Monday 13th May 2024

(1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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[Relevant documents: Oral evidence taken before the Procedure Committee on 18 December 2023, on Commons scrutiny of Secretaries of State in the House of Lords, HC 338, Qq15-22 and 48-54; correspondence between the Procedure Committee and Mr Speaker, on risk-based exclusions, reported to the House on 18 December 2023, 17 January and 29 January 2024; correspondence from the Procedure Committee to the Leader of the House, on the exclusion of Members, reported to the House on 7 June 2023, Session 2022-23.]
Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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We now come to motion No. 3 on risk-based exclusion, as on the Order Paper. I inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the following amendments to motion No. 3, as listed on the Order Paper: (o), (h), (i), (j), (n), (p), (c), (k), (l), (m), (q) and (d). I know, it sounds like an eye test, but I am sure I have got it right. I shall call Members to move their amendments formally at the end of the debate.

18:25
Penny Mordaunt Portrait The Leader of the House of Commons (Penny Mordaunt)
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I beg to move,

That—

(1) this House approves the Report from the House of Commons Commission, A risk-based exclusion policy for the House of Commons – updated proposals, HC 386, save that the threshold for risk-based exclusion should be when a Member has been charged with a relevant offence;

(2) the following Standing Order be made:

“Risk-based exclusion policy

(1) When the Clerk of the House is informed by the police that a Member is charged with a violent or sexual offence a risk assessment will take place.

(2) The risk assessment will be carried out by a Risk Assessment Panel, appointed by Mr Speaker.

(3) In carrying out a risk assessment the Panel will have regard to—

(a) the nature of the alleged misconduct;

(b) whether there is any safeguarding concern;

(c) the risk to the Parliamentary community, or a particular individual, group or groups within it;

(d) information from the police; and

(e) any undertaking that the Member in question is subject to an existing voluntary agreement not to attend the Estate.

(4) The Panel shall have the assistance of the Counsel to the Speaker, the Director of Parliamentary Security and such other members of the House administration as it thinks fit.

(5) The Panel will decide on appropriate measures to mitigate any risk, and such mitigation may include one or more of the following—

(a) exclusion from the Parliamentary estate;

(b) exclusion from domestic travel funded in whole or in part through the House of Commons Estimate; and

(c) exclusion from foreign travel funded in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, through the House of Commons Estimate.

(6) Members must not lobby the Panel in a manner calculated to influence the outcome of a risk assessment process.

(7) A Member subject to exclusion from the Parliamentary estate may apply for a proxy vote.

(8) If the Panel considers a Member should be subject to exclusion it shall inform the Speaker, and the Speaker shall authorise the House administration to take such measures as are necessary to ensure the Panel’s decision is implemented.

(9) The Panel may review its risk assessment in the light of new information, and as a consequence of that review may recommend ending any exclusion, varying any existing risk mitigation measures, or introducing further measures as a result of its review.

(10) The decisions of the Panel in relation to a particular case and actions taken thereafter shall not be made public and shall be kept confidential (except insofar as is reasonably necessary to ensure the decision is effected).

(11) A Member’s exclusion will end if—

(a) the Panel so decides and informs the Speaker accordingly;

(b) the Speaker and the Panel are informed by the police or another competent person that the police have concluded their investigations and the charge has been withdrawn; or

(c) a criminal trial has been concluded.”

(3) the operation of Standing Order (Risk-based exclusion policy) be reviewed by a panel appointed by Mr Speaker, and the report of that panel shall be laid before the House no later than six months after the date of this Order; and

(4) Standing Order No. 39A (Voting by Proxy) be amended as follows:

(1) In paragraph (2)(d) after “injury” insert

“() risk-based exclusion from the Parliamentary estate”; and

(2) After paragraph 5(b) insert

“() The Speaker shall not specify the reason for which a proxy vote has been given in any such certificate.”

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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With this, we shall discuss the following:

Amendment (o), in paragraph (1), leave out

“, save that the threshold for risk-based exclusion should be when a Member has been charged with a relevant offence”.

Amendment (h), in paragraph (1) of the proposed Standing Order, leave out “is charged with” and insert

“has been arrested on suspicion of committing”.

Amendment (i), in paragraph (1) of the proposed Standing Order, leave out

“a risk assessment will take place”

and insert

“Mr Speaker shall authorise the House Administration to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the Member is excluded from—

(a) the Parliamentary estate;

(b) domestic travel funded in whole or in part through the House of Commons estimate; and

(c) foreign travel funded in whole or in part through the House of Commons estimate.”

Amendment (j), leave out paragraphs (2) to (6) of the proposed Standing Order.

Amendment (n), after paragraph (2) of the proposed Standing Order insert—

“() The Panel shall have power to meet notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, in person or by electronic means.”

Amendment (p), after paragraph (2) of the proposed Standing Order insert—

“() The Panel will not be given the name of the Member being risk assessed.”

Amendment (c), leave out paragraph (7) of the proposed Standing Order.

Amendment (k), leave out paragraphs (8) to (10) of the proposed Standing Order.

Amendment (l), in paragraph (11) of the proposed Standing Order, leave out sub-paragraph (a).

Amendment (m), in paragraph (11)(b) of the proposed Standing Order, leave out “and the panel are” and insert “is”.

Amendment (q), in paragraph (11)(b) of the proposed Standing Order, leave out

“the charge has been withdrawn”

and insert

“no charge has been made”.

Amendment (d), leave out paragraph (4).

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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On behalf of the House of Commons Commission, I rise to speak to the motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I will keep my opening remarks short and try to answer right hon. and hon. Members’ issues at the end of the debate.

The motion before us provides for four things: for the House to approve the updated proposals on risk-based exclusion published on 14 December 2023 and modified by the Commission at its meeting on 18 March; to agree a new standing order to implement the risk-based exclusion policy; to require Mr Speaker to appoint a panel to review the operation of the new Standing Order, to report within six months; and to allow MPs who are excluded from the parliamentary estate to apply for a proxy vote. There is also an amendment tabled in my name on behalf of the Commission, which would enable the risk assessment panel to meet during recess. This is a technical amendment—

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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Will the Minister give way?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I will not give way during my opening remarks. I will come back to any issues that the hon. Gentleman raises.

This is a technical amendment required to ensure the proper functioning of the panel and therefore the scheme. These proposals reflect extensive consultation with Members, parliamentary Select Committees and other relevant stakeholders. This includes a debate on 12 June last year in which Members raised a number of thoughtful points, which the Commission has taken into account, including the point at which risk assessment is triggered. This is one of a number of measures that are being reviewed and brought forward by the Commission to improve standards of behaviour and safeguarding. I thank all members of staff and hon. Members for their contributions, which have brought the Commission to agree these proposals and put forward today’s motion, and I look forward to hearing further contributions this afternoon.

18:27
Lucy Powell Portrait Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) (Lab/Co-op)
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You have called me rather sooner than I thought you would, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thought the Leader of the House would be making a more substantive opening speech.

I thank the Leader of the House for bringing the risk-based exclusion motion for debate and a vote here today. I strongly support the proposal and the principle behind it. It is long overdue and, as it stands, represents the bare minimum of what is required in the interests of safeguarding and good working practices. I would also like to thank those who have worked to get us to this point: the staff and the trade unions who have been raising and pressing these issues for years; the House of Commons Commission; Mr Speaker, who has been long pushing these things; the House Committees who have considered and inputted into the process; and all those Members who have spoken in the many debates and responded to the consultations.

When we have these debates, we should remember who is listening to us. While the temptation is to make these discussions about ourselves, many of the people watching will be victims of harassment or abuse. They will be looking closely not just at what we say but at the way we conduct ourselves. At the heart of this is our responsibility to ensure that everyone in Parliament has a safe working environment and that we uphold the highest standards and expectations. That is a far cry from where we were in the recent past. Issues of serious wrongdoing, harassment or a bad culture in the workplace have been a constant cloud over this place. The headlines bring the entire House into disrepute and add to the erosion of trust in Parliament and in politicians.

Parliament is a uniquely strange workplace where the bosses are not employed at all, yet they employ others with little oversight. They are only really accountable to our electorate, not to an employer, and they have no employment contract. Members have constitutional rights that allow us to do the job of representing our constituents freely and without fear, and we are also at risk of vexatious or targeted attacks. But the way we operate can leave others at risk. This makes navigating workplace issues of this kind all the more complex, yet increasingly necessary.

We have made important strides in recent years, but we need to go further. For too long, Parliament has relied on informal processes to deal with serious allegations. Now, through the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, complaints of abuse, bullying or harassment are dealt with quickly and robustly, with profound and sometimes difficult consequences. As the independent review, out this morning, shows, there is now a clear, fair and anonymous route for complaints to be dealt with and resolved. Let us hope that this now acts as a deterrent, because we know that the best cure is prevention.

However, despite this progress, there remain serious gaps. Where an allegation of sexual or violent misconduct is so serious that it is investigated by the police as potentially breaching a criminal threshold, there is no mechanism at all for the parliamentary authorities to take safeguarding action or sanction until such a time as someone is convicted. In these cases, we currently rely almost entirely on a voluntary arrangement for Members not to come on to the estate. Such voluntary arrangements are effective only until they no longer are, with the Whips often doing the difficult job of making them work. Not only is this a serious safeguarding issue, but it puts Parliament very much out of kilter with most modern workplaces, over which we govern and set the standards.

This risk-based exclusion motion is a crucial, if limited, step on the path to changing that. It sets out that when a Member is charged with a violent or sexual offence, a risk assessment panel will consider whether they might pose a risk to the parliamentary community. Exclusion is not automatic, and the motion also contains clear criteria and a process for an exclusion to be lifted. For complete clarity, can the Leader of the House confirm that this exclusion procedure will apply to those who are currently under charge? Members affected will also be eligible for a proxy vote, to ensure that their constituents still have a vote during this time. The threshold for the police to charge someone with such offences is very high and would have applied to only one or two Members in recent years.

It has taken a long time to get to this point. The Commission first started considering these proposals back in 2022. Today, it will be important to get at least something done to make some progress. However, the Commission originally agreed that the process would kick in at arrest, not charge, as tabled only a few weeks ago. It was heavily consulted upon, including with the police, staff representatives and others. I supported the trigger being arrest then, and I still support the trigger being arrest today. I know many across this House agree. It is more appropriate for safeguarding and for ensuring that staff can feel safe, and it would be standard practice in other workplaces.

