An insider's guide to the House of Commons

Sir Robert Rogers, Clerk of the House of Commons and Chief Executive, gave an insight into the workings of the Commons at the Open Lecture on 19 October 2012.

Sir Robert, who has worked in the House for more than thirty five years, spoke about the work of the Commons, both in the Chamber and behind the scenes.

Lecture Transcript

Naomi Kent, Regional Officer, Houses of Parliament's Outreach Service: So, without any further ado, I’d like to hand over to Robert.  Thank you very much.

Sir Robert Rogers, Clerk of the House of Commons and Chief Executive: Right, well thank you very much indeed, Naomi. It is very good to have a very succinct introduction like that. One ghastly warning to anybody chairing a meeting or any political occasion comes from an experience of George Bernard Shaw when he was giving a talk to a huge political meeting. He was being introduced at great length by the Chair of the meeting who just went on and on and on, and about after about twenty minutes and several 'finallys' he said,

"Right it is indeed I now have the singular pleasure as I think it to ask George Bernard Shaw to give us his address"

and Shaw is supposed to have stood up and said, "Ten Bloomsbury Terrace" and walked out. So a succinct introduction of that sort is always welcome. Something I should say is that we are not going to have death by PowerPoint this morning, and something else I like to do, even though you may feel your blood sugar levels are extremely high at the moment, I quite like prowling around because I think a talk by stereo is an improvement on a talking head stuck behind a lectern, so be warned.

It is a great pleasure to be taking part in this Open Lecture series. It’s a marvellous part of our Outreach Service’s programme and I’m delighted that it gives additional opportunities to engage with Parliament. You will find from what I say later on that I’m absolutely passionate about getting people to engage with Parliament and to understand not only what happens here but also the value of what happens here.

Can I start with a word or two about my own perspective. This year I’ve been in the House of Commons for 40 years, and I well remember getting the letter from St. Thomas George Barney Cox telling me that I’ve been appointed a Clerk in July 1972. The letter and Barney Cox always used to speak in this sort of doleful way. He was actually appointed in 1930, and he’d been appointed a junior Clerk by the Clerk of the House who he himself had been appointed under Gladstone’s last administration, so you will see there are certain amount of historical continuity in this place at least. And Barney’s letter said

"I think it would be as well if you were to start bright and early on the morning of the 3rd of July. Come to the Central Lobby at 11:15am"

and I thought, 'great, this is just the job for me!' But I very rapidly realised that actually working here involves some very long days and some very unpredictable tasks and challenges. Barney incidentally had two private secretaries. One was called Miss Fox and the other one was called Miss Pitt; I think he quite deliberately selected them for that purpose.

Now I’m the forty-ninth Clerk of the House of Commons since 1363. The first Clerk was another Robert, Robert de Melton, and originally we were called clerks because we were clerks in Holy Orders; clerks were priests because priests could read and write and the generality of members in medieval times could not. If the height of your social ambitions was getting biffed of your horse by a lance, then really you didn’t need to spend too much time learning to read and write. 

I have two main parts of my job. One is as Clerk of the House and this is a job that I think almost all of my predecessors would recognise quite readily. It includes being the principal constitutional advisor to the House and an advisor to the House on all its procedure, business, Parliamentary Privilege and so on. It is for that reason that my job for pay and rations purposes is not linked with Whitehall Permanent Secretary but with a Lord Justice of Appeal. 

The other half of my job is as Chief Executive of House of Commons Service. The House of Commons service is about 2,000 people, a head count about 1750 full time equivalents. That also involves my being responsible for the budget of the House of Commons which in the next financial year will be £220 million. 

Now a lot of that of course is attributed to running a modern Parliament.  Sometimes it doesn’t look modern but it is, as I hope to demonstrate to you. This is in a grade one listed building, or mostly in a grade one listed building, in the middle of a UNESCO World Heritage site, and of course the state of the Palace is something that is now getting a certain amount of public coverage. It is also something where previous generations of stewards of the building have rather fallen down on their responsibilities. We can certainly explore that a bit further in questions if you would like to. 

That £220 million next year; we are in the middle of a very challenging savings programme. I’ve got to save 17 per cent of the House of Commons budget over a 4 year period. It’s an intellectual and managerial challenge doing that while at the same time not prejudicing the support of the core functions that Members carry out. Those 2,000 people in the House service I should emphasise are not Civil Servants. We are servants of the Legislature and not of the Executive. 

