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

Annex B-Draft instructions on amendment of the 1978 Act

1. Counsel is invited to prepare a Bill to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee. It is suggested that this might usefully be done by means of a short Bill to make a number of amendments to the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978 ('the 1978 Act').

2. The desired amendments concern the membership and functions of the House of Commons Commission. Subject to Counsel's view, it is not thought that the recommendations relating to the Management Board require any change in the 1978 Act or elsewhere. Unlike the House of Commons Commission, the Management Board is not a creature of statute and it is thought that no change in the law is required before it may be renamed or its duties and responsibilities altered.

Membership of the House of Commons Commission

3. The first desired amendment concerns the membership of the Commission. The present membership of the Commission is determined by section 1(2) of the 1978 Act. No change is sought in respect of section 1(2)(a)(b) or (c). An amendment is sought to increase from three to four the number of other members of the House of Commons referred to in section 1(2)(d). The members, so referred to, are to consist one from each of the three largest parties represented in the House and one from the remaining membership, in each case elected for a Parliament by the whole House. In the event of any issue arising as to which are the largest parties in question, some provision along the lines of section 3A(7) Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 may be necessary. As under the existing section 1(2)(d) of the 1978 Act, none of the members referred to is to be a Minister of the Crown.

4. A further amendment is required in order to make provision for the appointment of two external members and the appointment of two additional members, who may be the Clerk of the House, any Clerk Assistant or members of staff in the House Departments. The two external members are to be selected for appointment on merit on the basis of fair and open competition (along the lines of s.10(2) Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010) and are to appointed by resolution of the House of Commons (a possible model being paragraph 1(e) of Schedule 3 to the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009). The appointment is to be for a fixed term not exceeding 4 years. The external member so appointed may be re-appointed, again by resolution of the House, provided the selection for appointment (or rather re-appointment) has been made on merit on the basis of fair and open competition.

5. The two additional members referred to in paragraph 4 above are likely to be the Clerk of the House and the Director General of the House of Commons but it is not thought necessary to provide for this on the face of the Bill, save to ensure that the description of persons who may be appointed is wide enough to include them. Those members who already form part of the staff of the House Departments will (most probably) have been selected for appointment on the basis of fair and open competition. The intention is that they be appointed by the Commission, no resolution of the House being required.

Functions of the House of Commons Commission

6. The present functions of the House of Commons Commission are enumerated in sections 2 and 3 of the 1978 Act and relate, essentially, to employment (in the case of section 2) and to the laying of estimates of the expenses of House Departments and other expenses incurred for the service of the House of Commons (section 3). It is desired to provide for the additional function of setting the framework for the provision of services to Members, staff and the public but without calling into question the right of the House to control its own proceedings or procedures. It should therefore be a function of the Commission to set a framework containing strategic priorities and objectives for the provision of such services. A possible analogy is suggested by section 4 Crime and Courts Act 2013 under which the Secretary of State is required to determine strategic priorities for an agency, or section 21 Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 under which the Secretary of State is to set out a framework for fire and rescue services.

Procedure of the House of Commons Commission

7. Paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the 1978 Act provides for the Speaker to be chairman of the Commission. It is proposed that the Speaker should be entitled to propose to the Commission that another member take the chair, either in his or her absence or for a period of time or number of meetings, with the proviso that any such chairman should not be the member referred to in section 1(2)(b) (the Leader of the House of Commons) or section 1(2)(c) (the Shadow Leader) or either of the staff members of the House Departments. It is not thought that any legislative change is necessary to achieve this since the Commission is already empowered to determine its own procedure under paragraph 6(2). A consequential amendment may be necessary to paragraph 6(3) of Schedule 1, but so as to preserve the power of the Commission to appoint one of the Commissioners (not being the Leader, Shadow Leader or staff member) to act in the absence of the Chairman and to ensure that the Commission is empowered to appoint a Commissioner in circumstances other than the Speaker's absence.

8. No other amendment to Schedule 1 to the 1978 Act is required.

Further issues not requiring legislative amendment

9. It is intended that members of the Commission should assume particular portfolio responsibilities but it is not thought that this level of detail is desirable on the face of the statute.

10. It is also proposed that the existing Management Board should be re-constituted as an Executive Committee. Its core membership would be the official members of the Commission plus the Director of Finance. The official members would be the Director General of the House of Commons and the Clerk of the House. But as noted above the Management Board is not a creature of statute. There is no intention that its successor should be.

11. No amendment to the Commission's powers to reorganise House departments is proposed.

12. Currently the Members' Estimate Committee (MEC) has the same membership as the Commission and generally meets at the same time. Indeed meetings can move between Commission and MEC business almost seamlessly. No change in this arrangement is proposed, but there may be a need to ensure that there are no consequences on the MEC of the above Commission changes.

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Prepared 17 December 2014