I beg to move,
That this House welcomes the report of the House of Commons Governance Committee; notes the priority it has given to agreeing a package of proposals which can both significantly improve the governance of the House and be capable of attracting support from Members on all sides of the House, in a timely manner and well before the House is dissolved; agrees to the recommendations in Chapters 6 and 7, with the proviso that, without changing the party balance of the Commission as proposed in the report, the recommendations relating to the composition of the Commission be implemented so as to allow the Chairs of both the new Finance Committee and the Administration Committee to be elected to these positions rather than appointed to them by the Commission; and encourages the appropriate bodies in both Houses of Parliament to address the Committee’s remaining conclusions and recommendations.
The motion has been tabled in the name of the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House, all members of the Select Committee on Governance and myself. I want to begin with some thanks, first to the House for appointing me Chair of the Committee, which turned out to be a happy and consuming task. Secondly, I express my deep thanks to all members of the Committee: the hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), the hon. Members for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and my hon. Friends the Members for St Helens North (Mr Watts) and for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). Despite all the other calls on their time and the fact that we had to meet intensively on two or three days each week, attendance at the Committee was almost always complete. The House will wish to note that all members of the Committee are present in the Chamber today with the single exception of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North, who cannot be here for unavoidable family reasons and who has asked me to offer his apologies to the House.
My third set of thanks is to the staff of the Committee, who worked incredibly hard and provided sage and timely advice. For reasons that the House will readily appreciate, the staff of the Committee were drawn more widely than just from what was known as the Clerk’s Department. They came from other parts of the House Service, but worked brilliantly together. I put on record my thanks to Mark Hutton, Joanna Dodd, Paul Dillon-Robinson, Ed Potton, Charlotte Simmonds, Louise Glen, Dr Michael Everett, Liz Parratt and Nicholas Kroll, the former secretary of the BBC Trust, who acted as our special adviser.
My fourth set of thanks is to the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House for the constructive and timely response to our report—I say this in advance of their speeches, so I reserve the right to withdraw that comment if they are not quite as we would hope. They have been extremely co-operative, and I thank them for that, as evidenced by the fact that their names are on the motion.
Fifthly, I thank all those who gave evidence to the Committee. In seven weeks of evidence taking, we heard from 59 witnesses in 13 sessions, including from 21 Members of the House and 16 staff. In addition to receiving 91 written submissions, many from staff, we held an afternoon of consultation with 60 members of staff of all grades and from all Departments of the House. We were always conscious of the keen interest that staff were understandably taking in our work and the anxiety that some of our deliberations gave in some cases. We are very grateful indeed to them.
The House is well aware of the provenance of the Committee, which arose from the pause in the appointment of a new Clerk and chief executive that you, Mr Speaker, announced in your statement on 1 September, the Backbench Business debate held on 10 September that was initiated by the hon. Members for Hereford and South Herefordshire and for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), and the resolution of the House passed that day to establish the Committee. The appointment process for a new Clerk and chief executive has now been formally terminated by the Commission. I intend to say no more about it as the Committee’s purpose was not to conduct a post-mortem but to look forward.
Although there had in recent decades been three reviews of aspects of the governance of this House, known as the Ibbs, Braithwaite and Tebbit studies, ours was the first root-and-branch examination of the subject by Members themselves in more than 40 years, since the Bottomley Committee met in the mid-1970s.
A huge amount has changed in the intervening period. The establishment of departmental Select Committees in the 1979-80 Session, the exponential increase in Members’ constituency caseload, the decline in deference towards those running the country and the ever-rising public expectation and scrutiny of Members that comes with it, the astonishing growth in the number of visitors to the Palace of Westminster and the ubiquity of the internet—unknown and unimagined when I first came into this place not many years ago—have led to a multiplication of demands on Members that have in turn resulted in a major expansion of the Estate across Bridge street and a dramatic growth in the number of staff in the employment of the House and of individual Members.
What has not changed in the past 40 years is that the House of Commons is unique. As it is at the heart of our democracy, governed by 650 individual Members, each with strong opinions and none of them wilting violets, who are answerable to their constituents, simplistic analogies with corporations, whether they are in the public or private sector, rapidly break down. We are also conscious of the following paradox about this place: precisely because it works by the dialectic method, by intense argument, it is essential that there is broad consensus about how that argument should take place and about the ground rules, including on how this place should govern itself.
We began by exploring the principles of good governance that should apply to the House. We quickly concluded that the governance arrangements in the House of Commons Administration Act 1978, which followed the Bottomley review, were no longer fit for purpose. That view was heavily reinforced by the evidence we received.
We were appointed to deal with an immediate problem, which I shall come on to, but in the course of our deliberations we had to look to the longer term. The next Parliament will face some critical decisions on the restoration and renewal of the fabric of the Palace of Westminster. We were reminded of the imperative of restoring and renewing the fabric of the Palace of Westminster by the exchange just a few minutes ago in business questions over the fact that the roof to the Members’ Lobby is leaking yet again.
I add my thanks to my right hon. Friend and all the members of the Committee who have worked so hard on this report and its recommendations. My right hon. Friend may not be aware that in a particular initiative, led by Mr Speaker, it has now been agreed that we will include requirements to have social value and social impact in the procurement for both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, including the restoration. It is a huge step for this Parliament, and I would like the Committee to confirm that that element of our modernisation will be at the heart of the process.
I am extremely grateful to my right hon. Friend. When she rose as I was speaking about leaks, I thought perhaps she had something to say about her work as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee, but I was on the wrong track. Of course she is right about that, and I greatly welcome the initiative that you, Mr Speaker, have taken.
We have endeavoured to ensure that all our recommendations will assist in decision taking for the restoration and renewal programme that will take place in the next Parliament. Those decisions will have to be made on a bicameral basis: it is a single building for two Chambers. It is the essence of any properly functioning bicameral system that each Chamber should govern its own work, and it was no part of our remit or intent to usurp the autonomy of the other place. However, we took plenty of evidence from both ends of the Palace, including from the Lord Speaker, about how, co-operatively, there could be better joint working between the two Houses. Those proposals are highlighted in recommendations 1 and 2 of our report.
I turn now to the Commons itself and the current corporate arrangements for running this place, which are essentially with the House of Commons Commission, chaired by you, Mr Speaker, and, underneath that, the Management Board. The respective roles of the Commission and the Management Board were unclear not only to staff and Members—to many Members their roles were not only unclear but their existence was unknown—but even to some of those who sat on those bodies. The Committee’s recommendations for reform of the Commission and the replacement of the Management Board with an Executive Committee flow directly from the assessment that those two bodies are not working, either individually or together, as effectively as they should. Our aim has been to bring together Members and officials into a single coherent structure.
One key change proposed to the Commission is in respect of Back-Bench Members of the Commission. We recommend that the current three—one from each of the largest parties—should be replaced by four Members, by the addition of a fourth from the minority parties. At present, the Back-Bench Members, distinguished though they are, are effectively nominated by the Whips Offices. In future—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, will you note the fact that the Opposition Whip has broken rule one of all Whips, which is to remain silent. [Interruption.] No, it was not a cough. I was about to say that the current Back-Bench Members are effectively nominated by the dark forces of the Whips, but I decided to be nice to them by leaving that out. I will now ensure that it goes back on the record. In future, to avoid these dark forces of the Whips Office, we recommended that each of the four should be elected by the whole House. We also added that they should be remunerated on the same basis as Chairs of Committees.
We looked carefully at the work of the Finance and Services Committee and of the Administration Committee. Each has been very ably chaired by the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who is in his place, and by the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst). The former happens to have been also a member of the Commission, while the latter has not. We thought that that was unsatisfactory, and that the Chairs of both those Committees should, ex officio, be members of the Commission.
As a member of the Administration Committee and also a Whip—I declare my role as a dark force—I think that that is a very important point. Without that direct link, the Administration Committee is undermined. It is important that the Chair of that Committee is on the Commission.
It is important that our proceedings are always intelligible to those beyond the Chamber who are listening. Therefore, I know that the right hon. Gentleman will want it to be made clear that the significance of the pairing Whip in this context is that the pairing Whip gives him permission to go away when he wishes to do so.
But not very often.
The House will note that the recommendation of our report was that the Chairs of both those Committees should be chosen by the Commission itself from the four Back-Bench Members who, in turn, would be elected by the House. However, the motion before the House today proposes a variation to that recommendation, stating that
“without changing the party balance of the Commission as proposed in the report, the recommendations relating to the composition of the Commission be implemented so as to allow the Chairs of both the new Finance Committee and the Administration Committee to be elected to these positions rather than appointed to them by the Commission.”
That change in our recommendation was made after taking account of the views of both the Leader and the shadow Leader of the House. My Committee met informally after it had reported to consider this proposal, and we accepted it, as is clear from the fact that we have signed the motion effectively amending our report.
While the motion does not explicitly say so, it is implicit that these Chairs should be elected by the whole House, whatever prior agreements may have been made about from which party group they should come. I also hope that the Whips on both sides will ensure that these elections are held promptly in the new Parliament. They should not be put at the back of the queue, after departmental Select Committee Chairs, otherwise much time—perhaps three months—will be lost in getting the new governance proposals bedded down.
May I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend personally and to all of the Committee, especially as this was a unanimous report? There were differences among Committee members, as I saw when giving evidence. On the question of speed, is that not true of all the recommendations? No doubt he will come on to that in respect of the director general.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention and for his evidence. We did come to the issue from different perspectives, but the fact that this is a unanimous report does not reflect any sense of it coming from a search of the lowest common denominators—rather, the highest common factors. I will come on to the issue of implementation in a moment.
A second reform that we propose to the Commission concerns non-executive members. At the moment, there are external, non-executive members, who have great outside professional experience, who sit on the Management Board, but not on the Commission. We thought that this was a rather eccentric arrangement not consistent with the principles of governance outside, and that it ought to be the other way round. We therefore proposed that two non-executives should sit on the Commission and, in addition, so too would the two senior officials of the House, a matter I shall come on to in a moment.
As I have indicated, the evidence we received showed clearly that the relationship between the Commission and the Management Board was opaque. So alongside the strengthened Commission, the Management Board will be replaced by a streamlined executive committee.
The potentially trickiest issue for us to deal with was the senior leadership of the House service. As the House is well aware, not least from the debate that we had on 10 September and from the evidence that we received, there is a wide range of opinion on this issue. Some favoured the status quo, some wanted a chief executive above the Clerk, some wanted a chief operating officer under the Clerk, and some thought the two functions should be separated entirely, with a Clerk and a chief executive of equal status. We thought hard about this. There are, as we all recognised, advantages and disadvantages to each proposal. In the end the Committee responded to what it heard from staff and from many others by endorsing the objective of a single unified House service.
This was significant because the House service is often portrayed as being divided into parliamentary and non-parliamentary elements. Asserting that the service should be unified is important both for rejecting the perception that some parts of the service are second class, and for emphasising that the primary purpose of the whole service—all parts of it—is to support the House’s parliamentary functions. But we also accepted that there had to be a strengthening of the leadership of those functions and of the hundreds of staff beyond the direct work of the Clerks.
It is not accidental, in our view, that although in the whole time that I have sat in the House there have rarely been any complaints or concerns about the standards of service provided to this House and its Committees in respect of our core functions, there have been myriad complaints about the way our employers—the public—have been treated when they try to get into this place, and from Members about the IT system, room bookings and many aspects of the maintenance of this place.
I have already spoken about leaks in the Members’ Lobby. I hope Mr Speaker will allow me an excursion into the bowels of what was the cell block of the old Canon Row police station, which has housed the House of Commons gym for some decades. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the shadow Leader of the House, and I are often to be seen there ensuring that we remain trim and fit. The refurbishment of the Commons’ gym may seem a second-order issue to those who do not use the facility, but for those of us who do, and for the dedicated staff of the gym, the saga of its refurbishment has not been a pretty one—nor, as the weekend’s press indicates, has it enhanced the reputation of Parliament.
Classic and avoidable errors were made in the refurbishment programme, which was due to be finished in early September and has only just been finished. I understand that the costs quadrupled. I know for certain that the specifications were changed and changed again after agreement had been reached with the gym management. It was disruptive in the extreme to us who use it and also to the staff. I thought that I had been able to put cold showers behind me when I left school 50 years ago but, like many other Members, I have had to endure cold showers, or no showers, as late as last week.
On Monday, having spent my two hours in the gym, I came out in anticipation of having a shower, only to discover that in the two hours that I had been working away in the gym, the showers had packed up. Happily, I did not meet any constituents, but other rather surprised Members will have seen me wearing my jacket over my gym kit and carrying the rest of my clothes, on my way to find a shower elsewhere. It is amusing—we are all tolerant of the situation—but it tells a story about why a better grip is needed of such issues.
I do not understand how we have reached such a state, but the fact that the building is listed makes it difficult to do certain things, such as putting up a sign. I was amazed to learn that there is a signage committee in the House, which will decide on the type of sign and the size and colour of the signs that are permitted. It takes ages to get even the simplest thing done.
I accept that there are such problems. This is a grade I listed building. I do not dispute the dedication of staff, but stronger leadership and greater clarity are needed.
We propose that the position of Clerk and chief executive should be split. There should in future be a Clerk, and working alongside her or him, there should be a new post of director general of the House of Commons. We had lots of debate about nomenclature. Others may lift the veil on the wide range of titles we considered. We decided on this title, rather than CEO or COO and many others, because, as we say in paragraph 157, we wanted a title that emphasised the authority of the new post, and would allow it to evolve unburdened by preconceptions.
As a consequence of calling this senior person director general of the House of Commons, the people currently titled directors general will need to be re-titled directors. There is a separate issue about whether the new post should become an additional accounting officer, an arrangement that exists in some Government Departments. I hope the Commission will consider that.
Given that there is going to be a split and that there will be an authoritative figure in charge of the management of the House of Commons, can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what would happen if there were a decision about management taken by the new director general with which the Clerk disagreed? What would happen then?
Let me go through the arrangements. Once I have done that, it will become easier to answer the hon. Gentleman’s point.