The House service (and I’m incredibly proud of the House service) spans the most fantastic range of expertise and skills. As part of our organisation I have people who are experts in re-gilding Pugin woodwork, I have international award winning chefs in the catering and retail service, I have people who are fantastic researchers doing things like unpacking the unemployment statistics to work out what they really mean, and I’ve got experts scrutineers supporting the operation of the Committees.

So there’s a huge variety of what we do and a huge variety of support services required to keep Parliament particularly in this case the House of Commons going.

It is a superb experience, actually, working with a lot of really talented people who are passionate about the institution. I think this is a very good moment for me to say how very keen I am that the House service should become more diverse and more inclusive. Now this is not just in terms of gender, disability, ethnicity and the other protected characteristics. It goes much wider, because I want us as a House service to be attractive and accessible to people who perhaps had never thought of working in Parliament. So if you have a thought of working in Parliament follow it up, do, I really encourage you to do that.

Now the House service; I’ve already said that we are not Civil Servants, but also we are rigorously impartial. A lot of people in the public service of course would say, "well we are impartial as well", but for us serving both sides or all sides of the House of Commons in what may be very, very contentious circumstances that impartiality is absolutely part of our daily creed. 

Now of course if you are, just to take that example, if you are re-gilding Pugin woodwork or if you are preparing one of the one and a half million meals that we serve every financial year to almost the population of a small town who find themselves here, Members, staff, staff of the House and all of those whose business brings them to Westminster; if you’re doing those things then being politically impartial is not a major part of your daily concern.
But certainly if you are unpacking the unemployment statistics, or you are criticising the way in which, let’s say, a particular Government department has used its statistics in answering queries in our research division in our library, or if you are serving a Select Committee with members of all parties, dealing with a very contentious issue or if, and this is an example, I’ll sort of work through for you, you’re in the Table Office of the House where members go to get instant first line procedural advice, then that rigorous impartiality is really important. 

I’ll give you an example.  Members may come into the Table Office and say, "Right we want to do this. We want to pull an ambush on the Government tomorrow night." You sit down with them and you think through what their plan of campaign is, and you make some technical suggestions, "perhaps you do this rather than that or that might be more effective" and off they go chortling at this marvellous plan that you’ve helped them cook up.  And then 5 minutes later let’s say a Government Whip comes in and she or he says, "We just had this ghastly thought. What would happen if..." and then you’ll suddenly find yourself sitting down with the other side actually trying to sabotage the plan you were cooking up a minute before.  If you wonder why in these circumstances we’re not all raving schizophrenics the answer is that we are, in some ways I think, are little like barristers.  We are doing the best for our clients, although in that circumstance we have rather a rapid turnover of clients.

Now coming back to my roles, I’m Corporate Officer of the House and that means that the House’s property and leases and so on are all held in my name. I share ownership of our part of the estate with Her Majesty the Queen. It’s very agreeable to be at least in theory a part owner of such desirable bloc of real estate in SW1. But I can tell you the downside is as Corporate Officer, if things go wrong and people fall down stairs and get injured, I am the guy who gets sued. So please can I entreat you as you leave this room to take extreme care because I don’t want my weekend spoiled by the possibility that you may be blaming us for having fallen down the stairs.

As a Accounting Officer, and there is an Accounting Officer in every Government department; the idea is that you have a individual who is personally accountable for the propriety and regularity of the spending of public money. I’m the accounting officer for that House of Commons estimate of £220 odd million. I’m also, and this is something that I thank you Naomi for making the point about fire alarms, I’m also in statute the responding person for fire safety. That’s something I take very seriously because, as you will all know, we have, I won’t say in recent history but Caroline Shenton’s excellent book “The Day Parliament Burned Down” has reminded us rather recently about the fire we had here in 1834 which destroyed most of the old, well not the Palace, but the huddle of buildings around Westminster Hall and the Chambers of the two Houses.

So let me move on now to some of the more visible functions that we undertake. Here am I wearing more or less what I wear at the table of the house every day.  I wear a wig and a silk gown as well.  That is a hangover from a very ancient function of the Clerks which was to record what the Houses actually decided.  We don’t record what people say, that’s done by Hansard up in the gallery up above us and a remarkable operation that is, but it is the legal record of the decisions that the House takes. 

I also read out, or one of my colleagues at the table reads out, things that are required to be read out in the House.  At the start of the business on most days, the Speaker or whoever is in the chair will say, “the Clerk will now proceed to reads the orders of the day”. Now there was a member, a Labour member, a few years ago who said you knew you’d been in the House too long when you realised that the words “the Clerk would now proceed to read the order of the day” could be sung to the words of John Browns body, and for the chorus, “Point of order Mr Speaker”. 

