Records of the House of Commons: Department of the Clerk of the House
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- Held At: Parliamentary Archives: GB-061
- Catalogue Reference: HC/CL
- Accession Number: 6657
- Date: 1604-2017
- Level: Sub fonds
- Extent: 13 sub sub fonds
- Creator Name: House of Commons; Department of the Clerk of the House; 14th century-
- Administrative or Biographical History: The principal function of the Department of the Clerk of the House is to provide the procedural assistance necessary for the orderly conduct of the work of the House of Commons and its Committees. In 2002, the Department had over 250 members of staff. In that year, there were five main offices in the Department: the Committee Office, the Journal Office, the Legislation Service, the Overseas Office and the Table Office. In addition there were the Legal Services Office, the Broadcasting Unit, the Vote Office and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
Traditional duties of the Clerk of the House have been (in the words of the Clerk's oath) to "make true entries, remembrances, and journals of the things done and passed in the House of Commons". Other duties of the Clerk of the House are summarised in Erskine May: "He signs the Addresses, votes of thanks, and orders of the House, endorses the bills sent or returned to the Lords, and reads whatever is required to be read in the House. He is addressed by Members, and puts such questions as are necessary, on an election of a Speaker, and for the adjournment of the House, when it is necessitated by the death of the Speaker during the course of a sitting, or by the absence of the Speaker and the Members competent to act as Deputy Speaker. The Clerk has the custody of all records or other documents, and is responsible for the conduct of the business of the House in the offices within his department. He assists the Speaker and advises Members in regard to questions of order and the proceedings of the House. He is the Corporate Officer of the House and holds the appointments of Accounting Officer for the House of Commons and Chairman of the Board of Management" (Erskine May, 22nd edition). Since July 2000, the Clerk of the House has been Chief Executive of the House of Commons Service.
The first identifiable Clerk of the House of Commons (or "under-clerk of Parliament") was Robert de Melton, who held the post around 1363. Few documents tell us much about the early history of the post or of any assistants. The earliest known formal appointment of a Clerk Assistant was John Rushworth, who was appointed in 1640, but the Clerk had assistants before then. Paul Jodrell, Clerk of the House from 1683 to 1727, made many improvements to the organisation of the department. He laid the foundations of the Journal Office by hiring an assistant, Zachary Hamlyn, to look after the papers of the House, including its Journals. Jodrell was also responsible for the appointment of the forerunners of the Committee Office, the 'under-clerks without doors'. Four 'under-clerks without doors' were first officially appointed in the 1690s to write, copy and ingross bills and attend committees. The senior of these under-clerks collected private bill fees, thus becoming the forerunner of the Fees Office, which later became the Public Bill Office.
A late eighteenth century description of the department was made by John Hatsell (Clerk of the House from 1768 to 1820) in his textbook on procedure, "Precedents of Procedings in the House of Commons." Apart from the Clerk of the House, the Clerk Assistant and the four 'under-clerks without doors', Hatsell notes that the department consisted of: a Clerk of the Committees of Privileges and Elections, with deputies; deputies to each of the four under-clerks without doors; two Clerks directing an Ingrossing Office, with writing clerks under them; a clerk to collect and distribute fees; a clerk who had custody of the Journals and Papers, and several writing clerks under him (the Journal Office); and, a short-hand writer.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, successive Clerks reformed the Department, bringing structure, recruitment practices and many conditions of service in line with those of the civil service. By 1918, the Department was divided into three Offices: the Journal Office, the Public Bill Office, and the Committee and Private Bill Office. By 1974, the Department had 100 members of staff and its organisation had changed yet again, with six offices: the Table Office (created in the 1940s); the Journal Office, the Public Bill Office, the Private Bill Office, the Committee Office and the Overseas Office.
Orlo Cyprian Williams in his book "The Clerical Organisation of the House of Commons1661-1850"in Appendix 1 p. 280 lists the Clerks of the House as:
1363 Robert de Melton
1385 John de Scardeburgh
1414 Thomas Haseley
1440 John Dale
1461 Thomas Bayen
1503? Thomas Hylton
1510 William Underhill
1515 Richard Urmeston, or Ormeston
1548 John Seymour
1567 Fulk Onslow
1603 Ralph Ewens (d. 1611)
1613 John Wright
1640 Henry Elsyng
1649 Henry Scobell
1658 John Smythe
1658 Thomas St. Nicholas
1660 William Jessop
1661 William Goldesbrough the elder
1678 William Goldesbrough the younger
1683 Paul Jodrell
1727 Edward Stables
1732 Nicholas Hardinge
1748 Jeremiah Dyson
1762 Thomas Tyrwhitt
1768 John Hatsell
1820 John Henry Ley
The following is a list of Clerks of the House of the 20th century: Sir Archibald Milman, 1900-02; Sir Courtenay Ilbert, 1902-21; Sir Lonsdale Webster, 1921-30; Sir Horace Dawkins, 1930-37; Sir Gilbert Campion, 1937-48; Sir Frederic Metcalfe, 1948-54; Sir Edward Fellowes, 1954-62; Sir Barnett Cocks, 1962-74; Sir David Lidderdale, 1974-76; Sir Richard Barlas, 1976-79; Sir Charles Gordon, 1979-83; Sir Kenneth Bradshaw, 1983-87; Sir Clifford John Boulton, 1987-94; Sir Donald Limon, 1994-97; Sir William R McKay, 1998-2003; Roger Sands 2003-2006; Malcolm Jack 2006-2011; Robert Rogers 2011-2015; Sir David Natzler KCB 2015-2019; John Benger 2019-
Since July 2000, the Clerk of the House has also been formally recognised as the Chief Executive of the House of Commons Service following the Braithwaite report of 1999, while remaining head of the Clerk?s Department (October 2010, The House of Commons Administration). He is the Corporate Officer of the House and holds the appointments of Accounting Officer for the House of Commons and Chairman of the Board of Management" (Erskine May, 22nd edition).