To secure a unified House service, we concluded, as paragraph 166 sets out, that the Clerk should continue to be head of the House service and thus formally the line manager of the director general. However, the new director general will have a considerable degree of autonomy. Since delivery will be their responsibility, it is the director general, not the Clerk, who will chair the new executive committee. She or he will sit on the Commission with the Clerk, and will have direct access to Mr Speaker and other Commission members.
So the answer to the hon. Gentleman is that if there were a dispute between the Clerk and the chief executive, the matter would go to Mr Speaker and be resolved by the Commission. Crucially, unlike the current arrangements where the Management Board is free-floating and separate from the Commission, the executive committee will formally be a committee of the Commission. I hope that that answers his question.
The executive committee will consist of the director general, the Clerk, and Director of Finance, with up to three other members drawn from the senior officials appointed by the Commission. I believe that the Committee’s recommendations have attracted support from all sides, but as I said earlier we did not simply split the difference between them: they are a coherent package in which the changes to the role of the Clerk and the introduction of the director general are integral to the reforms to the Commission and member committees, and are underpinned—this is crucial from our point of view—by recommendations for broader cultural change in the House service.
My right hon. Friend is generous in giving way again. He raised the issue of culture. That is fundamental and it is why many of us supported the idea of a chief executive. I understand that the proposals now have unanimous support. On culture, there are two things in particular that have changed in this House over recent years, led by Mr Speaker. One is to make this House a living wage organisation and the second is the emphasis on diversity and inclusion. That initiative, led by Anne Foster and the diversity and inclusion team, has meant that we have made tremendous strides forward. I seek the reassurance of my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House that when we recruit the new director general, we ensure that issues relating to the diversity and culture of this organisation are paramount in that recruitment process.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. We make recommendations about and acknowledge the work that has been done. In recruiting to any senior post, including the Clerk and the director general, we must take full account of the need to improve diversity in all ways in this place.
As a former Leader of the House who dealt with such matters at first hand, I too, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears), favoured a separate chief executive, but I understand perfectly, and support, the rationale behind the Committee’s recommendations. The fact that the report is unanimous is important.
May I probe my right hon. Friend on two points? First, traditionalists in the House could take this as an excuse for business as usual. That would be very disappointing in view of the work that the Committee has done and the evidence given to it. Secondly, it is really important that the new director general’s post is advertised soon. Whether an appointment can be made before or after the general election is not for me to say, but it is really important that the person is in post as soon as possible at the start of the new Parliament in order to take us into a new era.
As a traditionalist, perhaps, neither do I want to see business as usual.
The right hon. Gentleman’s findings are a great opportunity for a big change in the culture—by which we mean the attitudes and behaviour—of people throughout the organisation so that, in cases such as that of the gym, there is somebody who is clearly accountable for such decisions and wants to take responsibility for making them. The lack of trust that the current structure has generated needs to change, and I think he has come up with the right solution. Some structures can be set up in such a way as to generate mistrust, but he has chosen a structure—not entirely one of my choosing, I accept—that will create the opportunity to generate real trust and accountability throughout the organisation.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, not least because, as I acknowledged in my opening remarks, he co-sponsored the resolution that led to the establishment of the Committee. Those who have had to put up with it can smile about what has been going on in the bowels of the old Canon Row police station, but I very much hope that the Commission might examine, as a case study, what went wrong there. In my judgment—this is not to criticise the good faith of the officials involved—we have a decision-making structure at an official level where somebody gets something agreed, then they have another thought, and there is no proper structure above that for saying, “Should we be doing this? Why didn’t you think of that in advance?” It is ironic that the people making these decisions in Parliament are less accountable—certainly to Members and, I think, to senior officials—than they would be in an ordinary corporate organisation. That has to change because, apart from anything else, it is wasting a lot of money.
The other tension that exists in the current organisation is that, with the best will in the world, the Management Board is trying to think strategically in the long term and there has not always been synergy between its strategic long-term thoughts and the Commission’s strategic long-term thoughts. Merging the two organisations will generate that synergy.
I agree with my right hon. Friend on the timing. I was going to make some remarks about that as I concluded.
On the face of it, splitting the current Clerk/chief executive post will mean two salaries in place of one. The House has made commendable progress in reducing the costs of this place by 17% in the past few years. We were very clear that this particular reform would have to be self-financing after the first year, as we say in recommendation 207. How exactly that is to be achieved will be for the new Commission, but achieved it must be.
We make plenty of other recommendations, including on widening the involvement of the Deputy Speakers in non-Chamber issues, clear and published delegations, and improvements in staff development and diversity.
Finally, I turn to implementation. The changes we propose will require amendments to the 1978 Act. Those are minor and uncontroversial. I therefore hope that those on both Front Benches will agree that if the House adopts the motion this afternoon, amending legislation will be introduced rapidly in this Session, with the aim of putting it on the Statute Book before Dissolution at the end of March. There will also need to be changes to Standing Orders. I hope that these too can be secured before the end of March, and I should be grateful for confirmation of that from the Leader of the House. Once those are in place, it is for the Commission to go ahead with this, and I hope that it does so very rapidly indeed.
I conclude by repeating my thanks to my colleagues on the Committee. We all came at our task with different perspectives, but in a fascinating and concentrated period of two months we focused hard, and we have made a set of interlocking recommendations that we believe will greatly strengthen and improve the running of this House, and, above all, the service that we provide to those who put us here. I commend the report to the House.
I am very pleased to participate in this debate on behalf of the Government and as a member of the House of Commons Commission. As hon. Members know, and as the Government have always said, this is a matter primarily—entirely, really—for the House as a whole. I regard the principal role of the Government as being to facilitate consideration by the House and then to support the rapid implementation of what the House agrees.
I must first congratulate the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw)—I have said this before at various points over the past few weeks but wish to reiterate it; I really mean it—not just on the very clear and convincing way in which he moved the motion but on the dedication shown by him and all the members of his Committee over the past few months. Back in September, the House set the Chair it nominated and the Committee it subsequently established quite a formidable task, both in terms of the knottiness of the problem they were asked to confront and the time scale for resolution that was set. The right hon. Gentleman and his Committee were not only up to this task but exceeded it by some margin in delivering their report ahead of schedule and, most importantly given the circumstances, with a unanimity that appeared at the beginning to be very difficult to achieve. I hope that this effusion of praise allays any fear he had that he would have to withdraw the thanks that he expressed earlier.
The Committee was no doubt helped to reach a consensus not only by the skills of its Chair but by the diligent and inclusive way in which it set about hearing views from across the House—from Members in all corners of the House and from staff in all departments and at all grades. I think we have all learned a great deal about the House in which we work as a result of this exercise. This work and this evidence have enabled the Committee to devise a thoughtful and sensible set of proposals that I sincerely hope and believe the whole House can now unite around.
The motion before us rightly welcomes the Committee’s report and agrees with almost every dot and comma, as the right hon. Gentleman explained. It also seeks agreement to encourage all those responsible for implementation to get on with that important task. I wish to explain the reason for the one small point of difference between the motion and the Committee’s original draft motion, since it was partly my suggestion that the change be made.
The Committee envisaged that the Chairs of the Administration and the Finance Committees would be drawn from the four Back-Bench members of the Commission once they were in place. On reflection, that could lead to a situation in which three of the Back-Bench members had the expertise and desire to chair the Finance Committee but no one was keen to chair the Administration Committee, or vice versa.
Of course, but nevertheless the situation could theoretically arise. It could even be the case that none of the Members elected to serve on the Commission wished to chair either of the Committees. It would then be the first task of the other members of the new Commission to allocate the responsibilities, which would be an invidious task in such circumstances. It is therefore my preference—and that of many others, including the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle)—that these two important internal Committees should be chaired by Members who have relevant experience and who are actively seeking to undertake those particular roles. I believe that will better ensure that the House has the right people in those roles and that the decision does not rest solely with the members of the Commission.
Although we fully support the outcome the Committee seeks to achieve—four Back-Bench Members, two Chairs of the internal House Committees and two others with clearly defined portfolio responsibilities—the motion proposes a slightly different way of reaching it. I hope the House will agree that it is a small but beneficial adjustment and one that will ensure that the Commission retains a party balance in the way envisaged by the Committee.
I do not think that the Leader of the House’s suggestion fundamentally changes the Committee’s view of the Commission’s structure. However, as has been said, it is extremely important that there is no delay in putting in place the two House Committee Chairs. That cannot wait until the long process of negotiation relating to the election of Select Committee Chairs. Will the Leader of the House assure us that he will bequeath to his successor a view that those two Chairs should, if possible, be in place immediately after the election of the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers, so that the Commission is in place at the earliest possible opportunity in the new Parliament?
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. It will be very important for the Commission to be able to begin its work very early—earlier than has sometimes been the case—in the new Parliament. As the final weeks of this Parliament go by, I will be increasingly happy to bequeath many views to my successor, particularly on things that are difficult to achieve, but I hope this will not be too difficult to achieve. The election of those Chairs should not be left to be the tail end of the whole process of the election of Committee Chairs. They are vital to the working of this House. Given that we will need to keep up the momentum of implementing the Governance Committee’s recommendations, a new Commission will need to be up and running pretty quickly in the new Parliament. My hon. Friend makes a good point and I will certainly bequeath that view, as he put it.
From the Government’s point of view, the report fully addresses the issues that were set out by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House in the 10 September debate on the Committee’s establishment and on which I enlarged when I gave evidence to it. Notably, the proposals will provide the House with a Clerk whose independence and authority are unquestioned, and they should also provide a first-rate administrator with the visibility and authority to manage the services delivered to Members, staff and the public.
The right hon. Member for Blackburn has given examples of areas where improvement is needed. I am sure that the gym is a valid example, but I do think that, if, as he said, he spent two hours in the gym, a cold shower might have been recommended anyway and, indeed, appreciated by all of us.
We have had absolutely adequate information, Mr Speaker, and I now realise even more how serious these problems have been.
Equally important are the improvements to the governance structures recommended by the Committee. A striking feature of the evidence it took was a sense that the work of the Commission and the Management Board was somewhat disconnected, leading to problems with implementation of decisions and a lack of clarity over strategic direction. I warmly welcome the structural changes to the board and Commission, including overlapping membership, which should produce a more co-ordinated approach and a greater sense that the interests of all those who work in this place are fully represented and served as they should be. I am also pleased to see that the Committee had a keen eye on costs and tailored its recommendations in such a way that they may be cost-neutral within one year of implementation.
Once the House has agreed this motion today, as I hope it will, implementation should follow very quickly. All those involved now have to match the speed and dexterity with which the Committee has acted. It is clearly important that the Clerk of the House is appointed before the Dissolution of Parliament. The Government will play their full part to encourage that. We have provided time quickly for this motion today. I hope that will allow the Commission to meet next week and begin the process of recruiting the Clerk of the House, as well as that of taking forward the other recommendations.
That is important, too, although the right hon. Gentleman will know from reading the report that the recommendation of the Committee is that the Clerk should sit on the selection panel for the selection of the director general, so there is a sequence. That does not prevent us from starting the process of recruiting the director general, but it does mean that one has to come before the other.
That is a very fair point. When the Commission meets next week, subject to the motion being approved by the House today, it will be able to consider such things and, indeed, to bear in mind the urgency stressed by the right hon. Gentleman and other Members.
We have already invited the two existing external members of the Management Board to attend Commission meetings as a first step. Indeed, they attended the Commission’s meeting on Monday, so that recommendation has already been provisionally implemented, as announced by the Commission in a written statement to the House yesterday. My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who speaks for the Commission, may wish to elaborate on that. It was the first in a series of periodic updates on process that the Commission has undertaken to make, which in itself was in direct response to one of the Committee’s recommendations.
I have already indicated to the House on an earlier occasion that the Government are working hard to find a way to make the minor legislative changes that are needed to alter the membership of the Commission in the way recommended by the Committee, and to do so quickly. I will make further announcements about that as soon as I can. We will also provide the necessary time requested by the right hon. Member for Blackburn for the House to consider before the Dissolution of Parliament the minor changes to Standing Orders that implementation will require.
Given the delays that tend to affect legislation, is there any impediment to the Management Board and the existing Commission working together as one body on a pro tem basis until legislation formalises the arrangement, even though any formal Commission decisions would have to be taken by the Commission as currently constituted?
No, I do not believe there is any legislative impediment to that. Indeed, I have already mentioned how the two non-executive members of the Management Board have started attending the meetings of the Commission. That work is already going on, but legislation will be essential in order to alter the membership of the Commission. Given that we all envisage that the Commission in the new Parliament will be appointed and elected in a different way from before, there is a very good case for that legislation to be dealt with speedily. I will return to the House on that matter in the not-too-distant future.
Finally, we can acknowledge that the House faced a significant problem and disagreement on these matters, and that the Committee, chaired so ably by the right hon. Member for Blackburn, has not only found the right solution but set out a governance structure for the House that I believe will provide Members and the public alike with the levels of confidence, capability and accountability that are so vital to the long-term health of the House of Commons.
I rise to support the motion in the names of the Leader of the House and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and my own name, to adopt the recommendations of the House of Commons Governance Committee report. If we agree to it, we will begin to deliver a governance structure for this place that will finally be fit for purpose in our rapidly changing world.
Since the publication of the report on 16 December, I have advocated acting on its recommendations quickly. I therefore particularly welcome the speed with which the Leader of the House has acted to ensure that the report was debated today. Should the House endorse the Committee’s recommendations—I hope and believe that it will—it will be incumbent on the House of Commons Commission to act with similar speed. I therefore welcome your decision, Mr Speaker, to schedule a meeting of the Commission on Monday to decide on the next steps in the light of today’s debate. There is every sign that all parts of the House understand the need for speed of implementation. Since the beginning of this debate, everyone has focused on how we can best do that.
All of us are anxious for the House to endorse the report so that we can move quickly to the appointment of a new Clerk of the House, as well as to the commencement of the process to appoint the first director general. That process should at least start before the Dissolution at the end of March. We need to move speedily to appoint people to both posts, although one will unavoidably take slightly longer than the other.
I strongly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I hope that anyone who wishes to apply for the post will read the Committee’s report, as well as all the fascinating evidence people gave in such a short time, so that they are well aware of the nature of the job and the authority that we intend should go with it.
