Director-general mooted for Commons

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Published: Wednesday 17th December 2014 by The News Editor

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A report on the governance of the House of Commons has recommended the creation of a new post of director-general, taking on responsibilities for the delivery of services previously held by the Clerk of the House.

The report follows an inquiry sparked by a row over the appointment of a replacement for Sir Robert Rogers, who stepped down as Clerk in August.

Speaker John Bercow was forced to announce a “pause” in the appointment process amid objections to his chosen successor, Australian parliamentary official Carol Mills.

The House of Commons Governance Committee recommended that this pause should immediately be terminated and a new recruitment process be launched in line with “modern recruitment practice” for a separate Clerk and director-general.

Ms Mills, who runs the Department of Parliamentary Services in Canberra, was chosen for the £200,000 role of Clerk of the Commons by a panel chaired by Mr Bercow, and a letter was sent to 10 Downing Street recommending her appointment.

The selection sparked complaints from MPs on both sides of the Commons who protested Ms Mills did not have the relevant experience to advise the Speaker on parliamentary procedure, a constitutionally sensitive role which has existed for centuries.

The row was stoked by a letter from the clerk of the Senate in the Australian parliament, who warned that Ms Mills had “no parliamentary knowledge or experience” and raised a controversial incident in which her department admitted using CCTV cameras to trace the movements of an employee.

In a statement to MPs in September announcing a “pause” in the appointment process, Mr Bercow said he been blocked from splitting the role by strong internal opposition. Sir Robert is known to have been among those with reservations.

A cross-party committee chaired by former foreign secretary Jack Straw was set up to conduct a swift inquiry into the governance arrangements of the Commons – the first time the running of the House has been investigated by its own members for 40 years.

The committee’s report has now recommended that the Clerk of the House should remain head of the House service, appointed by Letters Patent from the Queen, but should not have the title of chief executive. A new post of Director General of the House of Commons should be created, reporting to the Clerk but with clearly delineated autonomous responsibilities for the delivery of services.

Both officials should be members of the House of Commons Commission, alongside the Speaker, Leader of the House, shadow leader of the House, four backbench MPs elected by the Commons and two external members, said the report.

It recommended that the Commission should be given a new responsibility to set the strategic framework for the provision of services to the House, its members and the public.

The committee said it was also recommending “important recommendations about changes to the culture of the House and its service which will be necessary to deliver the reforms we look for”.

Mr Straw said the recommendations would produce “a coherent management and strategic leadership structure” for the Commons.

“We were set up to solve a particular problem, but behind that problem we found a governance system in need of wider reform. At the centre of our recommendations is a commitment to openness, clarity and transparency,” said the veteran Labour MP.

“It became clear early on that there was a real thirst, particularly amongst the many hundreds of staff of the Commons service, for a fresh look at its management structures, led by MPs themselves.

“Identifying the best possible governance arrangements in such a complex parliamentary environment is not easy: we have worked together to agree a set of proposals which we hope the House will now come together to support.

“Our unanimous report sets out a coherent management and strategic leadership structure. The Members and official elements will be properly integrated for the first time. Clarity is brought to the respective roles of Members and officials.

“Taken together, our proposals provide a framework which enables the House of Commons to operate more effectively and efficiently and provide reinforcement to the development of a unified House Service.”

Published: Wednesday 17th December 2014 by The News Editor

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