(4 months, 3 weeks ago)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Gemma White report on bullying and harassment of MPs’ Parliamentary staff.
Let me begin by thanking Gemma White QC for her report, and paying tribute to all who came forward to share their personal experiences with her.
Each of us is directly responsible for the staff whom we employ. Without them we would not be able to carry out our duties effectively, and I am sure all Members will want to join me in expressing our immense gratitude for the hard work, support and loyalty that those who work in our offices provide for us day in and day out. We would not be able to serve our constituents without them, and, as such, they matter not just to us as Members of this House, but to the millions of constituents up and down our country whom we are here to represent.
I am sure that Members in all parts of the House will share my concern about a number of the matters to which the report refers. It highlights statements alleging deeply inappropriate conduct on the part of some Members towards their staff, and between staff. It contains serious allegations, including those relating to Members who
“shout at, demean, belittle and humiliate their staff on a regular basis, often in public.”
Reference is made to
“staff being subject to unwanted sexual advances, often accompanied by touching, sometimes forceful.”
We should not hesitate to condemn any occurrence of that kind as completely unacceptable, and as a failure to uphold the standards that we expect in our Parliament. The report constitutes a call to all Members of all parties to continue to act together to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to prevent and deal effectively with bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, and I reiterate that call today.
The Leader of the House has made an appropriate point, but may I ask for clarification? A number of external members of the Labour party have been severely bullied and harassed, allegedly by people who are paid with Short money. Given that they are paid with parliamentary money, would they too be eligible to make complaints by means of parliamentary procedures?
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very specific and interesting point, to which, I am sorry to say, I do not immediately know the answer. I always like to know all the answers. [Interruption.] I am being told by Members sitting behind the hon. Gentleman that the answer is yes, but I will clarify that one way or the other and write to him accordingly.
None of the points that I have made are intended to suggest that progress has not already been achieved, or that serious shortcomings in the management of, and behaviour towards, members of staff have been universal. Indeed, in her report Gemma White says:
“Most Members of Parliament treat their staff with dignity and respect”.
She says that she
“received a number of written contributions from people who wrote only to tell me about their positive experiences in Parliament.”
As she points out, that was despite the fact that her remit did not extend to inviting people to do so. She also says that during her work on the report, she heard or read of MPs who were
“MPs who were “a model employer”, “a fantastic boss”, “the best employer I have ever had”.
The report draws attention to areas of slow progress, but recognises that important progress has been made. The independent complaints and grievance scheme is praised as being
“an appropriate and relatively sophisticated means of investigating allegations.”
I echo the report’s praise for the dedicated implementation team who have made the scheme’s introduction, in the report’s own words, “a success”. Its operation is a clear improvement in the support that it offers to victims of bullying and harassment, and is also a firm indication of the seriousness with which Parliament views these matters. It shows the will and determination in the House to take strong and effective steps, working across the parties with the unified purpose of addressing inappropriate behaviour wherever it is found. It is important not to forget that before the introduction of the scheme, most complainants typically had recourse only to the Member about whom they were complaining, or to party political processes.
There has, of course, also been the Cox report. The White report calls for the implementation of Dame Laura Cox’s key recommendations, which include the removal of the June 2017 cut-off for historic complaints. That will be the subject of the motion that I will move shortly after this debate. If the motion is agreed, it will be a significant and important step forward. It will open up the ICGS to those who, for example, may have been bullied or harassed as recently as just before the last general election, and/or are no longer in the employ of a Member.
Although I recognise that there has been progress, there should be absolutely no cause for complacency, and Gemma White makes a number of important recommendations. Some appear relatively straightforward to consider and, potentially, implement, such as the recommendation for a review of confidentiality clauses within the standard contracts of employment of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority; the recommendation that IPSA should send out staff exit surveys; and the recommendation that the House Service should address the
“fair recruitment and management of staff with disabilities”
in its training. Other recommendations will require more thought, and present significant further questions. For instance, there is the recommendation that a new human resources department should be set up to cover Members’ staff, and to include HR personnel located both centrally and out in the regions.
