House of Commons Commission - Twenty-Fourth Annual Report

Twenty-fourth Annual Report 2001-2002


1. This Report of the House of Commons Commission, under section 1(3) of the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, covers the financial year 2001-02. As in previous Reports, we refer to events both before and afterwards where this is necessary for completeness.

2. Our Annual Report has several purposes. It is an important source of information about the House Administration, both for the general public and for all those who work within the House, including Members, their staff, and members of the House Service. It provides the accountability and transparency that a public body owes to the taxpayer. And in addition to showing how the work of the House of Commons has been supported over the year, it also sets out plans for the future. Not only must we meet the challenges of changing technology and working methods; it has also never been more important to spread knowledge and understanding of the role of the House of Commons, and its work on behalf of the citizens of the United Kingdom.

Timing and form of the Report

3. The introduction of resource accounting and budgeting raised the question of whether our Annual Report should continue to be published in the summer, with audited resource accounts published in the autumn; or whether the Report should be delayed until the autumn and published with the accounts. We feel that the Report is an important way of informing the House and the public, and that it should therefore continue to be published as soon as possible after the financial year to which it refers.

4. In this Twenty-fourth Annual Report our own overview is followed by a more detailed report from the Board of Management (pages 20 to 31) (which also reflects the work of the Board's second-tier management groups), and by reports from individual departments (pages 32 to 86). Also included is the Annual Report to us by the House's Audit Committee (page 93).

5. We continue to seek improvements in the content and presentation of this Report, and welcome suggestions for further changes.

Commission membership

6. At the start of the financial year the membership of the Commission was:
The Speaker (The Rt Hon Michael J Martin, ex officio) (Chairman)
The Leader of the House of Commons (The Rt Hon Margaret Beckett, ex officio)
Mrs Angela Browning (nominated by the Leader of the Opposition)
(Shadow Leader of the House of Commons)
Mr Stuart Bell
The Rt Hon Eric Forth
Mr Archy Kirkwood
Upon the formation of the new administration following the general election of 7 June 2001 the Rt Hon Robin Cook became Leader of the House of Commons and replaced Mrs Beckett on the Commission. On 3 October 2001 the Rt Hon Eric Forth was nominated by the Leader of the Opposition in succession to Mrs Browning; and on 13 February 2002 Sir Patrick Cormack FSA was appointed by the House as the sixth Commissioner.

7. We express our warm thanks to Dr Malcolm Jack for his work as Secretary to the Commission over six years until his appointment as Clerk of the Journals on 1 November 2001. He was succeeded by Mr Robert Rogers, previously Principal Clerk of Select Committees.

Role and work of the Commission

8. The House of Commons Commission is the supervisory body of the House Administration, and responsible for its policy, finances and staff.[1] We are supported and advised by the Board of Management, which is chaired by the Clerk of the House as Chief Executive. We have a close relationship with the Finance and Services Committee, which is chaired by a Commissioner (Mr Stuart Bell), and to which we refer matters for detailed examination. We also draw upon the advice of the Domestic Committees, which have the task of reflecting the views of Members in the planning and provision of services. There were 12 meetings of the Commission during 2001-02.

Questions to the Commission

9. Questions to the Commission are answered by Mr Archy Kirkwood on behalf of the Commission. Oral questions are answered once a month, in a question period shared with the Leader of the House as President of the Council. In the year under review four questions were answered orally; 98 received a written answer. It is important that there should be the opportunity of seeking information through formal parliamentary question; but of course the House Service is also ready to provide specific information or briefing directly to Members.

Accounting Officer

10. Sir William McKay, KCB, Clerk of the House and Chief Executive, has been Accounting Officer since his appointment as Clerk in January 1998.

House of Commons Expenditure

11. The Commission is responsible for the House of Commons Administration Vote (but not for Members' salaries and allowances, which are paid from a Government Vote, nor for Members' pensions). This Report shows both historic and current figures in cash terms. An adjustment under the appropriate tables shows the difference between the net resource and net cash requirements.

The Estimate and Outturn for the House of Commons Administration 2001-02

12. A summary of the Estimate and Outturn for 2001-02 is set out in Tables 1 and 2. The provisional outturn was £134,804,000, which was £6,306,000 or 4.5% less than the Estimate, due mainly to lower than forecast expenditure on salaries etc, travel, printing, and capital expenditure. Some of these underspends arose from the Dissolution of Parliament in 2001 and lower levels of activity ­ for example in Committee work ­ in the early weeks of the new Parliament.

