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House of Commons Commission Bill

Volume 593: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2015

Considered in Committee (Order, this day)

[Mr Dai Havard in the Chair]

Clause 1

Members of the Commission etc.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Clause 1 deals with changes to the membership of the Commission. It amends the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, which established the Commission and defined its membership. The amendments set out in clause 1 extend the membership from the current six Members of Parliament to 11 members in total.

Under subsections (2) and (3), the new Commission will consist of seven parliamentary members, two external members and two official members. Subsection (4) provides that the external members, like other members, will be appointed by resolution of the House and that those members cannot come from Parliament itself—they must be genuinely external.

New subsection (2C) specifies that the official members are the Clerk and the Director General of the House of Commons, when the latter is appointed. The new post of Director General is not otherwise defined in statute, so the Bill provides, in new subsection (2C)(b), for the Commission to appoint an alternative official if the post is vacant or ceases to exist. That allows the Commission the freedom to change the name of that senior post at a future point without recourse to legislative change.

Subsection (5) provides a definition for members of staff of the House of Lords. There is no need to provide an equivalent definition for Commons staff because the term “staff in the House Departments” is already used in the 1978 Act.

Finally, subsection (6) gives effect to the schedule, which makes further provision about the membership and procedures of the Commission, which we will debate later. The clause and the accompanying schedule implement the legislative recommendations of the House of Commons Governance Committee regarding the membership of the Commission.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Havard. I will be extremely brief. We welcome this clause, which is a logical extension. I see no need to continue this debate any longer than necessary.

Hear, hear to that.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Functions of the Commission

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 amends section 2 of the 1978 Act. It extends the role of the Commission to include the setting of strategic priorities and objectives for services provided by the House departments. That function is added to the Commission’s current statutory responsibilities for staff appointments, numbers, pay and pensions. This amendment to the 1978 Act implements in full a recommendation from the House of Commons Governance Committee and makes explicit in statute a role that the Commission otherwise fulfils by default. The precise way in which the Commission carries out that function is not prescribed in the Bill, in order to allow the Commission flexibility to decide the most appropriate way to discharge its responsibilities.

Again, I will be as brief as possible. As I said on Second Reading—all that time ago—I am frankly astonished that we have gone 30-odd years without having a Commission set out that one of its core functions is from time to time to set out strategic priorities. I think that is a very obvious point that should be addressed. When external members are selected and the parliamentary parties choose their representatives, I hope that the parliamentary parties and the Commission will bear in mind the qualities that are needed. The Commission’s job is not to micro-manage the House service; it is to set strategic priorities. That is therefore a key requirement in external member appointments and the choice of members to serve for the parliamentary parties.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Commencement, extent and short title

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 sets out the commencement procedures for the Bill. These are designed to ensure that the reformed Commission can be established as quickly as possible. This is achieved through bringing the new Commission into being when the last of the parliamentary members has been appointed, but allowing for the appointments process for other members of the Commission to continue prior to this date.

For the benefit of the House, I will quickly set out the detail of how these commencement provisions will operate, as I am conscious that they are not straightforward. From the day that this Bill is passed, it will be possible to appoint the new members of the Commission. This will ensure that the process for appointing the parliamentary and external members of the Commission can start as soon as possible and that the new Director General and the Clerk can join the Commission at an early stage. These appointments, and the Commission’s new function of setting strategic priorities and objectives for services provided by the House departments, will take effect on the day after the last of the parliamentary members has been appointed.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Question put, That the schedule be the schedule to the Bill.

Question accordingly agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Third Reading

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This has throughout been a matter for the House. The role of the Government has been to facilitate and support the House in reaching a decision and in making these changes. The House has demonstrated its support for the recommendations of the Governance Committee implemented by this Bill. The Bill is one strand—an important strand—of the package of measures that is currently being taken forward by the Commission and the House. I am sure that this package overall will help to bring the governance arrangements of the House up to date and deliver improvements for Members, staff and the public.

Once again, I thank everyone who has contributed to this work and strongly support it as Leader of the House. I commend the Bill to the House for its Third Reading.

Again, I will be brief. I join the Leader of the House in thanking not just the Governance Committee and its staff but all the House service, including the secretary of the Commission, Mr Twigger, who is also the Clerk of the Finance and Services Committee, and Helen Wood, the Clerk of the Administration Committee, for all their work in taking this forward.

I am slightly disappointed by the Leader of the House. Those of us who have been watching the documentary series about the House of Commons will recall him saying that he once had a 24-hour speech prepared. Given the quickness with which we have moved through this, perhaps he could have been tempted to give us an excerpt from that speech. I think we still have four and half hours left if he wants to fill up the time.

I have to say that while watching those programmes we have seen aspects of the hon. Gentleman himself that many of us never wish to see again. There are many things set out in them that are not to be brought on to the Floor of the House today.

I am most grateful for that very helpful intervention.

As regards making good progress, it is absolutely crucial that the Finance and Services Committee and the Administration Committee move very quickly after the general election to fill the two posts on the Commission. I hope that the Committee of Selection will therefore make one of its early priorities finding time to establish at least initial versions of the Administration Committee and the Finance and Services Committee so that we can fulfil this process.

This has been a good and very consensual debate. We wish the Bill all the best in the other place.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.