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

5  Our proposals

111. Before we set out our proposals in detail it is important to note the unique challenges which any governance arrangements will face in the particular context of the House of Commons. In the words of Sir Kevin Tebbit, who spent six months as 'a sort of temporary Officer of the House',

    It is very difficult to say anything emphatic about the House of Commons and the way it operates. … there is an alchemy here-a curious combination of effects which produces a unique result-and you tamper with it, to some extent, at your peril.[153]

112. As we noted above, the House is sovereign. It may change its procedures at any time in ways which have significant resource consequences. Issues of apparently minor importance may suddenly be escalated to a question in the Chamber or a news item in the national media. Alongside individual Members there are a wide range of variously engaged and variously influential groups with a stake in how the House is run.[154] Governance structures are important but they can only be part of any solution. At best they may, in Sir Robert Rogers's phrase, provide the organisational framework which the 'organism' that is the House of Commons will inhabit.[155]

113. There is a short term problem which needs to be resolved: how the responsibilities currently exercised by the Clerk of the House as Chief Executive should be allocated in future. But that question cannot sensibly be answered in isolation. The responsibilities and authority of a Chief Executive are defined and constrained by the governance structures in which s/he operates. We have heard compelling evidence that the governance structures in the House of Commons are themselves in need of reform. There are challenges and opportunities ahead which it has been argued will be met successfully only if Parliament-wide governance structures are overhauled.

114. It is nearly 40 years since the governance of the House of Commons was last considered by a committee of its Members. That was the Bottomley Committee whose recommendations led directly to the introduction of the House of Commons Administration Act 1978.[156] Starting with Sir Robin Ibbs in 1990 there have been successive reviews of services by eminent external experts. Their recommendations have been instrumental in shaping the modern House service which we have today.

115. Our remit is to consider the governance of the House of Commons in the round. It is wider than the specific question of the roles of the Clerk and Chief Executive. Consequently our responsibility is to look further ahead than its resolution alone: it is to respond to the challenges which the House will face in the future and to propose governance arrangements fit to meet them. It is for this reason that we set out those challenges in some detail in the previous chapter.

116. We have been counselled against delaying necessary, if limited, reforms that could be achieved now in the hope of delivering a comprehensive package at some future date. This is sound advice. But equally we should not take actions now which might prejudice or obstruct our longer term objectives. As Sir Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, told us:

    It is important to have a mid-term picture. I have two things that I could easily throw in as an observer: first, the refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster; and, secondly, the possibility of achieving more efficiency by combining what I would describe as the back-office administration, and so forth, of the House. Those are big prizes, where significant things might happen. Whatever you decide now should keep the pathway open to achieving those things. If I were advising you, I would advise you to think about that.[157]

117. Our proposals are therefore designed to address the immediate issues facing the House and its governance arrangements, but to do so in a way that sets a path to our longer term objectives. We have accordingly set them out in two parts: longer term objectives and actions to be taken now. We then describe how we believe the latter should be implemented. Because we need to maintain our focus on the long term objectives, where perhaps the greatest prizes are, we address them first.

In the longer term

118. Bicameral Parliaments are based upon a belief that a constructive tension and dialogue between the two Houses should result in a better quality of legislation and of the other key functions of a Parliament than is possible in unicameral systems. It is inherent in any genuinely bicameral system that each House should be autonomous from the other. Nothing in our consideration which follows is in any way designed to undermine that. But this does not mean, and has not meant for many decades past, that there is not great scope for the two Houses sharing services. Shared services, that is services provided to both Houses by one body, already account for nearly half the annual resource spend of each House. They range from public-facing functions such as education and visitor services to more 'back office' roles like archives and procurement. Some functions, such as security, estates and ICT can sensibly be delivered only on a bicameral basis.

119. These services are provided through three principal models:

a)  Joint procurement: the two Houses contract with a third party to provide a service to both Houses, with each House paying a share of the cost. The most significant example of this model is the main security arrangements which are currently provided by the Metropolitan Police Service under a five-year agreement.

b)  Recharged costs: staff of one House provide services to both, but recharge a fixed proportion of the costs to the other. The most significant example of this model is estates. The Parliamentary Estates Directorate (PED), based in the Commons' Department of Facilities, manages the Parliamentary Estate on behalf of both Houses. While the majority of services provided under this model are hosted by the Commons, the Parliamentary Archives and Parliamentary Procurement and Commercial Services are hosted by the Lords.

c)  Joint departments: Under the Parliament (Joint Departments) Act 2007, the Corporate Officers of the two Houses can establish joint departments as separate entities to deliver services to Parliament as a whole. To date, the only example of a joint department is PICT.