So sometimes these formulations, we take them rather for granted.  But when you look at us, when you look on the television, you see the table and you see the three of us at Question Time, you may wonder what we are doing. Sometimes people say to me, “well you are just trying to work out who’s going to win the 2:30 at Sandown”, or something like that. 

But actually it can be very, very busy indeed, because you are not only advising the Chair, and unforeseen things like points of order may come up.  You’ve got half an ear to whether perhaps a member is getting into a area which is sub judice, something that’s to be decided by the courts. 

We have, as it were, a non-aggression pact with the courts so we don’t deal with things which are being decided by the court; in the same way a court cannot take account of what is said in proceedings in Parliament.  But also advising the Whips on both sides about the handling of the business and any Member can come to us and ask a question and many of them do, not all about Parliament. 

I am frequently asked about the source of a quotation, or we had something the other day – “What was the land area of Mexico?”  Now that’s not something that we all have at our disposal instantly but I do have the advantage of having a iPad at the table so I was actually able to look it up quite quickly.

Very often I feel that job, it sounds an odd thing say, but it’s a bit like being airline pilot.  When you’re sitting at the table and you’ve got some not very contentious business like manufacturing industry in the West Midlands, and there is some contention about that, but the House can be quite calm.  That’s a bit like being at 35,000ft with the automatic pilot on and a cup of coffee in your hand. 

But if the House, let’s say, is doing Lords amendments to a big Bill and there are 700 Lords amendments, and you’ve got motions to agree, and motions to disagree, and amendments in lieu, and amendments to Lords amendments, and amendments to word restored to the Bill; then you may be the only person in the room who really knows what’s meant to happen next. That is rather like anyone who remembers the old Hong Kong airport, where you came down in the rain between the tenement buildings and the washing lines getting higher and higher as you sank lower and lower towards the air field and you feel that you’re really earning your money then.

We do try, of course, to be a bit more helpful then one of my learning predecessors, Sir Denis Le Marchant in Victorian times, where the Speaker of the day could see that there was disaster approaching. He leaned forward and he said "Sir Denis, Sir Denis, what do I do?" and the Clerk of the House got up, tipped his wig on his head, gathered his books, shrugged his gown around his shoulders and went and stood beside the Chair and the speaker obviously thought, "right this is it, I’ve got the get out of jail card."  Sir Denis Le Marchant said "I advise you Sir, to be extremely cautious" and then disappeared behind the Chair. So, as I say, we try to be a lot more helpful than that.

What I thought I’d do now is to explore some of the things that make the House of Commons the way it is. The first thing I would draw your attention to is just the building itself, this fantastic gothic wedding cake fantasy on the banks of the Thames. Of course when Barry designed it, he designed a Victorian Parliament, and it was all the things you expected in mid-Victorian times. So for example if a Member wanted to look something up, well, he did exactly what he would do in his townhouse or his country house perhaps (and it would be a he – it would always be a he), he would go and do that research himself.  If he wanted to write a letter he might keep a copy in a letter book but basically he’d just write a letter in longhand in the Library. 

So we needed the debating Chambers at each end and we needed the dining rooms; food and drink has been important in Parliamentary life.  But nevertheless, not much more was required. And now running a modern Parliament with that, and I gave you a bit of a clue to the huge range of what goes on here and I’ll talk a bit later on about  the different types of activity, we are doing all sorts of things to try and make the very best of the space we’ve got. 

Now when you’re on the principal floor of the House of Commons and you’re perhaps going through the Chambers or you’re looking in the Central Lobby, it all seems wonderfully spacious and calm.  But go down or go up, you’ll find it’s absolutely a rabbit warren of rooms and we are trying to make the best of and trying to make the most of the space and resources that we have.

Now of course, Portcullis House, where we are now, is a fantastic addition to the Parliamentary estate, and particularly the Committee rooms on this floor have made a huge difference to us and to the space and accessibility to Select Committee proceedings. But it does underline something, which is a very interesting piece of applied psychology in a way.  Because if you can just imagine a Select Committee sitting in one of the Committee rooms over in the Palace, there they are with leather chairs and old oil paintings on the wall and linenfold panelling and all the rest, then whatever is going on in the Committee, it seems, somehow, a bit sort of old fashioned and a bit fuddy-duddy.