I agree with everything that has been said, but what is so vital in the arrangement is that there should be complete trust and understanding between the Clerk of the House and the director general. The sequencing of the appointments, which my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House mentioned, is therefore very important. The Clerk must feel that he or she has had a say over the director general’s job description and how the job is advertised, otherwise the arrangement will not work. We will be setting it up to fail if anybody feels that premature decisions have been foisted on them. That must be borne in mind.
The direction of the discussion so far, like that of the report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn, is that the holders of the two jobs have to work in harmony, but that each must have their own autonomy and authority, so one cannot have a veto over the other. It is for the Commission to decide how and in what way it advertises the posts and with how much alacrity it does so, but I hope that it will act with alacrity. It is important for both posts to be advertised, and that at least one of them, the Clerk’s appointment, should proceed as quickly as possible. I agree with the Leader of the House that it ought to be done and dusted, barring unforeseen circumstances, before the Dissolution, but in my view—this is a matter for the House to decide today and for the Commission to debate and decide on Monday—I for one think that we should by then also be pretty well on with the arrangements to appoint the director general. I expect that appointment to be made quite quickly in the new Parliament.
I congratulate, and express my admiration for, the Committee on the work that it did in such a short time. I am not the first speaker today, and I am certain that I will not be the last, to emphasise that point. The Committee was ably led by my right hon. Friend—when not in the gym—in tenacious pursuit of a solution that would bind wounds and take the House forward. He worked his Committee extremely hard. Members from both sides of the House took a close interest in its work, and many gave both written and oral evidence. Thanks should go to all members of the Committee, who set aside much time to ensure that they could fulfil the remit set by the House and report ahead of the tough deadline that we gave them. There is much that we are grateful to them for. We must also thank Members of the House of Lords, senior managers, Clerks and other employees of the House at all levels for their willingness to engage with the Committee’s work.
The Committee’s recommendations distilled the wealth of experience with which it was provided to create a vision for a House of Commons that is better equipped to face the future, especially in dealing with the challenges of restoration and renewal, with which the next Parliament will have to grapple. I note that all members of the Committee have signed the motion, which creates a welcome opportunity for the House to move forwards in harmony, which many people would not have believed possible last summer. I hope and believe that we will grasp that opportunity with open arms.
Turning to the substance of the report, the Committee’s proposals fall into three broad categories: the role of the Clerk; shared services; and a reformed Commission. I want to deal with each of them in turn.
On the Committee’s proposals on the Clerk and chief executive of the House, you noted in your statement in September, Mr Speaker, that there have been persuasive arguments for splitting the two roles for some time. Given the increasing complexity of the House’s administration and the imminent changes facing this place, not least the significant programme of restoration and renewal, there is an obvious need for more proactive management structures and accountability.
The Committee heard evidence that the current post of Clerk is “overloaded”, and that
“neither part of it is…given the attention it deserves.”
It therefore suggests splitting the two roles to ensure that the House administration is
“better led and more capable of delivering responsive and effective services to Members, staff and the public.”
It proposes that the Clerk of the House will no longer be the chief executive; the new post of director general is central to the report’s recommendations. I must say that I strongly agree with the report’s conclusions on that crucial point.
The proposal to replace the current Management Board with an executive committee, chaired by the new director general, will ensure more experienced and professional management of this place, and is much to be welcomed. I emphasise that such a statement is not intended in any way as a criticism of any current or former post holder; it is a statement of reality as the House faces the task of dealing with increasingly complex management challenges, whether the restoration and renewal programme, or the modernisation of House services while delivering significant savings.
As my hon. Friend says, there is an absolutely huge task before us and the next Parliament to deal with the physical structure, but that must be done in a culture where we look to save money. We need a very professional person in place. I have nothing against the Clerk—the Clerks do an excellent job—but it is a different role.
I have long believed the same thing. I welcome the fact that after the intense look at the evidence that the Governance Committee subjected itself to before Christmas, it came to a very similar conclusion. It is an obvious conclusion. If we can get the changes right, we will all look back at this as a turning point in the professionalism and effectiveness of the House service.
Those of us who are relatively new MPs remember keenly and fondly coming to the House as visitors. What strikes me is that the number of facilities on offer, whether in retail or tours around the building, seems to have increased greatly. The development of the two posts seems to be very much in keeping with the changes that have been made, very much for the better, to encourage more people to come in and appreciate the facilities. After all, it is the people’s Parliament.
I could not agree more strongly. They still had the ticker-tape in place when I came here. There has been rapid change in the short space of time since then. We must continue to future-proof our institution—not only our building, but our Parliament—to ensure that the transparency of what we do and our accessibility to our constituents and those to whom we are accountable continue to be among the best, rather than being achieved almost accidentally.
The report recommends positive changes to the House of Commons Commission, including the addition of an explicit statutory responsibility to set the strategic framework for the provision of services to the House and the election of Back-Bench Members to the Commission to serve as the chairs of the reformed Finance and Services Committee and Administration Committee, although that will happen in a slightly different way from that proposed in the original recommendation. As I noted in my evidence to the Governance Committee, it is only as a result of sitting on the House of Commons Commission for the past three and a bit years that I have developed a real understanding of its role in running this place. The election of Members and clarity of responsibility will go a long way towards boosting the profile and scrutiny of the Commission, and that can only be positive.
The Governance Committee made important recommendations on sharing services with the other place. I am on record as saying that I favour a much greater integration of administration across Parliament that respects the independent nature of both Lords and Commons administration. I believe that there is much potential for efficiency savings and more effective joint working across the Houses. Both Houses already work together on a range of services, including procurement, security and ICT. The report found “wide support” for extending the practice. I agree with the Committee.
My colleague in the Lords, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, observed that there was
“much more scope for working together”,
while the Lord Speaker has indicated the upper Chamber’s willingness to explore further collaboration, which I welcome. The same view is held by many who have worked at a senior level in this House. Sir Roger Sands, who served as Clerk between 2003 and 2006, observed that given that we
“share the same building; there are so many things that cannot sensibly be managed separately”.
In his view, a
“joint services department along the Australian lines is a logical end point”.
In its report, the Governance Committee supports the development of a single services department that would support the primary parliamentary purposes of each of the two Houses, and it encourages the House to work towards that in the medium term. It makes the important point that the delivery authority that will facilitate the restoration and renewal project might form a useful model for the sharing of services. It is certainly my view that once this House has made its decisions on restoration and renewal, whether it decants or finds another way to deliver that project, it will not be run in the same way when it comes back. That project will transform the way in which this House, and perhaps the other place, is run, which will be good.
Of course, the autonomy and independence of both Houses is an integral part of a bicameral Parliament, and there are services that could not be shared due to the different characters and working arrangements of the two Houses. However, in the current economic climate, when public bodies and members of the public are all making savings, there is an understandable expectation that all possibilities for savings, efficiency and effectiveness will be explored. Given that many witnesses highlighted the cost savings that could arise from the further sharing of services, I am pleased that the House of Commons Commission will consider it. I hope that we can be part of speeding up the progress in that important area.
This is perhaps the most crucial report on House business that we have debated for a long time. It is a timely report and, like the Leader of the House, I hope that we will ensure that its implementation proceeds as quickly as possible after the House makes its decision today. If this package of proposals and recommendations is delivered, I believe that it will make our governance fit for purpose. I will vote for the recommendations in the motion, and I hope that we can move forward as a House unanimously.
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) talked of the pace of change over the years. She and I used to sit on the Select Committee on Employment in the early 1990s, when Committees were not supported to the extent they are now. As has been observed by others, there has been massive change over that period. This report has presented an opportunity to look at our arrangements, many years since Members last looked at them, and to see how we can better fit them to the current day.
I pay tribute to the work of our Chairman, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). The Committee sat a great deal. We sat three times a week and took evidence from many witnesses. I am grateful to him. It was a privilege to serve under him. We saw some excellent chairmanship skills, which is not surprising after his many years here and all the important posts he has held over the years.
It was a particularly good idea for the Committee to meet 60 staff members in break-out groups to hear their views on the governance of the House. That might be a good model for the House of Commons Commission to follow occasionally. The staff were genuinely excited and pleased to be asked their views.
I am proud of the work of the Committee. I pay tribute to my colleagues and the staff who helped us. It was a major undertaking and the report was delivered early. I am glad that the Commission has pledged to implement the proposals if the House supports them today.
The right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain), with whom I served on the Modernisation Committee when I was shadow Leader of the House, asked whether this is a major change. One only has to look at the organograms in annexes E and F to see that it is. The wonderful current arrangements are shown in annex F, which is like a piece of modern art, it is so complex. What is being proposed is a much simpler, more straightforward and more modern system.
I do not want to dwell on the reasons the Governance Committee was set up. It was clear from the evidence that we heard that it was time for Members to look at this issue. I believe that the Committee did a thorough and good job.
One focus for the Committee was to consider the role of Clerk of the House and chief executive. We heard important evidence from Members and a large number of other witnesses. Lord Browne, who at the time was the Government’s lead non-executive, was a particularly telling witness. He explained that, in designing who should be at the top of the pyramid of officers in a company, it was important to look at who had detailed knowledge of the core business. Although we are not a company—we are a very unusual body indeed—I felt that he had a point. He felt that the same principle should apply here, and I rather agreed.
We also heard from Lord Judge, the previous Lord Chief Justice, that if he was talking about privilege he would expect to talk to the person who was in charge and was expert in the matter. Many others, including the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), also gave good evidence on that point.
One thing that became clear during our deliberations was that there are models in the public service of the senior official having somebody with commercial and operational skills working with him. That can be valuable in ensuring that what is decided actually gets done. We heard from John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service, and Michael Whitehouse, chief operating officer for the Comptroller and Auditor General at the National Audit Office. Lord Browne told us that if there are to be two roles, it is vital to have clarity and proper job specifications, and we have set out in the report the specifications for the two roles we decided on. He said:
“Governance must start with clarity, which is difficult to achieve, and with a clear understanding of accountability, which includes decision rights. Who gets to decide what and to whom do you report when you have done it?”
The chief executive of the civil service, who reports to the Cabinet Secretary, and the chief operating officer of the NAO, who reports to the Comptroller and Auditor General, had found that it was possible to have a senior official working closely with the person in charge in a role that was described in different ways—chief executive or chief operating officer. They found that it depended crucially on having the right people in position, having clarity and the two people having an ability to co-operate. We have set out a process whereby the Clerk would be appointed first and then the director general, which is important to ensure that we have people who can work closely together.
From hearing this debate, I am increasingly persuaded that part of the accountability that we need is the autonomy and clear visibility of the director general. Even now, the director general of facilities wears a badge telling us his name and title, and he feels more accountable because people stop him and talk to him as he walks around the Palace. That shows how important the visibility and demonstrable autonomy of the director general will be under the new arrangement, which is something we have all learned from this process.
I very much agree. We use the words “overall responsibility” several times in the job specification for the director general, to show that autonomy.
I support the conclusion that the Clerk should remain the senior official of the House of Commons, with the authority that that involves, but that a director general should bring the skills we have just discussed to that important role. It is also right that the director general should have the freedom to initiate in certain areas, that he should be on the House of Commons Commission and that his role should be clearly defined.
During the course of our evidence taking, it became clear that the arrangements for the Commission and the Management Board were not working as well as they should, partly because of the structure, which I have already mentioned and which is obvious from the annexes to which I have referred, but also partly because of culture. We proposed a model that would expand the Commission and involve every important player in this place, and we clarified an enhanced role for Back-Bench Members of the Commission. As the motion states, it is important that there is party balance on the Commission, and it is also important that there are non-executive directors to strengthen it and ensure that there is proper business experience at the top level.
The effect of the changes will be that the Management Board will be abolished and replaced with an executive committee. That is more common in public companies and other parts of the public sector. It will be a streamlined body, working on a House service basis, committed to delivering the Commission’s decisions. Some suggest that the Clerk should chair that body, but we decided that, overall, it should be the place where the director general ensures that the Commission’s decisions are put into effect. The Clerk should of course be a member, but the lead role of implementation should be with the director general.
The report is more extensive than we first expected, and I believe that it provides a good way forward for the future. I hope that the Government will commit the time necessary to put the new system in place so that it takes effect immediately after the general election, and I was grateful to the Leader of the House for his points on that, which seemed encouraging.
As somebody who has practised as an employment lawyer and advised the recruitment industry in the past, I was a bit surprised by the recruitment procedure followed last summer. The procedure from 2011, which was supervised by Susan Craig of the human resources department here, was a good step forward on what had happened previously. Although it was intended that a similar procedure would be followed this time, it was not. The House must have state-of-the-art recruitment procedures in place, so I welcome the report’s provisions setting out a model for future recruitment in line with current practice. That is an improvement on the 2011 procedure and fits in with the recommendations that Sir Kevin Tebbit made as long ago as 2007.
Over recent years, there has been a process of improving the way in which the House of Commons is managed, but having heard the evidence to the Governance Committee I have no doubt that there is a lot more to do. I believe that the report provides a basis for structural changes that are needed.
An important part of our recommendations relates to the culture of the House and the need for further efforts to achieve a more coherent House service that puts even more emphasis on staff development and training. Sir Kevin Tebbit told us that was important to break down the barriers between departments and functions. I am sure that is right, and our report suggests ways to foster that. I am proud of the report and its conclusions, and I hope that the House will agree that they have merit.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate.
It is the 750th anniversary of de Montfort’s Parliament, so it is incredibly fitting that we are debating changes and improvements to the governance of the House. I am not saying that they are 750 years late, but there are certainly issues to be addressed.
The House of Commons Governance Committee was an excellent one on which to serve, and it offered a new insight into the House, especially for new Members but I am sure also for experienced Members. We quickly got down to the nitty-gritty of the services that the House offers, and the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has already recounted some of them. We heard about the queues that members of the public face, sometimes in the rain, when they attend the House—I think there are now about 5,000 visitors to Parliament a day, and looking after our visitors, who are the public and the electorate, is incredibly important.
We heard about the non-functioning gym. The cold showers, or lack thereof, have given rise to the notion that labour really does stink—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that. We heard about blocked toilets in the Norman Shaw building, the leaking roofs outside the Chamber, the double-booking of rooms and—from the sublime to the ridiculous—the quality of champagne in the Pugin Room. I am not saying that we had a wine tasting session, but we can disprove the noble Lords’ theory about what is the best-quality champagne. We had an escorted journey from the sublime to the ridiculous as part of our efforts on the Committee, and it was worth while pursuing many of those issues.
