The House debated the Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy Programme Team’s Delivery Report on 19 July and agreed a new parliament-wide Behaviour Code. Procedures for making complaints and obtaining support have been put in place. This briefing note reviews the debate, the report and the background to it.Jump to full report >>
On 19 July 2018, the House of Commons endorsed the Behaviour Code and the policies and procedures relating to bullying and harassment and sexual harassment set out in the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) Delivery Report, which was published on 17 July.
It agreed to incorporate, in the Code of Conduct, the expectation that Members observe the principles of the Behaviour Code. And a new rule was added to the Code: “A Member must treat their staff and all those visiting or working for or with Parliament with dignity, courtesy and respect”.
It agreed changes to Standing Orders:
The House agreed that, “to ensure complaints are handled confidentially”, “for consistency and fairness, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (PCS) should no longer routinely publish information about individual investigations before those investigations are concluded”.
The House divided on whether to apply confidentiality to all investigations undertaken by the PCS. Sir Kevin Barron, the Chair of the Committee on Standards, moved an amendment to continue the existing practice, for non-ICGS matters, whereby those under investigation were identified. The House voted down the amendment, and later in the day a list of MPs under investigation was removed from the Commissioner’s webpages. Sir Kevin subsequently announced his resignation as the Chair of the Committee.
The House agreed to establish a further independent inquiry, in similar terms to Dame Laura Cox QC’s inquiry (relating to House staff), to consider allegations of bullying and harassment in respect of those not covered by Dame Laura Cox’s inquiry, including MPs and their staff.
The House endorsed the proposal for reviews of the Scheme after six and 18 months. The reviews would take into account the findings of the two inquiries into bullying and harassment. The costs of the new inquiry and the reviews would be met from the House’s Administration budget.
The new Behaviour Code was published and is now displayed widely across the parliamentary Estate. A brochure [intranet link] has also been published. It explains the Code and the accompanying policies and complaints and support processes.
On 17 July 2018, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy (IGCP) Programme Team’s Delivery Report was published. It set out how the Programme Team, overseen by a steering group, has taken forward the House’s decision of 28 February 2018 to implement recommendations to develop a parliament-wide behaviour code and independent complaints and grievance schemes to respond to and manage complaints of (i) sexual harassment and (ii) bullying and harassment.
The Delivery Report included a proposed Behaviour Code; procedures for reporting and investigating allegations of bullying and harassment; procedures for reporting and investigating allegations of sexual harassment; and a system of training to support the Behaviour Code. The Delivery Report set out steps that have been taken to ensure that a human resources support service was available for staff of MPs. It set out the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Committee on Standards in investigating complaints about Members of Parliament. Before the Delivery Report was published the Steering Group had asked the Committee on Standards for comments – the Committee’s comments are taken into account. The Delivery Report confirmed that “The Steering Group has agreed that the new Scheme can investigate incidents that occurred from the start of this Parliament (June 2017)”. However, the Delivery Report also noted that “The Steering Group are determined that the new Scheme is not a ‘day zero’ approach that ignores the problems of the past”. The Delivery Report has “set out the options available to complainants to pursue a route that offers the best chance to deliver what they need to find resolution” – these noted that some pre-2017 complaints might be taken into account if they constitute “continuing acts”. Complainants bringing forward older cases that were not continuing “will be able to talk through the details with an independent adviser and be pointed in the direction of where they can get support and counselling services”. Any decision on investigation would be based on the policy or code in place at the time.
The Delivery Report set out the scope of reviews, recommended by the Working Group, that should take place six and 18 months after the Scheme’s introduction.
In a message to House of Commons staff, following the publication of the Delivery Report, the Clerk of the House stated that if the report was agreed to by the House, the Policy would be applied to House staff.
In November 2017, allegations and accounts in the press of inappropriate behaviour and a culture of bullying and sexual harassment at Westminster led to the establishment of a cross-party Working Group on an Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy. The Working Group reported in February 2018. It recommended the development of a parliament-wide behaviour code and independent complaints and grievance schemes to respond to and manage complaints of (i) sexual harassment and (ii) bullying and harassment.
At the end of February, the House of Commons agreed a motion endorsing the Working Group’s recommendations and asking the House of Commons Commission to authorise officials to undertake the work to implement those recommendations. The House also agreed that the Working Group should reconvene as a Steering Group and that the officials working on the Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy should report to the Steering Group.
Complaints about the behaviour of Members towards staff of the House were reported by Newsnight in March 2018. Following the first Newsnight report, the House of Commons Commission agreed to establish an independent inquiry into Bullying of Staff in the House of Commons. That inquiry is being undertaken by Dame Laura Cox.
Dame Laura Cox’s report was published on 15 October 2018.
An Urgent Question was asked on 16 October 2018.
On 24 October 2018, the House of Commons Commission met to consider Dame Laura’s report. In a statement, the Commission thanked Dame Laura for her report; acknowledged its statutory responsibility “for the employment of House staff and have too often failed to honour the responsibility to provide a workplace free from bullying and harassment”; and expressed its determination to rectify past mistakes. The Commission agreed to the three fundamental recommendations highlighted by Dame Laura:
The Commission confirmed that it was “up to the House to take forward these recommendations to which we are fully committed”.
On 5 November 2018, the House held a general debate on Dame Laura Cox’s report.
On 10 December 2018, the Committee on Standards’ report, Implications of the Dame Laura Cox report for the House’s standards system: Initial proposals, was published. The Committee made recommendations to allow the Committee lay members to have formal votes, and to allow the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to initiate an inquiry into either a former Member or a matter which goes back more than seven years, without permission from the Committee. The Committee argued that these recommendations would enhance the independence of both the Committee and the Commissioner. However, it accepted these were interim arrangements and until the ICGS was amended it would continue to be have a role in appeals from Members.
The Committee’s report is scheduled to be considered by the House on 7 January 2019.