I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) for their amendments on this matter, which I support. I am concerned that the higher threshold of charge will cover so few cases that it risks discrediting the entire exercise. What is more, had the proposal originally been conceived around charge, I am not sure we would have agreed on the need for either a panel or a proxy vote, as they have in the other place, where exclusion is automatic. That is why, if the policy for risk-based exclusion remains at charge, I am also minded to support the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills).

During our many recent debates, a number of reasons to oppose these proposals have been put forward. First, some Members are concerned that a risk-based process will prevent Members from carrying out their constitutional role to represent their constituents. I disagree. The tiny number of MPs that this policy is ever likely to affect will still be able to represent their constituents in writing and by tabling written questions, holding advice surgeries and attending meetings and events off the estate, and so on. Moreover, they will be able to vote by proxy, will still be paid and will still hold the title of Member of Parliament in every other way. Indeed, one of the shortcomings of this motion is that it does not cover constituency offices, potentially leaving constituency staff vulnerable.

Secondly, there are concerns about prejudicing any case, and about Members not being seen as being innocent until proven guilty, but the purpose of a risk-based approach is to mitigate the risk of harm and to safeguard staff, and it is without prejudice.

Thirdly, some people point to the voluntary system that is currently in place, but I would say that it has proven wholly inadequate for all concerned, and it is not fair to anyone who has the task of overseeing it.

Finally, some raise legitimate concerns that police investigations take a very long time where the anonymity of the accused is not protected. I agree. It has been a matter of much debate in this House that the statistics behind prosecution and conviction in rape and sexual assault cases are shockingly bad, and it is no secret that our criminal justice system is failing in this regard, but that should not be a reason for objecting to this motion. It is a separate matter that needs to be appropriately addressed by the Government.

In conclusion, we have come a long way in addressing the culture and bad behaviour in Parliament. Setting a proper framework for the risk-based exclusion of Members is an essential, if limited, step on this journey, but it is only a small part of it. I hope we can all agree that, although we have come a long way, we still have further to go in creating a better culture and higher standards in Parliament.

18:36
Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley (Staffordshire Moorlands) (Con)
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I rise to speak as Chair of the Procedure Committee. We have looked at various iterations of risk-based exclusion since we were first presented with the Commission’s proposals in 2022. The decision of when exclusion should apply is not easy. Although I fully support the idea that we should have some form of risk-based exclusion, the point at which it is triggered is a matter for debate. Members on both sides will put forward very persuasive arguments, but I have to say that, based on the evidence heard by the Committee and the safeguards that will be put in place, I err towards the trigger being at charge, rather than arrest.

Charge is a public point, whereas arrest is not public. It is very difficult to see how Members of Parliament who are excluded but not publicly named could maintain their anonymity. People will see that they have a proxy vote, and they will therefore wonder whether they are on baby leave or long-term sick. It will become clear that the Member has been excluded from the precincts.

Charge is public—it is known and it is very clear that it has happened—and it is a very high bar. We have concerns, and there were concerns in the evidence given to the Committee, about when arrest might happen. I appreciate that we are talking about serious sexual and violent offences, and it is unlikely that an arrest would be made on a spurious, vexatious accusation, but it is possible. Across the United Kingdom, arrest can happen at different points, depending on the force and the legal system. Charge therefore makes it clear that there is a very serious allegation that warrants the matter being taken further.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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I hear what the right hon. Lady is saying. How does she answer the charge that we in this place may be hypocrites—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. We cannot be hypocrites in this place. I am sure that the hon. Lady can find a more appropriate word.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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We in this place may be inconsistent in our approach to these matters because, following the case of Wayne Couzens, we agreed that anybody from the police accused of serious misconduct should be removed from the parliamentary estate—that is accused, not even arrested. How do we square the circle that what we think is appropriate for the police is not appropriate for ourselves?

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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I thank the hon. Lady for her question. As I said, this is a balanced judgment; there is no right or wrong answer. I am persuaded by many arguments in favour of exclusion on “arrest on suspicion of”. However, on balance—given the job we do, the role we have and the potential for vexatious complaints—I feel that exclusion at the point of charge is right. I am not saying to the hon. Lady that we will not be accused of inconsistency; we very well might be accused of that—we regularly are.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
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Did the right hon. Lady’s Committee give any consideration to the fact that what constitutes a charge, and what that means in terms of procedure, is different in Scotland from what it is south of the border? In England it is the initiation of criminal proceedings; in Scotland that decision is taken at a later stage by the procurator fiscal.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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The right hon. Gentleman makes the point I referred to earlier: there are different points in the judicial process at which a charge or arrest is made in the different legal systems of the United Kingdom. We have three different legal systems and charges can be brought at different times.

This is a balanced judgment—there is no right or wrong answer—on the basis of what is being proposed: to remove the right of a Member of Parliament to attend the Palace of Westminster, which is an ancient right we have held for hundreds of years. We are proposing to introduce something unique and different. Based on the evidence we heard and the advice we received from the Clerks and others, exclusion on charge feels like about the right point to make that decision.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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Where this whole debate has gone completely wrong is by being obsessed with exclusion. It is actually about making a risk-based assessment of what needs to be done, in a certain set of circumstances, completely proportionate to the point and the severity of the crime being considered, to ensure that this place is safe. I really deprecate the fact that this is being called “risk-based exclusion”. I suspect we will be talking about very few people who might be excluded, but if there was a proper assessment of risk at arrest and proportionate measures were taken to ensure that everybody here was working safely, surely that would be the right way to move forward.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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I can never resist the hon. Gentleman, and that is why I will always give way to him. He makes a very good point. There may be a role for another process that does that, but for the exclusion process it feels that the right point is at charge.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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I wonder whether my right hon. Friend’s Committee considered the difference between whether the allegation or accusation related to a member of staff or another employee of the House, or to somebody completely unconnected. I could be persuaded that arrest might be enough for exclusion if the matter related to somebody who worked here, but if it was unrelated, and if there was no question of the Member not being given bail because risk was assumed to be low in general, then I would come to a different conclusion. That is another complication that I might ask for my right hon. Friend’s opinion about.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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That was not a matter the Committee considered, but my right hon. Friend makes a very good point. We need to think of this as a process and not an event, because things can change and develop. Today we are deciding whether to introduce into our Standing Orders a process for exclusion, but in future we may well decide that the measures did not go far enough and that we need another process. The Commission has taken years to look at the matter. I am glad we have got to the point where we are finally discussing it and we have the chance to vote on the proposals, but it is a process, not an event.

David Davis Portrait Sir David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)
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If we decide to exclude at the point of charge, did my right hon. Friend’s Committee consider whether, instead of this entire procedure, a simple application by the House authorities to a magistrates court for conditions of bail would be more appropriate? That would cover not just this place, but any risk anywhere.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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We did not consider that point, but we did look at the interaction with the judicial process and concerns about the possibility that a clever barrister might use the fact that a risk-based assessment had been made as some form of defence around fair trial. I am not saying that would necessarily ever happen, but we considered that point and set it out in correspondence to Mr Speaker and the Leader of the House.

Liam Fox Portrait Sir Liam Fox (North Somerset) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend explain what weight was given by her Committee to the fact that, unlike other people who work in Westminster, excluding a Member of Parliament is not just the exclusion of one individual, but the exclusion of the representation of 80,000 other individuals? That is a very different position, both in effect and historically.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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My right hon. Friend’s point relates to the proxy vote. The measures allow for a proxy vote, as I will come to in a moment.

Members of the Committee expressed different views but, on balance, we decided, as set out in our correspondence, that charge is the right point for exclusion; we should not have proxy votes, as I will come to; and we were concerned about the make-up of the panel. The other place has decided that charge is the right point, but it does not have the panel, which was an area we considered. We were also concerned about interaction with ICGS. They are two different processes: ICGS does not involve the police, but the police could be looking at the same complaint. We were concerned about putting people off going to ICGS, where anonymity is crucial, if, at the same time, there was some sort of risk-based exclusion, because a point in the judicial process had been reached and the Member was excluded under the risk-based assessment.

As many right hon. and hon. Members have said, the exclusion would not cover the constituency. If anybody is a risk to the public in that way, then we should not stand by and allow them to continue to carry out constituency surgeries, or visit schools, nurseries, places where there are vulnerable people or people’s homes. If somebody is a risk, they should not be able to carry out their constituency work in the same way. The proposals before us do not cover that.

It is worth explaining why the Committee was nervous about the idea of giving a proxy vote to somebody who had been excluded on this basis. Members of the Committee see proxy votes as a privilege. The House has agreed that a proxy vote can be given to those on baby leave and those with long-term sickness, but a Member cannot be given a proxy vote for bereavement, a sick child or any other reason why they may not be able to attend this place. However, the proposals give a proxy vote to someone who has been excluded on the basis that they pose a risk by being in this building. That did not sit comfortably with many members of the Committee, so the Committee decided it would not support the proxy vote.

David Davis Portrait Sir David Davis
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I apologise for intervening a second time, but I want to come back to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Sir Liam Fox). He said, quite rightly, that constituents would be penalised by Members being excluded but one risk of providing a proxy vote is that it persuades people they are not being penalised. In practice, as we have seen with the post office scandal, being here and representing people is the important thing that is being stopped by these proposals.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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My right hon. Friend is right that excluding a representative’s voice from these Benches is a severe punishment for constituents.

I will make a final point in my role as chair of the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. BGIPU has agreed it will follow whatever is decided by this place on travel, so outbound delegations will not feature anybody who has been excluded on the basis of a decision taken by the panel. We will ensure that decision is upheld. I believe the other various parliamentary groups are looking at the same thing.

I realise you have indulged me, Madam Deputy Speaker, with the time I have taken. To conclude, on balance, I support what the Leader of the House has put forward and I will be voting in favour of that.

18:49
Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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When the House initially debated the Commission’s proposals last summer, I challenged Members who like to refer to this place as the “mother of all parliaments” to make good on that epithet by ensuring that we lead by example and establish best practice. I repeat that call today. These reforms are, first and foremost, about taking real and tangible steps to protect and support staff and, indeed, other Members through mitigation measures.