The Committee was aided by its gifted Chairman and—more importantly, I think—by the gifted and widely drawn staff whom we were able to pull together. All our members appreciated their skills, because each member of staff had a real sense of purpose in addressing the lack of clarity in the governance of the House and the other issues that have arisen.
The Committee was not about settling old scores. It was about looking forward and setting a road map for the governance of this great institution. The report, in both its anticipation and publication, has caused interest beyond what the Committee expected—I understand that it is now on its second or third print run and it looks as if we may have published a bestseller. In the other place it was the subject of questions earlier this week, and the Leader of that House was faced by noble Lords who wished to assert their position on structures, governance, reform and renewal. It is good that we have perhaps awakened an interest in some of those important issues.
As the hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) said, the most important evidence that we received concerned the need for clarity and purpose, and that theme returned time and again—the importance of clarity and purpose is the raison d’être that runs through the report, and we have tried to focus on that. There is a sense that lines have been blurred, and in some areas there is a notion of “let’s just muddle through and it will be all right”. It is now time to adjust and repair that notion.
Any new Member who comes to the House, as I did in 2010, expects the place to function. However, within days of sitting on the Committee, I found that that was a mistaken view. Soon into our deliberations it became clear that tensions exist and must be addressed, and I believe the report offers solutions in those areas. We set out clear lines of responsibility and accountability, and clear assertions about where the buck should stop. Setting those matters out now and getting unanimous support, as expressed by the Leader and shadow Leader of the House, is important.
It is clear that the staff of this House are extremely proud of working in this Parliament, and why should they not be? A renewed collegiate sense among staff, staff groups and Members needs to be kindled. We all have responsibility in that regard and it is a two-way process. All parties, not just the Government and main Opposition parties, must play their part. The next election promises to flood the House with more Members from smaller parties. That voice must also be heard in future, and the report addresses that issue in its recommendations.
There is clearly need for the House of Lords to move with us and not to pretend that all is well there or, worse, to impede the progress that we have outlined. At the commencement of the new Parliament, there will be an opportunity to start afresh and ensure that bad habits are done away with and a fresh page is opened. Change will happen only if we implement the report’s recommendations with determination and zeal. Let us get the right people in the right places, and ensure that we put this Parliament first.
I have added my name to the motion and speak in support of it. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), and his Committee and staff, on their excellent work. Before he set off, I thought to myself that the Committee would be jolly lucky to get the report in on time and that it would need an extension, but not only has the right hon. Gentleman beaten the deadline, he has done so with a well-crafted report that I would describe as an elegant package that has precision where required and sufficient imprecision where that is helpful. As other hon. Members have pointed out, one has only to look at annexes E and F to see the difference between what was and what is proposed, and the Committee is to be congratulated on its work.
Let me make it clear that I speak for myself and not as spokesman of the House of Commons Commission. The Commission awaits the verdict of the House, and we have provided for a meeting on Monday to take forward what is decided. At our meeting last Monday, we made an assumption that the House might like to approve the report, and everything is ready to fire the starting gun. The need for speed that was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) has been prepared for, but my comments reflect my thoughts on the report and do not come from the Commission.
I want to mention the quality of the staff. As I said when I gave evidence, since I have served on the Finance and Services Committee I have engaged with staff on a great many levels, and I have been impressed by how much they want us to succeed in what we do. I know that the report has been welcomed by members of staff, and I think they would like us to get on with delivering it. I sense great good will and desire on the part of our staff for the matter to be sorted out so that they have that governance structure. Clearly, this process started with a hiccup, but as the right hon. Member for Blackburn said, the report does not concern itself with that but looks forward. That is commendable and is perhaps a case of “per ardua ad astra”—we have had the hardship, let us now shoot for the stars.
The report suggests a package of measures. I am sure that each of us has bits that we would have done slightly differently, but this package is workable and can be put into place, and it is therefore important that we accept it as a package. I particularly like the way that the report first sets out clear principles, and secondly encourages us to move towards modern best practice. It also encourages us to retain what we value about the way this House is run, and to understand that in taking the best from the governance of other organisations, we must also preserve that which makes this House the successful legislature it is.
I wish briefly to mention three specific areas: the arrangements for the new Commission, restoration and renewal, and bicameral services. I will begin with bicameral services, having had the happy memory of serving on a sub-Committee of a Committee in the other place 20-odd years ago, when the prevailing notion was, “Who on earth are these people at the other end, and how do we keep them out of our House?” In the past couple of years there has been a welcome change, and I was pleased when the Audit Committee, which twice a year meets jointly with the House of Lords Audit Committee, proposed some form of joint procurement. That idea was taken up by Members of the other place, and we now have a joint procurement service. That demonstrates that with good will and agreement, such things are not only possible but can happen quickly.
Obviously, both Houses are sovereign, but if one looks at the history, they have never been particularly sovereign in facilities, but rather in legislature. The fact that different services have been built up in different ways over the decades, or even over a century, is not by design but rather by accident. Therefore, provided that the sovereignty of the two Houses in legislation and how they operate as legislatures in a bicameral system is preserved, it makes great sense to have joint provision or commissioning of services that will provide efficiencies for both Houses. I look forward to that happening, and see no reason why, with good will and dialogue, that cannot happen reasonably quickly.
Restoration and renewal will be a mammoth capital project with many noughts at its end—I have no idea how many, but there will certainly be a lot. I had a tour of the archives in Victoria Tower a few weeks ago, and we must understand that whatever happens and whatever option is chosen, that whole archive will have to be decanted. That will need a high-grade provisional archive, which prompts the question of whether we should move it twice—out of Victoria Tower and back again—or move the archive once and let it stay there. I have no idea what the answer to that is, but such questions will have to be considered.
Anybody who has done the tour of the subterranean areas of this place will be surprised to discover that one can go from one end of the building to the other in an almost straight line—I think it is the only place where one can do that. People would also be surprised at the complexity and amount of redundant services that date back 30, 40, 50 and 70 years, although nobody knows if they are actually redundant.
The magnitude of the task is immense. The important point is that I do not think that either of the posts that will be put in place should be asked to deal with that or have the competence to deal with that. The competence the director general will have is to advise the Commission and the House on how best to commission it. That is why I believe that the proper road map going forward is: first, for the core decisions to be made by the two Houses and for the two Houses to agree; and, secondly, to set up a form of governance rather like, as I suggested, the Olympic Delivery Authority, such that we get the expertise required to deliver a project with clear accountability and governance. We should not expect a new director general to come in and, in addition to running the place, also be the best project manager in the world, because that is simply not going to happen. Clarity on that is very important.
We will need to accept—and I think we do—that there are many different ways that restoration and renewal could go. The choices need to be made from facts, when the facts are revealed and the small committee that has been recommended will be set up in the next Parliament. Ultimately, once the strategic decisions have properly been made by the Members of each House, we will need to put in place a delivery mechanism.
I am in complete agreement with the arrangements for the Commission, which is not surprising since most of them were in the evidence that I gave to the Committee. It would be rather odd if I disagreed with what I had said at that time. I particularly felt that widening it to include external members and bringing on to it executive members were critical to creating a modern form of governance. I feel that the way in which the Committee has gone about looking at that, reading its evidence and the solution it has come up with for a wider commission, together with an executive committee as a sub-committee of the Commission, is absolutely an appropriate way to go forward.
I agree, too, with the Committee’s recommendations in respect of the four Back-Bench commissioners. I agree that they should be elected as that is a tremendous step forward. I also agree, as the right hon. Member for Blackburn said in his opening remarks, that they should all be remunerated. The reason for that is twofold: they should all be equal and they should all have portfolios. Clearly, there is the Finance and Services portfolio, which I hope will become a finance committee portfolio. There is the Administration Committee portfolio. I have always thought that there is a very strong portfolio for a commissioner to have responsibility for staff, human resources and diversity, and to take that on. I think that some of the comments that have been made today might support that. I also think that a commissioner should take a lead role in strategy, which would also encompass restoration and renewal. Many plcs have strategic committees, not a formal committee, to take on that role.
One of the arguments against that, of course, is that Chairs of Select Committees are remunerated—hence the remuneration for Admin and F and S—but that members of Select Committees are not. I suggest to those on the Front Benches that that is the wrong parallel to draw. The right parallel is with the Panel of Chairs. They are all remunerated to some degree for their work. I think the commissioners are quite separate from members of Select Committees. I think it is perfectly appropriate that those who also Chair a Committee should do that, but I believe it is important to ensure that the four commissioners are of equal rank, should all be elected and all be remunerated. On that basis, they should all have work to do. I would like to see that going forward, because that was an important part of the recommendations. The motion as written—carefully crafted—does not preclude that. I have no problem—the motion is right to suggest it—with people being elected to specific posts. I am quite happy with that, but when the four are elected by the whole House they should be remunerated and have proper work to do.
I again commend the report to the House. The right hon. Member for Blackburn and his Committee have done an excellent job. It is a real blueprint for a form of governance that the House will be able to be proud of. The duty of an existing commissioner in the dying days of his office, as it were, is to ensure it is delivered. I am sure my fellow commissioners feel the same way.
It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). He will have read in the evidence we heard the tributes paid to him for the work he has done.
This year, we are celebrating the huge anniversary of Magna Carta—for the benefit of the Prime Minister, that is the “great charter”—and this week we celebrated the de Montfort Parliament. Today is the day of the Straw Committee. I am not sure we will be celebrating this document in quite the same way as those other anniversaries, but it is nevertheless an important document. It was important not to think of the individuals in the posts that we were discussing. If Members of the House do that, they will probably understand why we came to the conclusions and recommendations on the evidence that was before us. I want to touch on the Committee, the Commission, the two separate roles—the appointment of the Clerk and the director general—and security.
Starting with the Committee, all of us took the task the House gave us very seriously. We did not want to go over the background to why we were there, but to find ways to move forward. We were set a task by our excellent Chair, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) for his stewardship, and to each and every one of the excellent Committee staff at every level—I can see some of them here, dotted around the Chamber. The Committee met three times a week, with Committee Clerks picking up on what we wanted and implementing it.
To start with, I was not aware of the views of the other members of the Committee. However, the hon. and learned Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), as a former Solicitor-General, brought his legal experience to bear. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), whom I wish well in his future endeavours, is a former Deputy Leader of the House and brought his experience. The hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) had his own pressures, because he has a very special constituent—the former chief Clerk. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) served the Committee well—I think he was one of the only members who attended every single meeting—while he was still grieving for his father. The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) brought his experience of boards and being an active Member of the House, and was an excellent co-chair at the staff session. By the way, he has his own copy of “Erskine May”. The hon. Member for St Helens North (Mr Watts) fitted in his other commitments with his assiduous Committee work and gave us wise advice. I also want to thank all those who took the time and effort to put their views to us, both in writing and orally.
What we heard is that there is not another institution like this. We therefore felt there could be some creativity in what we could come up with. We heard that learning from the private sector, which we can, cannot make this place corporate: the public sector instils that unique sense of public duty and acting in the public interest that we see everyday from the people who work here.
One of the major planks of the report is to streamline the governance structure. Many Members have touched on this. The Commission sets the strategic framework for the delivery of services to Members, staff and the public. Many Members have mentioned the organogram—it rapidly became one of my favourite words—which is set out on page 89. From the confusion of lines of reporting, accountability and action, it is clear that not much could get done very quickly. I hope you will agree, Mr Speaker, that the new structure cleans this up, and it is much more streamlined on page 88, with the four elected members given the status of Select Committee Chairs. That is right, because it is difficult for them to concentrate on the work of the House. I take the point that they need to be remunerated and given status so that they know they are doing important work. We cannot have four Committee members doing separate things, with two getting an allowance and the other two not. All four have to play their part on the Commission.
The non-executives do not have voting rights but, to clarify an issue mentioned by the Leader of the House, it is not a question of just moving them from the Management Board up to the Commission. We have recommended that there should be a fair, open and transparent selection of the non-executives and the two officials who will also sit on the Commission.
That brings me to the two separate roles. As is well known, we decided as a Committee that we should have the two separate roles. The Clerk’s role is unique and the skills required are extremely important—giving advice to the Speaker and the Deputy Speakers. I am sure we all agree that we are well served by the Clerk’s Department. However, it is too much to ask one person to undertake the responsibility of the other aspects of the House relating to its management and liaison with the other place—a necessary and important requirement.
I changed my mind many times on who should be in charge overall. We heard from those who had run large corporations that we need to know where the buck stops and who has a grip on what is going on. Where is the Gantt chart of work to be done, and who is responsible for the delivery? Ultimately, it must be the Speaker, elected by Members, but with the support and the challenge from a board—the Commission. The staff, too, had a variety of ideas, and the meeting with them at all levels of the organisation was unique—and I hope that will continue.
If Members care to look at paragraph 68, they can see the variety of views expressed to us. In the end, the Clerk’s role is preserved as head of the House service, but the director general is autonomous and is responsible for resource allocation and delivery across the House service. There were organisations that said that in cases ranging from Sir David Higgins, formerly at the Olympic Delivery Authority to the National Audit Office—my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn touched on this—two people have been in charge and they have been able to make it work. I believe that it can work. While the Clerk is head of the House service, the executive committee is chaired by the DG: both have a direct line to the Speaker;
Let me move on to the appointment of the Clerk. We have heard that in previous times, a piece of paper was passed up to the Speaker and two names, or even just one name, were given to the Speaker to choose. That cannot be right in the 21st century. Judges used to be appointed by a tap on the shoulder, and sometimes solicitors and barristers were asked to apply to be judges. That has changed to a much more transparent system. We are moving away from appointing people in the image of their predecessors, and we are looking at different and transferable skills.
I feel that some explanation should be made of how the process will work. There will be a sifting panel—I hope many people will apply, and I have talked in terms of hundreds—that will sift things down to a manageable number. The panel that interviews must shortlist. That provides consistency and continuity, and it has to be done under any equal opportunities proposals. The panel will have a discussion at the shortlisting stage about why they have scored candidates in the way they have against the job description and whether they can draw out certain aspects of the applications that will apply to the job or whether transferable skills are relevant. In my view, the person working most closely with the Clerk and the DG has to sit on the shortlisting and selection panel—and that is the Speaker. That is all set out in paragraph 192 and agreed in the report. The new Clerk will be part of the panel for the DG, as they have to work together.
