Committee to discuss clerk furore

First published in National News © by

An influential committee of MPs will meet next week to discuss whether to call in the Speaker's recommended candidate for the post of Commons clerk to answer questions.

Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the public administration select committee, has confirmed a meeting will be held on Monday at which members will decide whether to hold a pre-appointment hearing.

The Tory MP for Harwich and North Essex said: "The committee has decided nothing formally until we meet.

"(But) I have spoken to a majority of the committee and those I have spoken to are in favour of holding such a hearing."

If the committee does opt to hold a hearing, it is understood that John Bercow's nominee - the Australian Carol Mills - would be called to appear before members to answer questions to inform a report on her suitability for the position.

Currently head of the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) in Canberra, Ms Mills was recommended for the role earlier this month following an open recruitment process with a selection panel led by the Speaker.

Mr Bercow is believed to be keen to bring in an outsider to press ahead with modernisation of the House, rather than promoting deputy clerk David Natzler.

The announcement of the committee meeting comes after senior MPs raised concerns over Ms Mills's lack of knowledge about Westminster procedures.

And yesterday, Downing Street upped the pressure on Mr Bercow by insisting the new clerk needs to have the backing of MPs.

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister also confirmed that David Cameron had yet to pass on the nomination to the Queen for approval.

The prestigious £200,000-a-year post combines the clerk's duties as a key constitutional adviser with the role of Commons chief executive.

In an effort to defuse the row, Mr Bercow has indicated he wants to split the functions into two jobs as soon as possible.

But the suggestion has failed to appease critics who are planning a potentially damaging showdown with the Speaker when the Commons returns from its summer break next week.

The text of a motion that could potentially be tabled by Tory backbencher Jesse Norman has been circulated. Reports suggest up to 50 MPs have already pledged to support it.

It would apparently stop short of demanding Ms Mills' appointment be abandoned, merely insisting there should be a confirmation hearing.

The mooted text reads: "That this House believes that the recommendation of Ms Carol Mills to be Clerk of this House should be subject to, and contingent upon, a pre-appointment hearing and report by a select committee."

Meanwhile, Mr Bercow's former deputy Nigel Evans has called for a "pause for reflection" to allow for further scrutiny.

The Tory MP warned that there would be "a lot of unhappy people" when the Commons returned unless there was a delay in the process.


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