In the development of the proposals, as the Leader of the House pointed out, there has been widespread discussion and consultation with a number of organisations and individuals—I pay tribute to all those who have contributed, particularly the House of Commons staff who have worked so carefully and so diligently on the proposals over many months.

My feeling is that this has dragged on for so long, completely inappropriately. At their heart, the reforms are about protecting staff and the wider parliamentary community from harassment and abuse. They have been long called for and very significantly delayed. The motion in January struck the appropriate balance between the rights of staff and the parliamentary community to protection from harm, the right to due process for the individual implicated, and the rights of that individual’s constituents to democratic representation. It seems now though that the balance has been shifted away from the protection of staff by the Government, raising the point at which a risk assessment takes place from arrest to charge.

It is clear that there are a range of views on the correct threshold to begin that risk assessment process. However, leaving to one side for a moment that specific trigger point, it is important to stress that the main responsibility of the panel would be to consider the nature and severity of the alleged misconduct, whether there is a safeguarding concern and to determine the presence of a possible risk factor.

Turning to the contribution of the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley), Chair of the House of Commons Procedure Committee, Parliament’s authority, as I understand it—this is something that we have discussed in the House of Commons Commission a lot—does not stretch to constituency offices. All the members of the Commission are aware that that is something that we were not able to take into account. The latest review of the ICGS process, which was revealed this morning, has some really excellent recommendations that will have some effect in tightening it up.

It is worth noting that a number of mitigations will be open to the panel on a case-by-case basis. These might include, for example, preventing one-to-one contact with the Member, preventing Members from accessing bars on the estate, complete exclusion from the parliamentary estate, or indeed taking no action. The panel would also be informed of any existing voluntary arrangement between the Member and their Whip to stay away from the estate.

Crucially, those undertaking that risk assessment process would not, I believe, take any action that could compromise a police investigation or undermine any prosecution. The panel would not be given the name of the Member being risk-assessed. At no point would it be made public that information had been shared by the police about a Member, that a risk assessment had been undertaken, or that a Member had been excluded.

Ben Spencer Portrait Dr Ben Spencer (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con)
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For me, a lot of this spins on the formation and the training of the panel. One amendment to the motion said that it is anticipated that an MP and probably two Deputy Speakers would form the panel. What training would they need to be able to navigate such complex legal sensitivities? Does the hon. Lady have concerns, as I do, about the role of the Speaker as an Office in this process? In particular, what would happen if the Speaker were a victim in a case, or indeed if the Speaker or the Deputy Speakers were charged? How would the Speaker recuse himself or herself from conflict of interest in that situation?

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock
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The motion mentions

“the assistance of the Counsel to the Speaker, the Director of Parliamentary Security and such other members of the House administration as it thinks fit.”

I believe that would be the case regardless of what we agree on today. As for the Speaker being involved, I am sure that the Chair of Ways and Means as well as the Deputy Chair of Ways and Means have been suggested as possible members of that committee. An amendment has been tabled on whether that member might be a Cabinet or shadow Cabinet member. That does not concern me. We should all believe that all our Members are fit to serve on such a committee and be prepared to do so.

Let me return now to the proxy voting record, which would not state the reason for a proxy being granted. Information would be shared with the minimum number of officials required to implement an exclusion, under a strict commitment to confidentially.

With those essential protections, the SNP believes the motion should be brought back in line with the January version, which would more closely implement the Commission’s proposals. We will therefore be supporting the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain). Again, we must not lose sight of the fact that these proposals are about protecting staff or fellow MPs. To raise that threshold further severely limits the ability of these proposals to succeed in doing so.

The length of time that this has taken frankly shames us all. Westminster is often accused of being an institution stuck in its ways and unable or unwilling to change. Please let us ensure that is not the case today.

18:55
Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con)
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I accept and believe that it is important that we have some means of protecting people in this House. This is something that we have been trying to do, and the introduction of the ICGS has helped in that process, making people confident that there is a route through which they can complain and where they can have their best interests assured and safeguarded.

The problem with this motion is that it is simply unconstitutional. If we want to go down this route, we need to legislate for it. From time immemorial—actually since 1340—unmolested access to this House has been the right of every Member and that is for a very good reason. These privileges are not for us as individuals, but they are, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Sir Liam Fox) said, because of the 80,000 people whom we represent.

The ability to take away that right of attendance has always been held exclusively by the whole House. There is one exception I can think of to this and that is in 1648 with Pride’s purge—[Interruption.] We have some chuntering from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) as we so often do. Yes, the Speaker may name somebody and ask them to withdraw, but any suspension requires a motion—a divisible motion. We have expelled Members historically. We have suspended Members and continue to do so. That involves a vote of the whole House. If we expel a Member, that Member has the right then to stand for Parliament and be sent straight back again. That is a fundamental right not of us, but of the people who sent us here.

The John Wilkes case is famous. The House disliked an individual Member and expelled him, but he stood and he succeeded and he was returned. Politically, that is of great importance. In this instance, we are suggesting that a small committee will have the power to deny constituents representation. That is not within the power of this House, unless it acts as a whole. A small committee cannot deprive Members of the right of attendance. It is a right, as I have said, that goes back to 1340. The only way to override such ancient rights—this is the whole basis of our system of common law—is by legislation, not by motion.

Alistair Carmichael Portrait Mr Carmichael
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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is of course right about the constitutionality of this, but we all know that, in practical terms in recent times, things have been done differently and that people have been excluded by agreement however obtained from the Whips. Surely what we have here is something that would be more transparent and would apply with equal measure to everyone?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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The right hon. Gentleman says that a Member agreeing not to come in is the same as banning a Member from coming in. That is clearly not true.

It would not take very long to turn this motion into legislation, and that would be the proper constitutional way of doing this.

The proposal is, to my mind, entirely ineffective. We know that the powers of arrest of the Serjeant at Arms are pretty much phantasmagorical. I am sorry to embarrass the great Serjeant, who is sitting in his place. He is a most distinguished figure, but the idea that he could turn up and arrest somebody for failing to appear at a Select Committee is pretty much theatre rather than an effective threat. Our ancient powers of imprisoning are no longer there, so what happens when this person, excluded by a small cabal, decides to turn up? What are we going to do? We will have a vote of the whole House to expel him—the proper process in the first place.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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Notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman’s previous remark, I mostly agree with what he says. There is a problem here. When the Standards Committee reported on this, we made the point that exclusion is the very last thing that should be considered. In most cases, a Member in this kind of situation would choose to accept the decision voluntarily. However, we also said that if a Member chose not to, the House should vote on whether the Member should be excluded. Would the right hon. Gentleman be happy with that process?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman: any exclusion must be a decision of the whole House. That is our most ancient constitutional right. The idea that it can be stopped by three people—even, Madam Deputy Speaker, one as distinguished as the Chairman of Ways and Means—is not in the spirit of our constitution.

David Davis Portrait Sir David Davis
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Is the substance of what my right hon. Friend says that if we enacted this procedure, it would be subject to challenge in the courts?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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I am saying that it would be ineffective because a right hon. or hon. Member would simply maintain the right to turn up. There would be no power to arrest that person when turning up, therefore what would we do next, and what would we do if a person so outraged by the allegation said, “Well, I’m going to call a by-election, stand for Parliament and be returned”?

A general election is coming in the next few months. What would we do if a Member subject to this procedure were reselected by his constituency association and returned? By ancient principle, a Member who is returned cannot then be barred for something that happened in the last Parliament. Are we going to start saying, “The people of constituency X have duly voted in somebody who we suspended in the last Session, and who we are going to re-suspend”? Just before the last general election, Keith Vaz was subject to a report that was not entirely in his favour. Everyone recognised that that suspension could not carry over a general election.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con)
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I have immense respect for my right hon. Friend’s knowledge of constitutional matters. As an excellent former Leader of the House, why does he think that the Government have introduced an unconstitutional measure, rather than apply the due court process by having the House of Commons make the decision?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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It is because we have become confused about the limits of exclusive cognisance. The House has exclusive cognisance about its own affairs, but acting as the whole House. Look at the case of the exclusion of Bradlaugh. That was an action of the whole House. What did we do when Bobby Sands was elected to Parliament? We changed the law so that people subject to a criminal sentence could not stand for Parliament. We did not try to set up some approvals committee that would decide who could put their name forward; we followed a proper constitutional process. To answer my hon. Friend, I am astonished that our learned Clerks, who must have advised on this, have allowed such an extraordinary power grab by Standing Orders to undermine a fundamental of our constitution.

I know that when Members of Parliament talk about privilege it sounds as if they are talking about themselves, but it is about our constituents’ right to be represented. They are not represented only by votes. Indeed, most of the time they are least represented by votes, which go the way of the Government majority, with one vote more or less not making a hap’orth of difference. They are marginally represented by written questions, but not much. I have given answers to written questions; sometimes they seem to be as unilluminating as possible. I always tried to improve the illumination where I could. The real representation is in this very room. It is not even in Westminster Hall or in Committee; it is in this great cockpit of debate. A cabal taking away that right is against the constitution.

I will make a couple of little points about the proposal. I do not have a strong view on whether the term should be “arrested” or “charged”, as long as the process is proper and constitutional. I think that it would be perfectly fair even if it was automatic, if it were done by a proper constitutional process. That is not really the issue, but I think that what is proposed is deeply unfair. I will point to two things.

First, the panel will not be given the name of the Member being risk assessed. Dare I say, tell that to the marines. We know in this place that it is inconceivable that a panel of two Deputy Speakers and a panjandrum would not know the name; we would all have been told it by the Lobby correspondents. That is how I find out everything that goes on here, usually from The Mail on Sunday, which has a hotline to what is going on. Those on the committee would know very soon, so that seems to me to be phoney, and not recognising reality.

Secondly, the report states that

“Members must not lobby the Panel…We carefully considered whether a Member subject to risk assessment should have the right to make representations”.

If someone is being risk assessed, how can they maintain that they are low risk if they are not allowed to represent themselves? I think it is extraordinarily unfair that they will be tried in absentia by a cabal, undermining the rights of their constituents. If we want to do this, let us find time for legislation, and let us do it properly.

18:59
Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
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It is strange to agree so much with the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg). I think that he is a bit shocked that I agree with him as well—I see that he nods.