I do not understand why there is any debate about this bit. I think that the vast majority of Members, when they arrived in the House, would welcome with open arms the idea of a good HR function here, providing them good training, because many of us were never employers before we came here. I just do not understand why it is difficult for us to put that together. It seems to me to be the simplest thing of all.
I do not think that anything I have said has suggested that we should not go ahead with this recommendation. The point that I am making is that it is a quite a major proposition which needs to be thought through carefully, as does any proposal of this magnitude. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. That rather implies that he does not think it should be thought through carefully, which I am sure is not what he is intending to communicate.
I am not questioning the integrity of the Leader of the House, and I am sure that he is not questioning mine. It is just that this debate has been around for quite a long time, and the House of Commons Commission probably needs to meet more frequently and be able to transact business more expeditiously so that we can get on with this. The Finance Committee stands ready to do its share of the work, but honestly, some of us have been arguing for HR for a very long time.
I know that some Members have been arguing for various aspects of the approach that we should take to addressing harassment, sexual harassment and bullying, and I know that there have been issues around the time that it has taken to put into place various aspects of our appropriate response to that. What I am saying from the Dispatch Box this afternoon is that we are now moving with pace. Directly after this debate we will have, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, a motion to bring in and broaden the scope of the ICGS, and that in itself is an example of how we are now moving forward with pace.
However, while recognising the progress made, there should be absolutely no cause for complacency on the various recommendations I have highlighted that have been brought forward by Gemma White. Consideration of the recommendations is of course a matter for the House, and today’s debate is an important part of that process. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the fact that this debate has been brought forward so shortly after the release of the White report is in itself a very healthy sign. We need now to continue to proceed at pace, to come to our conclusions on the recommendations of the report as soon as possible, and to bring forward further much-needed change at the earliest possible opportunity. We owe that to those who do so much to support us as Members of Parliament, but we owe it also to those who send us here and who in turn rightly expect the highest possible standards of each and every one of us.
I thank the Leader of the House for opening this debate, and I, too, want to start by thanking Gemma White QC for all the time she has put into talking to Members and Members’ staff. As she said in her report, she spoke to 220 out of 3,200 people—Members’ staff. I will look at her report in detail, but I first want to mention Carl Sargeant. Perhaps we should pause for a moment to think about the stresses that resulted in him taking his own life; I am sure there are lessons to be learned from the inquest, although it had a narrow remit and did not look at everything. We must be aware of the stresses and strains people are under and the effect of accusations on them.
Gemma White outlined the testimony in an extremely accessible way in what is an accessible report, but it does not make for pleasant reading. It must have been very debilitating to have had to go through those experiences, and I say sorry to those who had a terrible experience. However, the White report also says that staff took time to relate their positive experiences, as the Leader of the House said, and at paragraph 26 it says that Members wished to share their experiences as employers and also expressed concern about current levels of support for them and their staff. But the ICGS is in place and any system requires refinement. Paragraph 118 cites the Alison Stanley report’s finding that the experience of first users of the ICGS has been mixed, with much of the input being negative. Gemma White said that she shared that view.
Alison Stanley reviewed the first six months of the operation of the ICGS and her report was published on 12 June. I want to pull out some of its recommendations, because it is important going forward that we look at them. She suggested creating a fully resourced bicameral ICGS team with the requisite skills and experience to ensure effective implementation and streamlined operation; it is important that both Houses are able to access this excellent team. She also suggested proactively using the behaviour code to improve ways of working in teams, for example as part of the wider cultural work being led by Julie Harding, the new independent director of cultural transformation here in the House.