Let me touch on security aspects, which are also included in the report. We wanted to reassert our rights as Members. While the security of Parliament is of fundamental importance, we need clear governance arrangements to ensure that, except in an immediate emergency, security concerns should never override a Member’s constitutional right of access to Parliament or any other privilege. Protections must be in place to ensure that Members’ communications are not subject to interference, including surveillance and interception. We consider that the governance of security arrangements should be subject to approval by both Houses and that security policy should be a regular item on the agendas of the joint meetings of the Commission and the House Committee. Between those meetings, whenever they happen, there should an effective executive oversight body, as set out in paragraph 129.
In conclusion, this is a place of work that should be accessible to those who need to understand it and who send us here—but sometimes it is not accessible. We should be able to conduct our work on behalf of our constituents in an efficient and timely manner. I thank the people who have been acting up in their role in the absence of the chief Clerk while the Governance Committee has been meeting. It is important that there is a framework in which Members and staff know the limits and know what is required, what action needs to be taken and what the outcome will be, so that things are just not left to the whim of a manager—there must always be accountability to the Commission and, ultimately, the Speaker and Deputy Speakers who are the public face of the House.
We have evidence showing where you have intervened, Mr Speaker. When the pay deal was stuck, the trade union leader appealed to you and that moved things forward. I also want to mention the idea of screening “12 Years a Slave” with the director, Steve McQueen, actually standing in Speaker’s House. That is remarkable, and it happened following a request from the diversity group, which was agreed by you, Mr Speaker.
I hope Members find this report workable—and workable now. There is a will to change and the staff now expect something to be done. We heard from Mark Hutton, the Committee Clerk, that there has been an extended print run, and I understand that it is selling faster than the books by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn!
I feel that I have learned about this place, and heard from Members and staff alike that we will all rise to the challenge and make this an even more historic week. I thank my colleagues on the Committee for their support, and I commend the report to the House.
I begin with an apology, as I may have to leave early to attend the repeat of the Simon de Montfort Parliament in the chapter house of Westminster Abbey.
I join other members of the Committee in thanking the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), who was an absolutely brilliant Chairman and incredibly smooth in getting us to agree when there were bits of disagreement and in bringing people together. As a Member who was elected only in 2010, I was interested to watch someone who is an expert in his craft. He operated the Committee incredibly well.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), who was a terrific member of the Committee. Although I will not mention every member of the Committee, I hope that she will take it as a compliment when I say that she was very much the grit that allowed the oyster to produce a pearl. While our Chairman was doing his silky stuff, for which other members of the Committee might have fallen slightly more easily, the hon. Lady ensured that we were kept up to the mark and that things were rigorously questioned and not just accepted. Her membership was crucial to our unanimously agreed report.
The report was important because we were tackling complex issues. The fundamental purpose of this place is to be a legislature, but we must be run in as efficient a way as possible. We have a duty to the public purse; we should not spend money carelessly. We have to ensure that we are run efficiently so that members of the public can come here. It is a very important constitutional right that our constituents can turn up in Central Lobby on any day of the week when the House is sitting and demand to see their Member of Parliament, to ask their MP to behave in a particular way. That means that the general operation needs to be smooth running in admitting people and providing some element of hospitality.
We also have to get legislation through, which I sometimes regret, saying that an awful lot of legislation is bad and it would not necessarily be a bad thing if we were a little less efficient. On the other hand, the Government need to be able to get their business through the House, and they need the authority and expertise that is brought to them by the Clerks.
I hold the Clerks in the highest regard. They were referred to in some of the evidence that we received as a “priestly caste”, and I rather like that view of them. As a Catholic, I have always been taught that one should not criticise or question priests unduly, because they have that high authority. Oddly, in the priestly class of Clerk, that is important. There are 650 Members of Parliament, all of whom, individually and jointly, think that they know best. They think that, having read one page of “Erskine May”—which is about what I have done—they have suddenly become experts on every aspect of procedure, and are willing to challenge Clerks with 40 years’ experience.
Those bewigged figures have an authority through their learning, their length of service and, indeed, their appearance—an authority that is accepted by Members, and that allows the business of the House to progress—and anything that we did in our report had to preserve that. However, we had also observed that some aspects of the House were not running as efficiently and as smoothly as might have been hoped, partly because of the absurd burden that was placed on someone who was performing the job of both Clerk and chief executive.
I happen to dislike the title “chief executive”. I think it is part of a title inflation that has affected every organisation. Even in a two-man band, one of the two has to be the chief executive. It has become part of a culture of flattery, and of raising things that do not necessarily need to be raised, which I find broadly disagreeable. None the less, the title had been introduced, and it meant that one person was expected to do absolutely everything. For instance, people would contact him if they were upset about the gymnasium. I must confess that nothing has ever worried me about any gymnasium at all. I never go near such places. I think that raising one’s hand to hail a taxi is quite enough exercise for any individual day.
That sounds far too energetic, but never mind.
The fact that a chief executive was being bombarded with petty requests meant, inevitably, that the job was becoming unmanageable. The number of people who were coming in, and the growth in the business that was going on, meant that the role needed to be divided. However, as we observed while the Committee was sitting, there are occasions when matters that we think are completely routine and entirely administrative suddenly become constitutional.
I was a member of a private Member’s Bill Committee. When I turned up, I found that the Committee Room had been hired out for—I don’t know—a tiddlywinks contest; certainly not for any parliamentary activity. Although everyone knows that the business of legislative Committees takes priority over any other business that is going on in a Committee Room—which is quite right—dealing with that is a clerkly role, not an administrative role. The more one thought about it, the clearer it became that it was impossible for the head administrator to be above the head constitutional person, but also that the head administrator needed to have enormous authority and clout in order to get things done.
One of our fascinating discoveries—this happened when I was talking to members of staff with the hon. Member for Walsall South—was that no one actually knows how anything is decided in this illustrious place. I had a great conversation with a gentleman from Portcullis House, which, as some of us know, is that remote office space that takes us away from the Chamber, about a room booking. He said that one person had told him that drink could be served but not food, another person had told him that neither could be served, and the Speaker had said that both were allowed. I said to him “Well, who did you follow?” You will be glad to know, Mr Speaker, that he quite rightly replied “Mr Speaker, of course.” For all the governance that may be put into this place, there are authorities which are not necessarily written down, but which carry—rightly, in my view—a great deal of weight, and the director general needs to be in that position.
The right hon. Member for Blackburn mentioned that we had bandied about titles when we were discussing what the director general ought to have been called. I had various favourites. I went through the list of titles in the Royal Household from which I thought we might be able to learn. We briefly considered “comptroller”, with a “p”, but that was rejected, eventually and somewhat reluctantly, after I had a discussion—with the leave of the Committee—with a journalist, the great Brendan Carlin of The Mail on Sunday. [Interruption.] I believe that it is traditional not to recognise the Galleries, but never mind.
I asked Brendan Carlin whether we would be teased if we used the title “comptroller”. He immediately said to me “fat”, and I am afraid that the image of Thomas the Tank Engine diverted us from “comptroller”. My other favourite was “grand bailiff”, but I regret to say that “grand bailiff” got no takers. So director general became the title: a title that carries implicit authority, power and prestige, but does not confuse the operation of a Parliament with an intrusion of the private sector that is entirely unnecessary.
This place cannot have a chief executive. When the chief executive of BP—and goodness, Lord Browne’s evidence was impressive—says “Go”, his minions “goeth”. When the chief executive of the House of Commons says to a Member of Parliament “Go”, the Member of Parliament—however new, however humble, however diffident—says “Why?” If 650 employers, effectively, are not willing to be told to go, a very different role is needed: a role that requires more tact and subtlety and understanding. The private sector comparisons were therefore not the correct ones. I think that we have got this big task absolutely right. We have made the role manageable, but we have maintained the primacy of Parliament and the primacy of the legislative process.
As for the other aspects with which we have dealt, it is not, I suppose, that unusual for a mini-crisis to lead to a process that uncovers matters that can be significantly improved. The administration of the House of Commons, although in the hands of very impressive and capable people, was an enormous mystery to anyone who had not served on the House of Commons Commission. I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall South in that regard.
When we looked at the organogram—which is an ugly word, to be honest—we had no idea who was reporting to whom about what, and I think that one of our major tasks is to cut that structure down so that it is understandable. That is not just important to Members of Parliament, because it is very easy for them to have their views heard. They have opportunities to question the Leader of the House, to send messages to the Speaker, and to speak directly to the Clerk. A Member of Parliament has access to where authority lies. However, the employees of the House—the staff of the House—need to know who makes a decision, and whether that decision is authoritative or merely a suggestion made by someone higher up in the pecking order than them, but not high up enough to make the decision authoritative. I think that if we cut down the administration and simplify it, we will have clear lines of command that everyone will be able to understand, and better engagement with the people who work in the building.
I want to make one point on the relationship with the other place—with the noble Lords. I understand why their lordships are very nervous about this place trying to grab power from them. If I were in that place rather than in this place I would take the same view: that the House of Commons—by virtue of ultimately controlling the purse strings and by having the democratic mandate—is always in a position to peer over at what their lordships are doing. Although the champagne story may have been legendary if not mythical—anyway, I think their lordships ought to drink the highest quality of champagne; after all, if you’re a Lord, you must have some privilege of peerage—their lordships need to maintain their independence because they do not want to be a subsidiary Chamber. They are a second Chamber—the second Chamber—but not a subsidiary Chamber. In their procedures, and sometimes in aspects that do not immediately seem procedural but may have procedural implications, their lordships will want to keep their independence. We as the lower House must be incredibly tactful and diffident in how we deal with them. It is not for us to tell them what to do; it is for us to make tactful and polite suggestions. If we do that, we may, I hope, be able to maintain a good working relationship, but we must ensure that we do not appear to be engaged in a power grab.
I am honoured to have served on the Committee, which was very good and worked speedily. I am glad that today we are debating our report and that the Leader of the House and First Secretary of State is so generously allowing us time. He does not allow us time for some other things, but he is being very good in this respect. It is a happy coincidence that the former Clerk of this House, Lord Lisvane, was introduced to their lordships’ House earlier today. If he has read this report, I hope he thinks it is up to the standard of the reports issued when he was still in office.
The hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) will be pleased to know that he is not in a minority of one when it comes to the gym. I am not altogether certain where it is located, and I cannot confess that I have much interest, but I recognise that it serves a very good purpose for many Members and, indeed, staff, which is the important point. The hon. Gentleman and I are not likely to agree over wigs and costumes, however; if only we would all recognise we are now in the 21st century.
I commend the report and the work that has been put into it. A great deal has rightly been said about my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and his colleagues. They have undoubtedly produced a report on which, so far at least, there has been unanimous agreement, and I am not going to voice dissension.
The point is made in the report that we do not seek to be elected because of a wish to run the House. Indeed, at election time that is about the last thing on our minds. When the next campaign begins in a few weeks, running the House of Commons will not be one of the issues that we will raise with constituents. It is not likely that anyone wishes to come here to be Speaker or Deputy Speaker or to chair internal Committees. Nevertheless, the place could not function without Members being willing to take on such responsibilities. While we have the privilege—it is always a privilege—of being Members here, we have a collective overall responsibility, albeit fortunately not a day-to-day one, for the building, for appointments and for the functioning of this place. That is not an overall responsibility that we can give to Officers.
Of course we would not be debating this issue at all—there would have been no Committee in the first place—if the previous procedure for appointing a Clerk had been adopted. A proposal, which I shall not go into, caused a great deal of controversy. A motion was tabled and debated, and then the Committee was appointed—and all of that arose entirely because of the original suggestion that was made.
In paragraph 59 of the report mention is made of how in 2006 two names were put before the then Speaker by the retiring Clerk, from which a choice was made, and I recall that the current Speaker made a statement to the House on 30 June 2011 in which he told us that—from a panel of five, so it was not as in 2006—an appointment had been duly made. He made that announcement to the House and we cheered accordingly. I do not in any way question the way in which those two Clerks carried out their duties, and it is quite likely that under the new recommended appointment proposals those two individuals would have been appointed, so I am not questioning their credibility or the manner in which they carried out their jobs. The important point is the manner in which they were appointed, which was surely unacceptable then, and even more so now. I very much welcome the more complex and thorough method now being recommended for appointing the Clerk, which I am sure will be adopted.
Although the new appointment process will rightly be more thorough and complex, I would like—I hope this is not too daring a suggestion—Members generally to have a say. Would it be totally out of the question to have hustings? That happened last time for those who wanted to be Speaker, and it would have been unthinkable before. Moreover, why not have a pre-confirmation hearing before the Public Administration Committee for the successful applicant for the post of Clerk of the House of Commons? The recommendation would be made, and the person recommended would go before that Committee. In my view, there is a case to be made for that approach, although the report does not uphold that view, which is perhaps unfortunate.
If it is considered inappropriate for the person to be appointed Clerk to go before a pre-confirmation hearing—as I say, I see no reason why it should be—what about the new director general of the House of Commons? Is there a particular reason why that should not be done?
I think there is a reason why that should not be done: that would then be substituting the judgment of one set of Members for another set. In both cases, they would be Members of this House and there is no obvious reason why the Public Administration Committee should have a better view of who should be appointed than the appointing Committee.
That point was made to me informally when I raised the issue with a Member who has some responsibility in this regard. I am not altogether convinced that it is written in holy scripture that, because one Committee has made a recommendation, it cannot be looked at by another Committee. However, as I said, the Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn did not take up the suggestion.
In my view, it is sensible that, although the two posts will involve equal—if very different—responsibilities, the Clerk should be the more senior of the two. So much must depend on the way in which the two individuals—the Clerk of the House and the director general of the House of Commons—will be able to function, day by day. The last thing we want is a turf war: disputes about who should be responsible for a, b and c, and who for x, y and z. That would take us back to square one, or indeed worse. So it is absolutely essential that, when the appointments are made, there is a clear understanding that these are two individuals who can get on together, recognise their different functions and serve the House of Commons as it should be served.
