|Departments of the House of Commons
revised: 28 November 2003
For a full explanation of the structure and organisation of the House of Commons and for details of the services and facilities provided by its six Departments, you need to consult the Members Handbook. The latest version is the Fourth Edition (April 2001). It has a detailed Contents list and a comprehensive Index. If your MP hasnt got a copy, ring Diane Hill on 020 7219 6405 for a copy. Make sure you also get a copy of Business of the House and its Committees: A Short Guide. Both are available on the Parliamentary Intranet. Access both via the PDVN home page then click on "Guidance and Information".
What follows are, therefore, snapshots of the various Departments of the House, which aim to give you an insight into the complexities of the organisation and an overview of the functions of each department.5.2 House of Commons Commission
The House of Commons Commission, a statutory body, is responsible for the appointment and remuneration of the staff of the House and for other administrative matters. It consists of the Speaker, the Leader of the House, a Member (in practice the Shadow Leader of the House) nominated by the Leader of the Opposition, and three backbenchers nominated by the House.
The Commission is responsible for the House of Commons Estimate, which covers Administration (including staff costs) and Works. Members salaries and allowances are the responsibility of the Government and are dealt with in a separate Estimate presented by the Treasury. Information on its work is available on the Parliamentary Intranet, including its Annual Report.5.3 Clerk of the House
The Clerk of the House, Roger Sands (more information), is the Chief Executive of the House of Commons Service. He is the head of the Clerks Department and principal authority on the law, practice and privilege of Parliament and also the Accounting Officer of the House, Corporate Officer and Chairman of the Board of Management.
The role of the Clerks Department is to provide specialist professional and administrative services related to the business and procedure of the House. The Department provides advice and services not only to the House as a whole and to the Speaker of the House and the Deputy Speakers, but also to the Committees appointed by the House, to the Chairmen of those Committees and to individual Members.
The list of services provided by this department is a long one and is set out in detail in the Members' Handbook, but heres a list of some of the procedures and institutions for which they are responsible:
The Clerk of the House introduced its own website in June 2002. Provided you have access to PDVN (the Parliamentary Intranet), you can access it there: It has links to a number of very useful sub-pages. This is what it looks like:
5.4 Serjeant at Arms (including Parliamentary Communications Directorate)
The current Serjeant at Arms is Michael Cummins and, while his ceremonial role attracts a great deal of interest, it is worth looking at the wide range of other services for which he is responsible.
The Serjeant is responsible for the preservation of order within the House of Commons and for the security of Members and of the Parliamentary Estate as well as for the provision of many of the services that support and maintain the House of Commons.
The Serjeant at Arms Department is divided into four sections:
We deal with the Parliamentary Communications Directorate (PCD) in some detail at the end of this section.
If youve been around for some time and your memory of the Serjeants Department is of help often rather begrudgingly given to the humble staff of MPs, you will know that things have improved enormously; the Department has become very much more responsive to Members staff in recent years. As a starting point, you can call their General Enquiries number on 020 7219 5555; you will get a friendly and helpful reception from the staff.
On 10 March 2003 the Serjeant's Department launched its own website. Click here for more information on this excellent new resource.
You will need to keep your own list of the many useful telephone numbers in the Department (Admission Order Office for Strangers Gallery tickets and special permits for tours; various numbers for booking committee rooms, etc; clock tower visits; accommodation; etc.) but, if you are unsure who to ask for help, ring extension 5555 for starters. Have a look at our Guide Everyday Tasks, Sections 3.10, 3.11 and 3.12 for detailed advice on organising Line of Route Tours, booking rooms and reserving Strangers Gallery tickets.
The Serjeant at Arms Department also publishes a series of helpful leaflets, which are updated from time to time. See the list in Section 6.5 of our Resources guide.
The PCD offers a wide range of services to Members and their staff, principally within the Palace of Westminster, but also at what they like to call - significantly - "remote" locations: thats you in the constituency, mainly. Ask for a copy of their leaflet Communications Services for Parliament; its got the basics in it.
Rather than go into all these services in detail, we summarise here some of the facilities available and point you towards sources of help and advice. First port of call for further information is always 020 7219 2001. Of course, many of their services are also available from the usual commercial providers but the main advantage of the PDVN, if you are a "remote" user, is that, once you have logged on to the 0800 number, the call costs you nil.