Let me return to two central things. First, this is about Parliament being like every other workplace in the country. Of course there are ways in which we are exceptional—we often emphasise those too much, perhaps—but what was fascinating when we debated the original proposals from the Commission in the Standards Committee was that the lay members all said that in every line of work they were in, this would be standard practice. It would happen in various different ways in different organisations, but certainly in every part of the public sector and in any major employer in the land, this process, in some shape or form, would be absolutely standard. We are simply trying to ensure that this workplace, like any other in the land, is safe not just from external threats but from behaviours that could put staff, members of the public and colleagues at risk.

Secondly, the proposal is about assessing the seriousness of the risk in any given set of circumstances—which heaven knows could vary enormously from the case of one person to another—and then taking proportionate and only proportionate measures to mitigate that risk, as any responsible employer and workplace surely should, and as any other workplace would be required to do, in law written by us. It is about the assessment of risk and proportionate measures to deal with the risk; it is not, in my mind—and I think that it is a terrible shame that it has been billed as such—about exclusion. Exclusion should be, as it is in nearly every other business, the very last point to go to. It would be at the extreme end, when an assessment had been made that the risk was relatively extreme.

Many other things could be done that fall far short of exclusion. For instance, one of the oddities about this building and all the buildings on the parliamentary estate is that we often work, as an MP, with a single member of staff, or two members of staff, behind a big oak door. Somebody might want to make a risk assessment if a Member were, I would say, arrested for a sexual or violent crime relating to a member of staff. They might want to make an assessment that that Member should no longer be in that kind of office and that their office should be one shared with other members of staff, other Members of Parliament or in a more visible space. That might be the perfectly proportionate decision to take, and that could be done entirely without the public knowing and entirely as a neutral act.

This is a really important point: the court of public opinion has no formal rules of evidence, operates entirely to its own agenda, and—in my experience—rarely delivers justice or anything that we would think approximates justice. That is why, notwithstanding the point made about how rumour spreads around here, it is so important that any measure taken should be done confidentially. I think that in nearly every case it would be taken with the agreement of the Member concerned. It should also be considered an entirely neutral process. My worry about the obsession with exclusion as the endpoint of what we are looking at is that it starts to look like a punishment rather than a neutral act.

That is why, in nearly every case, if the assessment of the panel were that there was a significant risk that could be mitigated only through a suggestion of exclusion, the Member would be well advised to follow that advice voluntarily. I think they would in nearly any set of circumstances. However, I agree with the right hon. Member for North East Somerset that, in the end, it must be a matter for the House if there is to be forced exclusion; otherwise, there is a danger that we bring the whole process into disrepute and it will not last for more than five minutes.

David Davis Portrait Sir David Davis
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The hon. Gentleman is making some interesting points. I have two concerns about the process. The first is about abiding by our long-standing rule of innocent until proven guilty. The second is that the people being penalised by this measure are our constituents, not us. Does he imagine guidelines for the panel that take those two things on board in the way he just described?

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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It is perfectly possible to do that. I can imagine many different circumstances where somebody was arrested for a violent or sexual offence and the panel decided that they would not go down the route of exclusion. The Member would still be able to be present and take part in debates; it is just that certain other factors would be considered, such as saying, “You can’t go on foreign travel on behalf of the House, you can’t go on travel in the UK paid for by the House, you can’t participate in IPU delegations, you can’t use the bars, and we’re going to rearrange your offices.” All of those things could happen entirely without disrupting the Member’s ability to represent their constituents to the fullest possible degree. As I say, this is always about assessing the risk in the specific set of circumstances and mitigating those risks only in a proportionate way. In most cases, my suspicion is that exclusion would be disproportionate and therefore not necessary. That is why it is unfortunate that the motion has been couched in this way.

Karen Bradley Portrait Dame Karen Bradley
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I am slightly confused. The hon. Gentleman is making excellent points—they are all good things that we should consider—but the motion is specific in saying:

“The Panel will decide on appropriate measures to mitigate any risk, and such mitigation may include one or more of the following…exclusion from the Parliamentary estate…exclusion from domestic travel…and exclusion from foreign travel”.

It does not talk about exclusion from bars or changing offices. If it did and we were talking about how we might mitigate risk, we might all be in a different position.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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The motion does not preclude those things, either. In fact, the first report produced by a Committee was by the Standards Committee when we took evidence. Interestingly, we said:

“First, we propose that the power to exclude Members from the precincts should form only one part of a wider, formalised risk mitigation process. The evidence we heard from comparable bodies, including the police, suggests that interim suspension is normally a last resort.”

Indeed, we went on to say:

“The House Service could, for example, if it were thought necessary and appropriate”—

I would add “proportionate” to that—

“move the MP’s member of staff to an office shared with other staff, or allocate the MP an office which has a higher degree of visibility.”

Of course, all those things could happen perfectly easily without the motion and could happen now.

I have just a couple more points. On arrest or charge, I find it problematic to land just on charge. That is very late—much later than in any other comparable body in the public sector or the private sector in this country. It is not comparable with the law of the land in terms of what most employers would have to do to be a reasonable employer.

It is important that it is proportionate—that is, first, to the crime itself. That is already met by the motion in one sense, as these measures are about sexual or violent offences. The panel might also want to consider whether we are talking about one instance or several allegations. Secondly, has there been one arrest or two arrests? Has the Member been arrested under caution? We get to various other stages long before charge, such as police bail. Are we saying that we should not even consider these measures when somebody is on police bail? That seems odd to me. I would think that is us falling short of our duty.

The panel should also consider the individual’s co-operation. If the individual Member is being very co-operative, that suggests that we would not need to consider taking major further measures. Then—this point was made earlier—we should think about who the person is that we are talking about. If they are a member of staff working in this building, presumably one would want to assess that the risk was higher and therefore one would need to consider further mitigatory measures.

I have two final points—

Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
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Will the hon. Member give way?

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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Oh, all right. I was going to try to make them final.

Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies
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The hon. Member talks about bail. Presumably, the police bail could instil a condition that that person should not go within a certain distance of the person who has made the allegation, so this process is not needed. The police are perfectly capable of putting in those bail conditions.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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But let us say, for sake of argument—it is only for sake of argument; I am not referring to any individual case at all—that the allegation is that the Member of Parliament has in some way sexually assaulted one of their or another MP’s members of staff here. There are other members of staff in the building. So the police bail may refer to whether they can approach the person who made the allegation, but it would not be able to deal with all the other members of staff who operate in the same purlieu here on the estate. That is why taking the proportionate measure is important.

Earlier, I wanted to ask the Leader of the House a simple question about her own amendment—I know it is very technical and tiny—which says that the panel would be able to proceed during an Adjournment. Would it also be able to proceed during a Prorogation? I hope that she can answer that later.

Finally, the right hon. Member for North East Somerset is absolutely right—the Standards Committee made this point several times when this was being debated from the first set of proposals—that, in the end, a mandatory exclusion of a Member should be a decision of the whole House. That would be a relatively easy thing to add to this process. I note that he had an amendment that has not been selected; for whatever reason, I do not mind. If we are moving to exclusion, I think that it would be cleaner if we had a process where, in the main, the Member would normally be expected to—and would probably, I think—co-operate, but if they chose not to, it would be a matter for a motion of the House, which should be taken without debate and without amendment.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. I will have to impose a time limit of seven minutes.

19:18
Nigel Mills Portrait Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant). I think that I agree with most of what he said.

There is an old joke about asking directions where the answer is, “Don’t start from here.” Given a fair choice, I would not start with the motion in front of us, but I do support the idea that the House should be able to exclude somebody who has been accused of or charged with a serious offence. That is in the interests of the safety of the people who work here and visit here and of the reputation of the House, so I think I support the principle.

However, there are various issues with the actual motion we have in front of us. It appears to have been written for a process that should have applied when someone has been accused of something or arrested for something, but has ended up being applied when someone has actually been charged with something. If we were starting from scratch and saying, “What should we do if a Member is charged with a violent or sexual offence?” I am not sure we would come up with the process that we have here.

That was the logic of the amendments that I have tabled, which seek to say that if somebody has actually been charged in that situation, they should just be excluded until that process has been resolved either by the charges being dropped, or by them being acquitted or convicted. It is hard to see, based on the experience we have had of people choosing to self-exclude, that the panel would ever meet and choose not to exclude somebody who had been charged—that seems extraordinarily unlikely. So what is the advantage of having the panel in that situation? It would only add in some level of discretion and some risk that what is reported in public is that the House thinks this person has been charged with something so serious they have to be excluded, but that somehow we do not think this person is really guilty so they have not been excluded. That would taint the process to no advantage.

My suggestion is that, if the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain) is not carried, and this process continues to apply solely on charge, we just scrap the panel completely and the person is excluded until the whole process is resolved. That is fairer, neater and more clearly understood and it would be a better situation to have. I wish this process could be a lot quicker and that getting from accusation through to arrest, to charge and to conviction or acquittal did not take a year or two years, because if it did not, this would not be such a significant process. Somebody would be out of Parliament for a few months at most, not a few years. However, that is not the world we appear to live in, and so having clarity, where everybody knows the position, would be better than having the panel.

I have a few other points. This House appoints Members to the Standards Committee and elects the Chair; what we have here is a more serious process where somebody can be excluded for a very long period, effectively by Members who have not been elected by the House for that purpose. We can argue that when the House selects Deputy Speakers to a very serious position, that is a reasonable part of their role, but I am not sure that the choice to have the third member—possibly the casting vote—be a member of the Commission is a sensible one.

The Commission is formed of a member of the Cabinet, a member of the shadow Cabinet, an SNP-appointed person and then three others appointed by the Government or the Opposition. We have generally tried to steer clear of having the Government exclude Members from Parliament—I think my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) would strongly agree—so that was a terrible choice for who the casting vote might be. It should have been the Liaison Committee, or a member of the Panel of Chairs, or somebody who is senior in the House and has had some kind of endorsement from the House, but is not tainted by being a Government appointee.

I think that in evidence to the Procedure Committee both the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House said they would not want to be on the panel in that situation, so now we are down to four members who could do that work. What if one of those members was accused? What if one of them was the victim? How would we form the panel? Perhaps, when we come to review this question in future we could find a better way of doing that.