The Stanley report said also that the solid start of the training programme should be built on, ensuring that the principle of the equal importance of training for all members of the parliamentary community is addressed. It is compulsory for House staff to go on the training, and I think it should be compulsory for all of us. I think the Leader of the House has already been on the training or is about to go on it, and I have been on it. It is not a very onerous task, although not many people have signed up to it, as mentioned in the White report. The training is in groups of 12, and it might be difficult for the trainers to provide the training in one whole day. I know that it has been changed to two sessions, so I wonder whether later on when Parliament is sitting we could look at having a training session specifically for Members and Members’ staff, perhaps in a Committee Room, and have that rolled out over a long time so that we ensure that everybody takes part.
The Leader of the House was right to pull out Gemma White’s recommendation that there should be fair recruitment and that the management of staff with disabilities should be specifically covered in future training. I would add that that should also apply to visible minorities. Parliament needs to become a more diverse place. We know that the Bank of England has undertaken unconscious bias training, and it may be available here. A really good report has been produced about this place entitled “Stand in my shoes: race and culture in Parliament”, and it is available on the intranet. I certainly know that people sometimes feel uncomfortable about being around people from ethnic minorities and certainly they do not want to take instructions from us, because we are in an unusual position. A bit of training along those lines might be useful.
On page 47 of her report, Gemma White refers to a “collective centralised solution”. In paragraph 166, she talks about having a body that she calls an “HR department” to support both Members and Members’ staff. In setting up such a department, it would be vital to ensure that staff felt that they had access to their own HR advice, which might be different from the HR advice given to Members.
Representing my party in the Chamber today, I wish to associate my party entirely with the thrust of what is being said. I have yet to do the training course, but I will be doing it in the early autumn. I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament for a number of years, and I believe that the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) would agree with me when I say that the Scottish Parliament has made some good moves in this direction. May I ask two things of the Government and perhaps of all of us? First, can we look at what the Scottish Parliament has done in this regard? Also, as we develop best practice, can we share it with the devolved Administrations across the UK? Bullying and sexual harassment are no respecters of national or political boundaries, and if we can get a good policy, it should be for all of us, wherever we are in the UK.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. There is a lot to be learned from different organisations, including the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Government, the BBC and the Bank of England. There are a number of public service bodies that may have gone through this process, and we can look at this again.
The White report talks about an HR department, and I want to dwell on this slightly. She talks about a regulatory role in terms of documentation and of support. I believe that as the department is being set up, we need to look at separating those two functions, possibly within the same Department. It is a matter for the Commission to direct the House authorities to get the HR director in place first, and the HR director would then get his or her own staff, but it would be useful to ensure that there was no crossover between those two functions.
I know that hon. Members will have read the report and seen the helpful diagram on the last page, page 55, in which Gemma White talks about “Who”, “What” and “By when”. This gives us a useful timetable. The Commission has already issued a statement and indicated that it will set in train her recommendations. It has already started the consultation on those recommendations, but will the Leader of the House set out a timetable for the consultation and possible implementation of the proposed changes? As he said, we have lots of reports, and I hope that all the threads of those reports will be pulled together. I know, because I have had contact with them, that we have a dedicated and hard-working team currently working on the ICGS, and I have every confidence that Parliament will be an exemplary environment that is both inclusive and supportive.
Could I ask the Leader of the House how we will measure this cultural change, and what steps for immediate action the Government will take to promote these new policies? As many hon. and right hon. Members know, we have dedicated staff who are committed to democracy and public service, and I know that the House staff and our own staff do, and will, serve us well as we serve the public with the highest commitment to democracy in this extremely interesting and challenging time.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate today, following the publication of Gemma White QC’s report last week. I would first like to pay tribute to her for the incredibly detailed independent inquiry that she led. Her report into the historical allegations of bullying and harassment of MPs’ staff adds greatly to the work done by the independent complaints and grievance scheme working group and will drive much-needed further reforms in the way we treat and value all those who work for and support us in our roles as MPs.
I also want to acknowledge all the current and former staff members who contributed their experiences to the inquiry and helped to expose behaviours that have clearly gone on in this place for far too long.
