Responses to the Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation): Final Report of Session 2009-10 - Speaker's Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) Contents

Appendix 1: House of Commons Management Board's response

The Management Board is pleased to update the Speaker's Conference on action taken by the House Service in relation to its recommendations.

The Management Board is committed to increasing diversity in the House Service and to providing an excellent service to all Members. It is keen to respond positively to the Conference's report. However, as the Conference will appreciate, many of its recommendations are for the House itself to determine. The House Service will respond readily to whatever changes are agreed to by the House, whether before the end of this Parliament or in the next.

Attached is a response to each of the recommendations which are directed at the House Administration.

Recommendation 4

We warmly welcome the increased priority the House is giving to its education and outreach activities, and we are impressed by the work that is being produced. It is vital that citizens know more about the way Parliament and its Members work. But we believe that there should also be a firm focus on providing the public with information needed to promote wider representation, without reference to any one party. The objectives of the Parliamentary Education Service, therefore, should in future include helping to encourage a wider range of people to become candidates for election to Parliament. (Paragraph 49)


School children visiting Westminster reflect a cross-section of society, and thus represent a powerful opportunity to encourage broader engagement with Parliament. It is not an objective of Parliament's Education Service (or the Parliamentary Outreach service) explicitly to encourage people to stand as candidates, but rather to explain the party system and the representational role in the context of effective engagement with parliamentary processes.

Recommondation 5

Support should be developed for Members to help them to promote political agency and active citizenship in their constituencies. (Paragraph 50)


Staff in Parliament's public information services are preparing a set of resources to support Members in their work with schools and community groups. This will be available early in the new Parliament.

Recommendation 14

A description of the main functions of a Member of Parliament should be drawn up, agreed between the parties and published. The description should not remove the scope for MPs to approach the job of representing their constituency in various ways; it should contain general principles and main objectives and tasks, rather than highly detailed prescriptions. Greater transparency about the terms and conditions under which MPs work has been achieved since the mid-1990s but the process has not been completed; nor has it been matched by a clearer explanation of the role of Members. More is needed. This information should be consolidated, published (on the internet and in hard copy) and made widely available to the general public. (Paragraph 87)


There is broad agreement on the functions of an MP (as set out, for example, in the 2007 report of the Modernisation Committee on the role of the backbencher[1]) but how the job should be carried out is essentially a matter for each Member of the House.

Meanwhile, the House Service is active in communicating the role of MPs to the public. For example, the House of Commons Information Office publishes the leaflet "You and your MP" in 16 languages, and the Education Service has recently launched an online game "MP for a week" to engage 11-14 year olds in what it is like to be an MP.

Recommendation 27

We recommend that the Government should find time for a debate on the implementation of the Speaker's Conference's recommendations and progress towards just representation in the House of Commons in 2010, 2012, and every two years thereafter to 2022. We also recommend that the House of Commons should provide access from a dedicated page on the Parliament website to all published statements and reports by each party represented at Westminster on their Parliamentary party representation and candidate selections, alongside links to the reports from the Speaker's Conference. (Paragraph 166)


The Parliament website will have a new area about the Speaker's Conference's recommendations and progress, which will link to all published statements and reports by each party on their parliamentary party representation and candidate selections. This will also link through to reports from the Speaker's conference.[2]

The Equality Bill contains provisions concerning the publication of information about the diversity of candidates. The Parliament website will provide links to any information published under these provisions.

Recommendation 43

We believe that there is scope for the development of a UK-wide scheme similar to the Step Up Cymru mentoring scheme, but with a strong Westminster element. This could bring together elected members at all levels of government to provide opportunities for people from under-represented groups to find out about their work. The initial aim might be to encourage involvement in community groups, but it should also give encouragement to those who might wish to become candidates for elected office at local and national level or be appointed to a public body. (Paragraph 241)


The House Service encourages staff of the House to participate in the National Mentoring Consortium which focuses on finding, training and supporting mentors for ethnic minority undergraduates. If the House wished to set up a scheme at Westminster, similar to the Step Up Cymru scheme, the Diversity team would be ready to support it, for example by arranging mentoring skills training and offering seminars/workshops for the mentees.

Recommendation 47

A diverse workforce for Parliament is not an aspiration but an imperative. It is essential to the House's credibility that the participation of Members who have young families and/or other caring responsibilities is maintained and supported. This must be kept in mind by all who are engaged in the current process of Commons reform. (Paragraph 253)


The House Service is committed to increasing the diversity of our workforce, as set out in the recently published House Equality Scheme.

Recommendation 51

We have said that it is essential to the House's credibility that the participation of Members who have young families is supported. It is likely that at the 2010 general election a number of younger Members, who have young children, will enter the House of Commons for the first time. We welcome the recent announce  ment of plans for a nursery facility within the Parliamentary estate and urge the House service to implement the proposal as soon as possible. This facility should be open to Members and staff. (Paragraph 270)


The Commission has agreed that a nursery facility for children of Members, Members' staff and House staff should be established in 1 Parliament Street and begin operating in September 2010, catering for up to 40 children, aged 0-5 years. Subject to the approval of the relevant regulatory bodies and to the interest of suitable providers, this timetable is expected to be achieved.