In 2002, the Department had over 250 members of staff. In that year, there were five main offices in the Department: the Committee Office, the Journal Office, the Legislation Service, the Overseas Office and the Table Office. In addition, there were the Legal Services Office, the Broadcasting Unit, the Vote Office and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
In 2007 The Tebbit Review recommended ?the Clerk of the House to be freed up from more of his responsibilities for the Clerk?s Department in order to perform the role of Chief Executive of the House Service? (June 2007, The Tebbit Review). At the same time, it recommended that the scope of the activities of the Office of the Clerk of the House should be expanded to embrace planning and performance management functions, an increased communication co-ordination role and that its staffing numbers should be increased.
The commission of the 8th October 2007 decided that the previous six Departments should be grouped in four: the Department of Chamber and Committee Services, the Department of Facilities, the Department of Information Services and the Department of Resources that fall under the umbrella of the Clerk Assistant that answers to the Chief Executive.
From 8th October 2007, the Clerk?s department officially ceased to exist and became the Department of Chamber and Committee Services, delegated to the Clerk Assistant (February 2008 The Tebbit Review of Management and Services of the House of Commons).
It was also ?agreed that the management of the Clerk?s department, now the Department of Chamber and Committee Services, should be delegated to the Clerk Assistant and that the Departments of Chamber and Committee Services and Information Services would develop a new staffing model for the researchers and policy analysts which would offer a better and more flexible service to individual MPs and committees? (February 2008 The Tebbit Review of Management and Services of the House of Commons). Since that year the office of the Chief Executive has been established and is not affiliated to any department and was subsequently renamed the Office of the Chief Executive to reflect its larger role (October 2010, The House of Commons Administration).
The Departmental Services, Legal Services Office, and the Security Coordinator?s Office directly responded to the Office of the Chief Executive based on the Organogram from June 2010.
As of 2020, the Clerk of the House continues to be the principal constitutional adviser to the House, and adviser on all its procedure and business, including Parliamentary privilege, and frequently appears before Select and Joint Committees examining constitutional and Parliamentary matters. As with all the members of the House Service, he is politically entirely impartial and is not a civil servant. He sits at the Table of the House, in the left-hand chair, looking towards the Speaker's Chair, for part of every sitting. The historic role of the Clerks at the Table is to record the decisions of the House which they continue to do. This is not to be confused with Hansard, which is a record of what is said. The Clerks at the Table are consulted by the Chair, Ministers, Whips, and Members generally, on any matter that may arise in the conduct of a sitting.
The Clerks at the Table wear dark suits, black gowns and white bow ties (for men) or bands (for women). For the State Opening of Parliament and other State occasions, the Clerk of the House wears full Court dress with wing collar, white bow tie, black gown, a ?bob? (barrister's) wig, and a lace jabot and cuffs.
The Clerk of the House is, under the Parliamentary Corporate Bodies Act 1992, the Corporate Officer of the House with responsibility for entering into contracts and leases, as well as holding all the House's property (which, for example, makes the Clerk the legal owner of Big Ben). As Accounting Officer for the House of Commons: Administration Estimate the Clerk has personal responsibility for the propriety and regularity of the expenditure of public money.
- Description: HC/CL contains the records relating to the procedural and legislative offices of the House of Commons.
The records of the Clerk of the House consists of documents of the Clerk Assistant (HC/CL/CA), the Office of the Clerk of the House (HC/CL/CH), the Committee Office (HC/CL/CO), the European Scrutiny Committee (HC/CL/EU), the Journal Office (HC/CL/JO), the Overseas Office (HC/CL/OO), the Private Bill Office (HC/CL/PB), the Public Bill Office (HC/CL/PU), the Table Office (HC/CL/TO), the Vote Office (HC/CL/VO), and the Office of the Chairman of Ways and Means (HC/CL/WM), which also includes the records of the Speaker's Counsel (HC/CL/WM/SC).
- Access Status: Open
- Access Conditions: Some files in this collection are closed. Most closed files are closed for a period of 30 years at the point of transfer. Requests to see these files will be considered in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act 2000. HC/CL/CH/1/1 was recorded as missing May 2014. HC/CL/JO/10/115 /283, 284, 285, 291, 294, 296, 301, 302, 303, 306, 307, 311 were all recorded as missing November 2021. HC/CL/JO/10/2015 was recorded as missing January 2022
- Publication Notes: For more details regarding the current duties of the Clerk of the House see "Erskine May's Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament" eds. Sir Donald Limon and W R McKay (London, 1997).
For detailed histories of the department, see O C Williams, "The Clerical Organization of the House of Commons, 1661-1850" (Oxford, 1954) and P Marsden, "The Officers of the Commons, 1363-1978" (London, 1979). For a description of the department in the late eighteenth century, see John Hatsell, "Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons" (Shannon, 1971, 5 vols), II, pp 251-275. A list of all the Clerks of the House up to 1989 is in W R McKay with additional material by Sir John Sainty, "Clerks in the House of Commons 1363-1989: A biographical list" (London, 1989) pp 106-107.