The Supply Estimate for the House of Commons Administration 2002-03

13. The House's Estimate for 2002-03, which was laid upon the Table by the Speaker on 9 May 2002, amounted to a request for resources of £213,382,000, a request for £15,107,000 on capital expenditure, and a cash requirement of £141,247,000. The cash requirement is summarised in Tables 1 and 2 on pages 16 and 17. Both the Estimate and our three-year forward expenditure plans include provision for the further development of computer-based services and replacement of computer equipment. Major items include refurbishment of the Norman Shaw South building, and Committee room air conditioning and restoration; and continuing work on cabling of the House for the Parliamentary Data and Video Network (PDVN), fire compartmentation, and stone cleaning.

14. Table 3 (page 18) shows categories of expenditure for 2002-03 in pie-chart form, and Table 4 (page 19) gives a five-year summary.

History of Parliament Trust: grant-in-aid

15. Since financial year 1995-96 the History of Parliament Trust has been funded by a grant-in-aid from the House Vote. For 2002-03 (see Table 1) provision of £1,180,000 has been made. The History is a major work of scholarship, and we welcome the publication of the volumes covering the period 1690-1715. We also support the efforts of the new Chairman of the Trust (Sir Patrick Cormack FSA, a Member of the Commission), and the new Director of the History (Dr Paul Seaward, formerly a member of the Clerk's Department) to achieve a faster rate of completion and publication for the future.


16. During the year we received the final report of the Braithwaite Implementation Manager, detailing the changes since the Commission in the last Parliament approved recommendations of the Braithwaite Report on Management and Services in 1999, and on which we gave a progress report last year. The key themes of the Braithwaite Report were strategic planning, a corporate rather than a federal approach to House administration, objectives and performance reporting, improved management information and systems, and better information for Members and staff.

17. A great deal has been achieved over the last two years:
  • we have adopted an outline Strategic Plan for the House Administration (which appears below). This, together with the detailed supporting plan of work, will link policy priorities and resources and provide a more co-ordinated direction to the work of the Administration;

  • the Audit Committee has been established and has already made a significant contribution;

  • the Clerk of the House is now formally the Chief Executive of the House Service;

  • the Office of the Clerk has been established to provide a central co-ordination point for House Administration business;

  • the Board of Management has overhauled its working methods; it now has a full-time Secretariat and second-tier management groups;

  • advances have been made in House-wide risk management, human resources planning and resource investment strategy;

  • House departments now have more comprehensive business plans, with objectives and reports against performance;

  • the Parliamentary Works Department has been split into Estates (client) and Works Services (supplier) functions, with the aim of providing better value for money; and

  • there is better information about the House Administration for Members, their staff and staff of the House (and an extensive House-wide induction programme was run for Members entering the House for the first time in June 2001).
The Braithwaite changes have done a great deal to improve the operation of the House Administration and to give it the transparency and accountability that is expected of a major public body. We look forward to building on these changes. We especially appreciate the efforts of staff of the House in contributing fully to the implementation process while still delivering services of high quality, and we here record our thanks.

An outline strategic plan for the House of Commons Administration 2001-2006
(As adopted by the House of Commons Commission on 29 October 2001)


The House of Commons Service supports, informs and records the work of the House of Commons as an elected parliamentary chamber in accordance with the decisions of the House and its Commission. Whenever feasible it makes its work and information about that work accessible to the general public, while maintaining the heritage of parliamentary buildings and documents in trust for the public and future generations. It also contributes to parliamentary democracy by sharing its knowledge with parliaments and assemblies worldwide.


The House of Commons Service seeks to achieve high ethical standards, value for money and professional excellence in all that it does. As an employer, the House of Commons Commission recognises and values the diversity of its staff and is committed to fairness and best practice.
Core tasks and objectives
The House of Commons Service has four permanent core tasks:

  • supporting the House and its committees;

  • supporting individual Members (and their staff);

  • providing information and access to the public; and

  • maintaining the heritage of buildings, objects and documents.
While these tasks are permanent, the specific needs of the House and its Members are constantly evolving. The technological, environmental, social and constitutional contexts in which the House works are also changing. In the light of the Braithwaite review1 the House of Commons Commission has recognised that a more strategic approach to resource planning and priorities is needed.
It has therefore adopted a strategic plan with objectives for the period 2001-2006 that recognise the need to develop, adapt and improve. In particular it seeks:

  • to provide services that meet the changing needs of the House and its Members as efficiently and effectively as possible; and to develop mechanisms to ensure that this happens;

  • to manage the parliamentary estate in such a way as to provide Members, their staff and staff of the House with a safe, secure, modern and efficient working environment, within the constraints imposed by the availability of resources and the nature of the estate;

  • to ensure that House of Commons processes of corporate management comply with the highest standards of public sector governance;

  • to achieve demonstrable value for money in every aspect of the House service;

  • to be demonstrably committed to employment best practice and diversity, providing the House with a motivated and committed workforce which has the specialist skills to meet its current and changing needs;

  • to improve public understanding and knowledge of the work of the House and to increase its accessibility, subject to the requirements of security;

  • to support the business processes of the House at all levels by developing and maintaining an information infrastructure that is unified, consistent, seamless, and easily accessed by, and appropriate to the needs of, the various user communities; and

  • to identify areas where service levels might be improved by the option of electronic delivery and, where appropriate, produce costed proposals.
The Board is in the process of developing attainable objectives under each of these headings.

