John Bercow's bid to appoint Australian to top Commons job goes off the rails


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Indy Politics

The crisis over Commons Speaker John Bercow’s choice for a top parliamentary job has deepened after both Downing Street and the current incumbent raised doubts over his handling of the selection.

The provisional appointment of the Australian Carol Mills as the Commons Clerk has provoked uproar among MPs who have protested she does not have the necessary knowledge of British parliamentary procedure for the post.

They have called for her to be cross-examined before she is given the job, which combines the role of being the Speaker’s key constitutional adviser with taking charge of the running of the Commons.

Downing Street indicated that Mr Cameron shared their concerns when a spokeswoman said he believed the new clerk needed to have the support of MPs and said the Prime Minister had not yet passed Ms Mills’ nomination to Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s approval.

Stressing the appointment was “ultimately a matter for the House and for the Speaker”, the spokeswoman said: “Clearly it is an important role and in order for the individual to be able to carry it out successfully, they would need support from MPs across the House of Commons.”

Mr Bercow has sought to calm the row by saying he wants to split the functions of the £200,000-a-year post, the most senior position in the Commons, into two jobs as quickly as possible.

But the current Clerk, Sir Robert Rogers, who is retiring after reported clashes with Mr Bercow, made clear his disdain for the Speaker’s proposal.

In a letter seen by The Independent, Sir Robert says creating a “divided command” would create confusion and conflict, as well as a series of practical problems in the administration of the Commons.

He argues: “Where would responsibility lie? The prospect of two officials of equal rank playing Members off against each other (or each other off against members!) is not attractive. The buck must stop somewhere.”

Ms Mills, who heads the department of parliamentary services in Canberra, was selected by a six-strong panel headed by Mr Bercow. His allies argue that the appointment was endorsed by the committee as a whole and that she was the most impressive candidate in interviews. They also believe that some critics are hostile to her because she would be a moderniser.

Senior Conservative and Labour figures, who have argued that the job should go to the current deputy clerk David Natzler, have criticised the appointment and have called for her to face a confirmation hearing before a committee.

The backlash has dealt a blow to Mr Bercow’s authority and one ally has even warned the controversy could cost him the Speakership.