I met Gemma White during my time as Leader of the House and found her to be both knowledgeable and determinedly constructive in supporting Parliament’s desire to modernise our practices. Her report highlights the need for everyone working in or visiting Parliament to be treated with dignity and respect, but she also highlighted some truly unacceptable employment practices. I was appalled, as I am sure were colleagues from both sides of the House, to read some of the comments from staff. As part of my work in chairing the ICGS working group, I heard some pretty harrowing testimony from several individuals, and I want to pay tribute to them for their bravery in coming forward to speak with the group. It is clear that we in Parliament must bring about long-lasting and positive institutional change without delay, and that change must come from the very top. Only then can we truly restore confidence in how Parliament works.
The report acknowledges that the ICGS provides MPs’ staff for the first time with a mechanism for having complaints of bullying and harassment independently investigated. Feedback from some of the first complainants is that turnaround times under the new procedure can be too slow. My first observation is that the scheme is still developing, so it is important that we allow it time to become fully embedded into the fabric of Westminster. The staff working for the scheme are all fully committed to continuous improvements in its processes. Secondly, I am glad that the White report agrees that employment relationships should continue to sit with individual MPs, and I fully agree with the recommendation for a centralised human resources function for MPs’ staff.
However, the question of where the responsibility for a new HR function would lie must be considered further, although the two obvious candidates would be either IPSA or the House authorities themselves. The former—I am sorry to say—currently suffers from fairly widespread feedback from Members’ staff about a lack of confidence in its practices and hence in its ability to be the supportive voice that staff members need. The other alternative provider of HR for staff would be the House authorities themselves. During the working group, they raised concerns about taking on an HR role for themselves, because that could create an unhelpful secondary employment relationship, but it would be worthwhile looking again at whether that could be the best way forward.
A key aspect of the White report is that many current staff still feel uncomfortable making complaints, and to assure them the working group must focus specifically on ensuring that, as far as possible, an individual’s career will not be affected in any way if they come forward with a complaint. That is why the ICGS carries out any investigation in strict confidence. I urge anyone with a grievance or a complaint to be encouraged to come forward via the helplines that have been widely advertised around the estate.
As part of the scope of the working group, it was recommended that a wide range of training should be available to MPs and their staff. The White report recommends making some of that training mandatory in order to bring about institutional behavioural change, and I totally agree. All MPs and all staff working for MPs should now be required to undertake at least the Valuing Everyone training that was implemented as part of the ICGS. I call on each of the Whips Offices to ensure that their MPs have completed their training within six months of the report’s publication.
When someone arrives here—perhaps straight out of university—to work for a Member of Parliament, that MP may be their first employer, so all the bad ways that they learn from them then become the bad ways that they may get into in later life, perhaps when they later go on to become an MP or work elsewhere in the civil service. Is it not therefore all the more important that new Members of Parliament are trained in human resources best practice from the moment they arrive here?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. He has followed this closely, and he will recall that, during the working group’s investigations, it was clear that we needed to take things slowly and not to push for too much change too quickly, but it is also apparent that Parliament has come to value its progress and its modernisation of practices, and so on. We can now move much faster than was thought back in late 2017. It is right that people should undertake mandatory training, particularly if they will be employing staff who may be coming into their first job.
Does my right hon. Friend have a view as to why so few MPs have taken up this training opportunity? Thirty-four of 650 MPs, and 135 of 3,200 staff—these are tiny numbers.
I am glad my hon. Friend raises that point because, of course, the truth is that the training has been properly up and running for only the past couple of months. An awful lot of work went into procuring the training provider, as we needed to find a provider that could deal with the sheer volume of people who need to undertake the training. The training course itself was written specifically to be relevant to our working practices in Parliament.