120. For each of these areas, arrangements are in place to plan services on a bicameral basis. These arrangements vary depending on the scale and nature of the service provided: in the case of estates, for example, there is a Parliamentary Estates Board; for smaller services there may just be a Memorandum of Understanding between the budget holders in the two Houses. The ratios on which the costs are shared are intended to divide spending broadly in line with the benefit to each House. A review has recently updated and simplified these arrangements.

121. There is wide support, in principle, to extend the use of shared services to other areas. The Speaker said that there was scope to explore the capacity for more shared services between the two Houses. The Deputy Speakers told us that merging more services with the House of Lords could lead to savings. The Lord Speaker told us that most shared services worked well and that there was no lack of interest in the Lords in further shared services. John Thurso, who has experience of both Houses, in addition to his role of Chair of F&S, suggested that it makes no sense to have two catering departments on one estate[158] and that whether the Libraries should be included in shared services was 'on the cusp.'[159] Others have argued that many other services could be provided more effectively and efficiently if shared. Exactly what could be included in these shared services would need careful consideration. Alex Jablonowski referred to 'back office' services.[160]

122. In New Zealand, Members decided at a relatively late stage in the establishment of their Parliamentary Service that Hansard should be included in the Clerk's Office:

    The one area of initial uncertainty was Hansard. But when the connection to proceedings test was applied it was abundantly clear that Hansard was appropriately attached to the Clerk's Office.[161]

123. In Australia finance and HR are managed individually by each House but Facilities, Hansard, the Library, ICT and security are delivered by a joint Department of Parliament Services.[162] In Canada, where most services are provided separately to each House, the Parliamentary Library serves both Houses but is run separately from either reflecting its independence and impartiality.[163]

124. Where services are not provided jointly, there is often close co-operation between the Houses. For example, the Catering and Retail Services of the two Houses work together on many procurements (increasingly now that we have a joint procurement service).[164] The two Libraries also collaborate in many ways, though a full merger would be costly if it meant that the level of service provided to Members of the House of Commons were offered to Members of the House of Lords. We were told in written evidence that, in procedural matters, the Committee and Public Bill Offices of the two Houses, and the Hansard teams work closely together.[165]

125. In the longer term, it has been argued, major efficiency gains could be achieved by bringing those services which are best or most effectively delivered on a bicameral basis together into a single organisation supporting both Houses which would be headed by a Chief Executive with a track record in the delivery of services. It will be vital to consider the effectiveness, as well as the efficiency of services. The Lord Speaker said that some aspects of a Services Directorate serving both Houses would work and some would not and that in principle, a Chief Operating Officer for all common administrative services sounded sensible, provided that there was a recognition that the Lords worked differently and some areas would not be cost effective to merge. The Speaker told us that, in an ideal world, there would be one Chief Executive for the whole building—that is to say, covering both Houses of Parliament—but that in the absence of such an arrangement, the House of Commons should appoint a Chief Executive. Alex Jablonowski, Andrew Lansley, Rt Hon Baroness Royall and many others argued that the best structure would be a single Parliamentary Services Department supporting both Houses of Parliament.[166] The South African Parliament is supported by a single parliamentary service, providing support both for core parliamentary business and wider administrative services, which is headed by a single Secretary to Parliament, in effect a chief executive officer.[167]

126. We support the development of plans for a single services department supporting both Houses, but, if effective progress is to be made, cultural as well as institutional barriers will need to be removed. One House cannot dictate to the other in this regard. Baroness Royall warned us:

    I do not mean to be rude, but what is really important about whatever decisions are taken by this committee … is that by default, as it were, you are not taking decisions that have implications for us. That is not to say that we would not agree with what you are saying, but it is quite a delicate issue.[168]

127. The Clerk of the Parliaments proposed a review:

    I wonder whether a better approach might be to step back, review what we have done, think where we might go further, and possibly even get somebody external … to see how the various models that we have work, and in particular to see what the benefits would be in further cases.[169]

128. This would be a good starting point. It should happen soon. Other steps should also be taken to build confidence between Members of the two Houses. The Clerk of the Parliaments drew our attention to the 'increasingly successful twice-yearly joint meetings' of the Audit Committees of the two Houses.[170] The House of Lords equivalent to the Commission is the House Committee. Unlike the Commission, it is not a statutory body, but it is the principal supervisory body for the administration of the House. It has 12 members, all of whom are peers, and it is chaired by the Lord Speaker. The Lord Speaker told us that there were currently no regular meetings between the Commission and the House Committee and that it would be beneficial to have informal meetings of the two bodies about twice a year to talk about the issues that lie ahead. She commented that each House needed to be sensitive to the other when making decisions which affected both and that informal discussions in advance would generally be helpful. It is surprising that there are not regular joint meetings of the Commission and the House Committee. There are joint meetings at official level, but strategic governance is a matter for the Members of both Houses. We support the suggestion that there should be joint meetings of the House Committee and the Commission at least every six months, and recommend that the Commission approach the House Committee. In our view, there is a case for quarterly meetings.

