House of Commons Commission (Annual Report)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 3rd November 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nick Harvey Nick Harvey Liberal Democrat, North Devon 2:30 pm, 3rd November 2005

It gives me great pleasure to introduce the 27th annual report of the House of Commons Commission for the financial year 2004–05. I welcome the opportunity to debate it and the work of the Commission.

I pay tribute to my predecessor, Archy Kirkwood, who served on the Commission and was its spokesman from 1997 to 2005. I am delighted that he has been returned to Westminster and to his political work as a Member in the other place. I now have a clearer idea of how much work the role involved for him—answering oral and written questions, and dealing with various press inquiries, which I recently found myself doing on cleaners, smoking, MPs' expenses and so on. Archy Kirkwood's predecessor was my right hon. Friend Mr. Beith. It seems to be the lot of the Liberal Democrat Member to serve in this capacity, and I am sure that we are pleased to do so.

Some things have changed since the report was published in the summer. We record our thanks to the former Leader of the House, now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and to the former shadow Leader of the House, Mr. Heald. We also thank Sir Patrick Cormack, who, after serving on the Commission for some time, was replaced this Tuesday by David Maclean, to whom we are grateful for taking on the work.

Since the report was published, there has also been a significant change in the way in which the House operates. The creation of a single domestic Administration Committee brings together the work of five bodies and is chaired by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Doran). It got off to a very energetic start, not least in its determination to communicate more effectively with Members. I am sure that many Members will have seen a good number of missives issued by the Administration Committee, seeking their views on various issues.

Members will have had the opportunity to read the report and learn something about the work of the Commission. A considerable part of my job is to listen to what Members have to say, and to respond orally at the end of the sitting and in writing to anyone who makes points that need to be investigated further. The Commission is due to meet again in 10 days, when it will be possible to report back to the Commission from today's debate.

The Braithwaite report created the structure within which the House and its Officers work. I remind right hon. and hon. Members of some of the history. In May 1990, the Commission invited a team led by Sir Robin Ibbs to review management and decision making for services in the House. Its report, issued in November 1990, sought a more active and strategic role for the Commission, and replacement of the single Services Committee by four or five committees, which was done but was then reversed by the Commission, as I said. It also sought an enhanced corporate role for the Board of Management and for the Clerk of the House as its Chairman, with improved financial management information, a new Department of Finance and Administration headed by a qualified director and a director of works, and gradual assumption by the House of responsibility for all House of Commons expenditure—principally, adding works and HMSO, but excluding the Members' estimate. It took some two or three years to implement the changes that were proposed in the report.

Eight years later, in October 1998, the Commission invited a team led by Mr. Michael Braithwaite to undertake a review of the system of management and decision making for services to the House. That was set up following the work of the Ibbs inquiry. The Braithwaite report was published in June 1999. Broadly, it endorsed, at some length, the Ibbs report and its implementation and called for better corporate information and for the adoption by the Commission of a strategic plan and more performance management. It proposed the creation of an Office of the Clerk