Statement after PMQs is apparently not for Bercow to grovel, despite his ‘pause’ in appointing a new Commons Clerk becoming permanent. Delicious.
The Speaker’s attempt to stitch up the Commons clerk job for disgraced Aussie Carol Mills is officially over. A report by the House of Commons Governance Committee published today finds that “the ‘paused’ recruitment process for Clerk of the House/Chief Executive should be formally terminated”, ruling the Clerk job should be split:
“The Clerk of the House should remain Head of the House service, appointed by Letters Patent, but should not also be titled Chief Executive; A new post of Director General of the House of Commons should be created, reporting to the Clerk but with clearly delineated autonomous responsibilities for the delivery of services”
They conclude: “we propose new recruitment processes for the Clerk of the House and the Director General of the House of Commons which are in line with modern recruitment practice”. Jack Straw did not want the report to be critical of the Speaker, he wants the reforms to command wide support and be implemented, they almost certainly will. This is implicitly as much of a slap down for the Speaker the Governance Committee was ever going to give…
John Bercow’s choice for Commons clerk is facing disgrace Down Under after a committee found she provided them with “contradictory” and “misleading” information. A scathing report from the Aussie parliament’s Privileges Committee today condemns Carol Mills for “a serious breach of accountability and probity”, finding her testimony over when exactly she knew CCTV cameras had been used to investigate leaks to be untrue.
“The submission … documents cast considerable doubt upon the evidence given by the secretary… The committee has not been able to reconcile the evidence given at the estimates hearing with the submission and documents which Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) has subsequently provided. There should be no doubt … that the committee considers [this] … to be a serious breach of accountability and probity.”
Mills has gone to ground and is refusing to give comment to the Australian media. ABC reports her future is now “uncertain” and “under a cloud”. Today’s findings will mean her future does not lie in Westminster…
UPDATE: Senator John Faulkner, in speech given in the Senate yesterday described the department run by Carol Mills in these terms:
A parliamentary department should be an exemplar. But DPS is not.
The findings of this damning report, that the Secretary:
- has misled Senate Committees, and
- has given contradictory evidence, and
- has overseen the unauthorised use of CCTV,
reinforces my view – publicly stated – that DPS is the worst run government department in the Commonwealth of Australia.
A not so glowing reference for Bercow’s choice of Clerk…
Readers will remember John Bercow’s former spinner Justine McGuinness, who was forced to resign after Guido revealed her bizarre anti-Tory rant at LibDem conference. Where is she now? McGuinness is in the running to replace the outgoing Jeremy Browne as MP for Taunton Deane, last night making the shortlist to be the new LibDem candidate for the seat. If Justine makes it back to parliament, the “completely impartial” Speaker will treat her as he would any other MP, won’t he?
An antipodean co-conspirator draws Guido’s attention to Australian Senator John Faulkner’s damning assessment yesterday of John Bercow’s choice for the next Commons clerk. Carol Mills was up before a scrutiny committee to explain why the records of $30,000 worth of photographs that she commissioned from a photographer, who happened to be her neighbour, have gone missing. Now Faulkner is accusing Mills of telling porkies, telling the Australian parliament:
“The Secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services has stated at estimates that she knew the photographer—Anne Zahalka—and in fact they live in the same street. At the most recent estimates round, I asked the DPS secretary, Ms Mills, whether this raised the obvious question of either a conflict of interest or a perceived conflict of interest?’ In response, the secretary informed the committee: “I did not interfere, involve myself or influence in any way any of that process.”
…Last night, the committee was informed by DPS, despite Ms Mills’s earlier assurances, that she was involved in the final decision to contract Anne Zahalka. Despite her October statement to the committee that she ‘did not interfere, involve myself or influence in any way any of that process’, she actually signed off the contract offered to Anne Zahalka. According to evidence from DPS officers to the committee, the secretary was being briefed and kept in the loop about the photography contract. The secretary also signed off on a decision relating to some of the commercial aspects of the arrangements with Ms Zahalka.”
Faulkner says this “raises very serious questions about the probity and transparency” of Mills’ actions. How did this person even come close to taking over Parliament?
The Canberra Caterer is covering herself in glory again down under. Speaker Bercow’s preferred choice to be the next Clerk of the Commons has once again been hauled in front of a scrutiny committee of the Australian parliament to explain her actions.
“I feel that the standards in the department have not met the expectations that I would’ve had coming into the department nor have we been able to fix them as quickly as I would’ve liked,” says Carol Mills in regard to why the records of $30,000 worth of photographs that she commissioned from a photographer, who happened to be her neighbour, have gone missing. “It’s regrettable that we still have gaps but we’re certainly striving hard to improve systems and we’ll take any learnings… very seriously,” claimed Mills in pure management speak.
What was it about this incompetent pen pusher that so captivated the Speaker’s attention?
Compare and contrast the Speaker’s own visit Down Under last month, when he only managed to half fill a small side room, to the footage of Dave stuffing the main chamber to the the rafters today. Must have hurt….
Not content with telling off Theresa May earlier in the week, the Speaker is now very upset with Dave for announcing his new terror laws in Australia rather than in parliament:
“What people want is straight-dealing, honouring of commitments and respect for parliament.”
Ask the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to investigate an MP’s pre-2010 expenses and here is the answer you get:
“All records relating to expenses claims before 2010 have now been destroyed. No unredacted information is now available here…”
A committee headed by the Bercow has authorised the shredding of all the evidence. Another win for the ‘reforming Speaker’.
What happened to the ‘reforming Speaker’ who said in 2009, upon his election:
‘The public perception of the way we operate is so negative that it is necessary to accept a wholesale, fundamental and irrevocable change. There has to be some short-term pain in order to achieve the long-term gain of a recovery in the standing of the Commons.’
It’s business as usual.
This summer the Speaker of the House of Commons netted £7,510 in donations from the Lawn Tennis Association. It’s a nice perk of the job for John Bercow to sit in the Royal Box at Wimbledon and attend two other tennis matches with no expense spared. It was equally nice of the impartial and above reproach Speaker to return the favour…
“I think the record shows that as Speaker I have taken the lead in cleaning up politics”, said Bercow in 2010. Yet, eleven days ago he took the extraordinary step of intervening in a Commons debate in order to encourage the building of more tennis courts, and promote – by name – the LTA. His donor:
Oliver Colvile: The Government passed the Localism Act more than two years ago and Plymouth city council, which is controlled by the Labour party, has identified Collins park tennis courts as surplus to requirements and might well seek to build on them. It claims that it has not made a decision, but has published a planning brief. Please may we have a debate on the progress that local communities and neighbourhoods have made in protecting green inner-city areas such as mine in Plymouth?
Mr Hague: I think a debate on these issues would be most welcome to illustrate the opportunities that are now open. The Localism Act 2011 gives communities the opportunity to list valuable local assets and so far some 1,500 assets of community value have been listed. Green spaces are the second most popular listing, along with parks, village greens, open land and even, in one case, a mountain. I encourage my hon. Friend to pursue a debate on these matters.
Mr Speaker: Of course, we cannot get involved in individual planning applications, but I hope that I can be forgiven for saying that we need more tennis courts in this country and not fewer. That is a matter about which I feel very strongly, as does the Lawn Tennis Association and a great many other people besides.
The Speaker is meant to be above the fray, whiter than white and a shining example to all MPs. Any other MP caught pushing the cause of a donor without at least giving a nod to their register of interests would be hauled up to give a grovelling apology to the House.
Should Bercow be allowed to swerve the rules like this?
Intriguingly, the now sacked Speaker’s spokesman Justine McGuinness was the only other person who was present at every meeting regarding the abortive appointment of a new Clerk of the Commons.
She’s described by parliamentary sources as “a key internal enforcer” for the Speaker.
He’s thrown his right-hand woman to the wolves.
UPDATE: The Tories have asked the Speaker to donate McGuinness’ payoff to charity:
Following Guido’s story yesterday about the Speaker’s spokesman abandoning her impartiality and attacking the Tories:
The spokesman needed a spokesman, and now she’s gone…
UPDATE: Here is the statement from the Commons:
“After a year in post Justine McGuinness has offered her resignation to the Speaker, which has been accepted. The Speaker thanks Ms McGuinness for her hard work and commitment over the last 12 months. She has contributed considerably to the running of the Speaker’s Office but now wishes to pursue other interests.”
The Tories are very angry about the Speaker’s official spokesperson going native and accusing them of “aim[ing] to buy the election”, a story followed up by the Mail and the Times this morning. Guido understands Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi has written to John Bercow accusing Justine McGuinness of “a serious breach of the guidance on Speaker’s impartiality.” Zahawi demands that an investigation is carried out by “one of your deputies” because of Bercow’s “close working relationship with Ms McGuinness”, so that “full confidence and transparency and upholding the integrity of your esteemed office” can been guaranteed. As Zahawi writes:
“The guidance on Speakers impartiality is clear: “The Speaker must be above party political controversy and must be seen to be completely impartial in all public matters. All sides in the House rely on the Speaker’s disinterest, and understand that he or she must stand aside from controversy.””