I and a number of other people who are closely involved with the independent complaints procedure establishment went on the training only six or seven weeks ago to test it and to make sure it is entirely relevant and will be useful and welcomed. That has been done, so it is a bit unfair to say, “Well, why hasn’t everybody done it?” There genuinely is a capacity issue, but if all Whips were now to encourage Members to go on the Valuing Everyone training within the next six months, and all staff to undertake it within a year, it should be doable and would certainly be valuable.
I also believe that, with so many people working on the parliamentary estate, the centrally organised induction course that already exists should be made mandatory for all new starters and should be completed within three months of joining. No other major organisation would allow a new member of staff to come into such a huge and complex institution, let alone a building that is semi-falling down, without being compulsorily trained on things like health and safety, cyber-security and fire safety, let alone the behaviour code and how to raise a complaint or a grievance.
It would be easy to implement compulsory induction training, and the Director General and the Clerk of the House of Commons are keen to oversee that. It could be easily done by simply giving any new joiner a parliamentary pass that lasts for three months and is then renewed subject to their having completed the induction course.
As Leader of the House, I was proud to host visits from the Canadian and Australian Parliaments and to meet the Scottish Presiding Officer and the Llywydd of the Welsh Assembly to answer their questions on how we are determined to achieve culture change here in Westminster.
We should be ambitious to be a role model for all Parliaments around the world, confident in our determination always to treat everyone who works here or visits here with the dignity and respect they deserve.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), the former Leader of the House, and I acknowledge the significant amount of work she has done to drive this forward.
I pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), who is travelling with the Scottish Affairs Committee. He, too, has been part of the process for some considerable time.
Most of all, on behalf of the SNP, our parliamentary group and our parliamentary and constituency staff, I thank Gemma White for her thorough and challenging report, which marks an important milestone on the journey towards culture change in this place. It is welcome that the Government have made time for this debate and for the motion on the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme so soon after the report’s publication.
I also thank, in particular, Emily Cunningham from the SNP’s central staff. She has been on several of the workstreams as a staff representative and has helped to inform a lot of this.
I will briefly address the report, which we are happy to endorse, and what it means in terms of culture change and the professionalisation of Parliament, with some best practices from elsewhere. As the opening speakers have said, the report makes for sobering but not necessarily surprising reading. It is important to note, as the Leader of the House did, that Gemma White says
“there are very many MPs who are good employers and who treat their staff with the dignity and respect that they deserve”.
We should also not be blind to the occasional possibility of vexatious or malicious complaints—we are in a high-pressured, high-profile environment—but overall the report presents a picture of a culture that badly and urgently needs to change. Sadly, it contains accounts of behaviours that many of us will have heard about and perhaps some of us will have witnessed. Bullying, harassment, and a toxic culture of insecurity and under- mining have been found to be commonplace, and they are all perhaps manifestations of deeper-rooted cultures and behaviours associated with the abuse of power.
As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) hinted at, eventually that can become embedded and it becomes a form of learned and normalised behaviour that others either pick up or openly embrace. Challenges arise from the fact that we work in a particularly fast-paced, rapidly changing environment, where employment can be precarious and opportunities for advancement can be limited. When it comes, advancement can be massive, involving significant leaps in responsibility. So this is a huge challenge that requires each and every one of us to go back to the start and question our own behaviours and assumptions.
The hon. Gentleman is correct in what he is saying, but there is a greyer area at the edge of this issue. He has outlined the obvious cases of shouting, bullying and so on, but I would also argue that when an MP asks a member of staff to babysit a child or go to the MP’s flat to wait for the gas man to come that, too, is an abuse of that member of staff.
The hon. Gentleman is touching on an important issue—these little grey areas where relationships can become very close, because of the intense environment, and we ask for things that perhaps we would ask a friend to do, but not necessarily a paid member of staff. It is important that boundaries are established, and some of this is covered in that Valuing Everyone training. I will say a little more about that later, but I cannot recommend that training highly enough. The former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire, will be pleased to hear that a significant number of the Scottish National party group took part in that training last Thursday, coincidentally just as this report was being published, and everybody came away with things to think about and having found it a very worthwhile experience.