Now you take exactly the same Committee, and the same Members and the same witnesses and you put them in one of the Committee rooms over here, with the light-coloured birch furniture and the high energy tapestries and hangings on the walls, then the feel is totally different. Its quite an interesting, sort of, human emotion in a way, because we do judge things so much by externals, and one of the things I would advise you about is when you’re looking at Parliament, and when you’re looking at Parliamentary proceedings, don’t get lead astray by just the surroundings.  It’s much more important to have a real idea and a real feel of what’s going on.

I think another theme inevitably is going to be the old and the new. You can’t work in a building or in a group of buildings which in one form or another have been here for a thousand years without constantly feeling that history is at your elbow. Now I actually like our formal dress and a certain amount of ceremony because I think it gives a dignified, firm framework to the rough and tumble of politics that goes on in between. Constantly, the old lives with the new.

As Clerk of the House if a Bill goes from the House of Commons to the House of Lords I write on it in Norman French; can you credit it, but never the less that’s what we do for hundreds of years so we’re not stopping doing it now because it’s not really an important thing to need to be abolished. I write "Soit bail as Seigneurs" (let it be sent to the House of the Lords), and then I or one of my colleagues takes the Bill, actually physically, and walks down in a certain amount of dignified state from the House of Commons through the Central Lobby into the House of Lords where we meet on of our House of Lords counterparts. You bow, you hand the Bill over, and then you come back.  But at the same time the text of that Bill is on the shared drive between the two Public Bill Offices using some of the most advanced text handling software in the world, so again the old lives with the new. 

There are some really, I think, quite charming survivals, and again they don’t matter that much, they don’t get in our way.  When a member presents a Ten Minute Rule Bill for example, she or he will bow at the bar, bow halfway up the Chamber and bow at the table, and that middle bow is there because in the old Chamber of the House of Commons there was a great chandelier halfway down the chamber where Members bowed when they did exactly the same thing. 

Now that building was destroyed in 1834, but when we built a new Chamber Members they just carried on doing it as a sort of visual tradition as people very often do. And the other thing is when people bow, when Members bow when they come to the House, a lot of people think they are bowing to the Speaker and the Speaker’s chair. They’re not; that’s another amazing survival, because what they originally did was they bowed to the alter in St. Stephen’s Chapel where the house first sat in 1547. So that is again an extraordinary survival but I quite like it; it makes the place very interesting.  Survivals don’t do anyone harm and I rather like that.

In a piece of shameless advertising, may I refer you to a talk on this theme that I gave at the Houses of Parliament’s TEDx event, and if you Google the talk you will get it and you’ll do wonders for my hit rate, so may I encourage you to do that and I hope you find that amusing and entertaining. 

I’m often asked about the changes that I’ve seen in forty years in this place and I think there are really two, and they are closely related.  One is just the increase in Members’ staff. When I came here I think there were 20 or 25 Members’ Researchers in total. We now have 1,760, I think is the latest, not all here in Westminster but also in constituencies.

That increase has been part of a shift, I think, really quite a tectonic shift from Members having their principal and only focus at Westminster, and the sort of demands that they now face from their constituents, the sort of expectations that constituents have, quite rightly, of Members of Parliament.  Of course in order to deliver this service to their constituents Members do need that sort of support that is provided by their staff. 

One of the things that I have been doing and have got the members of my Board of Management to do (they are under firm instructions), is to visit constituencies, see Members, see the other half of what Members do, because if we do that then I think we are in a much better position to help them do the other half of their job here at Westminster. But that pull of the constituency is incredibly powerful and a Member can quite easily be working, unless with some pretty good time management, a Member could easily be working 24/7 every week of the year.

People often say to me, "Members of Parliament have little experience of real life", and I think my response to that would be, "well you should see constituency surgeries. You should see the victims of domestic violence, the people whose lives have been made unbearable by the neighbours from Hell, the homeless, the hopeless".  An MP is often the only way someone doesn’t know how to access justice or who can’t afford justice can actually get equity from society.

And I think that’s one of the reasons why the overall approval rating of Members of Parliament as a group, in the Hansard society Audit of Political Engagement each year, is down in the low twenties - which perhaps I should remark is roughly what it is for journalists - but also if you asked the question ‘what’s the approval rating for your MP,  regardless of party, your MP in your constituency’, the approval rating shoots up into the fifties or sixties, because people are aware of what their Member of Parliament does for them. The word of mouth about how Mrs so-and-so or Mr-such-and-such helped somebody I know, or they have spoken up for us in some problem that’s affected the community or the neighbourhood or the constituency more widely.

