerk of Committees, to ensure that the needs of committees are met in a way that allows us to maintain a service, with people receiving appropriate promotion and having their careers developed.[44]

Management Board

51. The Management Board has nine members, of whom two are external members. The current members of the Management Board are:

·  Dame Janet Gaymer, Non-executive external member, and Acting Chair

·  Myfanwy Barrett, Director, Finance

·  John Benger, Acting Director General, Information Services

·  John Borley, Director General, Facilities

·  David Natzler, Acting Clerk of the House

·  Barbara Scott, Non-executive external member

·  Jacqy Sharpe, Acting Director General, Chamber and Committee Services

·  Matthew Taylor, Acting Director of PICT

·  Andrew Walker, Director General, Human Resources and Change

It is responsible for the management of the services provided for the House of Commons by the Departments of the House; it advises the Corporate Officer on the services that should be provided by PICT, a joint department of the two Houses; and it gives advice on those services to the House of Commons Commission and to F&S. Under an instrument of delegation made by the House of Commons Commission on 22 October 2007 and amended by the Commission on 23 January 2012, the Board is responsible for:

a)  Ensuring that the grading, pay and conditions of staff in the House Service are kept broadly in line with those of the Home Civil Service;

b)  Appointing staff (other than certain staff appointed by the Speaker), with each executive Board member responsible for the appointment of staff to their own Departments, subject to directions given by the Clerk of the House as Chief Executive;

c)  Exercising the Commission functions concerning staff in the House Service, but with the Commission retaining the power to re-organise the Departmental structure of the House;

d)  Consulting the trade unions (subject to the right of the trade unions to make representations directly to the Commission in certain circumstances);

e)  Managing the services provided by Departments of the House and advising the Commission and F&S on those services;

f)  Advising the Corporate Officer of the House of Commons on the services that should be provided by joint departments of the two Houses;

g)  Overseeing the budgets of House Departments;

h)  Assisting F&S in the production of draft Estimates for expenditure before their submission to the Commission.

52. We have received clear evidence of increased professionalism in the most senior levels of the House service. Of the four permanent executive members of the Board (as opposed to the three acting members), three have lengthy experience outside the House.[45] This is an experience mirrored in similar jurisdictions such as Canada.[46] The Management Board has worked hard to improve its own effectiveness and in the words of Alex Jablonowski, who was an external member of it between 2008 and 2013,

    We came a long way and now, by and large, the board-certainly when I left-was acting in the collegiate way where people put a board hat on and left their individual directorate responsibilities behind. That was very important.[47]

53. It successfully delivered a 17 per cent real terms reduction in budgeted resource expenditure over the first four years of the current Parliament. The most recent Staff Survey results point to increasing levels of satisfaction in the leadership of the service. John Borley told us that the Board 'works as well, if not better, than any board of management I have been on.'[48]

54. On the other hand our own discussions with staff showed wide variations in awareness of and support for the Board. Although Andrew Walker reinforced Alex Jablonowski's assessment that it is now a substantially more corporate body than it had been in the past, it has not yet persuaded its own staff that it can act corporately to the highest standards as a positive force for change. Its evidence suggested uncertainty over its own strategic role.[49] An analysis of its agendas suggests that it lacks focus and spends too much time on issues that could be handled at a lower level.

55. Two examples of where the Board could have handled things differently were repeatedly raised with us: the pay negotiations between 2012 and 2014; and the introduction of standardised time recording for staff across the House service. The latter example was believed by many staff to be conceptually incompatible with the parliamentary timetable and does seem to us to derive from a failure to base policies on a clear understanding that the primary purpose of the House is parliamentary. In both cases there has been a lack of clarity both on the policy objectives and on decision-making responsibilities. Ken Gall, President of the Trade Union Side, told us that it was not clear who was 'really accountable for decision making with regard to staff in this organisation.'[50] It seems extraordinary to us that staff, and in particular the Trades Unions, should not be clear on who is responsible and therefore accountable for so significant a change to the terms and conditions of staff.

