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


7  Implementation

184. If the present period of uncertainty is prolonged, it could be damaging to staff morale and the standard of services provided to Members and the public both in this Parliament and the new Parliament to be elected in 2015. We set out a timetable for the implementation of our package of proposals below. We consider it is realistic and practicable, but it will require support from across the House. It is of the greatest importance that these matters do not become issues of party politics or means for advancing other agendas. The Leader of the House, William Hague, emphasised the importance of achieving a broad consensus. Coming to this issue with different perspectives we have made achieving a consensus our priority. During our work Members have expressed a wide range of opinions but if the House as a whole is able to act consensually to support an agreed approach, there is every chance that at least the principal elements of this package could be in place for the new Parliament. The Leader of the House told us that: 'if there are almost no objections anywhere in the House, things can be very easy to do.'[203]

185. Our report, and our proposals, must be endorsed by the House. The Leader of the House told us:

    Certainly I anticipate that we will be able to find time for a debate on the Committee's findings. There is a great deal of interest in this in the House and the Committee was asked in the resolution of the House that appointed it to report by 12 January. It will be important to be able to debate that.[204]

We have interpreted this as an undertaking to schedule a debate in government time, for which we are grateful. As the timetable set out below demonstrates, it is important that that debate is held soon after the House returns in January and is on a substantive motion, so that actions can follow directly from it. We set out a draft motion for the House's consideration in Annex C.

Timetable

The current appointment process

186. Our recommendations relating to the Clerk of the House should be implemented without delay so that a permanent appointment can be made in time for the start of the new Parliament. We therefore recommend that the 'paused' recruitment process be formally terminated. We believe that this action should be taken immediately. Whether or not the House endorses our proposals, it is clear that a new recruitment process is needed.

TRANSITION AND TIMING

187. The transition to the new arrangements we propose will not be immediate. The Executive Committee cannot be formed until the Director General of the House of Commons is in place, and the new Commission will not be formed until after the General Election in May 2015. During this transition period we recommend that:

a)  The Commission continues in its current form until the end of this Parliament but that the two non-executive external members to the Management Board attend by invitation with immediate effect;

b)  The Management Board continues in its current form until the Executive Committee can be formed;

c)  Once appointed the Clerk of the House should become the Head of the House Service but should no longer combine that title with that of Chief Executive;

d)  The Commission and Management Board must work together to take forward issues that cannot wait for the new structure to be in place which will include: commissioning and supporting the implementation team, General Election issues, staff development, financial planning and performance monitoring.

THE HOUSE OF COMMONS COMMISSION

188. Changes to the membership of the House of Commons Commission will require legislation to amend the 1978 Act. If the House agrees to our recommendations, legislation should be passed in the current Parliament allowing the new structure to take effect from the start of the new Parliament. Annex C contains instructions to Parliamentary Counsel for the drafting of this legislation.

189. Following the establishment of a new Commission as early as possible in the new Parliament, the delegations granted by the Commission to the Speaker (for appointments) and to the Management Board (to carry out their work) should be reviewed and re-issued.

MEMBER COMMITTEES

190. We recommend that the standing order changes in respect of the Finance and Administration Committees be passed in this Parliament to be implemented from the start of the new Parliament.

THE NEW CLERK OF THE HOUSE AND HEAD OF SERVICE APPOINTMENT PROCESS

191. The House's endorsement of our report should be the trigger for the new process for the appointment of the Clerk of the House. It should be conducted with a view of drawing on best practice for public appointments, leading to selection on merit by a fair, open and transparent process. The full process, including the Job Description, Person Specification, advertisement for the vacancy and membership of the Appointment Panel, should be agreed by the full Commission.

192. Longlisting for the post should be the responsibility of a Sifting Panel, against the pre-determined attributes in the Job Description and Person Specification. The composition of the Sifting Panel would be determined by the Commission. It should be chaired by an independent non-executive Chair (potentially someone with recent experience with the Civil Service Commission, or similar) and there would be four other Members of Parliament. The shortlisting and final interviews should be conducted by an Appointment Panel, chaired by the Speaker, and which would have three other Members of Parliament chosen by the Commission, and a non-executive member and would be advised by an external expert on parliamentary procedure. The independent Chair of the Sifting Panel should be an observer. It is expected that this process would start with an Executive Search Agency, which will be used to manage the recruitment and produce a list of candidates who meet the minimum requirements for the post.

193. We have heard arguments that the Prime Minister should not be the person who passes the name of the successful candidate to The Queen. Andrew McDonald argued:

    The sovereign, of course, acts on advice and in this case, as in so many others, that advice is provided by the Prime Minister. This is wholly appropriate for most appointments but in this instance it is objectionable in principle. Why should the head of the executive have a role in the appointment of the most senior official (or officials) within the legislature? Surely the advice should come from the legislature itself.[205]

194. We have some sympathy with this view, in principle, but we have not been able in the time available to us, to give it the consideration it deserves. We therefore have not recommended any change, but it may be a matter which the House or an appropriate committee will wish to return to in future.

195. Some Members have advocated a pre-appointment hearing for the successful candidate for Clerk of the House. Sir George Young however pointed out that the analogy with public appointments made by Ministers did not comfortably apply to the Clerk of the House.[206] We believe that the process we have recommended which puts Members in the driving seat should provide the House with the required assurance of suitability.

196. If the House is given the opportunity to debate our report in January 2015, we believe that it would be possible to complete the recruitment process so that a recommendation could be passed to The Queen before the House is dissolved for the General Election.

197. We have considered whether it would be better to leave the present temporary arrangements in place into the new Parliament in order to allow Members of the new Parliament to conduct the appointment. We believe that would be the wrong course:

·  The election of the backbench Members of the new Commission may not take place until several weeks after the start of the new Parliament, so the full Commission membership may not be available until late June or early July.