Now I have to say the huge expectations that a constituency has for its MP are a relatively new concept.  There is a story told, I think its set a good few years before I came here, but never the less there are two members sitting in the tea room, one very depressed and the other one trying to cheer him up. The cheerer-upper says, "What’s the trouble old man, why are you depressed?" and the first one says, "I’ve got to go to the constituency tomorrow".  The cheerer upper says, "Well that’s not a problem is it? You’ll be back here on Thursday.  What’s so terrible?". "No you don’t understand," says the other, "I have to go there next year as well".  Now that is now, given the huge part of the Members’ life that the constituency and welfare of the constituents occupies, that is very, very far in the past.

I think a little longer ago you could take more risks. This is a very favourite one of mine. Anthony Henley who was Member for Southampton in the early 18th century was outraged that his constituents had written to him about a particular Excise Bill coming before Parliament, and he wrote back to them, “Gentlemen, I received yours and am surprised by your insolence in troubling me about the Excise. You know, what I very well know, that I bought you. And I know, what perhaps you think I don’t know, that you are now selling yourselves to Somebody Else; and I know, what you do not know, that I am buying another borough. May God’s curse light upon you all; may your houses be as open and common to all Excise officers as your wives and daughters were to me, when I stood for your Scoundrell Corporation.” Yep, have a nice day. I don’t think you would get very far treating your constituency like that these days.

Something that I think is really important for you to keep in mind is that a lot of people see Parliament and the House of Commons as an organisation. Yes it is, it has a organisational framework and in a sense that’s the part of the institution that I’m responsible for, the organisation, how we spend money, the way we try to achieve value for money for the tax payer and manage the services properly and professionally.  But Parliaments, and the House of Commons is absolutely no exception to this, are not organisations.  They are organisms, and I think that distinction is a very important one, and as any biologist will tell you, organism are unpredictable, they’re reactive, they’re cussed and that is absolutely the way in that the House is.

It is nowhere more obvious I think than in the Chamber of the House because the unpredictabilities of the Chamber are huge. Now I see this very vividly every Wednesday. I see it every day to a certain degree, but every Wednesday with Prime Minister’s Questions, I am about 12 feet away from the protagonists of Prime Minister’s Questions on a Wednesday.

I think that the Chamber more generally, is more relevant and more topical than it has been for years.  Now part of that, I think, is about coalition politics, the huge change that we had in some of the assumptions and some of the dispositions between the 2005 Parliament and the 2010 Parliament.

I think the greater, huge number of Urgent Questions being granted is a factor, because people know that something that is in the media that morning will actually be aired on the Floor of the House, like as or not, later on in the day, and I think that is a great influence on relevance.  On PMQ’s, I think I’d say everybody says, "Well you know they are so noisy, it’s all zoo noises," but again look beyond that.  There you’ve got a occasion where the Chief Executive of the country is being questioned in public, without very much notice of the questions he is going to asked, for half an hour every week that we sit, and I think that is something which is pretty important and pretty valuable as well.

One of the things too which contributes to the organic business of the Chamber is how small it is, because we’ve actually only got seats for two thirds of the Members of the House. It’s always said that there are 427 seats in the Chamber. I don’t really buy that, because Members are different sizes and it’s got be an average or a finger in the wind estimate, but nevertheless that two thirds is important.  If you have 100 Members in the Chamber, that’s a relatively small proportion of the House as a whole, but 100 Members make it feel vibrant.  It’s not like the European Parliament; if you have part of the membership sitting in the hemicycle in Brussels or in Strasbourg, the place would seem like a morgue, so that is really quite important.  When we re-built the Chamber, there was a real possibility that we might have had a hemicycle chamber, like a continental Parliament. The Select Committee recommended against that, and the House came down very heavily on the side of renewing what we had before.  Churchill said in the debate that what we wanted was a Chamber which was, "an instrument of free and easy conversational debate", and Members are so close to each other that that is what it is and it does contribute greatly to the vibrancy of what happens. 

It also helps the wit and repartee. I’d love to have been there when Lord Sandwich said to John Wilkes, "You will die either on the gallows or of the pox", and Wilkes returned, "That depends on whether I embrace your Lordship’s principles or your Lordship’s mistress".  I think a lot of the fun is very often not picked up by Hansard, because it is so quick fire that there actually isn’t a chance to turn the microphone on to the particular Member who has interjected. One thing I do remember very well was the late, great Tony Banks, Labour Member for Stratford in East London. 