During the last debate on this subject, I was one of those who argued that being Clerk of the House of Commons, with all the authority and understanding of its procedures that that involves, and handling the day-to-day administration are completely different functions. I am very pleased that the view is shared by a number of Members on both sides of the House, and was clearly upheld by the Committee, that these are different functions that should be performed by two different individuals.
Finally, I turn to the restoration and renewal of the building, which a number of Members have mentioned. It is absolutely essential—indeed, there is no more important issue for the new Parliament elected in May to get to grips with as soon as possible. In November 2012, we had a general debate on House of Commons facilities, at which I took the opportunity to refer to a report that mentioned such problems as widespread water penetration—more evidence of which we have seen just outside the Chamber today—and asbestos all over the building. The report also stated that the mechanical and electrical services were defective, and it should be a matter of even greater concern that it identified a high fire risk.
When the necessary overhaul work has been agreed to, there will no doubt be complaints because it is costing a very large sum of money. People will write in to ask whether the money could not have been spent on more important things, but we will have to make the point that vast sums are already being spent every year to try to keep the building in a condition in which it can function on a daily basis. This is not a matter of a few minor defects. The building is not fit for the 21st century, and it is dangerous in its present condition.
I hope that, when the new Parliament is elected, it will get down and do the necessary planning work. I agree that a new delivery service will be required, and I cannot see that being undertaken by the new Clerk and the new director general of the House of Commons. I do not believe that that should be their job; rather, as has been suggested, there should be a structure similar to the one that helped to put on the Olympics so successfully. I have no doubt that the report will be accepted; there does not seem to be any dissension. Once the two main appointments have been made, the first priority of the new Parliament regarding internal matters must be to decide how and when the work is to be carried out, as it will undoubtedly involve the evacuation of this building for a few years at least.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I hope that it is appropriate for me to inform the House that, while we have been having this debate, news has emerged that Lord Brittan of Spennithorne, Leon Brittan, has passed away. Many of us who have known him for a long time will know that he had been ill for many months, but this is a sad moment to receive this news. He was my predecessor as Member of Parliament for Richmond (Yorks), which is why I particularly want to pay tribute to him as a former Member of this House and former Home Secretary. He was a kind, assiduous and brilliant man, and I know that the whole House will join me in sending our deepest condolences to his wife, Diana, at this difficult time.
I echo the sentiments that the Leader of the House has just expressed. I am sure that we all feel the same sense of sorrow on hearing that Lord Brittan has passed away.
I rise to support the motion as a member of the Governance Committee. I little thought at the outset of this process that we would end up where we have, or with as happy and constructive a result. My original goal in tabling an early-day motion on the clerkship nomination was simply to allow colleagues to express their concerns about the nomination, which has now been terminated. This came after my noble Friend Baroness Boothroyd had fired a majestic broadside of her own on the topic, in her own inimitable fashion.
Such are the vagaries of life that, in late August last year, I was in the middle of a series of walks to raise money for two outstanding local charities, the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford and the Midlands Air Ambulance, and I vividly recall standing at the cairn on the top of the Cat’s Back on the Offa’s Dyke path in the Black mountains, looking out over my gorgeous constituency and—if one can imagine such a movement from the sublime to the ridiculous—calling the House of Commons to table my early-day motion from there. That was a very rare example of successful rural mobile telecommunications, although I know that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is even now straining every sinew to improve those communications. But supported by you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and this House, the mysterious alchemy of Parliament has transmuted my original concern and that of others from base alloy into the gold of careful constitutional reform, and for that we have enormous reason to be grateful.
I do not propose to comment in any great detail on the substance of this report, except in one regard to which I shall come. But one key point needs to be made now, and it is a point that we should recall as we continue the debate. It is that the Committee came down overwhelmingly in favour of a single unified service. There is, at the heart of that idea, a balance that must be struck between the accountability to which the Clerk is entitled from the director general and the delineated areas of autonomy that the director general exercises as head of the executive committee. It is in that balance and harmony that the subtlety of the report and the recommendation lies, and it is in the success of that harmony that ultimately the balance of the good management of this House stands to be assessed.
I wish to join colleagues who have acknowledged the brilliance of the Chair of the Governance Committee. He was a model Chairman. Remarkable as it may seem to those who think about how much time he has spent in Cabinets and shadow Cabinets, he cut a comparatively naive and youthful figure as the Chair of a Select Committee. None the less, he did preside over a model of judicious, inclusive and yet rapid consultation. We took evidence from a vast and diverse array of people, which included Mr Speaker and the Deputy Speakers, many colleagues and executives from this House, senior executives from the other House, outside experts, Clerks, our magnificent doorkeepers, security personnel, and our brilliant librarians who struggle to keep us all up to the mark with information. Perhaps the highlight was a fascinating session we had with 60 very thoughtful and committed members of staff across all levels and functions of the House. It will astonish Members to know that the remarkable achievements of the Committee are all the more remarkable given the Chairman’s commitment to the House of Commons gym.
The point came through time and again that the House of Commons is an institution unlike any other. Many people talked about the sheer difficulty of managing 650 autonomous Members of Parliament, each in effect running a small business and responding to their constituents’ concerns. That managerial challenge has been magnified over time by the increased constituency workloads of Members of Parliament; the rising numbers of their staff; heightened security concerns; the drive to make Parliament more accessible; and the need to renew the crumbling fabric of the Palace of Westminster. None the less, many witnesses testified that the House was, in general, well managed. They said that that was increasingly so in recent years.
It is important to note that we also came across areas where improvement was needed. I am talking about areas where we found poor management, unclear or overlapping responsibilities, clashing priorities, slow decision-making, lack of implementation of agreed actions, and inconsistent strategic direction. In particular, the crucial relationship between the senior statutory body, the Commission and the Management Board was not working well. All those matters have been addressed in the Committee’s report.
For me, this experience has served to ram home one key message, which is that the British constitution relies on the effective functioning of Parliament. Time and again, witnesses emphasised that it is the parliamentary function of this House that is, and must ever be, primary. The role of the Clerk is absolutely fundamental. He or she acts as the final word in procedural matters for a host of other Parliaments across the Commonwealth. When I opened the debate on the motion that established the Committee, I said that contrary to popular belief, parliamentary procedure—the rules of the game—is not some pettifogging accretion or irrelevant decoration to the business of government; it is the essence of government. This country is governed by laws, and laws are made in Parliament, and that Parliament is run according to rules and procedure. Without procedure, there could be no government.
In retrospect, I have one, and just one, regret, which it is important to place on the record. Having reflected further, I believe that the Committee could and should have recommended that the name of the candidate for Clerk should be presented in an address by Parliament to the monarch, signed perhaps by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, instead of the present system, which the Committee has left intact, whereby a letter goes to No. 10 Downing street and so to Buckingham palace. This is, after all, a purely parliamentary matter that does not concern the Executive directly at all. An address would be a cleaner and more transparent approach that would not permit a nomination to be made as it was made last year unless Parliament were sitting. I hope that that idea can be revisited by the House in future years.
I think that it is fair to say that I have established a national and perhaps even intercontinental reputation for being a bore about one of our predecessors, Edmund Burke, and the deep insights he still brings to politics and to government. Burke is the Paul Scholes of modern politics: just when the game is fizzling out and the crowd desperately needs a goal, he has an uncanny way of ghosting into the enemy’s penalty area and slotting the ball home. He does so again here. Scattered across his writings, Burke gives us seven tests of reform, seven ways by which we can judge the quality or temper of a given set of political measures over and above how we collectively and individually might feel about them.
For Burke, reform should be early, anticipating the emergence of a problem before its full effect are felt. It should be proportionate to the evil to be addressed to limit collateral effects. It should build on existing arrangements and previous reforms so that it can draw on any lessons learned from them. It should be measured, so that those making the change and those affected by it can adjust their behaviour appropriately. It should be consensual, so that it can be lasting over time regardless of changes of Administration. It should be cool in spirit, to maintain consensus throughout the process of change and, finally, every step of it must be practical and achievable in itself.
The Committee’s recommendations satisfy at least six and possibly all seven of the tests laid down by Burke and I do not think that they can have any higher recommendation than that. This is reform in the spirit of reform.
I conclude by thanking the Chairman of the Committee and my colleagues on it, the Committee staff, who did a superb job, and the Members and staff of the Commons, who will have the thankless task of making these reforms work.
It is a pleasure to follow a thoughtful Burkean speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), who kick-started the process that led up to the report from a hill top in his constituency. It was just over four and a half months ago that we debated his motion, which set up the Committee. I join him in congratulating the Chair and, indeed, the Committee on a first-class piece of work. It is appropriate that we should debate the report this week, when we are focusing on how Parliament has evolved over time.
I want to make a very brief contribution. The Governance Committee represents a new approach to the issue in the sense touched on by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), as the previous reviews have been led by people outside Parliament with no direct stake in the outcome—Ibbs, Braithwaite and Tebbit. This approach was intrinsically led by people in the thick of it. The previous reviews had no time pressures, but, as I said in the debate that established it, this review had a challenging deadline. The quality of the report shows that we should not underestimate the capacity of this House to tackle complex issues seriously, promptly and in a collegiate way.
I draw a parallel between this report and the report of the Wright Committee at the end of the last Parliament. A Select Committee was set up right at the end of that Parliament alongside the existing Select Committees that had a specific remit, reported promptly and produced a groundbreaking report charting the way forward and leading to long-term improvements to how this place works. The Straw report will join the Wright report in the history of how this place is reformed.
Part of the success of the Governance Committee was its size—eight—and there is a lesson there for other Select Committees whose effectiveness can be diminished by their size. They become too large to manage and the law of diminishing returns kicks in, in my view, somewhere above 10. I commend the members of the Committee for their attendance record, which was exemplary.
Before dealing with the substance of the report, I want to mention three matters briefly in passing. First, I have a minor quibble with paragraph 200, which says:
“One of the consequences of the reforms introduced by the Wright Committee is that there is no clear route by which House business reaches the floor of the House”.
In fact, the Wright Committee could not have been clearer. It states:
“Backbenchers should schedule backbench business. Ministers should give up their role in the scheduling of any business except that which is exclusively Ministerial business”.
To my knowledge, there has never been a problem about allocating time for Standards and Privileges or Procedure Committee reports. I welcome the rather tactful letter of the Leader of the House pointing out this minor error.
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was here earlier today, but there was an exchange between the Leader of the House and me about timetabling, because a large number of reports await debate, some of which have been waiting for more than 18 months.
None the less, the Wright Committee could not have been clearer. A certain number of days a year are allocated to the Backbench Business Committee specifically for the purpose of debating Select Committee reports. The Government, generously, have made additional time available over and above that which they had to, and that shows the generosity of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in going beyond what he had to do to facilitate debate.
Secondly, I very much support the proposal in paragraph 138 that we should make wider use of the Deputy Speakers. This is a good week in which to make the point, because looking at the number of commemorative events taking place, it is impossible for Mr Speaker to represent the House at all of them, and it would be absolutely right for the Deputy Speakers to do so in his place. Pressure will continue throughout the year. The Deputy Speakers, as I am sure you will agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, are experienced parliamentarians who have a mandate from the House and are an underused asset.
My third minor point touches on paragraph 144, which states:
“The overlap between F&S and Administration is unfortunate”.
It goes on to make the point that
“Finance can never be separated entirely from services”.
The Chairmen of both Committees are rightly praised for their work in this Parliament, but given that services and the money that pays for them can never be separated, I ask myself whether, in the longer term, we need to have two separate Committees of MPs, neither of which has an executive role, but both of which advise the Commission. That might be something to revisit.
The key question addressed by the report appears at the foot of paragraph 68, which states:
“Some Members argued that the Clerk…should be the senior post. Other Members argued for two separate posts…of equal status”.
Looking at the questions that the Committee asked, it was clear that both sides of the argument were held in the Committee. Skilful chairmanship and a willingness to compromise enabled the Committee to produce a unanimous report, for which the House is grateful.
The Committee’s proposals appear not in chapter 5, headed “Our proposals”, which contains three tentative suggestions, but in chapter 6. Eight words at the end of paragraph 156 encapsulate the skilful settlement negotiated by the Chair to achieve a unanimous report:
“The Director General would chair the Executive Committee.”
But on that Committee sits the Clerk, who is the line manager of the director general and the head of the House service. The Clerk remains the accounting officer, is responsible for providing strategic leadership to the service overall, but he is a junior partner on the executive committee responsible for doing this. The House of Commons Library says that the executive committee’s role
“is to lead the House of Commons Service by setting its strategic aims, priorities, values and standards, in accordance with the decisions of the House of Commons Commission; approving business and financial plans, ensuring controls, managing risk, monitoring performance and making corporate policy decisions.”
Those are key responsibilities. Chairing it will mean leading the discussion, achieving a consensus, and, at times, possibly taking a different view from the Clerk.
I do not say that that cannot work; there may be other examples where a subordinate chairs a committee on which his boss sits. But my eye was caught by that because it sits a little uneasily with the injunctions at the beginning of the report about clarity. Paragraph 8:
“Governance must start with clarity”.
“Governance…must deliver clear decision-making”.
“There is normally a single senior executive—a single head—who then delegates specific responsibilities further down the organisation.”
“those who are accountable”—
the Clerk will remain accountable—
“must have the ability to manage that for which they are accountable, and therefore a single line of command, at executive level, is critically important.”
I understand why the Committee ended up where it did, and I am not saying that the proposal cannot work. Indeed, the report mentions other examples, such as the Olympic Delivery Authority. Key will be a determination to make it work. The fact that the Clerk will have a role to play in choosing the director general is very helpful. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire summed it up when he said that success will depend on harmony.
That is the only part of the report that one needs to keep an eye on, and I understand why we arrived at that decision. Subject to that, I think this is a brilliant piece of work and I am grateful to the Committee and the chair for producing it. I hope we can now build on it and move forward.
I join all those who have contributed to the debate in thanking members of the Committee, particularly its Chair, and congratulating them on the quality of their work. I am astonished that the report was completed in the time that was taken without sacrificing quality and thoroughness. I had suspected, with my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), that extensions might be needed, as has sometimes proved to be the case in the past, so I contribute to the unanimity of praise.