So, for example, if you are constituency-based and want to search for a speech in last months Hansard, you can access the Internet via your commercial phone line and go to the publicly available Commons web-site; main advantage is speed but the drawback is that you will pay for that call. Alternatively, you can use the Parliamentary Intranet to make the same search, via a free call to the PDVN; free but relatively slow. To ensure speediest access, make sure you have the latest version (1.4.1. at May 2001) of the Citrix installation software.
Interested, perhaps, in Voice Mail or the new Messaging Services provided at Westminster? They have two leaflets which explain it all for you. For more information on Voice Mail-Box ring 020 7219 1234 and for Messaging ring 020 7219 5678
Email. Once you have completed the PDVN training you can have your own email address: you have to admit that firstname.lastname@example.org has a certain ring to it! Armed with a username and password, you have access to it (and the whole Parliamentary Intranet, as well as other facilities) at no cost. Thats your email access point below. Click on the Microsoft Outlook icon and youre there.
Time for a short homily. Wasnt life simple when there was just the phone and letters? Well, just in case you hadnt noticed, it aint like that any more. Nowadays the ways of keeping in touch, aided and abetted by the PCD, proliferate by the week. There are now plenty of ways to make sure that your MP can be contacted at very short notice. Too many, perhaps! So this is a good point to underline that your job entails protecting your MP from communication overload just as importantly as ensuring that s/he is accessible to constituents and others. Agree the communications ground rules with your MP.
In a typical day you might, for example, want to: alert your MP to an urgent media interview; organise a conference call with three individuals; block a persistent but unwelcome lobbyist; reschedule a meeting later that day; send or receive an urgent briefing; make several advice surgery appointments .. Nostalgia over the days of letters and simple phone calls begins to seem misplaced. You can take advantage of new technology without becoming its slave.
Pagers. The PCD does not provide pagers but they deserve mention in this context. Pagers are usually provided (at a cost) by the individual political party communications people, so check with your Party HQ. They are usually the most effective way of getting urgent messages to your MP.
Another facility negotiated by the PCD is audio-videoconferencing or "Parliamentary Conference Call". This enables you to speak to three or more people in different locations, without leaving your desk. Instead of spending time travelling to a meeting, it can be held simply and quickly over the phone. This service, which can include up to six participants in one call (only one of whom can be outside the parliamentary estate), is little used at present. There is a helpful leaflet, which sets out the features of this service.
Fax. RightFax allows you to send faxes from your computer when you are connected to PDVN. Click on the RightFax icon in the Programme Manager and it will take you into the RightFax facility. If you are new to it, click on Help, then Contents and browse amongst the topics offered to learn the system. It sends your fax with a House of Commons cover sheet.
It really is worth persevering, even if you are a remote user (i.e. not connected by a phone line within the Parliamentary Estate), with accessing the Parliamentary Intranet via PDVN. Many of the items you have had to order by post until recently (Hansard, Order Papers, Factsheets, Information Leaflets, etc) are available there on-line and printable immediately.
If you are having problems with "remote" access to PDVN, our advice is to keep trying, despite the frustrations and delays. PCD are doing their best to upgrade the system. Remote users do best to try and access PDVN as early as possible in the day or between 1pm and 2pm or in the evening. We know that may be inconvenient for you but it's just a thought!
Update March 2002. The system was upgraded on 16/17 March 2002 and it does look much better but there are continuing problems (click here for background) with access for remote users. Keep trying!
If you havent done the PDVN training yet, ring 020 7219 2001 to book yourself on a course. Attendance on the course is obligatory before a user can connect to the PDVN for the first time. Once youve done it you can use the email facilities as well. You can make your booking before you start your job and, given that there's often a three week waiting list, you are strongly advised to do this.
Update November 2001. See the excellent Research Paper (RP 01/88) "Members' office costs - the new system" for details of the new arrangements for central provision of IT equipment. Available from the Commons Library.5.5 Library
Update 28 November 2003. Click here for information about Changes to Library reference enquiry services from February 2004.
Update November 2002. Have a look at these two recently revised documents from the Library:
The House of Commons Library is an excellent resource and you dont have to be a researcher to justify a visit there. They are very welcoming, whether you telephone or pay a visit, and will provide you with a comprehensive pack of leaflets and guides to their services. Get hold of this publication for starters:
By the way, the Members Library, which is located close to the Commons Chamber, is not accessible by MPs staff. Library facilities for MPs staff are located in the Derby Gate Library.
The Library produces a whole range of Factsheets (information on all aspects of work at Westminster, including a lot of historical material), Research Papers (formal papers in a numbered series), Standard Notes (briefer and more informal, usually information requested by an individual MP but then generally available) and many other leaflets which will help you not only to answer questions from constituents but also to understand how the House of Commons works.
Tours of the Library
Tours of the Derby Gate Library take place regularly while the House is sitting. They last from an hour to 90 minutes and can cater for up to six people at a time. The tour covers the Current Affairs Room, the Official Publications Library, rules and regulations for users of the Library, limitations on the services provided, a guide to whats in each room, time with a research clerk, electronic resources and time for questions and answers. Although the tours are mainly for researchers, they are also suitable for staff who deal principally with the MPs casework. Book the tour by ringing the Current Affairs Room on 020 7219 6767.
Keep an eye on this website's "Essential New Information" pages for details of forthcoming Library Courses (e.g. POLIS Intranet, Parliamentary Sources on the Internet, Library's Intranet Pages, Media Sources, Searching the Parliamentary Intranet and Searching the Internet - WWW).
If you have questions about information technology or using the Parliamentary On-Line Indexing Service (POLIS), ring the Library Help Desk on 020 7219 2345. The POLIS web-site is a series of databases containing name and subject-indexed references to current and recent parliamentary information and to Library collections: books, pamphlets and periodicals; selected UK, EC, foreign and international official publications; etc.
Services for Members Staff
The Library publishes a four-page leaflet, which summarises the range of services for Members staff. This covers information on the Derby Gate Reading Rooms, the Book and Video Service, Research Services and Using the Library. Ring 020 7219 6767 for an up-to-date copy.
Services for constituency based staff
You should definitely get hold of Neil Johnstons excellent leaflet "Useful Resources for Constituency Staff", revised in May 2001. Ring 020 7219 6767 for a copy. We include some extracts in our Guide: Sources of Information.
There is also a leaflet in production, specifically for constituency-based staff, which addresses some of the issues you face being based away from Westminster. It starts:
and goes on to include outline information on the following:
The leaflet ends with a list of telephone contact points in the Library:
The Information Office answers enquiries from the public and they are happy to receive questions by telephone (020 7219 4272), email (email@example.com) or letter (House of Commons, London SW1A 2TT). On sitting days, their telephone service is available from 9 am to 6 pm on Monday to Thursday and from 9 am to 4.30 pm on Friday; in recesses it is available from 10 am to 5 pm.
Copies of their leaflet, which you will find useful for yourself, can be ordered by ringing 020 7219 0633 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and it contains a very useful list of telephone numbers for Westminster as well as other political bodies in the UK and in Europe. They welcome requests from visually-impaired correspondents for a reply on tape and hard-of-hearing callers with a text phone can call through Typetalk on 0800 95 95 98.
The Education Unit provides an educational service for schools on Parliament and its work. Phone 020 7219 2105 or email email@example.com There are a number of parliamentary and other websites and other resources suitable for children and young people (and their parents and teachers) learning about Parliament. Click here for a list of some of them below. If you can add to the list, please let us know of others by using our Feedback Form.
Want to know about the Gunpowder Plot? Whats the origin of the Portcullis? Who, what or where the Chiltern Hundreds are or were? Whats the point of Early Day Motions?
All these questions, and many more, are answered in the Factsheets. The old numbered list is being reorganised into four series: Procedure, Legislation, Members and General and, meanwhile, there is a transitional list. You can order them (just the ones you need, please, rather than the whole series) from the Information Office (020 7219 0633). Most of them are also available on the parliamentary site: http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/FACT.HTM5.6 Finance and Administration
The Department of Finance and Administration, under the Directorship of Andrew Walker, is responsible for the provision of financial services to Members, the House of Commons Commission, Board of Management, Departments and staff of the House.
The main services are: pay and allowances, pensions, personnel, other financial matters, medical screening (for Members only), occupational health, safety and welfare (Departments and staff of the House) Internal Review Services, Travel Office and Gymnasium.
This department pays your salary, so its as well to be kind to them and always comply with their over-riding rule: "Get all claims and invoices in as soon as possible." See also comments about the Fees Office in our Guide Everyday Tasks, Section 3.5.
If you are starting from scratch, your first step should be to get a copy of the The Green Book - Parliamentary Salaries, Allowances and Pensions and the Quick Guide; ring 020 7219 1592 and ask for copies to be sent to you. These contain financial information about staff as well as MPs. Click here for more information on both the Green Book and the Quick Guide. In addition, you will get detailed specific advice by ringing the relevant Help Numbers in the Fees Office. These are all listed in the Green Book under various headings: Salaries, Pensions, Additional Costs Allowance, Incidental Expenses Provision, Travel etc.
