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Parliament clerk role to be split

The role of Parliament's top official is set to be split amid the increasingly bitter row over the planned appointment of Australian Carol Mills to the £200,000-a-year job.

Parliamentary lawyers are understood to have found a way to allow the job of clerk to be separated into procedural and management roles despite this previously having been ruled out for legal reasons.

Plans to appoint Ms Mills to the job as Parliament's most senior official, which combines the constitutional role of clerk of the House of Commons with being the chief executive responsible for running the building and managing almost 2,000 staff, have sparked cross party criticism.

Commons Speaker John Bercow attempted to divide up the responsibilities before the current job was advertised but his plans were met with an unenthusiastic response from retiring clerk Sir Robert Rogers and Andrew Lansley, former Leader of the House, according to a letter released by his office.

Writing to Conservative Sir Alan Duncan, he said: "This is precisely my own opinion and it has disappointed me that, when I previously floated the idea with colleagues - most recently with Andrew Lansley when Leader of the House and with our retiring clerk, Sir Robert Rogers - it has not been met with much (or even any) enthusiasm."

Mr Bercow - who has attempted to drive a significant modernisation of the Commons - has been accused of overlooking the respected deputy clerk David Natzler for reasons of political correctness.

He added: " To sum up: I entirely agree with you t hat the two roles currently combined in this single post need to be separated as soon as practicable. The (House of Commons) Commission had in any case agreed to a review of the senior management structure of the House, so this question could be addressed swiftly.

" If and when that separation is achieved, and the clerk is finally relieved of the functions of a CEO, it will naturally be open to senior clerks to apply for that post."

Ms Mills, head of the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) in Canberra, is believed to have been recommended for the prestigious role following a recruitment process with a selection panel led by the Speaker.

Details of how and when the position could be split are yet to be finalised but such a move would require her agreement.

The role of deputy clerk was set to be beefed up but it is understood that under the plans it would have the same standing as the chief executive position.

A meeting of the House of Commons Commission, a cross-party group led by the Speaker, due to be held on September 8 is expected to discuss the proposition.

Concerns has been raised about Ms Mills' ability to carry out the procedural side of the role, with former speaker Baroness Boothroyd warning she would be "totally out of her depth".

Former foreign secretaries Jack Straw and Dame Margaret Beckett are among a number of high-profile figures to back a cross-party campaign calling for Ms Mills to face a confirmation hearing in front of MPs before she can take up the job.

Ms Mills' appointment also caused surprise in Australia, where clerk of the Senate Rosemary Laing warned that Ms Mills had no "parliamentary knowledge or experience" and should not be appointed.

Ms Laing apparently also cited an incident in which the Australian Department of Parliamentary Services confirmed it had used CCTV cameras to retrace the movements of a DPS employee and show her pushing an envelope under the door of a senator's office late at night.

The episode has been referred to the Senate privileges committee for inquiry, as cameras are supposed to be used only for security and to prosecute illegal activity.

Ms Mills said the DPS "looks forward to the opportunity to explain to the committee the basis of its view that use of the CCTV footage was in fact authorised, and wholly consistent with parliamentary privilege".

Conservative MPs dismissed the move, claiming it simply fuelled concerns about the appointment.

Rob Wilson told the Mail on Sunday: "This is a grubby compromise to get the Speaker out of a hole and it won't wash."

Bernard Jenkin told the newspaper: " It does not clear the way for Ms Mills to be appointed Clerk - it just adds to the confusion and concern. The appointment process should be stopped and must go back to the drawing board."

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