My final point is on the proxy vote. It would have been fair enough, if we were applying this process at accusation or arrest, to say, “Well, somebody may not be guilty or even be charged with this, so to exclude them completely would be the wrong thing to do. Let’s at least give them their vote.” We have had a Parliament in recent memory with a very small majority, and an exclusion in such a situation could have changed the result of some votes, so I can see a logic for a proxy vote in that situation. But can anybody really see the logic of a proxy vote for somebody who has been charged?

We do not give proxy votes for people who are representing this House on other assemblies around the world; we do not give them to people who are on official House Select Committee visits or other official business. That we would give a proxy vote to someone who was in a courtroom, in the dock, on trial for rape, is ridiculous. If we believe acting at the point of charge is right, the Member should be excluded and have effectively no role until their name is cleared. If the hon. Member for North East Fife’s amendment is not carried, I urge Members to scrap the panel, which adds nothing and makes the situation worse, and not have a proxy vote. I think that would be a terrible tainting of the House’s reputation.

19:24
Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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I start by referencing the foreword to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme report published today, for which I commend Sir Paul Kernaghan. Paragraph 3 says:

“A scheme like the ICGS must recognise the different working cultures and constitutional requirements, whilst at the same time contribute to a non-negotiable objective of helping to deliver a modern environment in which everyone is respected and valued. The Royal Military Police’s motto is Exemplo Ducemus—‘By example shall we lead’. I have taken the view that Parliament’s internal arrangements should also, as far as possible, lead by example. I have consciously sought to make recommendations that are both practical and reflect the highest possible standards.”

I am conscious that that is talking about the ICGS, which is a different process, but sometimes, when we end up talking about dates such as 1340 and 1648, I am not sure people necessarily think that is relevant to today.

My amendments are about safeguarding. I am grateful that the Chair of the Procedure Committee, although she disagrees with me, recognises that that is a key point of contention in relation to the motion we are considering today. When we last discussed these proposals in a general debate, we were talking about proposals in relation to arrest. They have now been changed to charge, and my amendment simply seeks to get the view of the House on what is the right point. I appreciate there is a balance to that.

On the question of consultation mechanisms, we have talked about evidence given to the Procedure Committee, the Standards Committee and the Commission, but I stand here as a member of the fourth party in this House and it is interesting that I have had support for my amendment from other smaller parties as well. It is important, when we are debating these matters, that all voices are heard.

People are always very quick to point out that we are not employees. Indeed, as a former police officer, I was also not an employee then; I was appointed and I swore an oath to serve. However, we do have responsibilities to our own employees as an employer, and I should mention I was a member of the Speaker’s Conference in that regard. I think the public take a view of our employment status, in that they recognise we are not employees, but I agree with those hon. Members who have made the point that as far as possible we should be trying to align ourselves with modern workplaces and practices and with the laws that we pass here in respect of them.

Where MP’s terms and conditions have caused issues in recent years, it is when we have in this place perhaps over-emphasised ourselves as being exceptional and unique, and forgotten that we are not here just simply to represent our constituents and peers; we are representatives of those constituents and peers. We are those people too, and if we do not encourage people to think about MPs that way, we will never get the diversity and representation in this place that we want. I think the public are less concerned about us exercising our rights since Cromwell, and we should be thinking about how we minimise the impact on representation.

I agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) that exclusion is one of a series of measures contained in this motion, and may be applicable only in a very small number of situations. It is about risk and it is about safeguarding. I refer to an email I received from Ken Gall from the trade unions here in the Commons—I think the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) referred to it as well:

“Following the publication of the Angiolini report, senior House officials including the Speaker met with the Deputy Commissioner of the Met Police…to discuss the fact that Wayne Couzens…had worked on the parliamentary estate.”

He notes that the House released the following statement:

“The PaDP leadership also now automatically informs Parliament’s Director of Security about serious disciplinary issues, and any officer accused of gross misconduct is automatically removed from working on the parliamentary estate.”

I think all of us would argue that was proportionate, necessary and a risk-based response. However, we are in danger of saying that the risk posed by a man accused of serious sexual offenses is unacceptable when that man is a police officer, but not when the man in question is an MP.

I also want to refer to the comments made by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis). As part of the safeguarding assessment that we make, we should think about the full circumstances of the case. It may be appropriate to take a different approach when the offence is in relation to somebody who works in the estate, as opposed to someone external.

Why arrest and not charge? Because I want our practices to align with those in other workplaces. It is important to remember that the majority of people in this workplace are not MPs or Members of the other place; they are members of staff. This is their workplace too. My proposal also aligns with the Government’s own external statements of intent, particularly in relation to violence against women and girls. Again, Ken Gall points out that the Government’s response to the Government Equalities Office consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace referred to adequate legal protections and prompting employers to take action to prevent harassment. I am not sure how failing to exclude from the workplace a man arrested on suspicion of rape would not fall into the category of an employer not taking all reasonable steps to protect women. The House is not an employer of MPs, but it is an employer of others.

In my remaining minute, I will talk about the role of the Whips and the politicisation of the process. Voluntary exclusion happens now. The higher the bar is, the more politicisation of the process there will be. The right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) talked about knowing from a panel exactly who it was. Frankly, we know the people who have voluntarily excluded themselves from the estate on that basis. Having the bar too high would negate some of the safeguarding measures that we might try to take.

Let me say, as a former police officer—the only one taking part in this debate, I think—that arrest on suspicion does not take place just on the basis of an allegation. Yes, some vexatious complaints occur, but what message do we send from this place if we say that our concerns on this are more important than safeguarding? Balance, as the Chair of the Procedure Committee said, is important.

Several members of staff have come up to me today to thank me for tabling my amendment. I ask those who are thinking of voting against it to think about the message they would be sending outwith this place.

19:31
Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con)
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I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg), as I so often do. This is a very unsatisfactory process, to say the least. I endorse everything that he said.

We are where we are in terms of this particular motion, and I will mention a couple of things in it, relating mainly to the debate about whether or not the proposed Standing Order should apply at arrest or at charge. I very much agree with the comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley). She was right to say that the measure would find the right balance by applying at charge, partly because, as has been said, our constituents have a right to be represented in the House of Commons—we should not forget that—but also because of the time these things take. Someone being deprived of being here because they have been arrested even though they have done nothing wrong is not just a hypothetical; it has actually happened, and they were excluded from here for a substantial amount of time. Are we completely blind to those situations? We should be completely aware of that, and we must not allow it to happen again.

I must say that I think the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) was unusually naive in his view about what might happen if we had the situation at arrest. He seems to think that if we had a panel meeting at arrest, exclusion would be a last resort, and that a whole suite of other things would be gone through before we got to that. To be perfectly honest, he has been here long enough to know that that is an absolute load of old tripe. He knows full well that the moment somebody is arrested, the panel would say, “We must be risk-averse,” and the person would be excluded straightaway. And I guarantee to him that if they were not excluded straightaway, an awful lot of people in this House would demand that they be excluded straightaway on the basis of arrest. If he does not think that is the case, I am afraid he is completely and utterly out of touch with what goes on.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, given that I have just spoken. What assessment does he think the Whips make on that basis?

Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies
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Well, the point is that that is a voluntary process. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset has made clear, if somebody feels that that is not a suitable process, they can come in here. This is about us formally excluding people from here. That is a very different issue altogether—one that we should not take lightly; and one that, I suspect, is being taken too lightly.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies
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I will not, because others want to speak and I do not want to take their time.

I will raise two other points. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) is absolutely right about the fact that when this motion was originally tabled, it was about arrest, and the Government have just changed the wording to “charged” but kept the rest of it in place, which is completely unsatisfactory. Personally, for the reason that I have given, I would get rid of the panel altogether, because I suspect that the outcome would be the same on every single thing, whether arrest or charge, to be perfectly honest. I am not entirely sure what the point of the panel is. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that when the matter relates to a charge, the panel is completely unnecessary, and we should get rid of it.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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Will my hon. Friend give way very briefly?

Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies
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Go on then—as it is my right hon. Friend.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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I think the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) is more constitutional—although still far from perfect—because whether to exclude under certain circumstances is a decision for the House, rather than a decision for the House to delegate. His amendment to this rather bad motion is at least an improvement.

Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

There is no better endorsement than that, as far as I am concerned, so that will do for me and, I am sure, for my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley.

The Order Paper indicates that amendment (c) is expected to be pressed to a Division, and I hope that it is. It was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), who cannot be here because of all the parliamentary business that he is engaged in today, but I have signed it, Madam Deputy Speaker, and would be prepared to move it. It comes back to the point—one that my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands made—about this motion being sort of cobbled together with a different original purpose.

Amendment (c) is about removing proxy voting from somebody who is subject to a charge. I do not think that there is any justification at all for somebody who has been charged with a serious sexual or violent offence to be given a proxy vote, when people with far better reasons for being absent from the House are not given that privilege. It would be an outrage, in my opinion, if they were treated more favourably than other Members who had just as good a reason for not being here. I very much hope that the Leader of the House will accept the amendment, which I think reflects the mood of the House. Proxy voting is a step too far, and it is a consequence of not amending the motion when the decision was made to change the wording from arrest to charge.

I would like to say a lot more—I said last week that this debate was not long enough, given the seriousness of the issue, and I maintain that view—but I want to allow others to speak. I completely agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset when he says that this is an unsatisfactory process, and if he were to vote against the whole motion, I would have a lot of sympathy with him, but I hope that colleagues accept that “charged” strikes the right balance by being fair to everybody—including our constituents, who are the most important people for this House to think about—and in terms of safeguarding the people who work here. I also hope that Members will accept amendment (c), tabled by hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and me, to scrap proxy voting in that situation. That would at least make the motion better than it would otherwise be.

19:39
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)
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I rise, in an unusual moment, to agree with the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir Philip Davies), and with the point that the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) also laid out in a lot of detail. The reason why the proxy voting, the panel and the other things were originally in the motion was that the motion was originally based on arrest. This House did not get a chance to vote on that. From the cursory opening speech made by the Leader of the House, it seems that even she is not that keen on the fact that the motion got changed. As such, I rise to talk about her original motion and the original motion of the Commission. I totally agree that if the basis is charge, we should get rid of the proxy voting and so on.