He concludes: “I’m sure you will agree with me Ms McGuinness’ actions constitute a serious breach of impartiality and must be urgently investigated.” Perhaps Eleanor Laing could take a look. As someone once said, when the spokesperson needs a spokesperson…
Justine McGuinness is the official spokesperson to the Speaker of the House of Commons and a key member of Speaker’s Office, which is bound by strict impartiality rules dictating: “The Speaker must be above party political controversy and must be seen to be completely impartial in all public matters”. Today McGuinness addressed LibDem conference, waiving her impartiality with an extraordinary attack on the Tories, Labour and UKIP:
“The Tories will aim to buy the election with the millions of pounds donated to them by their hot money hedge fund friends. Labour will seek to steal the election, relying on an electoral system so biased in their favour that 35% of the vote could deliver them 55% of seats. UKIP will try and hijack the election by turning it into an argument about Europe and immigration as Nigel Farage swans around suburbia selling himself as some sort of suburban saloon bar Socrates.”
She was a LibDem candidate in 2005. This is going to kick up a big fuss…
Bercow has been to Australia to speak to a half-empty room about democracy in the digital age. As Guido revealed in yesterday’s Sun column, he began his speech with a reference to “one quite sensitive matter which even as straight-talking Australians I hazard a guess your natural courtesy will disincline you to raise with me directly… that is the sensitive matter of… height.”
“It has been bruted in some of the more down-market parts of the British press that I am the shortest man ever to be Speaker… In the fairly confident expectation that there are some people who like me are vertically challenged in this audience, I say very, very explicitly, there’s nothing wrong with being short. We short people should stick together. We may be short but we may also be judged to be perfectly formed. In any case, facts are facts. I am short. I am 51 years old and remain short, and given the known impact of the ageing process upon physiognomy, the overwhelming likelihood is that I will become inexorably and irrevocably shorter still.”
Bercow went on to tell his antipodean audience that he is not the shortest Speaker ever, that particular achievement went to Sir John Bussy – Commons Speaker in 1399 – though only because he was beheaded by Henry IV. He concluded “whatever else happens to me, I am not likely to lose my head”. Watch til the end for the Speaker’s friendly acknowledgement of one audience member, a certain Carol Mills…
The recall of parliament tomorrow will have disrupted the Speaker’s preparations for a lecture he is to deliver about democracy next week, in Australia. The Times Diary yesterday quoted Bercow’s spokesperson as all but confirming he would be meeting one Carol Mills on his jolly:
“He has a very tight schedule and not a lot of spare time. But Canberra is not a big place and it would be unlikely for him not to bump into her.”
To be a fly on the wall during that conversation…
It looks like Carol Mills, John Bercow’s one time favoured candidate to become the new Clerk of the Commons, has all but given up on coming the next Clerk of the House of Commons. According to the Canberra Times, Mills is sticking to what she knows best: retail.
Mills wants to launch a retail revolution up on Capital Hill, and the Parliamentary Services boss says Canberra district food, wine and crafts producers will be her foot soldiers. Ms Mills says Parliament House’s underperforming gift shop needs to be more than just a place to buy a Julia Gillard mug and the outlet should be showcasing some of the best things the ACT and region has to offer. Cash-strapped parliamentary authorities are coy about the exact figures, but say they are determined that the shop, which is understood to be barely breaking even, must pay its way.
Ms Mills told The Canberra Times that her new commercial strategy hinges on making the shop a place that reflects a trip to Canberra, not just a one-hour tour of the nation’s Parliament. “We’ve had quite a big emphasis on identifying and working with local artists and local producers, so quite a lot of their material is now exclusive to the store,” she said.”Product-wise, we’ve looked at ways where we can partner with GlassWorks and other local producers.
“We’ve also got local chocolates, local wine that promotes local wineries, I’ve been meeting with Crafts ACT to talk about how we can commission local artist to produce products for the shop.” Now that that Ms Mills’s big move to Westminster to take over the running of the British Houses of Parliament looks like it is on hold, she says she is determined to turn the Australian Parliament’s shop into a more rounded experience for visitors.
Guido would have thought she would be spending her time prepping up on our ancient parliamentary conventions and constitutional quirks if she was still planning on coming…
Carol Mills was known to “some members” of the clerk selection panel before Saxton Bampfylde put her up for interview, it was confirmed last night. So where did her name come from? Out of the hundreds – thousands – of senior administrators in the Commonwealth’s public services, how and why did Saxton Bampfylde decide to pop Carol Mills on to their long list?[…] Read the rest