UK Politics

John Bercow orders Commons clerk recruitment 'pause'

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Media captionJohn Bercow: "Highly skilled management is now vital, as much as expertises in procedure"

John Bercow has announced a "modest pause" in the recruitment of the next clerk of the House of Commons following a row with MPs.

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

Mr Bercow told the Commons it was necessary to discuss issues surrounding the appointment "in detail".

He added that he favoured splitting the clerk's responsibilities.

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.

'More complex'

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 a 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.

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

Mr Bercow said: "I believe that a modest pause in the recruitment process is desirable while such issues are explored and the views of members solicited in detail."

The two roles carried out by the clerk would, "in the meantime", be carried out by existing members of Commons staff, he added.

Mr Bercow said he expected the matter to be "resolved with goodwill and by consensus".

The previous clerk, Sir Robert Rogers, retired at the end of July and the dispute over the appointment means his successor was not in place as MPs returned from their summer recess, with clerk-assistant David Natzler acting as clerk on a temporary basis.

Mr Natzler had been seen as favourite to get the job permanently but the six-member panel, made up of senior MPs from the three largest parties as well as the Parliamentary ombudsman Julie Mellor, chose Ms Mills as their preferred candidate following an open selection process.

Tory Jesse Norman, who tabled the motion questioning her appointment, asked the Speaker: "To clarify, would you agree that at least as regards the procedural and constitutional aspects of the clerkship, she is not qualified for the role and if so is it your intention to withdraw the letter of recommendation, at least for the period of the pause and consultation?"

Mr Bercow replied: "I say it isn't for me to withdraw a name. A decision was reached by a panel. I hope MPs would accept it would not be seemly to comment on the characteristics of or performance by individuals participating in a still ongoing process."

The clerk is a royal appointment, made on the advice of the prime minister, who, in turn, takes the advice of the House authorities.

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