56. Although the Clerk chairs the Management Board as Chief Executive Officer and not as the head of a department, the Board still has characteristics of a representative rather than a functional body. Staff from several departments described the experience of preparing papers for the Board which were then presented to it by their Head of Department.[51] David Vere described the House service as being 'in the holding company stage, where we have a number of relatively independent departments within a corporate whole.'[52] David Natzler told us that sometimes Board decisions were not implemented[53] and followed up with a specific example.[54] This was not, in his view, about wilful non-acceptance of the Chief Executive's authority but 'more a concern that decisions taken by the Board are for a variety of reasons not always implemented across the House consistently and to the timescales envisaged by the Board.'[55] Tom O'Leary described his experience of organising the Parliament-wide Anniversaries Programme, that high level backing 'does not necessarily translate into the organisation saying, "Right, we are going to get on with this."'[56]

57. In our view there are three underlying factors which contribute to this situation:

·  A dysfunctional relationship between the Board and the Commission;

·  Lack of a clear focus on implementation or delivery, with inconsistent follow-up of agreed decisions and actions;

·  Inadequate clarity on delegations to and within individual departments.

The Clerk of the House

58. The position of Clerk of the House is a Crown appointment. S/he is appointed by Letters Patent and could be removed only by an Address to Her Majesty.[57] This method of appointment dates back at least as far as the reign of Edward IV. But it is more than a historical curiosity: it is an important protection of the independence of the post and thus of the advice which the occupant gives to Members on all sides of the House and to the Speaker.

59. The choice of candidate to be proposed for appointment to the Sovereign was before 2011 made on the basis of informal discussions and soundings. Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP recalls the appointment of at least two Clerks of the House in the 1980s being to some extent determined by the House of Commons Commission.[58] In 2006 two names were put before the Speaker by the retiring Clerk from which the Speaker then chose.

60. The Tebbit Review had recommended that the appointment process for Clerk of the House/Chief Executive should be 'by means of competition, open to the (inevitably limited) group of suitably qualified candidates, with a Selection Board similar to those employed for Permanent Secretaries to Government Departments.'[59] However, no steps were taken to implement the recommendation. In his 2010 review of the implementation of Tebbit, Alex Jablonowski scored this recommendation as "Not Achieved" and as "Highly Relevant". Mr Jablonowski told us that in his view the recommendation was not implemented for the 2011 appointment process simply because of a lack of time.[60]

61. Nonetheless, in 2011, following discussions with the retiring Clerk of the House, the Speaker decided to introduce a competitive process to recruit his successor. Applications were invited from eligible candidates in both Houses of Parliament and in the devolved legislatures. The process was administered by a senior HR professional in the then Department of Resources.

THE 2014 RECRUITMENT PROCESS

62. Sir Robert Rogers announced his retirement in April 2014. The then Leader of the House, Rt Hon Andrew Lansley MP, told us that the Commission decided, at its meeting later that month, that 'we were looking for the appointment process to be conducted, as far as possible, on the same basis as 2011.'[61] In the event, however, there were differences from the previous process. For example, an executive search firm was engaged to identify potential candidates, undertake initial interviews, review all applications and draw up a long list of suitable candidates.

63. Our role has not been to conduct a post mortem of the 2014 process, but there are lessons which should be learnt for any future process. First, as we have already noted, Commission procedures are not always as well understood by its members as they might be. In this instance the evidence from both John Thurso and Andrew Lansley suggests that the Commission was initially not as clear or definitive in its decision-making as it might have been.[62] Secondly the respective roles and responsibilities of the Speaker and Commission in the process were not clear. The Commission has no statutory responsibility for the post of Clerk, but, judging from what Sir Alan Beith told us, has been involved to some degree in the appointment process for at least the last thirty years.[63] Thirdly, the nature of the process in 2014 does not seem to have been pinned down in detail in advance of the recruitment process for the successor to Sir Robert Rogers. We noted above that Sir Kevin Tebbit's recommendation in respect of the process had not been implemented. The 2011 process had not been either fully open or entirely consistent with Sir Kevin's recommendation. Our recommendations in respect of any future appointment process are set out in paragraphs 191-197 below.