The House was dealing with a Private Bill (not a Private Members Bill) to develop the transit railway in a South coast constituency, and the Member who was moving the Second Reading of the Bill was a very, very large Conservative Member – acres of pin-striped suiting.  There had been a lot of fuss in the constituency about this Bill, and he was extremely proud about that, and he said "I personally have been targeted" and quick as a flash, Banks shouts out, "Blimey!  That was hardly precision bombing!"  It’s that sort of thing which you find day after day makes the Chamber very vibrant and an entertaining place to be.

So where is Parliament now? 2009, let me just face this absolutely head on, 2009 was a dreadful year for Parliament and for those who, like me, spent a lot of our working lives trying to get Parliament better understood, trying to get it more valued.  And the seeds, of course, of the expenses disaster were sown decades ago when the Government of the day bottled giving Members a pay rise and the thing was done by expenses rather than by pay.  But even while the daily hammer blows were falling in terms of media revelations and the rest, the House of Commons was still doing things which are of real value to society, to the citizen, to the tax payer. We had 40 or so Select Committees, on a consensual basis criticising the Government’s policies, calling Ministers to account. Members were still doing their constituency work in the way that I’ve described.

2010 was a real sea change. We had 227 new Members. They knew what they were getting into, and had a determination to do things differently, and there is in this Parliament a completely different feel.  I think the attendance in the Chamber, the topicality and relevance that I mentioned a minute ago, things that have changed like electing the Chairs of Select Committees and members of Select Committees.  The things that have changed recently in terms of improvements in the way we scrutinise legislation.  Select Committees, I think, have found a new confidence and a new feel, a new legitimacy because of that election of Members. 

I think that this is something which we do really, really well, because people actually like to see Members working across the political divide, seeking consensus.  Now consensus doesn’t have to be anodyne.  You can have some very tough consensual reports.  But the other thing that Select Committees do which I think is very important, and something that is really important for you thinking about how to engage with Parliament, is that they provide access to the political process.  Because debates take place between Members of Parliament, but Select Committees give people outside Parliament who know about a subject, who have got a particularly point of view, they give them access to the political process. 

There were more rebellions in the first two years of the 2010 Parliament than in the four previous Parliaments put together.  Now that partly reflects the strains of coalition politics, perhaps, but I see it as extremely healthy.  I don’t think politics is ever likely to be consensual but we have come a little way from this; let me give you a little quotation, "You are now exhaling upon the constitution of your country all that long-hoarded venom and all those distempered humours that have for years accumulated in your petty heart and have tainted the current of your mortified life."  Splendid stuff.  That’s Disraeli to Lord John Russell, incidentally.

The House of Commons is more active, across a wider range of activities and functions, than it ever has been before.  We sit about 150 days a year (last financial year it was 143), an extraordinary amount of Chamber time compared with almost every other Parliament in the world. In the last financial year the average daily sitting was just short of 8 hrs. In our parallel Chamber in Westminster Hall, that sat on 97 days, and the average sitting was about 4 hours. The two together produced about 20,000 pages of Hansard, which increasingly I may say, as with a lot of our documents, we are making available electronically and successively reducing the amount of paper we use.

In an average year there are about 30 Government Bills, and about 100 Private Members Bills. In the last financial year, our Select Committees had 1,270 meetings and the Departmental Select Committees produced very nearly 200 reports. Our European Scrutiny Committee analysed 1,300 EU documents. There were 50,000 written answers to Parliamentary Questions. Our Library researchers dealt with 30,000 research inquiries from Members.

The Parliamentary website had 67 million hits. We welcomed 115,000 visitors to the Chamber galleries, and another nearly 200,000 people toured the building. And at the same time, and this is something which I’m really keen on, we continued to reduce our carbon footprint and to recycle ever more waste.

One of the things that I have always tried to do, and do as energetically as I can as Clerk of the House, is to make the case for what I might call the virtuous triad. Slagging off Parliaments is a national sport all round the world and I don’t expect that it will ever stop in respect to our Parliament.  Indeed there is Cobbett writing his Grammar of the English language in 1824, and he talks of numbers of multitude such as "den of thieves, Court of King’s Bench, House of Commons". There is always going to be that default setting.  But it seems to me that if you can get people to understand the institution, it is then a natural human reaction for them to value it. If you understand something, you are then prepared and ready to value it.  And if you value something then you are more prepared, you are readier, to take ownership of it. And I would say that Parliaments actually are not for Parliamentarians. Parliaments belong to the citizens and the taxpayer. If we can pull off that virtuous triad – understand, value, own – then we will have done something really, really worthwhile.

Thank you very much.


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