Close shave?

The Speaker has just had not one, but two near-death experiences.

That's one analysis of the new report on the special Commons committee set up in the wake of the summer fiasco over the attempted appointment of Carol Mills as the next Clerk of the Commons.

Their report looks set to trigger a far reaching shake-up of the way Parliament is run - but will disappoint critics of Speaker Bercow who were hoping it would deliver a fatal blow to his authority, or even his speakership.

The committee, under the chairmanship of the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, carefully avoided a detailed inquest into Mills-gate, which Bercow-sceptics are convinced would have damaged him. (Near-death experience 1).

And they also remark that had Ms Mills been appointed she might now be facing serious questions, after coming under criticism in the Australian Parliament. And having pushed so hard for her appointment, Mr Speaker would have found himself in a very difficult position, too, if she had been forced to go (near-death experience 2, say the Bercow-sceptics).

I think the second of these possibilities would have been the most dangerous, but since the appointment never happened, it doesn't arise. Instead, to no-one's surprise, the committee has called for the termination of the "paused" process to appoint Ms Mills - and for the rapid recruitment of a new Clerk, with the chief executive duties of that post hived off to a new Director-General of House Services.

Last week I wrote that the small print spelling out the exact nature of their relationship would be crucial. The Speaker and others had been pushing for a chief executive figure because they thought there were real problems with the current management of the House and that the challenges of managing them could not be handled by a "gentleman-amateur" whose main training was in parliamentary procedure.

The counter argument to this was that the Commons is no mere organisation to be grabbed by the scruff of the neck and knocked into shape by some generic manager.

So the committee has come up with a carefully crafted split between the roles of the Clerk and the new D-G. The Clerk remains the formal top dog in the Commons service, and the D-G reports to him or her. But in reality the D-G is entrenched as an independent figure in several ways - he or she will chair a new streamlined Executive Committee in charge of day-to-day management issues, and they will have a right of direct access to the Speaker and to the Commons' internal management arm, the House of Commons Commission.

So in practice it will be pretty difficult for the Clerk to jerk the D-G's chain and the reformers will have achieved their objective of a manager with a right to manage. This is a significant shift from the current set-up and probably counts as a points win for the Speaker.

Meanwhile, the committee proposes that the Commission should be beefed up; the Speaker remains in the chair - but the MP members will be elected by the whole House and there will be two new external members: outsiders with suitable management experience. The new set-up, if approved, would make the Commission a bit less of a playground for Commons grandees, and more responsive to the concerns of MPs in general.

The Lib Dem, John Thurso, one of the key figures in Commons management, suggested many of these changes and was pretty pleased with the package, when it was unveiled this morning - he says it will mean a big improvement in the management of the House.

If the report is accepted, the recruitment of a new Clerk can move ahead quite fast, since the reshaped job could only really be filled by someone who had worked in the UK Parliament, or, at a pinch, at one of the devolved parliaments.

But first, MPs have to vote to adopt the proposals. Mr Straw is asking for an early debate when the House returns in the New Year.

And while he has managed to avoid any faction of his committee issuing a minority report, the chances are that that debate will provide an opportunity for critics of the Speaker to have another go at him. Watch this space.