129. There has been a recent agreement by the Commission and the House Committee to implement the recommendations of a review conducted by Sir Paul Jenkins in respect of a bicameral structure for security. The security of Parliament is obviously of fundamental importance to its ability to fulfil its role. At the same time, there need to be clear governance arrangements to ensure: a) that, except in an immediate emergency, security concerns should never override a Member's constitutional right of access to Parliament or any other Privilege, and b) that there are protections in place to ensure that Members' communications are not subject to interference, including surveillance and interception, as enshrined in the Wilson doctrine and other codes. Taking account of these considerations, we consider that the governance of security arrangements should be subject to approval by both Houses. Security policy should be a regular item on the agendas of the joint meetings of the Commission and House Committee. Between those meetings an effective executive oversight body is needed. Our preference, on the basis of the discussions we have had, is to appoint a joint sub-committee of the Commission and the House Committee comprising the Speaker and Lord Speaker, the two Clerks and one other Member from each House to fulfil this role. We accept that our proposal may need further consideration. We recommend in Chapter 7 the establishment of an implementation team, which might take on that further work.

130. These measures should help to build up the confidence of Members of both Houses in the effectiveness of shared services and in their responsiveness to the different needs of the two Houses. They should also clarify and give greater definition to the benefits of establishing a single organisation responsible for the whole range of shared services. We encourage the two Houses to begin the process of drawing up a phased medium term programme towards a single bicameral services department supporting the primary parliamentary purposes of each of the two Houses.

131. One way of accelerating this process, and one of the keys to achieving it, will be the Restoration and Renewal Programme.


132. No decisions have been taken yet on the scope, scale or timing of the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. The consultants' report on options for the way forward will be published in June/July 2015. The three options being considered for R&R are set out in paragraph 106. That is expected to be followed by the establishment of a joint committee. The work itself may require a decanting from the Palace to temporary accommodation; and the establishment of a statutory delivery authority to take on the R&R programme itself. The two Houses would need to set up a single client function to work with that authority. The process as a whole might be overseen by a steering committee of Members of both Houses, including members of the Commission and the House Committee.

133. It will be for the next Parliament, and the joint committee in particular, to develop the detailed governance arrangements to deliver R&R, but both the client function and the delivery authority will be acting on behalf of both Houses. They will be an opportunity thoroughly to test the potential scope of shared services across the two Houses. If R&R is to succeed, it must be a whole Parliament venture. We believe R&R provides an extraordinary opportunity to reimagine the way in which the Palace of Westminster can be used to support the democratic processes of effective government. It must reflect the specifically parliamentary purposes of the House of Commons and the Lords; ideally the client relationship must be led by the Clerks of both Houses.

134. The delivery authority itself may be a model for the provision of services to both Houses following R&R and this should be considered as part of the review of shared services suggested by the Clerk of the Parliaments. Legislation might allow for the delivery authority's continuation, subject to the agreement of both Houses, as a statutory body providing certain defined services to both Houses on the basis of a series of detailed Service Level Agreements. Because of the existence of the Delivery Authority, R&R is not in and of itself a consideration that bears directly on whether or not the roles of Clerk and Chief Executive should be split.

153   Q785 Back

154   Barry K Winetrobe (GOV013) Back

155   Q736 Back

156   House of Commons Administration, Report to Mr Speaker by Committee under the chairmanship of Mr Arthur Bottomley MP, HC (1974-74) 624. Back

157   Q33 [Sir Amyas Morse] Back

158   Q94 Back

159   Q95 Back

160   Q132 [Alex Jablonowski] Back

161   Mary Harris, Clerk of the House of Representatives, New Zealand (GOV074) Back

162   David Elder, Clerk of the House, House of Representatives, Australia (GOV064) Back

163   Marc Bosc, Acting Clerk of the House of Commons, Canada (GOV085); Rob Clements, House of Commons staff (GOV025) Back

164   Q624 Back

165   David Beamish, Clerk of the Parliaments (GOV077) Back

166   Qq131, 328 [Andrew Lansley MP], Q472 [Baroness Royall] Back

167   Masibulele Xaso, Secretary to the National Assembly, South Africa (GOV095) Back

168   Q478 Back

169   Q435 Back

170   Q443 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 17 December 2014