Statement on the impartial relationship between clerks and Members of Parliament

Exterior image of the Palace of Westminster at night
21 January 2019

House of Commons statement on the impartial relationship between clerks and Members of Parliament:

Clerks of the House of Commons provide advice to all Members of Parliament, of all viewpoints, on the drafting of many items of Parliamentary business, such as bills, motions and amendments. This advice is done on a rigorously impartial basis.

Yesterday’s frontpage Sunday Times article misrepresents the nature of the relationship between the Clerks and MPs. Consequently Sir David Natzler, the Clerk of the House, has today written to the Sunday Times to complain formally about the article and asking them to make clear that the actions reported were in fact entirely appropriate.

Copy of the letter of complaint sent to Sunday Times from Sir David Natzler, Clerk of the House of Commons:

I write as Head of the House of Commons service to complain formally about the article published on the front page of The Sunday Times on 20th January.

Your claim that a named official was “drawing up plans to overturn the normal rules of parliament” in support of “rebel MPs” are insinuations of improper behaviour and support for a particular political position, and a gross misrepresentation of the nature of the relationship between Clerks and Members of Parliament. Providing advice to MPs is a key part of the job of Clerks. MPs from all parties and with a range of views will regularly approach the Clerks to get advice on how to get their view into a motion or amendment, or how to draft a Private Member’s Bill on a particular topic. They will offer such advice regardless of any personal views on the subject.
 
This implication of impropriety is further reinforced by your tweet saying a Member has been “in secret communication with a House of Commons official” and by your unfounded claim in the article that the official concerned “swore him to secrecy”. Correspondence between Clerks and MPs about advice they give is, by its very nature, usually private and confidential.  
 
Consequently we would like you to publish a correction making clear that the actions of the House of Commons official you named were in fact entirely appropriate; and apologising for insinuations to the contrary in the sub- headline, article itself and related tweets.

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