House of Commons Governance Select Committee – Thursday 4 December 2014

On Thursday 4 December 2014, the House of Commons Governance of the House Committee, of which Valerie is a member, heard evidence from Rt Hon Lord Judge, former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales; Sir Kevin Tebbit, KCB CMG and David Orr, external member of the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board.

Valerie Vaz: It feels slightly odd to have you sitting before us, as someone who believes in the separation of powers and the rule of law, but thank you for coming and giving evidence. It is very helpful.

I want to turn to the relationship between the Lord Chief Justice and the chief Clerk. I personally was struck by these words from Robert Rogers in a staff newsletter, which I will quote to you: “When I felt that there was no real understanding between the judiciary and Parliament I got hold of the Lord Chief Justice and the President of the Supreme Court, and together we instituted a private but hugely valuable dialogue, which has headed off a lot of potential problems.” How many times did you do that and what did you discuss?

Lord Judge: It is very interesting, isn’t it, how memory can play you false. I thought it was because I was concerned about a particular matter and that I decided that the person to get hold of was not the Speaker, directly or immediately, but the Clerk.

The answer to your question is that, as far as I am aware—and I would have been aware of anything in the past 10 years, certainly—there has been only one occasion when such an issue has arisen. It was very specific; it related to the relationship between the judicial system and the House. It arose in the context of courts issuing what were called anonymous injunctions and Members of this House and the other House in effect breaking the court order by using parliamentary privilege to identify the people who were anonymised by order of the court.

It struck me and it struck Lord Neuberger—he was then Master of the Rolls and subsequently became President of the Supreme Court—that it is a very dangerous situation when we accept that the judiciary should not be involved with the legislature, nor indeed the Executive. As a result of that, we puzzled how we should go about this. We thought, “Here’s the Clerk. He is the person responsible. He will give advice to us to the extent that he can. He will certainly be advising the House and the Speaker in the sort of dispassionate, objective way that one would hope the Attorney-General would be advising the Government of the day.” As a result of that and the advice he gave, the Speaker saw us and the Lord Speaker saw us shortly afterwards. That was the only occasion, but that was because it was directly connected with the proper constitutional arrangements between both Houses and the judiciary. I do not know and cannot think of any other occasion. I would like to think that it
never needs to arise.

Valerie Vaz: That is an absolutely fantastic answer. As a lawyer, I am
heartened by that. This is probably a theoretical question which you do not really need to answer, but if there was a split between the chief executive and the Clerk, would that make any difference to what you need to do?

Lord Judge: A lot turns on names, doesn’t it? You can have a chief executive and you can have a Clerk. There would be absolutely no reason for the judiciary, if it was concerned about the working relationship between the House and the judiciary, to speak to anybody other than somebody who had the ear of the Speaker in relation to constitutional matters. A chief executive running any business has huge responsibilities, but not this one. It would be astonishing to me if the Speaker of the House were concerned about a problem affecting the judiciary and he asked those who worked for him to get in touch with the chief executive to the Lord Chief Justice. It is nothing to do with her, as it happens. I would expect the contact to go straight through to the Lord Chief.

Valerie Vaz: Seven years seems to be a time when everyone reviews what is going on—it’s like the seven-year itch, isn’t it? I suppose your report is slightly different because we are Members sitting on a Select Committee, but management models move on, as I am sure you will agree. We heard from David Higgins, who has been a very successful deliverer of a certain model, and he talked about having two people who got on with each other and who talked about the work. How often do you think organisations should change their governance structures, given that you are not sure whether certain recommendations that you made—and you took the trouble to write a report—have been implemented?

Sir Kevin Tebbit: How often should one change governance structures? You should not change them because of fashion. G K Chesterton once said that management studies were the idolatrous pursuit of the intermediate. I think there is something in that. It is a question of whether you have got really good people who are absolutely committed to the end product, who understand together what that is, and work together to achieve it—I am now talking about the House Service. That seems to be much more important than worrying too much about structure. However, I think it is very important to have processes that are clearly understandable and measurable, which is why I have gone on about them. That, to me, is the most important thing. With the way in which IT has moved, that is not a difficult thing to achieve, as long as you have the right experts putting in the right processes and measuring the right things. I don’t have an easy answer to this, although I think there was certainly enough in my report to try to promote the changes, which were by and large also recommended by my predecessor.

That is not a very satisfactory answer. I know organisations always need to refresh themselves. I am just coming back to the point that I do not think refreshment would be achieved by splitting the role of the Clerk and Chief Executive.

David Orr: I think best practice would be to review governance structures around about every three years. That does not necessarily mean a change. I have found that sometimes you do need a fundamental review and then three years later perhaps a less intensive review. There is also sometimes the need for a focused review of governance. I have recently concluded a review of procurement governance for a public sector organisation in the Republic of Ireland, looking at the governance of a particular function as the case arises.

The transcript from this evidence session is available here:

More information on the House of Commons Governance Committee can be found here: