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John Bercow delays recruitment of Commons clerk and chief executive
[September 01, 2014]

John Bercow delays recruitment of Commons clerk and chief executive

(Guardian Web Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) John Bercow, the Commons speaker, has announced a "modest pause" in the recruitment of a new clerk and chief executive of the House of Commons amid widespread opposition to his plans to appoint an official from the Australian parliament.

Tory MPs sought to interrupt the speaker as he told the Commons that parliament would now consider whether to split the roles of clerk and chief executive. He would also consider calls for a pre-appointment hearing by MPs.

The speaker told MPs in a statement: "In the circumstances, and having discussed the matter with the leader and shadow leader of the house, 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." Michael Fabricant, a former Tory whip who has been a strong critic of the appointment, shouted "ha" when the speaker announced the pause.

Bercow was forced to make the announcement in the face of cross-party opposition to his plan to appoint Carol Mills, secretary of the department of parliamentary services in Canberra, to the post of clerk and chief executive. Critics say that while Mills has strong management experience which qualifies her for the role of chief executive, she is less qualified to serve as clerk, the guardian of parliamentary privilege and procedure.

In his statement, Bercow said he had wished to separate the two roles but had been unable to do so in the face of strong opposition. Sir Robert Rogers, who retired as clerk and chief executive on Sunday, had opposed splitting the role.

Bercow said: "These two roles are combined in a single post, despite their very different nature. Over the years, parliament's affairs have become more complex, its budget has ordinarily risen and decisions – such as on a potential refurbishment of the house – have become unavoidable. Thus, highly skilled management is now vital, as much as expertise in procedure." The lack of agreement on separating the roles meant a recruitment process for the combined roles was launched. A six-strong panel, chaired by the speaker and including MPs from the three main parties plus the parliamentary ombudsman, Dame Julie Mellor, selected Mills.

"A number of colleagues have since expressed disquiet," Bercow said. "Their concerns fall into two broad categories. The first, helpfully raised by [Sir Alan Duncan], is whether the panel should have recommended separating the roles. I was advised that the panel could not adopt this approach without prior legislation. As I have said, there is a compelling case for such a separation, but any change would of course require the support of the House.

"The second concern is for pre-appointment scrutiny, and was initially put forward by [Jacob Rees-Mogg]. A strong case can be made for it and, on this point also, I wish to hear colleagues' views." The speaker said the work of the clerk and chief executive would be distributed between members of the management board during the delay. David Natzler, the clerk assistant who was the favoured internal candidate to replace Rogers, sat in the clerk's chair during the statement.

Critics of the speaker said they were encouraged that Bercow had been listening to their concerns. But, they said, the House of Commons commission, which will consider the matter next week, will have to agree to split the two roles along the lines of a new proposal by Rogers. The clerk would be the more senior figure and the chief executive would become chief operating officer.

(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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