UK Politics

Speaker John Bercow to face pressure over Commons clerk choice

Carol Mills Image copyright Rex Features
Image caption Carol Mills currently works in the Australian Parliament

Speaker John Bercow is expected to come under pressure from MPs on Monday over his choice for the most senior official in the House of Commons.

MPs say Australian Carol Mills does not have enough knowledge of Parliamentary procedure to be the next Commons clerk.

Mr Bercow has suggested the £200,000 a year post could be split into management and procedural duties.

But that has not satisfied MPs who want Ms Mills to be questioned by a select committee before being appointed.

Critics, led by Conservative backbencher Jesse Norman, have submitted a motion calling for Parliament to be given the opportunity to scrutinise the appointment.

The motion has been signed by 84 MPs from across the political spectrum. All three deputy speakers are also understood to be against the choice of Ms Mills.


Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Mr Norman said Mr Bercow's plan to split the role "effectively concedes that Ms Mills is not qualified to be clerk".

Image copyright PA
Image caption John Bercow wants to modernise the way the House of Commons is run

But, he added: "Instead of dropping her and starting again, it puts the cart before the horse and proposes an on-the-hoof restructuring of the House, all it seems, in order to accommodate her appointment.

"Not only that - it proposes a new role of chief executive at a probable cost of £150,000 to £200,000."

Mr Norman said the appointment process, which used head hunters to find a candidate from outside Parliament for the first time, "flawed".

And he warned that the affair could damage the office of Speaker and, in turn, the Commons if it was allowed to drag on.


He also raised concerns about an investigation Ms Mills is facing in Australia over the use of security cameras to monitor a senator.

Image caption Sir Robert Rogers is retiring as House of Commons clerk

Former deputy speaker Nigel Evans suggested on Sky News that the real issue was whether Mr Bercow would have the "guts" to stand up and tell MPs Ms Mills was no longer being lined up for the job.

The existing Commons clerk, Sir Robert Rogers, who is set to officially retire at midnight on Sunday, has also criticised Mr Bercow's plan to split the role.

Mr Bercow was keen to bring in an outsider to press ahead with modernisation of the Commons, rather than promoting deputy clerk David Natzler, as would have traditionally happened.

Ms Mills is currently head of the Department of Parliamentary Services in the Australian Parliament in Canberra.

She was recommended for the role earlier this month by Mr Bercow after being interviewed by a cross-party panel of MPs.

What does the clerk of the Commons do?

Sitting in front of the Speaker, the clerk is the senior adviser to the Commons on matters of procedure and business

He or she is also the chief executive of the House of Commons Service, looking after maintenance and services such as catering and administration, which employs 2,000 people

The clerk signs contracts on the House's behalf and "holds" all of its property, meaning that, in strict legal terms, they are the "owner" of Big Ben

But Prime Minister David Cameron, who makes the final recommendation for the role to The Queen, has said the new clerk must have the backing of all MPs.

Mr Bercow is set to meet Commons leader William Hague ahead of his statement on Monday, to discuss his plan to split the role into two - a clerk to advise MPs on key constitutional matters and a chief executive to manage more than 2,000 staff.

But the BBC understands the Speaker may limit his Commons statement to arrangements for covering Sir Robert's duties until the clerk row is resolved.

If that is the case, he will not take questions from MPs but they will be able to challenge him through points of order.

The Commons Public Administration Committee, chaired by Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, will meet after Mr Bercow's statement to decide whether to subject Ms Mills to a pre-appointment hearing, if she is still the Speaker's preferred choice for the role of chief executive or clerk.

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