The saga continues

The summer controversy over the appointment (or, rather, non-appointment) of a new Clerk of the Commons has not gone away; but the poison is being dripped and the daggers inserted in the relative privacy of Jack Straw's special select committee on the Governance of the House.

In particular, the Committee's decision to invite anonymous written evidence from Commons staff has produced a treasure trove of angst, envy and annoyance - and a lot of dissent from the suggestion that the Clerks should rule supreme.

In September, the Speaker was forced to back off from appointing Carol Mills, from the Australian Parliament, to replace the much-loved parliamentary icon Sir Robert Rogers as Clerk of the House. This crystallised a long-running internal controversy about whether the Commons (which is a multi-million pound operation, employing thousands of staff) needs an experienced uber-manager to ringmaster its work, or whether the job can only be done by a full initiate of the mysteries of Commons procedure.

There was a strong argument that the creation of a separate chief executive post would dilute the role of the Clerk and that this amounted to weakening a bulwark of the constitution.

Jack Straw's committee was set up to resolve the issue - and the contribution offered this week by one Commons heavyweight is particularly interesting.

Andrew Tyrie, the chair of the Treasury Committee, had a huge impact on the regulation of the City of London, when he chaired the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, a kind of super-select committee of MPs and peers, which employed barristers to lead its questioning from time to time, plus a host of seconded experts.

That exercise pushed the boundaries of parliamentary scrutiny, and a by-product seems to have been that Mr Tyrie has been thinking deep thoughts about the management of the Commons and the servicing of democracy. His paper to the committee attacks the idea that the Clerk must be the chief executive and also provides a point-by-point rebuttal of this unsigned but spectacularly well-informed paper on the clerkship which appeared online. Taken together these documents sum up the opposing views rather well.

But the real fun in the evidence to the Governance Committee lurks in those anonymous contributions from Commons staff…..you can access all of the written evidence here.

Meanwhile, I've lifted a few choice extracts. Enjoy.

"A new Chief Executive should head the House of Commons administration as a whole, with all heads of department including the Clerk of the House being answerable and accountable to the Chief Executive. Though of eminent importance within Parliament, the Clerk of the House should step down from their pedestal, swallow their pride, and serve the House with dignity rather than pomposity. They should not be at the top of the pyramid any longer.

"Many within the House of Commons, both staff and Members, are afraid of change. They love the traditions of the House, symbolised by white curly wigs and archaic uniforms. These things are frivolous novelties, superficial embellishment to the actual, serious work of the House. They are harmless and fun, so we need not dispose of them, but such traditions should not be preserved to the detriment of progress. Change can be a great thing, and it is sorely needed in the House of Commons administration. Reform and innovation are called for, and the stubborn, tribal defence of the superiority of the Clerk of the House does not help us in our pursuit of continuous improvement. Let us be pragmatic and open-minded, welcoming the change of a dedicated Chief Executive to lead our organisation into a modern age of Parliament.

"The question is asked about splitting the role of Clerk and Chief Exec to one Clerk of the House and a Chief Exec. My reply would be that you would need someone to fill the Chief Exec post with someone who has great experience of Parliament (UK) such as another Clerk but with someone who is willing to accept that changes do need to happen if this place is to stay relevant."

"It would be hard to find a Commons employee below senior management level who has not been affected personally by the comprehensive programme of restructuring and transformation carried out over recent years. As a result, the savings targets have been met. The House now has a slimmed down, more flexible workforce, although in my personal opinion some areas of the House service have been streamlined to such an extent that there is barely the capacity left to deliver the standard of service that is expected by Parliament and the public.

"In contrast, the ranks of senior management have not only remained unscathed, they have swollen. Instead of a Clerk of the House we now have a Clerk combined with a Chief Executive, along with a private office to help him manage the workload. The Clerk Assistant has become the Director General of Chamber and Committee Services, with a seat on the Management Board. In addition to a Serjeant at Arms we also have a Director of Facilities, who has a seat on the Management Board. The Director of Finance & Administration/Resources has become two posts - Director of Human Resources & Change and Director of Finance - with both having seats on the Management Board. Soon a new Director of Parliamentary Digital Services will be appointed, followed by a Chief Technology Officer (I'm not sure whether they will also have seats on the Management Board).

"Although I agree that the roles of Clerk and Chief Executive Officer should be split, I worry about adding another highly paid position to an already top-heavy organisation. Worse, judging by the comments by Members during the debate on 10 September, the general consensus is that the House is incredibly badly managed. My employer is the House of Commons Commission. Commissioners are Members, with the Speaker as chair and the Clerk of the House as secretary. Underneath the Commission and presumably under its direction is the Management Board, made up of the Director-Generals of the various House departments. Underneath the Management Board are Heads of Office.

"Where would a CEO sit in this complicated and political hierarchy, and who would he/she be answerable to? I can see that it is important that the Clerk, as the procedural authority, be allowed to advise Parliament without interference from a CEO recruited from the corporate world. Equally an experienced CEO, recruited in a fair and open way, would need to be allowed to get on with the job they have been employed to do. I hope that we do not end up with a very expensive puppet. I also hope that I do not have to keep buying the Mail on Sunday in order to find out what my employer is up to."