In addition, the Family Room, which is situated in the Lower Waiting Hall, has recently been refurbished to make it a more suitable area for children to spend time while waiting for their parent(s).

Recommendation 54

The sitting hours of the House should again be reviewed, and voted upon by the House, early in the new Parliament. Ideally, sitting time for the main chamber should be brought in line with what is considered to be normal business hours. Respecting the difficulty of achieving this, given the multiplicity of other duties inside and outside the Palace of Westminster carried out by Members, we recommend a substantial further development of deferred voting in order to facilitate a more family friendly approach to sitting arrangements and unscheduled (unprogrammed) votes. Further consideration should be given to modern methods of voting to facilitate a more efficient and practical use of time, in line with other legislatures. (Paragraph 286)


These are matters which the House may wish to consider in the next Parliament.

Recommendation 55

We hope that the House service will review, and draw up new guidelines to clarify, the circumstances in which a child under the age of one may accompany his or her MP parent within restricted areas of the House of Commons. (Paragraph 288)


The House Service is reviewing the practice in other Parliaments, with the intention of giving advice on this matter to Member Committees in the next Parliament.

Recommendation 56

We think it is important that Members who wish to undertake civil marriages and civil partnerships should have the same rights as Members undertaking Christian marriage rites to hold their ceremonies within the Palace of Westminster. The House service should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that such civil ceremonies can take place within the Palace of Westminster from 2010. (Paragraph 290)


The House of Commons was granted a Civil Marriage and Partnership licence on 11 February 2010. The licence will run for three years and allows ceremonies to be held in the Jubilee Room and the Members' Dining Room. The first is to be held on 27 March 2010.

Recommendation 57

It is important for the House to obtain much better information about the percentages of Members who belong to under-represented groups, and to know more about their experiences of politics and of the House. We believe that the arguments in favour of regular, sensitive and appropriate monitoring of the situation are convincing. The House should consider how this might be done. One approach would be for the House's occupational health department to ask Members to complete confidential questionnaires about their experience of any illness or impairment while attending the Department for screening/self referral or disability assessment. The anonymised questionnaires could be collated and analysed by the department and the analysis fed back to the appropriate committee annually. The survey might also secure similar information about the racial origin and, if possible and appropriate, the sexual orientation of Members. (Paragraph 293)


The House Service will explore with Member Committees in the next Parliament how such information could best be obtained.

Recommendation 58

We recommend that there should be a regular survey (at least once every five years) of public attitudes to Parliament and its composition, and in particular of the impact of the measures taken following this report. This should test whether greater diversity among MPs is bringing greater public approval and acceptance of the work of the House, and should be carried out by an independent body such as the Hansard Society. (Paragraph 295)


The House, together with the Ministry of Justice, already provides financial support to the annual Audit of Political Engagement run by the Hansard Society. We will continue to support and help develop this survey as a means of tracking public attitudes to Parliament.

Recommendation 59

We welcome the range of effective measures which have been taken by the authorities in both Houses in recent years to meet the needs of disabled Members. Parliament responds well, in the vast majority of cases, to specific requests for assistance. However, there is still a largely unfair impression among some people that the House of Commons does not welcome disabled Members. The House needs to put this right. We recommend that the House should explicitly accept its responsibility to provide the support needed to enable disabled Members to do their job. In particular, the Parliamentary ICT service (PICT) should designate an experienced liaison officer to provide customised advice and support to maximise access to computing and other communications technology for disabled Members who require it. The passage into law of the Equality Bill currently before Parliament will be a good opportunity for the House authorities to announce publicly how committed they are to supporting disabled Members. The House should therefore make an early policy statement that it will apply fully the principles of the Equality Bill on reasonable adjustment and discrimination. This should cover both areas where the House is required to act within the law and those where it is not so required. (Paragraph 310)


The House Service is committed to supporting Members with disabilities in carrying out their duties.

The House of Commons published its first Equality Scheme in January this year. The Scheme, which has been approved by the Commission, contains an extensive action plan, with a number of actions to help enable Members and staff to do their jobs, improving accessibility and facilities and offering advice for reasonable adjustments to be made in offices, work stations etc.

Under the Equality Bill, public bodies will be required to continue to assess the impact of what they do through equality impact assessments and resulting action planning. Under the Equality Scheme, the House is about to introduce these assessments.

PICT already provides users of the Parliamentary network who have disabilities with equipment and training based on the recommendations of Occupational Health. PICT has identified a senior manager who will lead on this subject and liaise directly with Members and others, including Occupational Health and suppliers of ICT products as necessary. Awareness training with an emphasis on IT will be identified and delivered to our staff.