As well as the Valuing Everyone training on respect, dignity and understanding boundaries, there is definitely a need for further training on employment best practice. It is worth thinking about when and how some of that training takes place. There is a role for the political parties to play here, even at the candidate selection stage. Doing what we are doing now, sitting on the Green Benches and standing to make speeches is the most visible part of the job, but it is a tiny part of what is involved in the work of a Member of Parliament. People putting themselves forward for election—and I count myself in this—do not necessarily realise everything that comes with the elected responsibility. So at the selection stage prospective candidates have to be fully aware of the responsibilities they will be taking on as employers and the standards that they will be expected to adhere to. There is also perhaps a more formal role for returning officers to play during that nomination stage or shortly after the election. Then, as the hon. Member for Rhondda said, very early in the MP induction process the advice and support on being an effective employer must be available.
That is why the proposal on a fully resourced human resources department is crucial to all of this, and we warmly welcome it. The system would probably be better sitting under the auspices of the House or the Commission. If it was to be somehow independent, it should be clearly so, even if staff continue to be funded through the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. This is not what IPSA has been set up for and I do not think it is fair to IPSA, let alone to the people who would have to live with the consequences of it.
A new-form HR department also leads on to the recommendation that MPs be required to adopt and follow employment practices and procedures aligned to best practice found in the public sector and elsewhere. We also fully support the recommendation that former members of staff be allowed to access the independent complaints and grievance scheme, and will support the motion to implement that following this debate.
As I said, underlying any structural and procedural changes that are put in place must be a wider cultural change. Politics and political considerations should never be allowed to take precedence over principles of dignity and respect. That means that Members of Parliament and staff must be active in calling out and working to eradicate unacceptable behaviour. It comes through in the training that I mentioned that as Members we all have a duty to recognise our privilege and power and not abuse it. When complaints are made, staff and MPs should be properly supported. Nothing should discourage staff members from coming forward through the proper channels if they have concerns about their own experiences or those of others. We must work towards creating an environment in which everyone feels empowered to speak out if they feel they are being affected by bullying or harassment, and in which everyone in the parliamentary community feels that they work in a safe, comfortable and professional environment, supported by a robust system of human resources and a complaints and grievance procedure.
It was not strictly part of the remit of either Gemma White or Laura Cox, but perhaps we need to look a bit deeper into where some of these practices and behaviours have come from and how they are perpetuated. We work in a building that was designed to promote power and hierarchy—to establish a culture of “them and us”. In previous debates, we have heard new Members of Parliament speak of how on their election they felt intimidated by signs on toilets and tea rooms that say “Members only”. That was certainly my experience back in 2015, and it sometimes still is today. Quite why a staircase or a toilet is only for the use of Members of Parliament is somewhat beyond me. I know that moves are afoot to drive some change in that regard.
Once upon a time, I worked as a researcher in the Scottish Parliament. Although by no means was everything perfect there, there was an openness and transparency that undoubtedly shaped a different culture of tolerance and respect. In Portcullis House and on the Terrace, we still have tables that are clearly marked as for Members only. As the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) will know, in the Scottish Parliament canteen one will see Cabinet Secretaries sitting down next to the team from the mail room and special advisers sitting next to the cleaning staff. There is no sense of deference and no sense of particular entitlement based on obscure notions of seniority or grading.
I am always terribly glad when a colleague makes a good advert for the way we did things in Holyrood. That level society is a reflection of the fact that in Scotland we ourselves are all Jock Tamson’s bairns.
Absolutely. That is not to say that everything there is perfect—I do not pretend for a minute that everything is perfect—but when the Scottish Parliament was set up 20 years ago, it was designed with a completely different culture in mind, and that has led to very noticeable differences.