·  The House service has already been leaderless for nearly six months, which is too long. We could not countenance another six month delay.

·  The appointment of a Director General of the House of Commons must follow that of the Clerk, so there would be additional delay in recruiting to that post.

THE NEW DIRECTOR GENERAL OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS APPOINTMENT PROCESS

198. The appointment of a Director General of the House of Commons should also proceed as soon as possible and before the dissolution of Parliament. The Clerk of the House does not need to be appointed before the process commences but will need to be in place for the interview process.

199. The Director General of the House of Commons recruitment should follow a similar sifting process as for the Clerk of the House, but the Appointment Panel, chaired by the Speaker, should include the Clerk of the House.

An implementation team

200. As a package, our recommendations represent a significant reform of the House's governance structures. This report sets out the high level structural changes that need to take place but these alone will not deliver the full benefits of that reform. There are many other essential elements that must be taken forward by the Commission and the House Service. In particular by extending the responsibilities of the Commission and expanding its membership, our recommendations will increase its importance and visibility to Members. The House will need to take a more active interest in its work. One of the consequences of the reforms introduced by the Wright Committee[207]is that there is no clear route by which House business reaches the floor of the House: it is not government business, and it is not backbench business. We recommend that the Procedure Committee consider how best this gap might be filled to ensure that time on the floor can be allocated in a timely manner to appropriate House and Commission business.

201. If the House agrees to the proposals in this report, the Management Board working with Commission should swiftly establish an implementation team to work with them to deliver the detailed changes required. The implementation team should be staffed with a mix of skills and knowledge from across the House.

202. Implementation is about more than structures. In our view, the crucial element in making change work is managing perceptions and ensuring role descriptions reflect the skills and personal attributes required. The implementation team should be supported by the current Office of the Chief Executive which our proposals are likely to change. The team should be given clear terms of reference by the Management Board which should include:

a)  The development of a structure below the Executive Committee under the direction of the Clerk of the House and Director General of the House of Commons, with a system of communicating responsibilities and authorities to staff and Members;

b)  To consider the appropriate levels of support for the new enhanced Commission. It is likely that the existing secretariat will need reinforcing;

c)  To develop the support mechanism required for the Clerk of the House and Director General of the House of Commons. We expect the Office of the Chief Executive to be formed into an Executive Committee Office. It will be for the implementation team to identify a suitable location and structure for this enhanced office. We are clear that the Director General of the House of Commons should have an office readily accessible to Members;

d)  To agree how the reporting lines of the Parliamentary Digital Service and Parliamentary Security Director should operate with the Executive Committee and to whom the heads of each area should report;

e)  To work with counterparts in the House of Lords on preparation for the review of shared services proposed by the Clerk of the Parliaments;[208]

f)  To consider how the respective responsibilities of Members and officials for making and implementing policies can be set out more clearly and communicated more effectively;

g)  To identify methods to improve communication and engagement between Members and staff;

h)  To review the arrangements for the publication of Erskine May. The Committee believes that this important work, central to our constitution, should have an audience beyond parliamentary experts. Opening the publication to all in Parliament and beyond will demonstrate the determination of the House to make the workings of Parliament understood by a wider range of staff and the public.[209]

203. The schedule for the implementation team must be time-limited and swift. We expect progress to be monitored closely by the Commission and the Executive Committee. The Commission cannot report back to this Committee so it should report progress to the House regularly. We recommend that the Commission publish regular implementation updates on its website and by means of written statements to the House and ensure progress is tracked in the annual report for 2014/15 with a programme closure report in 2015/16.

204. We have actively encouraged the involvement of staff and Members in our work. It will be important that they are equally able to engage with the implementation process. Staff reported to us that they found the staff event helpful and feel it should be repeated in the future. Good communication will be key to ensuring effective governance. Members of the Finance and Administration Committees, House of Commons Commission and Executive Board should undertake to hold regular staff events and report on these in the annual report.

205. Once appointed the Clerk of the House should take forward immediately and lead our recommendations for staff development given his or her clear responsibilities in the new role description.

COSTS

206. In the short term our proposals involve the creation of an additional senior position with associated private office costs. To some extent this is an inevitable consequence of splitting the Clerk/Chief Executive role. The combined role was widely perceived to be more than one job. Splitting it will improve the House's capability to deliver the services Members, staff and the public expect. It will also give the Clerk of the House more time to devote to the very considerable parliamentary and constitutional challenges that lie ahead. In the context of the House's total budget these are modest sums, but we recognise the force of the Leader of the House's advice:

    The final principle I would advocate is not to increase the cost of the overall system. The House has done very well to achieve 17% savings, in no small measure due to of the efforts of our last Clerk, and I do not think that the House or the public would want to see an additional new, expensive position created.[210]
  1. The post of Director General of the House of Commons will, of course, be open to House staff as well as to external candidates. We would welcome internal candidates, and if one was successful an immediate reallocation of responsibilities might be possible. But we do not accept that the short term cost of an additional post with new and additional responsibilities should be a decisive factor in any consideration of our proposals; not least because with increased capability should come an increased focus on efficiency and value for money. We have already recommended that a reduction in senior posts be made (paragraph 171). The new leadership team should be set the target of making the changes cost neutral within one year of their implementation.



203   Q256 Back

204   Q253 Back

205   Andrew McDonald (GOV048) Back

206   Q325 Back

207   House of Commons Reform Committee, First Report of Session 2008-09, Rebuilding the House, HC 117 Back

208   Q435 Back

209   Q400. For further information see David Natzler, House of Commons staff (GOV092) Annex A Back

210   Q252 Back


 
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© Parliamentary copyright 2014
Prepared 17 December 2014