The Clerk of the Parliaments: Role and Functions

Who is the Clerk of the Parliaments?

The Clerk of the Parliaments is responsible for the services provided by the permanent administration of the House of Lords to meet the House's four corporate objectives.

Head of the permanent administration

He is Chairman of the Management Board for the House of Lords, which has the function of supporting and advising the House Committee, providing a forum for strategic decision making and developing a sense of corporate identity and purpose in the service of the House.

The Clerk of the Parliaments also has a number of specific legal and contractual administrative responsibilities.

  • As the employer of all of the permanent staff of the House, he is responsible for the performance of statutory and contractual duties towards employees and others.
  • As Corporate Officer of the House of Lords, he is authorised to enter into contracts on behalf of the House and to acquire and manage land and other property.
  • As Accounting Officer for the House of Lords, he has the same responsibilities as do Accounting Officers in the Civil Service in terms of public finances, resource accounting and internal control.
  • He is also custodian of the records of Parliament stored in the Victoria Tower in the House of Lords.

Chief procedural adviser

In the absence of a Speaker vested with formal powers of order the Clerk of the Parliaments is expected actively to provide authoritative advice on procedural matters on a daily basis to the Lord Speaker, the Leader of the House and other Members of the frontbenches, the Chairman of Committees and individual Members.

The Clerk of Parliaments sits for a significant proportion of each day in the Chamber of the House, and keeps a supervisory watch over its proceedings. He calls on the business of the House and participates in certain ceremonial occasions.

The Clerk of the Parliaments is responsible for maintaining the authentic records of proceedings of the House and signs or endorses all orders and official communications of the House. He is also responsible for preparing the texts of Acts of Parliament and for endorsing the proper copies of Bills and Acts.

The Clerk of the Parliaments participates in and advises the Lord Speaker or the Lord Speaker's representative at speakers' conferences and in other international fora.

History of the post

The office originated towards the end of the 13th century in Edward I's reign.The plural term 'Clerk of the Parliaments' came into existence in Henry VIII's reign and signifies that the Clerk of the Parliaments serves from one Parliament to the next.

The Clerk of the Parliaments Act 1824 still governs the duties of the Clerk who is appointed by the Crown by Letters Patent, on the advice of the Leader of the House following consultation with the membership.

In the late 19th century the Parliament Office developed into a more professional office, serving and supporting the needs of Members of the House.

Who is the current Clerk of the Parliaments?

David Beamish is the 63rd Clerk of the Parliaments. He took up office on 15 April 2011 following the retirement of his predecessor Michael Pownall. He took his oath of office on 26 April 2011.

"I, David Richard Beamish, do declare that I will be true and faithful and troth I will bear to Our Sovereign Lady the Queen and to Her Heirs and Successors. I will nothing know that shall be prejudicial to Her Highness Her Crown Estate and Dignity Royal, but that I will resist it to my power and with all speed I will advertise Her Grace thereof, or at the least some of Her Counsel in such wise as the same may come to Her knowledge. I will also well and truly serve Her Highness in the Office of Clerk of Her Parliaments making true Entries and Records of the things done and passed in the same. I will keep secret all such matters as shall be treated in Her said Parliaments and not disclose the same before they shall be published, but to such as it ought to be disclosed unto, and generally I will well and truly do and execute all things belonging to me to be done appertaining to the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments."

Source: Lords Hansard 26 April 2011

Who were the previous Clerks of the Parliaments?

  • 2007 November, Pownall, MG
  • 2003 Hayter, PDG
  • 1997 Davies, JM
  • 1991 Wheeler-Booth, MAJ
  • 1983 Sainty, JC
  • 1974 Henderson, PG
  • 1963 Stephens, D
  • 1959 Goodman, VMR
  • 1953 Lascelles, FW
  • 1949 Overbury, RL
  • 1934 Badeley, HJF
  • 1930 Alderson, Sir EH
  • 1917 Thring, Sir AT
  • 1885 Graham, HJL
  • 1875 Rose, Sir W
  • 1855 Shaw Lefevre, JG
  • 1818 Rose, GH
  • 1788 Rose, G
  • 1740 Cowper, A
  • 1716 Cowper, W
  • 1691 Johnson, M
  • 1660 Browne, J
  • 1649 Scobell, H
  • 1644 Norgate, E (at Oxford)
  • 1638 Browne, J
  • 1637 Bedingfield, D
  • 1635 Knyvett, T
  • 1621 Elsynge, H
  • 1609 Bowyer, R
  • 1597 Smith, T
  • Mason, A
  • 1574 Spilman, F
  • Spilman, F
  • 1551 Mason, Sir J
  • 1550 Mason, Sir J
  • Knight, T
  • 1543 Paget, W
  • 1541 Paget, W
  • 1540 Soulement, T
  • North, E
  • 1531 Tuke, Sir B
  • 1523 Tuke, B
  • 1509 Taylor, J
  • 1496 Hatton, R
  • 1485 Morgan, J