Julian Lewis Portrait Sir Julian Lewis
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In the spirit of consensus, may I point out to the House that when I responded to an intervention that the hon. Lady made last Wednesday, I made an error? I said that I was not aware that the word “arrest” had been included in the original proposal. I then immediately rushed off to check that I was right, and found that I was wrong. I am glad to have had the opportunity to set the record straight.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention, and I hope that he took the fact that I was seeking to correct him in the spirit in which it was intended. I will just point out that on the issues of arrest, sexual violence and safeguarding, I am usually right.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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Not to be humble about it.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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Yes.

Today, just on this one day, I have spoken to two women who were raped by Members of this Parliament. That is a fairly standard day for me. I notice that they are not the people who have been mentioned much so far today. Some of them told me what they wanted me to say in this debate. I will just read out some of what was sent to me: that exclusion “at the point of charge sends a clear message to victims that not only will we not investigate unless a victim goes to the police, but we won’t act unless they’re charged, which happens in less than 1% of cases, so what’s the point?” That was essentially what that victim said to me.

The Chair of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley), told us about all the people she had had in front of her. I wonder how many of the victims of these crimes came and gave evidence, or were given an opportunity to give evidence in private. I am going to stand here and speak up for them, because every single one of them wishes for exclusion to be on the basis of arrest.

The idea that an arrest can happen on a vexatious charge has been raised, which suggests that nobody in this building who has said that has ever dealt with an arrest in a case of sexual violence or serious violence. The amendment to change the motion to “arrest” happens to be in the name of somebody who, as we have already shown, is always right on this, and that of a former police officer, the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain). I know that in this House we are not always keen on experts, but I urge the House to understand that it takes a huge amount for somebody to be arrested. You cannot just ring West Midlands police and say, “Jess Phillips assaulted me”, and they come round and arrest me within the hour. What world are we living in? It is absolute madness. If we do not do this on the basis of arrest, we are saying that we do not trust the police officers in our country.

The hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) is not in the Chamber today—I have informed him that I will mention him. He has tabled amendments, and if the one tabled in our name falls, I will absolutely vote for his, so this is not a particular criticism of him. When we were both tabling our motions, I asked him, “What about safeguarding?” He said, “The thing is, we are not employed, so employment law does not come to us.” I asked him whether he had children or grandchildren, and I said, “Would you like it in your child’s school if one of the teachers had been arrested for rape and still went to teach your kids?” He said, “The thing is, we are self-employed.” I said, “Okay. Childminders are self-employed, so would you be happy with a rapey childminder who has been arrested looking after your three-year-old? I wouldn’t be.”

Why do we think that we in this place are so special? Why are we all talking as if all the people who work in this building do not have a right to feel safe when they walk around? The women I spoke to today do not feel safe, and they told me to come and say that. The women who work in the office on my floor all said to me, “Go and say this for us today, Jess.” Why do we think we are so special?

I notice that today the constituents of the hon. Member for Christchurch are completely bereft of representation. The argument that we would be taking away our constituents’ rights does somewhat suggest that no one in this building should ever take a day off on the slip—“Don’t be going on holiday; what about your constituents?”

Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies
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First, I think we should acknowledge that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is on a parliamentary delegation. He is not being slipped in the sense that he is on holiday or whatever, and I think it would be wise if the hon. Lady reflected on that.

Secondly, given the passion with which the hon. Lady is speaking, which we all accept—we all agree about the victims—does she agree with the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) that if somebody were arrested for a serious sexual offence, exclusion should be the last resort, or does she think that that person should be automatically excluded?

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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I guess it would entirely depend on the sexual offence, but even though I jokingly said earlier that I will be on the panel, I can recognise enough my own particular bias in this regard. I do think that exclusion would be the answer, but the truth is that so will most people.

To address the point made by the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) that this Chamber is where we represent people, are the constituents of the hon. Member for Christchurch—I am using him as an example, because the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir Philip Davies) said that he was not here—or anybody else’s constituents bereft? Are the constituents of all the people who are not in the Chamber now not being represented? The argument that keeps being made is, “I am doing it for my constituents”, but I bet that I could find people in every Member’s constituency who do not feel they are being represented particularly well.

Philip Davies Portrait Sir Philip Davies
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I am sure the hon. Lady must recognise that when it comes to representing our constituents, there is a very great difference between not attending one particular debate and being excluded from Parliament, perhaps for up to two years or so.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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The trouble is that that is what is currently happening. The hon. Gentleman, or anybody else who does not want there to be a two-year wait between arrest and charge, might like to join me in all my advocacy. When I worked in this field before I was in this building, it was not two years between arrest and charge, so maybe the Leader of the House could reflect on her party’s own record in that regard. Of course it should not take that long. I think it was the hon. Member for Amber Valley who said, “If it was quick”—well, we all want to see that for everybody involved, but there is this idea that we are superior beings who should not have to be concerned about safeguarding laws that are totally standard practice across the whole of the country. Do you know who gets excluded now? It is the person who got raped. We say, “This magical being has to be able to stay because in 1348, blah, blah, blah.” What about the person who got raped who works here?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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My point was that this should be done properly. The hon. Lady makes a compelling case for arrest, but only if it is done in a proper and constitutional manner.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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Like, I say, I am often right on these things. I am going to err to the right hon. Gentleman’s judgment on that point. What I am saying—I do not mean to besmirch him—is that we seem to act like we are superior beings. The people who currently get excluded are often young women—I have dealt with cases where it was young men—who never work in politics again. The woman I spoke to first thing this morning has never set foot in this building again. She has given up politics—we have extinguished that light. We gave it up, we excluded her, and we allowed the person she alleges did that to her to walk around in this place. Everybody who votes against arrest would be willing to allow that person to walk around, possibly being a danger to somebody else, for another two years.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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Order. I have three more speakers to call. There is nothing wrong with interventions, but I would be grateful if speakers stuck within the seven-minute period, because otherwise it will get to 10 minutes, and we will not have time for the Minister.

19:49
Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con)
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I rise to support the Leader of the House’s motion, and it is a pleasure to follow the powerful argument made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips).

I speak as a former Law Officer of the Crown—Attorney General under two Prime Ministers and Solicitor General before that—but perhaps more relevantly, as a practising barrister in the criminal law field for 17 years before I was elected to this honourable House. I very much accept the need to protect the people working here—of course, I do—and that includes other Members, staff of the House, staff of Members, visitors and everyone else. I personally prosecuted cases, and I think I am the only speaker on either side today who has actually prosecuted sexual offences and defended them in court over a 17-year period before 2010.

I care about these issues from a professional standpoint, and I want to speak about that aspect, but also about the constitutional aspect. I agree very much with my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg). After all, Charles Bradlaugh, to whom he referred, was the Northampton MP in the 1880s. He was repeatedly excluded from this House for refusing to swear the oath—at the time, one could not affirm—and that is a constitutional point about how the House maintained its right to reject someone who had been voted in to serve in this House.

There is a key principle here—a golden thread—that runs through our system, which is that a person must not suffer imposition before guilt has been proven. It is offensive to the laws of national justice and, in fact, contrary to human rights to do so. There is a principle, and this principle is ancient. In fact, it dates back to the ancient Romans. Later than ancient Rome, the 6th-century “Digest” of Justinian cited the general rule of evidence, which I was taught 30 years ago in my law degree, which is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Everything we do in this House must be based and predicated on the principle that proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies. That is the legal principle, which in Latin is “Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat”, and when it was mentioned in the 500s AD—over 1,500 years ago—it referred back to Roman times.

That is how ancient this principle is—it was introduced to Roman criminal law by the Emperor Antoninus Pius—and it has become part of the constitution of this country. What we do in this House is predicated on our constitutional principles, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset said and as the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant), as a historian of this House, will also know. However, it is not just that it is ancient; it is important that even the Hebrew Talmud has said that a person is innocent until proven guilty, and I have read that the presumption of innocence is fundamental to Islamic law. The principle that the onus of proof is on the accuser or claimant is strongly held, based on a hadith documented by Imam Nawawi in the 13th century. Everything we do here should look to that, as in Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England” of the 1760s, which are still taught today, when it states:

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.”

Having spent 17 years at the Bar practising criminal law—prosecuting and defending—before being elected to this place, I strongly agree with that sentiment.

Rehman Chishti Portrait Rehman Chishti
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I also prosecuted and defended in the criminal courts before coming to this place, and I of course accept “innocent until proven guilty”. Indeed, I have dealt with cases in which individuals have been accused and then found to be not guilty at the end, so I will save my question for the constitutional point that has been raised. If the constitutional point is that this is unconstitutional, after that everything else falls, does it not?

Michael Ellis Portrait Sir Michael Ellis
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My hon. Friend has made his point, and I am conscious of your admonition about time, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will move on.

I would say that the bar—the legal test—for a constable arresting an individual is necessarily very low. A mere suspicion is sufficient, or what is called a reasonable belief. That belief could turn out to be wrong, and many people arrested are never charged, while in fact many people who are charged are never convicted. This is not about MPs; it is about the principles of justice, at least it is for me. To admonish or to punish individuals in relation to their work in the public interest, which is what MPs of course do, on arrest is wrong. It may also very well encourage malicious complaints, and let us not forget that there is a history of that.

I will cut my remarks short, bearing in mind your admonition, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to emphasise that my remarks, coming as they do from a lawyer, are necessarily perhaps rather legalistic and constitutional, but they are no less passionately held. I have great respect for those on both sides of the House who have spoken as they have. We all care about justice, we all care that right is done for all and we care about victims being treated properly. However, in my respectful submission, we must avoid breaching long-established rules of natural justice, which are part of our constitution. Otherwise, history will look back on us as it does on other periods of historical unfairness and injustice. We must maintain our historic fairness. I support the Leader of the House’s motion.

19:56
Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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I support the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain). I remind the Chamber that it is now almost 11 months since the proposals on risk-based exclusion were first debated here, and it seems as though we have had a lot of discussions outside about how to best protect everyone who works here. I think there is a general acceptance, constitutional issues aside, that something needs to be done, but there is a clear disagreement about the threshold for intervention.

It is clear that there is a need for a threshold for an assessment to take place. We are talking here about a threshold for an assessment, not a threshold for an exclusion, which is why I support the amendments providing that the threshold should be arrest, rather than charge. After all, if there has been enough evidence gathered to charge someone with a violent or sexual offence, in almost any other workplace there would not be any discussion about suspending that person; it would just happen, because most employers in this country believe providing a safe and secure place of work for their staff is a given. That is the place the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) has come from with his amendments.