Many of the Fees Office forms that you will need in order to make claims against your Office Costs Allowance can be downloaded via the Parliamentary Intranet provided you have access to it. When you get to the Program Manager click on the Netscape icon and this will take you into the Intranet. For the forms, you need to go this address: http://cfinw01/fanda/forms.htm Or go via the Site Index, Fees Office, under the letter 'F'.
In June 2002 a new F and A website was launched on the Parliamentary Intranet. At last: all in one place, the information you need on MPs' staff personnel matters. This website has comprehensive information on: Contracts, Salaries, Insurance, Redundancy, Training and much more.
Whether you are a new starter wondering where on earth to turn for answers or an old hand in search of an elusive piece of information, this is the place to look. Click here for a preview. To go straight there (and you have to be on PDVN to do this) head for: http://cfinw01/fanda/pmatters/pas/persmp.htm
Update: 10 August 2001. The old arrangements for funding MPs office costs, including staff salaries, were radically changed in a vote on the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body Report in July 2001. Now the Speaker's Advisory Panel has produced new job descriptions and salary scales for Members' staff. Click here for more information.
5.7 Official Report
"Hansard" to you and me and the rest of the world but the correct title of the publications of this department is "The Official Report" and the department is, of course, responsible for producing a daily report of the proceedings of the House and of its Standing Committees. Click here for information about the Hansard website.
Contrary to popular misconception, Hansard is not a verbatim account of the proceedings. It is an edited verbatim report which means that Members words are reported in accordance with terms of reference that were drawn up by a select Committee in 1907 and are reproduced in "Erskine May". They state that Hansard is:
The previous version (Third Edition) of the Members' Handbook had a delightful account of the racy history of this institution: "a complex and tortuous series of events of a financial, political and even criminal nature"! But the new, size-conscious version hasn't the room. No doubt you can track down a copy in the Library.
This department is also responsible for the Annunciator system those screens you see everywhere on the parliamentary estate with their characteristic clanking jingle - and for printing written questions and answers.
Catering services in the House are provided by the Refreshment Department. They manage all the bars, self-service and table-service restaurants, the private dining rooms and function rooms (suitable for everything from small lunch parties of 10 people to a reception for 200) both in the House itself and in Portcullis House, 1 Parliament Street and 7 Millbank. The department is also responsible for the sale of House of Commons souvenirs in various kiosks.
Be in no doubt of the importance of Food and Drink in the Palace of Westminster and other parts of the parliamentary estate. This was amply reflected in the often mouth-wateringly written section on the Refreshment Department in the old Members' Handbook. Sadly, the new, weight-watching Fourth Edition is rather more functional and, although it has all the information you will need about who can eat where and when, it misses out the juicy bits. So, here are a few phrases from the old version to tempt and shock you:
The Members' Handbook (see Sections 8 and 10) contains all the initial information you will need if your Member agrees to host an event in one of the Dining Rooms or other places where food and drink is served. Theres quite a lot of form filling involved that will be your job but the Banqueting Co-ordinators (tel: 020 7219 3676 or 2275) are very helpful and will guide you through the procedure from making the booking to paying deposits and agreeing menus. The catering arrangements for rooms in Portcullis House are provided on what they call a room service basis and you need to ring 020 7219 3090 for more information.
On 14 May 2002 a long-awaited new refreshments facility was opened for members of the public visiting the Palace of Westminster. Imaginatively named "the Jubilee Café", it is located off Westminster Hall and provides meals & light refreshments between 10.30 and 17.30 Monday to Friday. During August and September the Jubilee Café will also open on Saturday. So, at long last, the general public can also get a bite to eat and a drink as well.
For a quick guide to where you (as staff of a Member) can eat and drink, see Day Three of our Induction Guide, "Exploring Westminster How to Survive your First Ten Days Working for an MP" or look at Section 8 - Refreshment facilities - in the new Members' Handbook.
The Department has also published a small but comprehensive 16-page leaflet entitled "Services of the Refreshment Department". Get a copy by ringing 020 7219 5303; it's very useful.
In addition to the information set out above, more detailed information about a whole range of services and facilities provided for Members and their staff as well as for House staff and the public will be found in the following sections of the new Members' Handbook: