Clerk role split 'is compromise'

Splitting the role of Parliament's most senior official to quell the backlash over the planned appointment of Australian Carol Mills is a tacit admission she is the wrong person to fill the job, it has been claimed.

John Bercow is under pressure over his decision to open up recruitment for the job
John Bercow is under pressure over his decision to open up recruitment for the job

Senior Tories said dividing up the £200,000-a-year post of clerk into procedural and management positions is a "grubby compromise" that fuels rather than eases concerns about the decision to bring in Ms Mills.

Speaker John Bercow has been under intense pressure over the decision to open up recruitment for the job, which combines the constitutional role of clerk of the House of Commons with being the chief executive responsible for running the building and managing almost 2,000 staff.

Concerns have been raised about Ms Mills' ability to carry out the procedural side of the role, with former speaker Baroness Boothroyd warning she would be "totally out of her depth".

It emerged yesterday that p arliamentary lawyers are understood to have found a way to allow the post of clerk to be divided into two in the near future, despite this previously having been ruled out for legal reasons.

Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Public Administration Select Committee, said: "The announcement that it is intended to split the roles of clerk and chief executive does not clear the way for the Speaker's proposed candidate to be appointed clerk.

"It adds to the confusion and concern. It is tacit admission that the appointment may be far from ideal.

"The present process should be stopped and we should go back to the drawing board. There needs to be a proper and open debate about how to split the roles.

"Can it be done without legislation? Would it be practical or desirable anyway? There would then need to be a new recruitment process with two new job descriptions.

"If the Speaker will not withdraw his nomination for clerk of the House, the Prime Minister must stay his hand until the House returns

"She must have a pre-appointment hearing with a Select Committee before the Queen is asked to approve this appointment."

Conservative Rob Wilson told the Mail on Sunday: "This is a grubby compromise to get the Speaker out of a hole and it won't wash."

Ms Mills, head of the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) in Canberra, is believed to have been recommended for the prestigious role following a recruitment process with a selection panel led by the Speaker.

Details of how and when the position could be split are yet to be finalised but such a move would require her agreement.

The role of deputy clerk was set to be beefed up but it is understood that under the plans it would have the same standing as the chief executive position.

A meeting of the House of Commons Commission, a cross-party group led by the Speaker, due to be held on September 8 is expected to discuss the proposition.

Former foreign secretaries Jack Straw and Dame Margaret Beckett are among a number of high-profile figures to back a cross-party campaign led by Mr Jenkin calling for Ms Mills to face a confirmation hearing in front of MPs before she can take up the job.

Ms Mills' appointment also caused surprise in Australia, where clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing warned that Ms Mills had no "parliamentary knowledge or experience" and should not be appointed.

Ms Laing apparently also cited an incident in which the Australian Department of Parliamentary Services confirmed it had used CCTV cameras to retrace the movements of a DPS employee and show her pushing an envelope under the door of a senator's office late at night.

The episode has been referred to the Senate privileges committee for inquiry, as cameras are supposed to be used only for security and to prosecute illegal activity.

Ms Mills said the DPS "looks forward to the opportunity to explain to the committee the basis of its view that use of the CCTV footage was in fact authorised, and wholly consistent with parliamentary privilege".