In fact, I am of the view that in most workplaces suspension would happen automatically following arrest. However, the amendment I support does not go that far. It just says that arrest is the point at which we should begin to consider the risk to the people who work here, and that is the key point: we are thinking about the risk to the people who work here. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) eloquently put it, people do not just ring up the police and get someone arrested on a whim. There is an awful lot of investigatory work done before we get to that point.

This is about striking the right balance between ensuring people are able to work in a safe environment and ensuring that the people Members represent do not feel disenfranchised by virtue of a Member’s absence. On our constituents’ view, this is not just about how a Member represents them here; as we have said, there are lots of other things that can be done outside this Chamber to represent people. However, there is also the other side to this, which is about how a constituent would feel if they wanted support from their MP because they were working in a place that was not dealing with a sexual predator, and they were turning up to work anxious and fearful that they might bump into them—if, for whatever reason, the employer was not allowing anything to be done because the police had not formally charged the individual. I hope we can all see how that could put the victim in an impossible situation. How can we support our constituents to insist that the employer does the right thing if we do not insist on doing those things ourselves? If we cannot get our own House in order, how can we effectively challenge the worst employment practices out there? Should we not be aiming to be one of the best places for people to work? We cannot hope to recruit and retain the brightest and best in this country, if we have a working culture from another era. Of course, this is a very special place to work—it is a privilege to be here—but that does not mean we should have to put up with suboptimal standards in how we conduct ourselves. We should aim for a culture where everyone is respected and working conditions are among the best in the country, and when those standards slip we must ensure a robust and swift process is in place.

One of the objections to some of the amendments seems to be that Members should not be subject to the same rules and standards to which we hold other people. That is wrong in principle and feeds into the sense—which a lot of people have—that we are out of touch with the real world. I also feel there is some conflation, possibly deliberately, between the use of this procedure and the finding of guilt. I would never accept that an expulsion or exclusion equates to a finding of guilt. This process will not replace the role of a court and I believe that the risk assessment process and the adjudication panel that has been suggested would deal with this in a sensible and considered way, and we would have ample opportunity to weed out vexatious complaints, although for the reasons I have stated I do not think we would even get to that point.

What we are asking to be done is no different from what we ask of others outside this place. We are asking for the same standards to be applied here as in every other workplace. The original report on this stated clearly that flexibility is the key. Mitigations can be put in place that fall short of exclusion and there are lots of examples of that. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) gave a number of measures that could be taken before we reach the last resort of exclusion. That is what any other workplace would do; it would assess the risk and take mitigating steps.

I am afraid we are into a very binary debate about whether this proposal means we should exclude or not. There are a number of different ways in which we can protect our staff without having to reach that point. This again shows that this place believes the rules do not apply to us in the same way that they apply to everyone else, that we do not value the victim’s voice, and that we do not believe people in here should have safe working environments and confidence that they can work in a safe environment. The public should look at us and think about whether we really do value the contribution of our staff, when we put them into these positions in the first place.

I will finish with the words of Dame Laura Cox, whose work started this whole process. She said that this place has a culture of

“deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed.”

We have made progress in dealing with that, but some of the arguments tonight show that some people just have not understood that we have more to do.

20:02
Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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Let me start by saying that I actually do agree with the right hon. Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg), who is on his phone, that this should be a constitutional issue, and I agree with the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir Philip Davies) about the daftness of some of the ways this system works, and with the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills). This is an imperfect proposal, but it is now over seven years since we started talking about tackling sexual harassment and sexual abuse on the estate, and since we heard that there had been rapes and sexual assaults in this building, involving people who work in politics and our colleagues, and allegations of such. So the question for us all tonight is: do we keep doing nothing or do we take some action and make progress?

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) is right: it is not about exclusion; it is about risk. What are we doing about the risk—a risk that we tell other workplaces they have to act upon? I will not use the term hypocritical but I do offer the term double standards and say that we are at risk of being called inconsistent, inexcusable and unjustifiable if we do not match the ambitions we set for other workplaces here for ourselves.

I say to every MP in this House, “You should want this to be the case, because while we don’t have an employment contract, we sign them for our staff, and therefore the laws that exist about what responsibilities you have as an employer apply to how you treat your staff. The question is whether you can truly look them in the eye and say that this is a safe workplace.” This is a workplace where our young women employees get taken out by each other to be warned about other MPs and, indeed, staff in this place. There is the whisper network, and that would not cut it at an employment tribunal.

These policies are about living up to what we expect of other workplaces. They are about addressing situations such as when someone comes into our constituency surgery and says, “The local headteacher has been arrested but they are still teaching children,” or, “There’s a surgeon at the hospital who has been arrested for sexually assaulting a patient, but they are still in there. What are you going to do about it?” Do we say, “Until they’re charged, I don’t think there’s a problem”? We would not be able to justify that to our constituents; why on earth would we justify it when talking about ourselves?

It is suggested that people are arrested on a whim, but they are not. It comes down to a central point: the cognitive dissonance in this place. We have constant debates about violence against women—how we are going to tackle it and make it a priority. We must recognise that we too often do not believe victims, but we are saying in this instance that because we are special sausages, this will not be a priority.

We have to start believing and acting on those beliefs. The proposal may be an imperfect process, but finally it is a way of saying that we do believe, sadly, that power corrupts. Sadly, there are people who abuse their power dynamics and power relations. We must understand that, as the consultation that started this said, gentlemen’s agreements on what should happen are insufficient.

Political parties—the elephant in the room in this debate today—are complicit, too. There are cosy wrap-ups with the Whips Office to try and manage situations, when almost every single person who has come forward has lost their job—a job they loved in a career and party they cared about. We do not protect the victims; we protect the perpetrators. Every political party needs to look itself in the eye and ask why seven years on, people are saying that the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme process, which is imperfect in its own right, is still better than our political processes. That is why we have debates like this.

We hold ourselves to different standards compared with what we expect in workplaces and our constituencies. Those are standards we should apply as MPs ourselves as employers. That is the issue, if nothing else. We have demanded of the police that in order to keep people safe on this estate, they bar from it anyone accused of a serious violent or sexual offence—not even arrested, which a Member who is no longer in his place said was so easy to get. We have asked for people who have just been accused to be barred to keep us and our staff safe, but we do not ask that of ourselves. It is inconsistent, double standards, contradictory—potentially a word that begins with “h”. Above all, it damages our reputation. This is a workplace where MPs have unparalleled access in our constituencies to people because we are the MP. We do not need to have a DBS check. This is a workplace where no one is required to tell HR if they enter into a relationship with somebody, yet in most workplaces that is standard—and, frankly, it protects people because it recognises the difference between a power imbalance and the inevitable love that comes as a result of delivering too many leaflets on too many long weekends.

This is not a workplace in the modern world and our staff are suffering as a result. Seven years on, the cases keep coming forward. Seven years on, the cases are being covered up. Seven years on, people are losing faith that we will ever get it. So, yes, this proposal is not perfect, but this proposal is a step forward, and Members should vote for it and vote for amendment (o). To get back to what we originally talked about, we should recognise that if someone is arrested for a serious sexual or violent offence, that does mean that there needs to be a risk analysis. If Members do not vote for this, I tell them not to sit in their surgery when someone comes and asks what they should do about their workplace, and not to say to me that they are listening to victims of sexual violence and that they understand why violence against women and girls in this country is still such a problem.

We are not such special sausages that we cannot be complicit in that culture. That is the risk tonight if we do not vote for amendment (o) and at least try to get this process rolling. It is not perfect—it can be amended—but if we vote it down tonight or try to find a way of making it impractical to apply, our staff will not forgive us. Good, talented people will walk away from politics because it is a dangerous environment, and our constituents will simply not understand why we do not hold ourselves to the standards we ask of them as employers and other people.

For the sake of all of us, special or not, sausage or not, let us do something finally about this. Let us put safeguarding at the heart of what we do, and let us try and move into the 21st century for once.

20:10
Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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May I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate tonight? I will try, in the limited time I have, to answer the technical points that Members have raised.

The first was from the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell). She wanted me to confirm whether, if someone was currently under charge, these procedures would apply to them, should we bring them in today. The answer is yes. Indeed, if new information came to light after someone had been charged, the process with the panel could be re-enacted. It is a risk-based approach that would apply to people currently under charge.

My hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer) asked whether these procedures would apply to all Members of the House, including the Speaker and Deputy Speakers, and they would. If they were panel members, they would clearly recuse themselves, as they would in other scenarios.

I thank the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Dame Karen Bradley), and her Committee for the work they have done. I thank her for her support for the Commission’s proposal, and I understand her concerns about proxy voting. I just say to her that we heard evidence from constituencies that had had Members of Parliament out of action, if I can term it like that, for some time. That has a devastating impact on constituencies and communities, and it relates to the issue that many Members have raised this afternoon about the length of time these things take and how poorly served people are in that respect.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir Philip Davies), who was speaking in part about amendment (c) tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope)—I can confirm we will have the opportunity to vote on that tonight—also raised the proxy scheme.

Many Members made the comparison between the profession we are in and other professions, particularly the police force. The police themselves may also be subject not infrequently to vexatious claims made against them for all kinds of reasons. The volume of Members of both Houses who have come to see me during this process who have been the victims of vexatious claims was surprisingly large.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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Will the Leader of the House give way?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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May I make some progress? I will allow interventions; I just want to get through the points that have been made.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) and my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) spoke about what the Government are doing. We are facilitating a debate. I am glad it has been a genuine debate on an important matter, but this proposal from the Commission has been discussed on a cross-party basis.

The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) talked about the legal differences between Scotland and England. There are differences between the English and Scottish legal systems, but in both systems charges are brought only when there is a reasonable view that there is enough evidence that that person has committed a crime. Therefore, in both systems the risk-based exclusion scheme would be triggered when enough evidence has been obtained. The situation would be consistent.

The hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant) raised a variety of points. Of course, this proposal is one option. It is an option that Mr Speaker and the Commission feel this House should have, but clearly many other things already in existence could safeguard individuals, whether those are voluntary or powers that other people on the estate—for example, the Serjeant at Arms and others—have for excluding people from bars. Other things can also be put in place to safeguard staff.

