UK Politics

MPs keep heat on John Bercow over Commons clerk

John Bercow

John Bercow has told MPs to stop badgering him over the recruitment of the next House of Commons clerk and "rise to the level of events".

The Commons Speaker was responding to a string of hostile points of order from backbench Conservative MPs.

It follows his announcement of a "modest pause" in the recruitment process.

A panel headed by the Speaker chose Carol Mills, but critics say she lacks knowledge of parliamentary procedure.

In his statement to MPs on Monday, Mr Bercow said it was necessary to discuss issues surrounding the appointment "in detail" and that he favoured splitting the clerk's responsibilities.

Backbench critics got a chance to quiz him on the move at the end of prime minister's questions on Wednesday, through a series of points of order.

The Speaker prompted cries of "shame" and heckling as he tried to push forward with the day's parliamentary business.

'Wrong'

Chelmsford MP Simon Burns asked whether Mr Bercow would continue to press for the appointment of Ms Mills, to which Mr Bercow replied he could not withdraw a recommendation that had been agreed by a panel but he was "not pressing" the recommendation.

The it was Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant's turn to put pressure on Mr Bercow with a question about whether it was true that recruitment consultants had not originally recommended Ms Mills and had been told not to reveal that she was facing two investigations in her native Australia, where she works for the senate.

Image caption Michael Fabricant was among the Conservative MPs quizzing Mr Bercow

A clearly irritated Mr Bercow said: "Unfortunately, but fairly predictably, the honourable gentleman is wrong. He is wrong on both counts."

He added: "I've given him an answer. It's very clear. I think that the House will want to proceed with its business."

Tamworth MP Christopher Pincher was next up, to quote a story in The Guardian suggesting Mr Bercow did not think MPs understood the role of the clerk.

'Properly answered'

Mr Bercow told the MP to stop talking and sit down, telling him: "It is not normal practice to expect the Speaker to comment on any and every media report.

"I didn't see the report. I'm not responsible for the report and I do invite the honourable gentleman and members of the House as a whole to rise to the level of events."

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

Finally, Sir Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough, weighed in to remind Mr Bercow that "in my experience, if a democratic assembly is to function properly , it is absolutely vital to uphold the authority of the Speaker."

Mr Bercow said all questions relating to the recruitment of the next clerk had been "properly answered," adding: "There will be further opportunities, very properly so, for the House to debate this matter as and when it so wishes."

The clerk of the House is the principal constitutional adviser to the Commons, and adviser on all its procedure and business.

Paid £200,000 a year, he or she is also responsible for the overall administration of the House of Commons, including the signing of leases, contracts and public expenditure on Commons services.

Ms Mills currently works for the Australian Senate, the Upper House of the Australian Parliament, in the Department of Parliamentary Services, which oversees the buildings, catering and staff.

MPs have questioned her suitability for the UK role, with more than 80 signing a Commons motion calling for the nominee to be questioned at a pre-appointment hearing.

In Monday's statement, Mr Bercow told MPs he had previously expressed a preference for splitting the job in two, as Parliament's affairs had become "more complex" over the years. But this had not received enough support to make a change before the recruitment process had started.

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