THE CLERK AS CHIEF EXECUTIVE

64. The role of the Clerk of the House as Chief Executive has developed over time. To some extent it has mirrored the evolution of a unified House service. In 1990 in the Ibbs report the Clerk was described as primus inter pares in a 'federal structure.'[64] In 1999 Braithwaite found that 'many of the recent improvements in management and governance have been driven by [the Clerk], and the role of the Clerk is now much more than the primus inter pares described by Ibbs.'[65] However the federal structure remained in place and Braithwaite noted:

    Staff are formally appointed to the House service, but in practice to a Department. Moves of staff between Departments are increasing slowly but are relatively infrequent; and do not in practice happen above pay band A2 (Grade 7).[66]

65. In 2007, Tebbit noted that the 'Board of Management now considers House-wide issues, although these are relatively narrowly defined'[67] and that the 'importance of developing more corporate behaviour by Board members is reflected in a Statement of Principles which the Board has adopted.'[68] Since then the prominence of the Chief Executive part of the role has been further reinforced by the implementation of Tebbit's recommendation of an Office of the Chief Executive;[69] and there has been continuing effort put into unifying the House service. Three former Clerks of the House, Sir William McKay, Sir Roger Sands and Sir Malcolm Jack, told us in written evidence that changes to the departmental structure after Tebbit 'contributed significantly to the efficiency of the unified House Service.'[70] David Natzler told us, one thing on which the Management Board was united was that 'we value a unified service.'[71] Andrew Walker agreed: 'we have seen some real benefits and improvements in services from the unification of the House Service.'[72] And Myfanwy Barrett said:

    When I came here, you rapidly got the feeling that there was a certain culture round the Clerks in the organisation and then there was everybody else. We have worked really hard to try and break down some of those barriers to make sure that the staff feel integrated in one team and one organisation.[73]

66. It is perhaps not surprising that these developments have gone together, nor, as other witnesses have told us, that as a consequence there have been significant improvements across the House service in recent years. We return to the importance of a united House service later in this report (paragraph 163).

67. A joint Clerk/Chief Executive is the standard model used in the UK's devolved legislatures, although the balance between procedural and administrative work varies. Other models exist; in the Danish Folketing the Clerk is one of two deputies to the Secretary General.[74] In the French National Assembly, there are two separate administrations, one dealing with parliamentary matters accountable to the President of the Assembly, the other responsible for 'back office' and support functions accountable to 'Questeurs' who are members of the Assembly elected by it to fulfil this role.[75]

68. Our witnesses expressed a variety of views on the desirability or otherwise of splitting the roles of Clerk of the House and Chief Executive and how the two posts should be organised if they were split. The Speaker said that the Clerk and Chief Executive roles should be split; that nothing should threaten the role of the Clerk of the House as chief constitutional adviser, but that there should also be a Chief Executive focused on the management of the organisation. He told us that there should be a clear delineation of functions between the two posts, which would minimise the overlap and the potential for disagreement, and that the Chief Executive should be the Accounting Officer. This model would appear to divide the House service into a parliamentary section headed by the Clerk and a management function headed by the Chief Executive. The Deputy Speakers told us that the Clerk of the House should be the head of the House Service and said that if there were a Chief Operating Officer or Chief Executive, they should act on the authority of the Clerk of the House; the two posts should not be parallel. They said that it was necessary to have one person in charge; that the Clerk of the House should remain the Accounting Officer; and that a Chief Operating Officer for the whole estate could be a long-term aspiration. Andrew Tyrie MP argued that the House should appoint a Chief Executive as its principal officer, ultimately responsible to the Speaker, the Commission and the House itself for the running of all House services, including procedural and parliamentary services.[76] We heard a wide range of other views from Members. Some Members argued that the Clerk of the House should be the senior post. Other Members argued for two separate posts—Clerk of the House and Chief Executive—of equal status, both accountable directly to the Commission.