I welcome the direction of travel outlined by the Committee. I shall comment on one or two details in a moment. The Committee has provided an elegant solution to the immediate problem which triggered its being set up. I have come to the conclusion slowly and perhaps reluctantly over the years that it was time that we separated the responsibilities of the Clerk from those of the chief executive. We must put Parliament first. That is the core reason for our existence, but running this place has become an enormous business. We need someone of great skill and experience to take charge of the business side of the House of Commons.
The former Clerk, Sir Robert Rogers, still believes that the two posts could be combined, and I agree with him that whoever takes the job of the director general must very quickly understand the House of Commons. I have found over the past few years that there has been suspicion and sometimes anger among colleagues about what is happening around them. They sometimes feel that the position of Member of Parliament has been downgraded, that they do not have a chance to make their voice heard on particular matters, and that decisions are taken and they have to put up with them. That has not been the happiest of circumstances.
I warmly welcome the report because it has gone further than the initial task by offering a joined-up system of governance, which may help to overcome the difficulty that I have just described. On the basis of my experience over the past four and a half years, I believe we need a joined-up system among the professionals who serve us, and a joined-up system among the management side and Members and everyone else with an interest in this place.
I think of the Cromwell Green entrance, which is a saga in itself. It was designed with a capacity that quickly proved inadequate, and had more money spent on it to increase that capacity. It is approached by a ramp which is uncovered. The lack of capacity has meant that visitors to this place, a substantial proportion of whom are the electorate who put us here, have been kept waiting for inordinate lengths of time in all weathers. We are told, whether by Westminster city council or by English Heritage, that as things stand we may not cover that ramp—yet this is a sovereign Parliament. It is a ludicrous situation. Why was that not thought of from the very beginning and the construction done in such a way that there could have been a cover that would not offend English Heritage or others?
I think of the roof of Portcullis House, which is a much more recent construction. We were advised that those who planned it were looking to have a building that would last for 200 years. Unfortunately, they did not secure a guarantee that the glass roof would last anything like that length of time in service. That has, I am afraid, given rise to problems that should have been anticipated, with guarantees obtained. It is beautiful, but unfortunately it has shown some weaknesses.
The joining up between our managers and Members is important, without our getting into ridiculous situations of micro-management. If we have good professional people, at some point or other we have to respect their judgment and hope that the framework is sufficiently robust that we have a strong guarantee that that judgment is sound.
This is about more than ensuring that the arrangements—the mechanics—allow us to achieve sensible decision making. We have to accept that this is an extraordinarily difficult place to govern because there are so many different interests on the Estate to begin with. Members, understandably, see themselves as foremost. The hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) referred to the status that having been elected to this place as a representative of the people gives a person as something that surely has to carry some weight within the order of things in this building. But of course we respect the fact that the needs of our own personal staff helping us to do our work are different from those of the Members they serve. There is the huge parliamentary staff, at all the different levels, on whom we depend. Conflicting arrangements have to be thought about. Members cannot necessarily always say that everything must be called to their tune.
We also have to take account of the electorate. It is our policy to welcome the electorate here. Unlike in days of old when the Member of Parliament made an annual visit to his constituency to be fully briefed on what was going on before coming rapidly back to London, we are now welcoming tens of thousands—hundreds of thousands—of our electorate to Westminster. Unfortunately, that creates certain difficulties of access that do not appear to have been completely successfully thought through.
Beyond that, there are the general visitors. Apart from being an iconic palace and a world heritage site, we have the distinction of claiming to be one of the leading visitor attractions in London. People want to come here, and we should be flattered by that fact. Indeed, we should be flattered by the fact that people want to come to London. We therefore have to think how, without in any sense lessening the dignity of the place, we can facilitate the interests of the people who want to come and see what they regard as the mother of Parliaments at the very heart of representative democracy.
Mention has been made of the other place. I absolutely agree with the line of argument in the Committee’s report that we have to seek further co-operative measures and perhaps unify more of the services. I have enjoyed a very cordial and constructive relationship with my opposite number, latterly the noble Lord Sewel. There are undoubtedly certain things that one can achieve for general convenience, although not everybody knows what they are. For example, Members of the House of Commons do not seem to realise that they are able to book a table in the Barry Room in the House of Lords if they are looking for an alternative type of meal to that which they might find in the Commons side of the building. We need to go further than that, and very realistic questions have been asked.
Bearing in mind all the different demands on the palace, we always have to think of security. It has been ramped up at various times in the past few years, which can create considerable difficulties in satisfying the free movement and protection of Members and those who work here, while at the same time allowing us to give freedom of access to our constituents and visitors in general. Some very difficult management decisions have to be taken, and I suspect that, if we are going to square the circle, it is inevitable that more expenditure will be involved.
I have the odd quibble. There has been absolutely no collusion between me and my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), but I agree with the two particular points he made and I am slightly surprised that he pinched the analogy that I was going to use. More thought might have been given to the determination of roles for the other two proposed Commons commissioners. I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), because I think that a clear distinction can be drawn between the role of the portfolio holder for administration and that of the portfolio holder for finance: finance is about determining budgets, while administration tries, within those approved budget heads, to work out the details of how to go about meeting the requirements that have been set.
Remuneration is also an issue. If two Commons commissioners are going to receive a stipend and two are not, that is a slightly inelegant situation. Many Members know of my interest in cricket, and it occurs to me that if two commissioners are going to receive a payment and two are not, that invokes the distinction between gentlemen and players that existed in the world of cricket until 1962.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross drew an analogy with the Panel of Chairs. I had a great deal to do with the introduction of remuneration for Members who joined the panel. They are required to be available at any time to chair a Committee. It might last five minutes or two and a half hours, but they have a duty to be there so that the functions of the House can be completed, and those who take on the chairmanship of more complex Public Bill Committees are committed for weeks to that particular task. They receive remuneration, so the proposal under discussion seems odd. I know it is possible to say, “Other anomalies would be created if you did that,” and I know that we would expose ourselves to the argument that we are just trying to find ways to spend money, but the question should be asked in order to make sure that we get this right.
Perhaps I should offer a clarification. All four will be equal members of the Commission. Two of the roles have been allocated specific tasks and the other two will also be given tasks, one of which could be restoration and renewal and the other human resources. All four are of equal status and they will all get remuneration and have tasks allocated to them. They were going to be allocated those tasks by the Commission, but now, according to the motion, two of them will be elected separately. Nevertheless, all four have equal status.
I do not dispute the fact that they have equal status; it is just that it is possible that they are not going to get equal remuneration. The portfolios could end up being different from those the hon. Lady has just instanced; my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, for example, made some suggestions. All I said was that the issue might be given further thought. I certainly do not disagree with the general set-up.
Finally, we must recognise that a huge gap has to be bridged. There is a lack of understanding among many different groups of people about what can be done and what is available in the House. It sometimes takes years for a Member to realise what things can be done and how to do them. Decisions are not communicated very effectively, and we have not found the best ways of communicating them.
If our communications within the House are poor, those outside it are lamentable because we are not exactly assisted by the press. They are willing to put out stories that are good to read, but do not necessarily bear any resemblance to accuracy. I find it extremely irritating that what they give as facts are simply untrue, yet are repeated and repeated in a way that denigrates this place.
I am proud that we give our work force the opportunity to have meals and refreshments that are to some extent subsidised, because that practice is commonplace in many other institutions, both private and public. To be sneered at because there is a cost to the public purse is to diminish Parliament and all those who work here with great dedication.
To the extent that we caused the expenses scandal, we inflicted a collective punishment on ourselves. Can the right hon. Gentleman point to a period when this place was not the subject of derision in the media? We all know the sketches written by Charles Dickens and by others before him. As the media would argue, it is part of their job to have a go at us.
Order. That matter goes a little wide of the Committee’s report, and I am conscious that other Members want to speak, so tempting though Mr Winnick’s proposition is, Sir Alan, I hope that you will return to your speech and not respond to it.
Madam Deputy Speaker, that shows I was too generous in giving way to the hon. Gentleman. I could have dismissed his comment in a sentence, but in view of what you have said, I will not even do that.
What I am trying to get at is that if we can establish a system of decision making and management in this place, we can have greater confidence in the decisions that are taken and be more robust in describing them to the outside world. We should be proud of this place, and if we think that we are doing the right things because we have a sound system for achieving the right conclusions, we should be able to say so and be respected for doing so. Indeed, we should promote the good things that happen in this place. Most of the matters on which the greatest amount of money is spent are in fact for the benefit of the general public, the electorate who put us here and those who wish to come here to support us.
I wholeheartedly commend the report, and again thank the Committee members for it.
I am the last member of the Committee in the Chamber to have the opportunity to speak. I must say that, as is so typical of this place, subjects that arrive in a great flurry of indignation and excitement end up as matters of general consensus. Like the proverbial month of March, they roar in like a lion and go out like a lamb. This is such a case, and I would like to think that that has something to do with the work of the Committee.
As many Members have said, the Committee was certainly Stakhanovite in its work: we did a lot of work in a very short time. It reported very quickly. I have to say that in a race with Sir John Chilcot, I know who would be the winner. I would like to think that our views and recommendations were informed by a great deal of careful consideration of what we were told by Members of the House, those outside it who have expertise to share and members of staff. What we decided was based not on personalities or on a critique of the running of this place, but on where there was potential dysfunction in the governance structures and how that could be improved. I hope that that positive hope shines through in the report.
It was by no means a foregone conclusion that we would reach consensus in our deliberations. The House was clearly divided on key issues. There were two camps in respect of where the responsibility should lie, which might be described as the chief executive-ites and the Clerk-ites. There was a sense, to carry the arguments to the absurd, that some were concerned primarily about the running of this place as a building or organisation. To use the words of the old Victoria and Albert Museum slogan, “An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached”, those people saw this place as an ace tourist attraction with quite a nice legislature attached. The risk was that there was no recognition of the essential role of the Clerk of the House, protected by letters patent, in maintaining the legislative integrity of the House and our ability to carry out our core function.
The risk on the other side of the fence was of saying that the Clerk must retain all the current responsibilities of Clerk and chief executive, and that the ancillary issues do not matter very much as long as we are able to perform our legislative and scrutiny functions properly. Effectively, the idea was that everything else was a subsidiary matter that could be done by gifted amateurs, rather than by people with skills in the relevant areas.
I do not think that the Committee accepted either view. By careful synthesis, I hope that what we have come up with achieves the best of both worlds. The fact that, at the end of the day, one of our most difficult decisions was what name to give to the new entity of director general—we swayed from names that seemed excessively corporate to those that were seen to be excessively European, to the rococo, as was mentioned earlier—perhaps shows that the main thrust of what we decided had validity.
As I said, I want to deal with the outcome in respect of governance. It was clear to us that there were dysfunctionalities in the way that this place operated. That was partly because of the executive management. We were investing too wide a range of responsibilities in a single individual. Sometimes, I have to say, those were carried out with great success and aplomb by an individual. That was undoubtedly the case with Sir Robert Rogers. Nevertheless, we were unnecessarily limiting the pool from which we could draw such an individual. That was a clear issue that we had to address.
Secondly, there was vagueness about the relative responsibilities of the House of Commons Commission and the Management Board. There were severe disjunctures between various bodies. For instance, the Commission and the Management Board did not appear to share agendas, and there were no clear reports back on the implementation of Commission decisions on strategy. There was the extraordinary position of the external, non-executive members contributing to what should have been an executive role, rather than those at the strategic tier, which is the Commission. The same issue was replicated in the communications between the two Houses. Many of us found it extraordinary that the House of Commons Commission and the House Committee in another place did not have regular meetings to discuss how we could run the Palace of Westminster in the most effective way.
Then there is the role of the House of Commons Commissioners. I do not have any particular criticisms of the current Commission, although I have voiced criticisms on many occasions in the past of that shadowy body and some of the decisions that were made on our behalf in previous Parliaments. Those decisions contributed in large part to some of the reputational difficulties that the House has had in recent years. I am still appalled when I read in the newspapers that “MPs have decided” something. I think to myself, “No I haven’t. As a Member of Parliament, I haven’t decided anything of the sort.” The Commission may have taken the decision, but it has not yet been reported to me, and there is no clear mechanism for reporting it to me unless I happen to find it out by talking to a Doorkeeper or somebody else. Nor is there a clear mechanism for raising it with my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) or somebody else on the Floor of the House. There is an issue of accountability and visibility there.
Effective evidence was given to us that the Commons Commissioners having clear portfolio roles would be a good thing. My right hon. Friend assisted us greatly in our thinking on that, and I am convinced that it is the case. I look forward to each of the four Commissioners being available when we have Question Time in the House, so that they can answer for their portfolio responsibilities. They must also recognise that Members will stop them outside the House and ask them about their responsibilities. That is the right way of doing things. When I have a difficulty, too often I lumber the poor old Serjeant at Arms with my concerns, because he is there, he is visible and I know I will get an answer. That should not be how things work.
I hope that the Commissioners will be visible and that not only will we have regular reports and a clear strategy, implemented by a strong executive board focused on the role that we have given it, but we will close some of the gaps that are currently filled, for want of anything better, by the Speaker taking decisions. That is not to criticise the decisions that Mr Speaker takes, but simply to criticise the vagueness that leads to too many decisions in the House relying on the quiddities of the incumbent rather than on any clear strategy, procedure or policy. I hope that what we have suggested, if it finds favour today—it sounds as though it will—will strengthen each of the areas that I have mentioned.
I close with two points, the first of which is about the relationship with the other place. I have been told on countless occasions over the years that we have to be careful about how we approach the House of Lords on the subject of shared services, because the Lords are jealous with their services and will shout us down if we try to do anything. Of course they will shout us down if we appear simply to say, “We know best, and we want to take over what the House of Lords does”, and if we do not have proper regard for the fact that it is a separate legislative Chamber with its own procedures. However, I was hugely impressed by the openness and readiness of the Members of the House of Lords to whom we spoke to entertain much greater co-operation. Of course, we already have a fair amount, as the comments of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) showed, but we can take it much further.
