UK Politics

Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett join Commons clerk row

John Bercow Image copyright AP
Image caption Sources close to John Bercow insist Ms Mills was chosen because of her experience and skills

Two former cabinet ministers have called for further scrutiny of the proposed appointment of the new House of Commons clerk amid a continuing row.

Ex-foreign secretaries Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett argue that Australian Carol Mills should face MPs in a hearing before taking up the role.

Commons Speaker John Bercow chose Ms Mills for the post, but some MPs have said her experience is insufficient.

Meanwhile, plans are in place to help run the Commons until the row is over.

Labour's Mr Straw and Mrs Beckett are backing a campaign by another senior MP, Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative chairman of the Commons Public Administration Committee, for Ms Mills to face further scrutiny by MPs.

Mr Jenkin has written to the Times, calling it "inexplicable" that Mr Bercow's deputy Speakers had not helped in the selection. He also called for a hearing with MPs before Ms Mills is appointed.

And Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith has suggested that no decision should be delayed "until the House has had an opportunity to consider it".

The appointment of the clerk, Parliament's most senior official, is made by the Queen on the recommendation of Downing Street. This follows a recruitment process run by a panel of six senior MPs chaired by the Speaker.


A Downing Street spokesman said it was not a government appointment and the process was a matter for the Speaker. The prime minister has not yet forwarded Ms Mills's name to the Queen.

A source close to Mr Bercow has called the recruitment process, which included two interviews, "fair and transparent".

The Commons clerk, paid £200,000 a year, acts as the chief executive of the House and is responsible for the running of the property, and 2,000 staff on site.

He or she also serves as a senior constitutional adviser to senior politicians, including the prime minister.

Ms Mills is currently head of the Department of Parliamentary Services of the Australian Senate, controlling administration, buildings, catering and human resources.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Jack Straw said further scrutiny would help resolve the situation

Former Speaker Baroness Boothroyd has claimed she would be "totally out of her depth" if asked to oversee UK parliamentary procedure.

Mr Straw told the Guardian: "Given the controversy, and without making any observations about the relative merits of the candidate, I think that such pre-appointment scrutiny would be a good way of resolving this."

Mrs Beckett said: "These days you cannot make an appointment like this without select committee scrutiny."

In his letter to The Times, Mr Jenkins said Ms Mills had been chosen by "a panel entirely of the Speaker's own choosing", adding: "It is inexplicable that all three of the deputy Speakers, who like the Speaker himself are also elected by the House, and have the most relevant experience, were excluded."

What does the clerk of the Commons do?

Sitting in front of the Speaker, the clerk is the senior adviser to the Commons on matters of procedure and business

He or she is also the chief executive of the House of Commons Service, looking after maintenance and services such as catering and administration, which employs 2,000 people

The clerk signs contracts on the House's behalf and "holds" all of its property, meaning that, in strict legal terms, they are the "owner" of Big Ben

The current row comes after Commons clerk Sir Robert Rogers announced his retirement after a 42-year career in Parliament.

But sources close to Mr Bercow insisted that Ms Mills had been chosen by a panel - not just the Speaker - of people who had made the decision "based on experience and skills".

In a statement, Ms Mills said that "many people in Australia and the United Kingdom, including senior parliamentarians and parliamentary officers" had encouraged her to apply for the clerk's role.

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