The Speaker will stand up at 2.30 on Monday and make an announcement on the new Clerk. Because it could be the end of John Bercow’s Commons career he will make the speech of his life.
It will be a parliamentary masterpiece of apology, mild defiance, injured dignity and ostentatious consensus-seeking.
Players of Oratorical Bingo should look out for:
The timetable was dictated by the outgoing Clerk’s resignation. Process better than we had before. Advertised. Open competition. So necessary to meet the extraordinary challenges we face. All worked hard, interviewed many candidates, acted in good faith as servants of the House. I am the servant of the House. I am referring the matter back to the House in the form of the House of Commons Commission. They will report their recommendations back to the House.
MP: Point of order!
Speaker: “First there are questions, then a statement by the Prime Minister. Points of order always come after the statement.” (He will want the Prime Minister first to paint a picture of global collapse, jihad, party defection, Euro-turmoil in order to make procedural points seem petty.)
MP: “But it IS after the statement. You’ve just made a statement!”
Speaker confers with Interim Clerk Natzler. Then, sensationally, “It was an announcement, not a statement.”
If MPs lose this argument, Points of Order may begin around 4.30 or 5pm, if the Speaker can drag proceedings out.
The Speaker will answer each point, some at filibustering length, some with the holding answer: “This is a matter for the House of Commons Commission. Let them do their work and report to the House.”
There are many questions outstanding. Here are some of the most important, as raised by Guido over the summer…
1. Ms Mills’ department is under two separate investigations by the Australian Senate – one is a wide-ranging inquiry into the failings of her department, and another for breach of privilege. The latter was described by Senator Hogg as “extremely serious” and caused an emergency debate in the Senate. Were these investigations made known to the panel. Was the seriousness of the charges made clear?
2.You have said to people that the timetable was dictated by Robert Rogers’ decision to leave early. But clerks only serve three to five years in the post. You had suggested splitting the roles before, it was your wish to so – why did you not prepare the way in good order over the last three years? If you wanted to split the roles, why didn’t you follow the proper procedure?
3. Where does all this leave the poor Ms Mills? She applied for a job that didn’t exist. Hasn’t she now got a case against us? I understand the Interim Clerk is considering legal action against the process you presided over. Will Ms Mills be suing as well?
4. The head hunters Saxton Bampfylde. Did they take up Ms Mills’ references? Were they aware how seriously the Senate was taking the accusations against Ms Mills’ department? What did they tell the panel? Whom did they tell ?
5. Why wasn’t the Chairman of Ways and Means on the panel? Why were Margaret Hodge and Julie Mellor? Who chose them and by what process were they approved?
6. Did you meet Ms Mills personally or professionally before her name was put forward as a candidate?
7. Will Ms Mills be granted a grace and favour residence, and if so, where and at what cost? Who will be moving into 3 Parliament St?
8. Ms Mills will be doing half the advertised job. Will she be getting half the salary?
8a) Between September this year and March next year, won’t Ms Mills be flying between here and Australia to give evidence to the Senate Inquiry into her department? How will she be able to concentrate on her work in Westminster with such an Inquiry going on?
9. If the post were re-advertised as a chief executive pure and simple, would there not be very many more applicants – now that no procedural knowledge is needed?
10. Is there not someone suitable inside the organisation with knowledge of how the place works? Or are you saying that experience of the Commons, or of the Palace of Westminster, or if London, or even of Britain is unnecessary? Wouldn’t a person so inexperienced be over-reliant on the views and preferences of her sponsor or employer?
11. There have been reports in the media that you interfered improperly with other House appointments. What recourse do we back bencher have to scrutinise or hold to account our Speaker when questions of propriety arise? Perhaps you could take advice from the Interim Clerk before answering?
12. There has never been such a shambles in the appointment of such an important official. Most of us are modernisers but this is giving modernisation a bad name. Nothing like this ever happened under the old system.
13. Whatever is decided by the House of Commons Commission , this needs a pre-appointment hearing to examine the whole process by which this shambles has come to pass.
14. (If he has agreed with Leader and Shadow Leader to suspend the process and have a committee looking into the splitting of the roles.) Now we have a front bench fix and the Executive interfering with a House matter to get you out of a hole. Is this what “the rights of back benchers to hold the Executive to account” has come to?
15a). Who will decide who is on this committee and its terms of reference? Or has that been decided between you and the Executive? Who would clerk this committee?
15b) Dr Rosemary Laing wrote of her dismay at the likelihood of Ms Mills’ appointment. It was suggested in the Guardian that this reaction was the result of rivalry between two equal officials. Isn’t that what you are proposing here – building in a structural conflict to a system that has been working co-operatively and effectively?
16. (If Ms Mills is proposed as a chief executive equal in standing with the Clerk.) You are presenting this as a compromise but isn’t it the case that it’s what you wanted all along ?
16a) Why do we need a select committee looking at t? Two reports have been against it. Why do you think the role needs to be split? Do you think clerks are incompetent managers? You wanted it and tried to force it through by fixing the panel so that Natzler didn’t get the job.
17. Your management of this process has been the worst in living memory. How would you know a good manager from a bad one? Should you not remove yourself from the process entirely?
18. You keep saying that the House of Commons Commission will deal with it. But four of the six members of the selection panel were Commons Commissioners. Isn’t that asking a body to investigate itself? Is that proper?
19. Given the weight and number of these points of order, given the question marks over the conduct of this process, given the history of questionable interference in House processes and given your adherence to the Nolan principles of public life – shouldn’t you submit yourself to a secret vote of confidence from the House?
If these points were raised and answered honestly, it’s hard to see how the Speaker could outlive the day.