Overall consumption of resources 2001-2006

The House of Commons Commission believes that simultaneous pressures to improve office facilities in the older buildings of the parliamentary estate and to upgrade information technology and systems to facilitate the work of Members and their staff, together with the need to make further improvements to visitor access and facilities, mean that additional investments in infrastructure will be needed during the planning period. However, the Commission has asked the Board of Management to limit the additional cash requirement to not more than £10m over five years.

Information about the House Administration

The Braithwaite report emphasised the need for better information about the way the House Administration is run, and this is something to which we attach particular importance. In addition to the wealth of information in our Annual Reports, pages on the Parliamentary Intranet now describe the role and work of the Commission, Board of Management and the other elements of the House Administration, and links take the user to relevant publications. We now also publish interim reports on our work every three months or so. When the redesigned Parliamentary website goes live shortly, this information will be available to the general public on the Internet. For the information of those at Westminster, organisation charts with photographs of key people in the House Administration are now posted throughout the Estate.

The Finance and Services Committee and the Domestic Committees

19. The Finance and Services Committee has responsibility for detailed scrutiny of the House's budget. This year, for the first time, that scrutiny is linked to examination of the detailed work programme in support of the Strategic Plan. More generally, we welcome the development of the Committee's role in analysing and advising on a wide range of proposals which come to us for decision. The Committee's membership includes the Chairmen of each of the Domestic Committees.

20. The Domestic Committees (Accommodation and Works, Administration, Broadcasting, Catering and Information) have continued to provide advice and to act as a channel for the views of Members about House services. We are very grateful for the contribution they have made.

The Audit Committee

21. The Committee's Annual Report to us appears on pages 93 to 95. The Committee, chaired by the Rt Hon Eric Forth, a member of the Commission, has focused on risk management, contingency planning and value for money. It has also monitored developments in audit, and shortly after the end of the year under review recommended to us that, in line with the conclusions of the report Holding to Account by Lord Sharman of Redlynch, its membership should be entirely non-executive (although the Accounting Officer and the Director of Finance and Administration should continue to attend meetings); and that an additional external member should be appointed. We have approved those recommendations, and we have appointed Mr David Taylor FCA, one of the Charity Commissioners, as the new member of the Committee.

Personnel and people issues

22. We are committed to developing and supporting a diverse House Service, in which all staff are encouraged to contribute and to reach their full potential. During the year there have been a number of initiatives including: an audit of the staff appraisal system for quality and objectivity of reporting; a review of accessibility for blind and partially sighted people; and a greater emphasis on equal opportunities in the induction course for new staff. In addition, the childcare voucher scheme for staff has been extended to cover school holidays and the summer holiday play scheme has been made permanent.

23. We look to the Board of Management to give a high priority to equality and diversity issues. In particular, we would like to see an increase in women and people from ethnic minorities at more senior levels.

Investors in People

24. We congratulate all the departments of the House on achieving individual accreditation as Investors in People, and we welcome the plan to seek accreditation for the House Service as a whole by early 2003. This will help to demonstrate the House's commitment to good management and communication, and to the training and development of staff so that they can contribute most effectively.

Whitley Committee

25. Negotiations on pay and conditions of service, and consultations on personnel issues, were conducted through the recognised unions, the Whitley Committee and its Sub-Committees.


26. Following the full occupation of Portcullis House and its successful integration into parliamentary life, the planned rationalisation of the Parliamentary Estate will be complete when the refurbishment of the Norman Shaw South building is finished at the end of 2002. We have accepted the advice of the Accommodation and Works Committee that Members and their staff should occupy this building, which will achieve the strategic aim of all Members being accommodated in the Palace or on the northern part of the Estate. We expect up to 65 Members and 87 of their staff to be housed in Norman Shaw South. Additional accommodation released in Norman Shaw North will house 14 Members and 14 Members' staff.

27. Select Committee staffs which were to have occupied Norman Shaw South will now remain in expanded accommodation in 7 Millbank, adapted to provide good long-term working conditions for these staff supporting the House's key scrutiny functions.

28. We look forward to the results of the comprehensive Accommodation Review being carried out on behalf of the Board of Management by the Serjeant at Arms and external experts. This review, which among other things will examine how efficiently space is used, will help formulate the House's accommodation strategy for the period 2003-08.