I make it plain that it will not be me who does that, because I will be gone. I am bequeathing my opinions to my successors, in the same way as I invited the Leader of the House to do. However, it seems to me that the ways of working that will be necessary to achieve restoration and renewal may well lead to the view that we need, more than anything else other than our legislative function, a common Palace of Westminster service that does much of what we do at the moment but in a more effective and efficient way, answerable to both Houses equally but with combined executive responsibilities.
Finally, I am afraid I must voice a difference of opinion from my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young). As he and I know, we never part company—the only time I can remember us disagreeing was when discussing the voting system in the Lobby. I thought that the middle stream ought to be speeded up, possibly at the expense of people whose names begin with Y who currently have a much quicker passage through the Lobby, but he did not agree—I cannot think why. I always hoped that the Leader of the House might share my view on the issue.
I disagree slightly with my right hon. Friend about the way that business reaches the House. I know it is heresy to disagree with the Wright Committee on any particular, but I do not think it quite got things right. It looked forward to having a proper business of the House committee that incorporated the Executive and the Back Benches, but we do not have that. That is not a criticism of the Government because they have only legislative time available, but the issue needs to be addressed. At the moment, I do not think it is fully understood how little time the Government control, what the demands on the Backbench Business Committee are, and how often it is possible for business of the House to be squeezed out of the process and not given the prompt attention it requires. I would like the Procedure Committee to consider that issue, as suggested.
We have produced an interlocking series of suggestions that the House will be able to implement quickly. I am encouraged by what the Leader of the House said about the speed with which he proposes to address the issues raised, and I repeat what I said in an intervention: when the new Parliament sits, it is essential that it elects a Speaker and Deputy Speakers, and that the next thing it does is elect a House of Commons Commission. We must get the director general’s post in place and make the other necessary reforms to ensure that the system works effectively for Members and staff of the House, and those who wish to visit it. They are all important parts of the equation.
The whole House should be grateful to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) for his work on the House of Commons administration, not least for the masterly way in which he summarised current concerns and controversies and how they have been resolved. He also briefly mentioned a slight dysfunction in co-ordination between the two Houses, and I will conclude my remarks with a small and rather sad recent example of that.
The hon. Gentleman said that there is a great difference between the atmosphere of this debate and the debate held on 10 September, and I agree. It is a measure of the success of the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), and his Committee, that he has managed to reconcile two apparently irreconcilable views, and that the central question of whether it made sense for the leading procedural expert in the House of Commons also to be the chief manager of the House has apparently been decided.
In my intervention on the right hon. Gentleman I asked what would happen if there was disagreement on a matter concerning management—not procedure—between the new director general and the next incumbent of the office of Clerk. If I understood correctly, he said that it would be decided at a level that was, in a sense, above the two of them, and that it would not be a question of the Clerk overruling the director general on a matter of management that by rights ought to be in the sphere of the director general.
In our debate on 10 September, I suggested that the Committee ask itself four questions. I think we will find that those four questions have now been answered. Should a top chief executive officer be expected to be a top procedural adviser, too? The answer is clearly no. Should a top procedural adviser be expected to be a top chief executive officer? The answer is equally no. Should the two roles be combined by default in the future, as they have been in the past? Should the top procedural adviser be allowed, if the roles are separated, to overrule the top chief executive officer on management matters, or vice versa on procedural matters? I think we have learnt that the answer to those two questions is no as well.
My hon. Friend is being typically clear and precise, but the answer to the first two questions is not quite as clear as he suggests. The Committee’s decision was that the roles could be combined by one person and had been combined by one person in the past—that is the evidence for it—but that now, for reasons of other commitments and the development of the House, they should be separated.
I am delighted at the result, even if I do not entirely endorse the reasoning. I wish to say a word of sympathy, if not appreciation, for the situation in which the House of Commons Commission found itself a few months ago. It was faced with either making a single appointment from a very limited pool of top procedural advisers who would become, by default, the director general of the House of Commons—as if by some magical process of osmosis during their rise up the learned ladder of becoming a top procedural adviser they had somehow imbibed the skills needed to be a top chief executive officer or director general—or, alternatively, if it wished to go outside that very limited pool of possible candidates, it had to decide whether it was appropriate for a top manager to sit in the Clerk’s chair without having imbibed, by a reverse magical process of osmosis, the skills required to be a top procedural adviser. That was precisely why the message went out loud and clear, on 10 September last year, that we needed to send for the marvellous negotiating and reconciliation skills of the right hon. Member for Blackburn, to decide once and for all whether the two functions should be separated.
In just a moment, but I want to make one more point. I know my hon. Friend is concerned with the constitutional aspects of this matter, but I am concerned with another aspect. The new arrangement will not work unless the individuals who occupy the two posts—I am glad to see the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) indicating his approval—have their respective roles clearly in their minds. If either of them tries to play games of superior status, the new system will not work. We can construct the best system in the world, but if the people who occupy the top posts are not minded to make it work, it will not be a success.
My hon. Friend shares my view that harmony at the top of the new arrangement will be vital. None the less, there is a very clear arrangement. The Clerk is top dog. The director general reports to the Clerk. The director general has clearly delineated responsibilities: the managerial delivery side. That is the unified structure that has been created and will hopefully be agreed.
The training of the Clerks—I have no interest in revisiting this, and we have generally taken the view in the debate that we will not do so—has not been ignored in previous years, although the Committee came to the view that it could be strengthened. The training of the Clerks has so far enabled the Clerk Assistant to run a department that is roughly 40% of the whole. These people do not arrive at their jobs by some mystical process; there is some structure of responsibility and training by which they achieve their posts. The Committee has decided that that needs to be extended, providing a further rationale for the separation.
My hon. Friend is fighting a gallant rearguard action for the old guard, but if the degree of management skill imbibed previously led to this spectacular spaghetti junction of an organogram of the existing system, there was something deficient in the in-house management training. Any Committee that comes up, by contrast, with something as clear and sensible as the new—
Order. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House a very long time, so he knows that holding up bits of paper and shaking them around adds nothing to the debate. I am sure he can convey in words his frustration at the organisational structure he is waving around on a bit of paper.
Absolutely, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I always care to project my message in as many dimensions in the 21st century as are routinely offered to me.
It is a measure of the success of this Committee that at least two members of my party who were greatly exercised a few months ago about every aspect to do with the appointment of the next Clerk are sufficiently satisfied that they have not felt it necessary to attend or contribute to today’s debate. I presume that their satisfaction has been reflected in the sentiments expressed from both sides of the House.
The hon. Gentleman and I have emphasised the need for the two senior individuals occupying these two senior positions to work together; otherwise a turf war will result, with all the implications that that would have. Does he agree that, despite the difficulties of pre-confirmation and post-confirmation hearings, it would nevertheless be useful if the director general at least, if not the new Clerk, appeared before Members, presumably in the Public Administration Committee, where questioning along the lines we have mentioned could take place?
Yes, I heard that suggestion during the hon. Gentleman’s speech, and I was very impressed with it. I think it will provide an opportunity for the new director general to show his or her ability to stand fast in the face of what might be an overpowering atmosphere of tradition that might otherwise be used to divert him or her from the necessary serious determination that he or she will have to apply to fulfil the job in the future. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion, and I hope it is carried forward.
It is a pity that we have had to go through this roundabout route to get to the obvious conclusion that should have been apparent when it was raised long ago—that these two posts should be separated. It is pity that that could not be agreed before the House of Commons Commission found itself in the position of either having to choose someone who was good at procedure but did not necessarily have the top management skills or to choose someone who was in exactly the reverse position. It has been a long haul and it has taken a roundabout route, but, thanks to the good work of the Committee, we have reached the sensible destination that should have been apparent at the outset.
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome made the point that there is clearly work still to be done in the Palace of Westminster when Members in one House do not liaise terribly well with Members, or counterpart Committees, in the other House. This is a time of anniversaries, and it is with sadness that I note that 17 February this year will be the 100th anniversary of the first committee meeting of the Palace of Westminster rifle club, because it appears that its rifle range in the basement must close as a result—and this is the part that is relevant to the debate—of the determination of the Administration and Works Committee in the other place that important fire safety equipment must be sited there.
That is an example of the dysfunctionality to which the hon. Gentleman referred. The club has been going for 100 years and has members in both Houses, but Members of the House of Commons were not allowed to give any evidence to the Committee that made the decision in the other place. We were referred to a Committee of this House, although the decision was already cut and dried in the House of Lords.
However, the demise—it must be presumed—of that 100-year-old club gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to a member of the Clerk’s Department, Mr Gary Howard. For some two decades, he gave up his lunch hour—his own time—to ensuring that the range was always manned, and that that great facility, sadly soon to be no more, was available to Members and staff of both Houses.
I thank all 14 right hon. and hon. Members who contributed to this very interesting debate. I particularly thank the members of the Committee—which I had the privilege to chair—and the Leader and Deputy Leader of the House.
Before I respond to a few of the points that have been raised, I want to underline the tribute that the Leader of the House paid to his predecessor Leon Brittan, whose passing we heard about earlier this afternoon. I was privileged to be in the House when Leon Brittan was a Member. He was, of course, a member of an opposite party. However, I remember him as a highly intelligent individual, a very good Minister and a very good constituency Member, but also as someone who showed great courtesy and kindness—not least to the new Member for Blackburn, and to many of my colleagues on the Opposition Benches. I send my personal sympathy to his widow, Diana, and to his wider family, and, if I may, I do so on behalf of the Opposition as well.
I had only just heard the news when the right hon. Gentleman delivered it. Let me say for my part that Leon Brittan gave me a great deal of advice and support when I was first embarking on a political career. He was a very kind man, and he gave me so much support. I echo the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Gentleman.
It is odd, but I last met him and his wife in an airport lounge when we were whiling away about three hours as we waited for a late plane. I cannot remember which airport it was, but I do remember that the conversation was very entertaining.
Let me now deal with some of the points that have been made today. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) raised the issue—which was also raised by the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis)—of whether there should be a pre-confirmation hearing, perhaps before the Public Accounts Committee, in respect of the Commission’s decision on whom to appoint as Clerk and as director general. I can see from where the analogy arises, but it will ultimately be a matter for the Commission and then the House when I am not a Member of it. I think the House should have second, third and fourth thoughts about this, because there is a profound difference between this House, via a relevant Committee, holding pre-confirmation hearings in respect of posts that are adjudicators of other institutions—the Comptroller and Auditor General and the ombudsmen, and perhaps, which I would like to see, future appointments for Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons and for the probation service—and this post, which is internal to the House, and where one Committee of the House will already have made a decision.
However, one way of meeting the sentiment reflected by my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman would be to consider the suggestion from the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman), which is that in place of having the recommendation for the Clerk to go to the Palace via No. 10, it should be done on a Loyal Address—in other words, directly. Were there to be another near train-wreck of an appointment—if I may put it delicately in that way—there would be an opportunity for the House, by the process of it having to come before the House, to have second thoughts. In most cases, of course, it would go off without any question. I have had these conversations privately with the hon. Gentlemen.
I used to have to sign loads of warrants addressed to Her Majesty for judicial and ecclesiastical appointments which then had to go off to No. 10. In the end I managed to persuade this House that we could bypass No. 10 because I think the Prime Minister of the day—I will not say which one it was—thought he had other, rather more pressing matters on his plate than signing a great pile of warrants, and I could see his point. I think the House ought to consider that.
I have listened very carefully to my right hon. Friend, and no doubt what he has suggested will be given due consideration. May I simply say to him that years ago—certainly when we came into the House and before—the very idea that anyone wishing to be Speaker should be subject to hustings would have been absolutely unthinkable? Would it be out of the question for the two most senior positions to also be subject to some sort of sessions at which Members generally would be able to question them?
Order. Forgive me, but we are debating whether to agree to the specific set of proposals before us. We are not in the process of gathering more up, interesting though they are, before we make a decision on the report before us. I would be very grateful if the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) could, in his brief reply, focus specifically on the points that have been made that are relevant to the report before us now—and, as we all know, there will be further discussion in the time to come.
Thank you—I have got your point, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and the hon. Member for New Forest East both raised the issue of the relationship between the Clerk and the director general. We thought about this a great deal, and I say to both of them that even in institutions where the wiring diagram is very clear and there are clear lines of authority—the military or a grand corporation—there will be some areas of ambiguity, and we will find that the actual power structure is a bit different from that in the wiring diagram.
Let me explain why we took evidence from the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge. I have had experience of dealing directly with the judiciary, of course. The Lord Chief Justice and the judiciary have to be totally independent of the Executive, but the administration of the court service is in the hands of Her Majesty’s Courts Service, which is run by a combination of members of the judiciary and people appointed, effectively, by the Secretary of State for Justice. We looked at those analogies and I think this structure will work. It will work a great deal better, if I may say so, than a split structure involving a Clerk and a chief executive who are wholly separate. I came at this issue rather neutrally, but, having thought about it, it will also work a great deal better than the chief executive/director general being over the Clerk but having no direct knowledge of our primary purpose, which is to run a legislature.
Yes, there is some ambiguity. I am not being Pollyanna-ish about this, but with good will, clarity of expectation on the part of those taking on the jobs, and the clarity we have put into the job descriptions, this structure should work. If there are any specific arguments, the Commission is there to sort them out.
The right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Sir Alan Haselhurst) made some points about the portfolio appointments, which I think were answered well by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). These four portfolio appointments will be busy ones and will make a big difference to the accountability and transparency of the House administration to Members of the House.
I think I have dealt with all the key points that were raised. The issue of getting items on the Order Paper relating to House business is slightly separate from our considerations, and I will not go down that route. I repeat my thanks to all members of the House of Commons Governance Committee, to all those Members who have contributed today, and to the House. I commend the report and the motion to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House welcomes the report of the House of Commons Governance Committee; notes the priority it has given to agreeing a package of proposals which can both significantly improve the governance of the House and be capable of attracting support from Members on all sides of the House, in a timely manner and well before the House is dissolved; agrees to the recommendations in Chapters 6 and 7, with the proviso that, without changing the party balance of the Commission as proposed in the report, the recommendations relating to the composition of the Commission be implemented so as to allow the Chairs of both the new Finance Committee and the Administration Committee to be elected to these positions rather than appointed to them by the Commission; and encourages the appropriate bodies in both Houses of Parliament to address the Committee’s remaining conclusions and recommendations.