On the hon. Gentleman’s particular point about Prorogation and Dissolution, the proposal would not apply in those cases. With regard to the former, it is a very short period, so it was viewed that there would not be a practical impact. Again, that can be reviewed in the proposed six-month review. In Dissolution, it would not apply, but it would not be needed because people would be off the estate.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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Will the Leader of the House give way?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I will come to the hon. Gentleman, but let me crack through the other points.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg) gave some examples that slightly misunderstood what the scheme is doing. We are not talking about a Member being expelled from the House, or losing their place as a Member of the House, but being excluded from the estate for a limited period. It is for Parliament, in accordance with the principle of exclusive cognisance, to organise its own affairs. It is orderly therefore for this House to consider the proposals in the way that it is. He invites us to consider a scenario where a Member of Parliament resigned as an MP and then stood for re-election and asked whether this process would still apply to them. If they were still under charge, yes, it would.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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Will the Leader of the House give way?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I will come to my right hon. Friend once I have been through the points that have already been raised.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) for his attention and for giving the House the option to vote on his amendment. When the Commission was looking at this matter, we looked at potential scenarios—not at charge, but at arrest—where someone might be arrested for a violent offence, but it would not be deemed appropriate to exclude them from the estate. One example we looked at was someone who was a victim of domestic abuse. That is where that particular line comes from.

The hon. Member for North East Fife (Wendy Chamberlain), who has great experience in this area, and the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) and others talked about a raft of issues related to arrest. One issue that did arise when people were looking at this matter is an obvious question: if bail conditions have not been applied to an individual, is it right for a panel to impose its own? The panel could face a small number of situations where bail conditions and restrictions had not been placed on an individual, but the panel felt that further restrictions would need to be looked at with regard to the estate.

The hon. Member for North East Fife raises an important point about charge versus arrest. I will offer the arguments forwarded for consistency on charge for the sake of thoroughness of debate. A criminal investigation is commenced where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence has been committed. A person can be subject to a criminal investigation right through to the point of charging without having been arrested. The police will only arrest if it is necessary to do so, but they do so in a whole variety of cases. The argument put forward against the amendment is that it would create a distinction between on the one hand an MP who has been arrested because the police considered it a necessary procedural step—it should be kept in mind that arrest does not indicate that the allegation is more serious or credible—and on the other, an MP who has been investigated for an offence at the same level of seriousness, but where the arrest was deemed unnecessary.

I will come to the point that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) raised, although I am afraid she will find some of my answers depressing, and I ask her to brace for that. The first is that—my fellow Commissioners will back me up that I have raised this—the House of Commons Commission, which is asked to bring forward motions of this nature, is not fully sighted on all the problems. Commission members do not have a 360° view of all the issues on the estate. Clearly, cases are going on that are in complete confidence. There is a problem in asking the Commission to do work of this nature—the people who are doing that are best sighted on the whole of the problem.

The hon. Lady and others raised the charge that we consider ourselves in this place to be somehow different from other members of the population—and our staff. I think that is wrong, in part because of arguments that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) made, which I agree with, and because Members of Parliament can be victims in this situation, too. Historically, women MPs have been victims. It is not helpful to say that there is a divide between how Members of Parliament see themselves and others—I do not think that is true.

Even more concerning for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley, and myself is that some of the most serious cases that we are aware of—and that I find most disturbing and worrying from a safeguarding point of view—would not be covered by any of the proposals, including at arrest. This is not a comprehensive solution to the problem, though it is a step towards part of the answer.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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Of all the people who said that they had had loads of vexatious claims, how many ended in arrest? I imagine almost none. Is the right hon. Lady saying that because she has heard of cases where the police would never be called and there would be no arrest, we should make it charge, not arrest? I am confused by what she is saying. And if there is such a problem, what is she doing about it?

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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As I said at the start, the House of Commons Commission and others are looking at a number of things. We have had a review published today on strengthening the ICGS. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the shadow Leader of the House said about ensuring that people are directed towards that scheme, it improves and speeds up and the investigation and operational issues are dealt with. That has greatly strengthened the options that people have on the estate.

Chris Bryant Portrait Sir Chris Bryant
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I may have counted this wrongly, but I think the Leader of the House said on six occasions that this proposal is from the Commission. It is not, is it? It is her proposal. If it were the Commission’s proposal, it would be at arrest, not charge.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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That is not correct.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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No, it is not, with all due respect to the hon. Member. The Commission originally proposed arrest. We brought that to the Floor of the House. There were concerns before it arrived, and therefore we decided to have a debate, not a vote on it. Three key issues were raised in that debate, and charge versus arrest was one of them. All three issues have been dealt with by the Commission. The House has the chance tonight to vote on proxy voting, the panel, arrest versus charge and the scheme itself. It is for the House to decide that. It is a sorry situation that the hon. Gentleman would paint this to be something it is not. It shows a distinct lack of situational awareness.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
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On exclusive cognisance, as was established in the Bradlaugh case, this House has the right to determine its own procedures, but it has never had the right to delegate the exclusion of a Member to a panel. That has always been the responsibility of the whole House, otherwise we have a right dating back to 1340 of unmolested attendance. Exclusive cognisance cannot override our ancient rights in that way. We can, of course, expel individual Members. That is the flaw in this proposal.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his helpful point. In addition to what I said earlier, the Commission’s choice was between retaining the confidentiality of the situation—the advice that it received on not jeopardising an investigation in an ongoing case was very compelling—and ignoring that and bringing this to the Floor of the House. The Commission decided that the former was the better course of action.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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We do not have much time left, but I will give way.

Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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I just want to know who gave the right hon. Lady that advice about confidentiality, and what qualifications they have.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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The Commission received that advice from the House authority’s lawyers, and that was the course of action that we decided to take. [Interruption.] It is correct.

Hon. Members have the opportunity tonight to vote on four key issues: the proxy voting scheme, the panel itself—thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley—whether it should be arrest or charge, and the scheme itself. That is for the House to decide.

Amendment proposed: (o), in paragraph (1), leave out

“, save that the threshold for risk-based exclusion should be when a Member has been charged with a relevant offence”.—(Wendy Chamberlain.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

20:25

Division 150

Ayes: 170


Labour: 122
Scottish National Party: 21
Liberal Democrat: 11
Conservative: 8
Plaid Cymru: 2
Independent: 1
Alliance: 1
Workers Party of Britain: 1
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Alba Party: 1
Green Party: 1

Noes: 169


Conservative: 165
Independent: 2
Liberal Democrat: 1

20:39
More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the Deputy Speaker put the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Order, 8 May).
Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I remind the House that amendment (h) is consequential on amendment (o), to which the House has already agreed.

Amendment made: (h), in paragraph (1) of the proposed Standing Order, leave out “is charged with” and insert

“has been arrested on suspicion of committing”.—(Wendy Chamberlain.)

Amendment made: (n), after paragraph (2) of the proposed Standing Order insert—

“() The Panel shall have power to meet notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, in person or by electronic means.”—(Penny Mordaunt.)

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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I remind the House that amendments (p) and (q) are consequential on amendment (o), to which the House has already agreed.

Amendments made: (p), after paragraph (2) of the proposed Standing Order insert—

“() The Panel will not be given the name of the Member being risk assessed.”

Amendment (q), in paragraph (11)(b) of the proposed Standing Order, leave out

“the charge has been withdrawn”

and insert

“no charge has been made”.—(Wendy Chamberlain.)

Main Question, as amended, put.

A Division was called.

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Division off.

Question agreed to.

Resolved,

That—

(1) this House approves the Report from the House of Commons Commission, A risk-based exclusion policy for the House of Commons – updated proposals, HC 386;

(2) the following Standing Order be made:

“Risk-based exclusion policy

(1) When the Clerk of the House is informed by the police that a Member has been arrested on suspicion of committing a violent or sexual offence a risk assessment will take place.

(2) The risk assessment will be carried out by a Risk Assessment Panel, appointed by Mr Speaker.

(3) The Panel shall have power to meet notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, in person or by electronic means.

(4) The Panel will not be given the name of the Member being risk assessed.

(5) In carrying out a risk assessment the Panel will have regard to—

(a) the nature of the alleged misconduct;

(b) whether there is any safeguarding concern;

(c) the risk to the Parliamentary community, or a particular individual, group or groups within it;

(d) information from the police; and

(e) any undertaking that the Member in question is subject to an existing voluntary agreement not to attend the Estate.

(6) The Panel shall have the assistance of the Counsel to the Speaker, the Director of Parliamentary Security and such other members of the House administration as it thinks fit.

(7) The Panel will decide on appropriate measures to mitigate any risk, and such mitigation may include one or more of the following—

(a) exclusion from the Parliamentary estate;

(b) exclusion from domestic travel funded in whole or in part through the House of Commons Estimate; and

(c) exclusion from foreign travel funded in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, through the House of Commons Estimate.

(8) Members must not lobby the Panel in a manner calculated to influence the outcome of a risk assessment process.

(9) A Member subject to exclusion from the Parliamentary estate may apply for a proxy vote.

(10) If the Panel considers a Member should be subject to exclusion it shall inform the Speaker, and the Speaker shall authorise the House administration to take such measures as are necessary to ensure the Panel’s decision is implemented.

(11) The Panel may review its risk assessment in the light of new information, and as a consequence of that review may recommend ending any exclusion, varying any existing risk mitigation measures, or introducing further measures as a result of its review.

(12) The decisions of the Panel in relation to a particular case and actions taken thereafter shall not be made public and shall be kept confidential (except insofar as is reasonably necessary to ensure the decision is effected).

(13) A Member’s exclusion will end if—

(a) the Panel so decides and informs the Speaker accordingly;

(b) the Speaker and the Panel are informed by the police or another competent person that the police have concluded their investigations and no charge has been made; or

(c) a criminal trial has been concluded.”

(3) the operation of Standing Order (Risk-based exclusion policy) be reviewed by a panel appointed by Mr Speaker, and the report of that panel shall be laid before the House no later than six months after the date of this Order; and

(4) Standing Order No. 39A (Voting by Proxy) be amended as follows:

(1) In paragraph (2)(d) after “injury” insert

“() risk-based exclusion from the Parliamentary estate”; and

(2) After paragraph 5(b) insert

“() The Speaker shall not specify the reason for which a proxy vote has been given in any such certificate.”