People

69. As noted above, the staff of the House are employed by the Commission, which has a statutory duty to keep their terms and conditions broadly in line with those of the Home civil service. Candidates for the Fast Stream are initially recruited within the civil service's Fast Stream recruitment system. However, whilst House staff are not civil servants, they will naturally compare what the House offers them with what they might have expected in the civil service. As Andrew Kennon, Clerk of Committees, explained:

    Our aim has been to recruit highly capable people from the same pool as the civil service draws its fast stream to ensure that at all levels Parliament is supported by people of equal ability to the civil service. We also develop people recruited through other routes. The assumption is that the House wants to be confident that its staff are as good as (and capable of standing up to) their civil service equivalents.[77]

70. Throughout our inquiry we have heard testimony to the quality of the staff who work in the House of Commons. Without exception, Members praised the staff of the House. That was reinforced by Dr Emma Crewe, who has recently completed a three year study of the House told and us that she was 'a huge champion of Parliament, but also of the officials in Parliament. My experience of observing them is that the institution is extremely well run.'[78]

71. David Orr, previously Permanent Secretary of the Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland and Chair of the Independent Procurement Expert Panel for Crossrail, described the Parliamentary Estates Board and the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board as 'at least as good as other boards that I have contributed to.'[79] In the catering field, the House has 'a number of very talented chefs who regularly win competitions.'[80] Sir Kevin Tebbit, an admitted admirer of the House service,[81] was, however, concerned by divisions within it:

    The Clerks were considered very much to be the superior beings who lived on a slightly different planet from the rest of the House Service. I thought that was not good, because I thought there were a lot of very good people indeed in other parts of the House Service, and with the way in which the world is going, with the massive transformation of technology, with the need for much greater connection with the public and the understanding of what Parliament is about, with what used to be called the Library function extending much more into a general information function, with much more emphasis on engaging with the general public and getting them in the place to understand what working democracy is like, I felt that it was very important to try to break down some of those barriers and, if you like, for the Clerks to own a much wider area of responsibility under the Members, under the Speaker.[82]

Since then, clerks have been encouraged to take on a much wider range of responsibilities. For example, the recent project to move to a fully electronic system for parliamentary questions (including transferring the questions to and the answers from government departments) was led by a clerk. Paul Evans told us that he looked with envy at his younger colleagues 'because they have opportunities to work in the civil service and other departments that I was never offered.'[83] Sir Alan Beith described the role of clerks in representing the interests of select committees which might be 'in conflict with outside bodies or organisations who are declining to come and give oral evidence.'[84]

A PROCEDURAL SERVICE?

72. It has been almost universally agreed that key parliamentary roles, not just the Clerk of the House but also many other senior clerking jobs, require procedural and parliamentary expertise which can only be acquired through extensive experience of a wide range of parliamentary proceedings and processes. We have found no dissent from the proposition that the current structures have consistently delivered the authoritative and independent procedural advice which the House depends upon.[85] As Rt Hon Sir Alan Haselhurst MP, drawing on his experience as Deputy Speaker, told us:

    I have had experience in the Chair where suddenly there is some exocet of a procedural point thrown at you. You strain forward and the person in front of you, who knows much more, is able to guide you. If the person in front knew less, that would be an unfortunate situation.[86]

73. Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, praised Committee staff, saying: 'we have got people of huge talent.'[87] Sir Alan Beith pointed out that the role of committee clerks was not exclusively or even principally procedural:

    The Clerks of Select Committees manage teams of staff and the senior Committee Clerks manage the overall resource. That management role has been encouraged and I would not want us to send the signal that it is not important.[88]

Sir Roger Sands stressed the importance he had placed, as Clerk, on the development of 'one unified House service.'[89] Sir William McKay, supported by his two colleagues, emphasised the extent to which the Clerk was bound to become involved in issues across the House service.[90]

74. Andrew Kennon, Clerk of Committees, compared his role with that of his contemporaries in other organisations:

    they are doing the same sort of thing. It is a mixture of professional knowledge, knowledge of your organisation and your ability to manage resources. No one has got promoted to a senior position in the House service in recent years who cannot do those things.[91]

75. Other Parliaments develop their staff for the top roles. For example, Dr. Horst Risse, Secretary-General of the German Bundestag, outlined in written evidence that 'efforts are made to place staff in as many different areas of the Administration as possible, to provide them with an opportunity to demonstrate their skills in a range of positions and gain experience' He himself had been Director General for two different areas of the administration before taking on the lead role.[92]

STAFF DEVELOPMENT AND DIVERSITY

76. Most staff who make their careers in the House service are not clerks. They may nonetheless spend many years here developing skills and experience which are crucial to providing high quality services to Members, to staff and to the public. Many of them have been well-served by the House.[93] But others, as we discovered in our discussions with them, do not believe that the same attention is paid to their career development or that equivalent opportunities to progress to senior posts are open to them.[94]

77. Many organisations value their long-serving staff for the skills they have and for their institutional memory, a particularly valuable asset in a parliamentary environment, but also in other areas, where the relevant specialist skills may not be readily available elsewhere, for example in connection with the maintenance and running of a historic building. On the other hand an organisation must also bring in new blood. There is an optimum balance. Dave Penman, General Secretary, FDA, described the situation in the wider public sector:

    Almost all organisations… try to blend the promotion and development of internal staff with bringing in people from outside. Usually when they get it wrong is when it goes too far one way or the other.[95]

78. Andrew Walker pointed out that three of the permanent members of the Management Board had been recruited from outside the organisation.[96] We took evidence from a number of staff who had come into the House midway through their careers, including David Vere, Director of People Development, who joined the House in May this year and has a responsibility to assess whether the balance of training across the service is appropriate and whether 'we are getting best value for the money that we invest as an organisation overall.'[97]

79. Historically the House, at Member and staff level, has struggled to make significant progress in respect of diversity. Keith Vaz commented: 'We should reflect the whole of the UK and we are not doing that at the moment.'[98] The Parliamentary Workplace Equality Networks told us:

    The outgoing Clerk and Chief Executive proactively took on the role of House-wide Diversity Champion and his direct involvement with, and commitment to, the WENs was very strong. Regardless of the outcome of the Governance Review, it is vital that high-level commitment to the diversity agenda continues and that this aspect of the role is embedded properly and permanently into the future job description / role of the head official(s) in the House. This will help to ensure that the great advances made in this area over the last four years can be continued further and that diversity and inclusion is not seen as an 'add on' responsibility. The benefits of embedding diversity and inclusion in the workplace are high and well documented elsewhere: treating people with respect and recognising the value they bring to the organisation enables people to feel more comfortable being themselves at work. This ultimately leads to a better motivated and more productive workforce.[99]

We heard evidence which explained the House's Diversity and Inclusion scheme and how the House was seeking to embed equality in its work and measure successes and failures.

80. Overall, whilst we think there has been significant progress in respect of staff development across the House service in recent years, there is much more to do.[100] Rt Hon Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute for Government—which currently hosts a secondee—suggested the House 'ought to be much more extensive with secondments to the private sector, to local government or wherever.'[101] Andrew Kennon and David Vere both talked about increasing the opportunities for staff to move between departments and broadening the scope of roles into which staff could go on secondment.[102] David Natzler told us:

    We want people to get wider experience, while at the same time not diminishing their core professional expertise and knowledge, which we have to keep on producing to have any sort of succession policy.[103]

Culture

81. A number of witnesses emphasised the importance of culture in making governance arrangements work effectively, whilst raising concerns about the current organisational culture.[104] Looking back at his time as Chair of the Administration Committee, Frank Doran MP argued that historically the House had been 'very slow to move things forward and custom and deference are a big part of the problem',[105] whilst Rt Hon Peter Hain MP described in written evidence what he called a 'culture of aloofness which pervades [the Clerk's] office'.[106] Within the Management Board level there is evidence of challenge, but it could be more robust. Myfanwy Barrett told us 'We all get on very well, we are very polite, but sometimes we do not sufficiently air an issue where we do have a difference of opinion.'[107] The Management Board's own submission said that they would 'welcome a closer, more collegiate, working culture'[108] with the Commission. We heard a variety of views from staff about the current management culture: for example, a member of staff argued in written evidence that 'A culture in which constructive criticism of management proposals is welcomed and in which alternative solutions are considered would help to counter the weaknesses in the current system'.[109]

82. The Commission itself lacks internal challenge, and, we were surprised to learn from Sir Robert Rogers, it has never reviewed its own working practices.[110] Its relationship with the Management Board is insufficiently close to provide regular oversight or challenge. An overall preference for consensus building, accompanied by a lack of clear accountability, distracts from a focus on delivery.

83. Some commentators have suggested that there is a tension in the culture of the whole organisation, between the priority given to "parliamentary activities" and "management". Barry Winetrobe, an academic, suggested in written evidence that this culture had developed 'Because the 'procedural' has always taken precedence over the 'institutional', the culture and personnel of the 'guardians of the procedural' has prevailed even in matters which are largely, but not solely, 'institutional'.[111] The Cass Business School submission commented that many Members and staff:

    express the importance of deeply held traditions and symbolism which provide a central aspect of the collective culture of all who work in Parliament. We think in some quarters there is a deeply held, but maybe unexpressed concern that the rise of a more thorough-going managerial approach will lead to these traditions being replaced by a generic corporate culture which could be found in any workplace.[112]

84. Paul Evans argued that the culture of the service to some extent reflected the institution it supported:

    The culture of your permanent service rather reflects the culture of the body it serves, which is disparate, stubborn, hard to corral and puts a great deal of value on individual opinion, individual freedom and the right to block.[113]

85. Andrew McDonald posed the question in his written evidence:

    Does one want to reinforce the existing culture, which prizes procedural expertise above all else? Or does one want to signal that the House recognises that the quality of its leadership and management are fundamentally important. The choice is an important one. Important to the future direction and culture of the whole of the House administration.[114]

86. Alongside this is the tension between customer service (meeting the needs and wants of individuals and groups) and stewardship of the institution (protection of the wider good). The Cass Business School noted in written evidence 'Several interviewees commented on the need to facilitate a culture change in Parliament. There is an overarching discourse concerned with the need to introduce a 'service culture'.'[115] They followed with the observation:

    However, it is easier to see how a service culture might operate in some areas (e.g. catering) rather than others where there is a closer relationship with the political functions of Parliament (e.g. DCCS). Some interviewees described house staff as 'stewards' rather than 'service providers', particularly in relation to aspects where clerks were required to support, but not advise or direct Members.[116]

87. Accountability is a central concept of public service and we heard, time and again, about the importance of clarity on who is accountable and how. Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, suggested: 'there will not be accountability unless you have an atmosphere in which people want to accept accountability, are encouraged to take accountability and are rewarded for that accountability'.[117]


23   See Michael Fabricant MP (GOV002), Sir Peter Luff (GOV005), and Robert Flello MP (GOV054) Back

24   HC Deb, 26 April 1965, cols 328-33 Back

25   Votes and Proceedings, 3 April 2014  Back

26   Q303 [Nigel Mills MP] Back

27   Q303 [Sir Menzies Campbell MP] Back

28   For further information see Liam Laurence Smyth, House of Commons staff (GOV001) Back

29   Parliamentary Constituencies Act 1986 Back

30   Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 Back

31   Q242 Back

32   House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, Schedule 2 Back

33   When the then Speaker was absent in 2008, the chair was taken by other members of the Commission Back

34   Summary of sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 Back

35   See also paragraph 143 where we consider a point made by the Shadow Leader of the House about the present Commission. Back

36   Q260 Back

37   Q258 Back

38   Q309 [Hazel Blears MP] Back

39   Qq88-89 Back

40   Q302 Back

41   David Weir, House of Commons staff (GOV036), para 6 Back

42   Q66 [Sir Alan Haselhurst MP] Back

43   Q87 [Sir Alan Beith MP] Back

44   Q87 [Sir Alan Beith MP] Back

45   Myfanwy Barrett, Director of Finance, was Corporate Director of Finance, Harrow Council, and Head of Finance, Greater London Authority; John Borley, Director General of Facilities, was Chief Executive, Naval Recruiting and Training Agency, Naval Base Commander, HM Naval Base Clyde, and Military Assistant to the Chief of Defence Procurement; Andrew Walker, Director General of Human Resources and Change was Treasury policy adviser, and Assistant Director of HR, Inland Revenue. Back

46   Marc Bosc, Acting Clerk of the House of Commons, Canada (GOV085) Back

47   Q120 [Alex Jablonowski] Back

48   Q509 Back

49   Q183 [David Natzler and Andrew Walker] Back

50   Q423 [Ken Gall] Back

51   Qq597-98, 602-03 Back

52   Q643 Back

53   Q205 Back

54   David Natzler, House of Commons staff (GOV081) Back

55   David Natzler, House of Commons staff (GOV081) Back

56   Q605 Back

57   Judges of the High Court enjoy a similar protection against arbitrary dismissal for similar reasons.They can be removed only by a joint Address to Her Majesty The Queen from both Houses.  Back

58   Q83 Back

59   House of Commons Commission, Review of Management and Services of the House of Commons, Sir Kevin Tebbit, June 2007, para 90 Back

60   Q130 Back

61   Q323 Back

62   Q81, Q323 Back

63   Q83  Back

64   House of Commons Services; Report to the House of Commons Commission by a team led by Sir Robin Ibbs, November 1990, para 36. Back

65   House of Commons Commission, Review of Management and Services: Report to the House of Commons Commission by a team led by Mr Michael Braithwaite, July 1999, para 15.39 Back

66   House of Commons Commission, Review of Management and Services: Report to the House of Commons Commission by a team led by Mr Michael Braithwaite, July 1999, para 4.51 Back

67   House of Commons Commission, Review of Management and Services of the House of Commons, Sir Kevin Tebbit, June 2007, para 22  Back

68   House of Commons Commission, Review of Management and Services of the House of Commons, Sir Kevin Tebbit, June 2007, para 25  Back

69   House of Commons Commission, Review of Management and Services of the House of Commons, Sir Kevin Tebbit, June 2007, para 96  Back

70   Sir William McKay, Sir Roger Sands and Sir Malcolm Jack (GOV 010) para 14 Back

71   Q180 Back

72   Q197. See also John Pullinger (GOV075) Back

73   Q198 [Myfanwy Barrett] Back

74   Claire Clancy, Chief Executive and Clerk, National Assembly for Wales (GOV067), Paul Grice, Clerk/Chief Executive, Scottish Parliament (GOV076), Mitchel McLaughlin, Principal Deputy Speaker, Northern Ireland Assembly (GOV069), Trevor Reaney, Clerk of the Northern Ireland Assembly (GOV078), Carsten U Larsen, General Secretary, Danish Parliament (GOV066) Back

75   Corinne Luquiens, General Secretary of the National Assembly, France (GOV091) Back

76   Andrew Tyrie MP (GOV057) Back

77   Andrew Kennon, House of Commons staff (GOV039) para 4 Back

78   Q638 Back

79   Q800 Back

80   Q629 Back

81   Q787 [Sir Kevin Tebbit] Back

82   Q789. See also House of Commons staff (GOV035), Economic Policy and Statistics Section, DIS, House of Commons (GOV053), Departmental Service Directorate, DIS, House of Commons (GOV062) para 26 Back

83   Q402 Back

84   Q90 Back

85   Lord Martin (GOV043), Lord Cormack (GOV049) Back

86   Q72 Back

87   Q503 Back

88   Q62 [Sir Alan Beith MP] Back

89   Q668 Back

90   Qq 675-77 Back

91   Q646 Back

92   Dr. Horst Risse, Secretary-General of the German Bundestag (GOV072) Back

93   Q631 Back

94   House of Commons staff (GOV026) Back

95   Q419 Back

96   Q183  Back

97   Q634 Back

98   Q503. See also House of Commons staff (GOV022) Back

99   Parliamentary Workplace Equality Network (GOV082) Back

100   Dominic Grixti, House of Commons staff (GOV017), House of Commons staff (GOV051), House of Commons staff (GOV056), Paul Bowers, House of Commons staff (GOV084) para 5 Back

101   Q24. See also House of Commons staff (GOV028), Information Management Directorate, DIS, House of Commons (GOV063) para 10, Eve Samson, House of Commons staff (GOV065) Back

102   Qq636, 647, 649 Back

103   Q200 Back

104   Q153 [Bernard Jenkin MP], Q147 Back

105   Q319 [Frank Doran MP] Back

106   Peter Hain MP (GOV007) para 21 Back

107   Q184 Back

108   Management Board (GOV021) para 6.1 Back

109   House of Commons staff (GOV080) para 8 Back

110   Q759 Back

111   Barry K Winetrobe (GOV013) para 7 Back

112   Cass Business School (GOV071) para 36 Back

113   Q398 [Paul Evans] Back

114   Andrew McDonald (GOV073) para 4.3 Back

115   Cass Business School (GOV071) para 22 Back

116   Cass Business School (GOV071) para 24 Back

117   Q161 Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 17 December 2014