Information technology and systems

29. The reports of the Board of Management and individual departments indicate both the scale of the work in progress, and the demand for services ­ the latter evident from a 20% increase over the year in the number of users of the Parliamentary Data and Video Network (up by around 1,000 to 5,172) and a 44% increase in e-mail traffic (now running at over one million items a month). Major projects include migration to Microsoft's Windows 2000 and Active Directory Services, and a virtual local area network for critical services such as the Official Report and the Vote Bundle.

30. Two other projects, for which plans are well advanced, deserve particular mention: Parliamentary Information Management Services (PIMS) and the House Administrative Information System (HAIS). PIMS will build on the existing POLIS system to provide a much wider and more structured range of information to users at Westminster and elsewhere. HAIS will provide a single replacement for existing financial and human resource management systems, and will be accessible by a wider range of users in the House Administration, thus meeting an important recommendation of the Braithwaite Report.

31. We appreciate the substantial task performed by the Parliamentary Communications Directorate following the House's agreement that each Member should be entitled to centrally provided computer equipment on loan for Parliamentary use. Requests from 599 Members have now been processed, and 1,300 installations have taken place, about half at Westminster and half elsewhere.


32. The events of 2001-02 demonstrated the need for flexibility on the part of a Parliamentary administration. Following the events of 11 September 2001, the House was recalled three times during the summer recess, at a time when major works and maintenance are concentrated in order to minimise disruption at other times of the year. At the end of the year Westminster Hall had to be prepared in the course of a few days for the Lying in State of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and the House was recalled to mark the occasion. On each of these occasions the efficiency of the arrangements was a credit to all those involved.

33. A different sort of flexibility will be required to adapt to changes in the House's working patterns and methods. It seems likely that changes will be proposed both to the House's sitting hours and to the annual pattern of sittings. If implemented, this will have considerable implications not only for the provision of a wide range of services but also for the working patterns of House departments in delivering those services. We will work with the Board of Management to support any changes which the House may approve, while also having well in mind our obligations as a good employer.

Information and access for the public

34. This is one of the four core tasks in our strategic plan, and reflects our view of the importance of spreading knowledge and understanding of the House and its work among those it serves and represents. Much is already under way: the work of the Education Unit with schools and teachers (including an award-winning video and website); the summer opening of the Palace in August and September, now a permanent feature; better design of Select Committee Reports, with improved public information about Committee work and meetings; a pilot webcasting scheme covering debates in both Chambers, Westminster Hall and a range of Standing and Select Committees; a redesign of the website; and the opening of the Jubilee Visitor Café.

35. Work has just begun on a feasibility study for an information and visitor centre for Parliament. We would like to see facilities at Westminster at least the equal of those in other Parliaments; and we hope that this major project will proceed quickly. In the nearer term, we want to see a more co-ordinated approach to visitors and tours, with an emphasis on the modern role of Parliament as a working legislature as well as on the Palace as a place of history and heritage.


36. Better access to Parliament must of course take account of the continuing requirements of security throughout the Parliamentary Estate. This has been a high priority for many years, for the protection of those who work here as well as for the many thousands of constituents, visitors and others whose business brings them to Westminster. Following the events of 11 September 2001, the House's contingency planning has been improved, and security arrangements have been further strengthened. The House authorities seek as always to minimise the inconvenience that is caused, and we are confident that all those affected will fully understand why these precautions are necessary.

Works of Art

37. The Finance and Services Committee has agreed a financial framework for the works of art budget under the control of the Advisory Committee on Works of Art. This is to provide greater transparency and accountability following our authorisation of an increase in the general acquisitions budget from £50,000 to £100,000 for the financial year 2002-03. In 2001-02 expenditure from the general acquisitions budget was £50,000, and that for the Portcullis House acquisitions budget (which will end after 2002-03) was £96,400.
38. Two major commissions were completed and unveiled during the year: the series of large tapestries on parliamentary themes for the Committee Rooms in Portcullis House, and the triptych of portraits of party leaders during the 2001 General Election Campaign. A marble statue of the Rt Hon the Baroness Thatcher, commissioned by the Advisory Committee on Works of Art, has been completed by the sculptor Neil Simmons.

39. The Advisory Committee is keen to improve public awareness of works of art in the Palace of Westminster, and we will draw on their advice in pursuing our strategic aim of improving public access to, and understanding of, Parliament.


40. The House already performs well by comparison with the Government targets of 25% recycling by 2005, 30% by 2010 and 33% by 2015. In 2001-02 some 34% of waste was recycled and 100% was recovered (ie either recycled or used to generate electricity). From the start of financial year 2002-03 a system of monthly reporting on recycling by category, including paper, glass, lamp bulbs and tubes, and oil, will be introduced. Further information on this, and on future House targets, will be contained in our next Annual Report.

1   The Comission employs all staff of the House with the exception of the Clerk, Clerk Assistant, Serjeant at Arms, and Mr Speaker's personal staff. Back

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Prepared 3July 2002