Recommendation 60

We also recommend that the House should provide to each Member information on all the facilities and assistance available for disabled Members, which should be given wide publicity amongst disabled people and updated regularly. We also urge the parties to make this information widely known among their own members, to give potential parliamentary candidates confidence that support will be provided. We would also encourage the authorities in the House of Lords similarly to consider what further steps can be taken to improve the situation for disabled peers. In general we believe that any recommendations made by the occupational health service about the facilities and assistance which should be made available for disabled Members should be accepted by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. (Paragraph 311)


Work is under way—in co-operation with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—to produce a leaflet on facilities for disabled Members. This will be made available after the General Election, and will be published on the internet.

Recommendation 61

We see benefits in the idea of a ring-fenced fund to assist disabled Members to make reasonable adjustments to help them serve their constituents. This might fund better access to constituency offices or the provision of BSL interpreters for surgeries, and would be of particular assistance to newly-elected disabled MPs. We recommend that the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority includes provision for this in its allowances scheme, and we expect IPSA and the House authorities to work closely together on the provision of services and allowances to disabled MPs, and to devise a scheme which provides the help that is needed. (Paragraph 313)


The House Service is discussing with IPSA how we can work together to ensure that disabled Members are properly supported.

Reccommendation 62

We believe that the House and its Members would benefit from having a small in-house team on the model of the National Assembly for Wales Equalities Team, responsible for monitoring how the House is doing on all equalities issues and also for planning provision for disabled Members, staff and visitors. The team would have responsibility both for internal and external work to promote greater diversity and equality. It should also liaise with IPSA. (Paragraph 315)


The House of Commons Service currently has a Diversity Team which provides advice and support to staff on a range of issues in respect of equality, diversity and inclusion. This includes diversity casework, policy work, managing various outreach activities, monitoring the diversity of House staff and implementing the actions of the House Equality Scheme. The team would welcome the opportunity to extend its services to Members and have more of an external focus, but this would require additional resources, and—given our commitment to reduce the costs of the House Administration—will need to compete for funding against other priorities.

Recommendation 64

We believe that s141 of the 1983 Mental Health Act is unnecessary and damaging. It embodies attitudes which stigmatise and sap the confidence of people with mental illness. Section 141 should be repealed as soon as practicable. (Paragraph 327)


We note that an amendment to this effect was tabled to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in Committee but was not reached.

Recommendation 65

We recognise, however, that some provision may be needed to protect the legitimate interests of constituents and the House in circumstances where a Member is physically or mentally incapacitated to the extent that he or she is entirely unable to fulfil their duties for an extended period. We recommend that the House should invite an appropriate select committee to undertake an inquiry into this issue, consider whether new legislation or other measures may be needed, and make recommendations to the House and to Government as appropriate. (Paragraph 328)


This is a matter for the House.

Recommendation 66

We recommend that an information pack and supporting guidance on the House's occupational health services should be sent to all Members of Parliament immediately after each General Election (Paragraph 329)


Work is under way to ensure that timely information on the House's Safety, Health and Wellbeing Service will be made available to Members after the General Election.

Recommendation 68

The House of Commons Media and Communications Service should identify new approaches in both old and new media which would bring the more measured and less heated elements of the House's work to a wider audience. We urge Members to take the opportunities thus offered to present the work of the House in a more constructive light. (Paragraph 335)


The House of Commons Media and Communications Service (MCS) has six staff who work for select committees, and part of their role is to bring the scrutiny work of these committees to a wider audience. Most select committee reports—and many evidence sessions—are now actively promoted to national print and broadcast media, and in trade, consumer and local/regional media, and MCS has strong links with a wide range of journalists in all sectors.

Most reports are run as news stories on, along with about a dozen evidence sessions in a typical sitting week.

A working group has recently been set up to develop draft guidance for committees on the use of social media, to be available for consideration by the Liaison Committee early in the next Parliament. Twitter, Flickr and YouTube are already used by some committees to publicise their work and encourage public engagement and online forums are increasingly being used for evidence gathering by committees.

A new post has been created specifically to extend our coverage beyond just news, and to bring the work, role and history of the House, and the day to day working lives of MPs, to a wider audience via more features and factual programming. In addition to this new strand of work, priorities for the next year include:

·  Exploring opportunities to promote the work of select committees through social media, where appropriate;

·  Providing media and communications support to the Outreach team, publicising their initiatives primarily through local and regional media;

·  Promoting and explaining the work of Public Bill Committees;

·  Considering further ways to enhance public understanding of: the House's scrutiny role and the distinction between Government and Parliament; what MPs really do; the impact of decisions made in Parliament on the day to day life of individuals and communities.

It is hoped that some of this work will also support recommendation 67 (redressing lack of balance in media coverage of Parliament).

Recommendation 69

The House service should make training available to Members for communication through the internet. (Paragraph 337)


This will be considered as part of broader discussions on the funding, by the House and IPSA, of training for Members and their staff.

1   Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, Revitalising the Chamber: the role of a backbench Member, First Report, Session 2006-07, HC337, para 10. Back

2   Available at  Back

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