Speaker John Bercow under pressure over appointment of Australian to senior Commons role

 

Senior Reporter

Plans to appoint an Australian official said to have no knowledge of parliamentary proceedings to the post of clerk of the House of Commons are in doubt, as a senior backbench MP promised to force a debate on the subject on the day Parliament resumes.

Commons Speaker John Bercow has been under intense pressure after a panel voted to appoint Carol Mills, who is currently secretary of the department of parliamentary services in Canberra, to the most senior unelected post at Westminster.

In an email to the outgoing Commons clerk Sir Robert Rogers, Australian Senate clerk Rosemary Laing said Ms Mills was “someone without parliamentary knowledge and experience”, adding that she and her colleagues had followed the news of her forthcoming appointment with “increasing disbelief and dismay”.

Today the Conservative MP Jesse Norman said he would take action to ensure that the issue was properly debated in Parliament if Mr Bercow did not bow to demands for Ms Mills to appear in front of MPs for a confirmation hearing before taking up the role.

“To be clear: if the champion of Parliament does not give Parliament a say on Ms Mills’ appointment, I will table a motion on this on 1 Sept,” he wrote on Twitter.

There has been growing discontent in Westminster at the decision to appoint Ms Mills – taken by a panel of five senior MPs and parliamentary ombudsman Dame Julie Mellor – since the email from Ms Laing emerged.

On Thursday, Jack Straw and Dame Margaret Beckett joined the cross-party campaign calling for her to appear in front of MPs so her appointment could be scrutinised. Former speaker Baroness Boothroyd has previously warned that she would be “totally out of her depth” in the role.

Ms Mills has spoken only briefly about the row, saying earlier this week that she was “disappointed” by Ms Laing’s email. “It would not be appropriate for me to comment further in a personal capacity at this time,” she added.

Mr Bercow has passed Ms Mills’ name to Downing Street, with ultimate approval due to be granted by the Queen. His spokeswoman said: “This is the first time ever there has been an open and fair recruitment process for the clerk of the House of Commons.”

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