Here at Westminster, we work hours that push everyone to the limits of tolerance. Massive uncertainties, even on quiet days such as this, as to exactly when things are going to finish only contributes to the stress and tensions. Perhaps it would help if we had fixed times for voting and if we were not locked into crowded rooms to vote, which again promotes hierarchy and literally divides us. None of it is massively surprising. Another report that ought to be factored into this discussion is Professor Sarah Childs’ “The Good Parliament”, which is in many ways about driving a wider cultural change. Perhaps if more of her recommendations were put in place, that would go a long way towards driving that change forward. None of these reports should be left to sit on the shelf; we all have a responsibility to drive them forward.
This is not and should not be a comfortable debate for any of us. Nobody is in a position to claim the moral high ground; if the dignity of any individual member of staff has been violated, in some way we are all diminished by that. Perhaps, on reflection, some of us will recognise our own behaviours, although hopefully not the more extreme examples and hopefully not things that are intentional. In the heat of the moment, in a stressful situation, we can forget our privilege and project our frustrations on to a member of staff or on to colleagues who are not really the cause of a problem. That is something I have taken away from the Valuing Everyone training which, as I said, I cannot recommend highly enough.
Since many of these accusations and reports of bullying, harassment and unacceptable behaviours first began to surface, there has been a strong and commendable consensus throughout this process. In the SNP, we want to continue to be part of that consensus, and I assure the House that we will happily support any and all efforts to implement the recommendations of the White report, and anything that we can do to drive change of the toxic and outdated culture and practices that are experienced in this place.
I join other hon. Members in welcoming Gemma White’s report. The Leader of the House is right that we should never fail to condemn the sort of bullying or harassing behaviour that is so carefully set out in the report. Everything needs to be done to ensure that we do not have a culture that would in any way perpetuate that. It is also right to recognise that, as Gemma White has clearly said, the severe criticisms are levelled at a minority of hon. Members. As in any organisation, however, regardless of whether it is Parliament, a public institution or a private sector company, we need to deal with that behaviour head on.
I cannot believe that many MPs do not want to work in a modern workplace or have the most modern workplace practices. Although some might not have employed people before they came here, many did, so they know what a good workplace is and what good workplace practice is. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) said, we should start at the beginning with our candidate selection process. I have the privilege of being involved in candidate selection for my party and I am impressed by what my party does to look at the qualities of the individuals who are accepted to stand for election. There may be more that we could do, however, to ensure that people have experience of running organisations, because that is what we expect them to do if they are successful in being selected and elected to this place.
Enormous strides have been made—no pun intended with regard to the Leader of the House—in recent months and years, which is in no small way attributable to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). She brought a vigour to addressing the issues that was second to none. I pay personal tribute to her and reinforce the tributes from across the House to her tenacity in navigating a minefield of interests to get the independent complaints and grievance scheme in place. We will be forever in her debt for that.
The Leader of the House talked in his opening remarks about his intention to introduce an instrument to ensure that non-recent cases could be heard. I say amen to that; it is vital that it is introduced immediately. My only question is, why delay until the autumn? Why can those non-recent cases not start to be heard from the moment the instrument is laid, so they can be brought forward in the summer when it is perhaps more convenient for people, and so there is no delay to his intention to make sure that everybody can be held to account?
I also note the introduction of the helplines and the training programme, which I have been on. I was very impressed by the quality of the training that was given and of the individuals giving the training. I do not care who someone is; everyone can get something out of the training, however experienced they are. I was the head of graduate recruitment in the firm that I worked for and I recruited many staff over my years in the private sector, but I learned an enormous amount about self-awareness, particularly in a digital age, which has come midway through many of our careers. The use of electronic media can unintentionally create tensions that none of us would want to exist.
There is also the behaviour code and the code of conduct. An enormous amount has been done in this space to address some of the issues that Gemma White raised in her excellent report, so I have only a few questions. I have huge respect for the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House, but I note that the report was commissioned by the House of Commons Commission. Although I believe that they are both members of the Commission, they are not responsible for it. Why, oh why—I have raised this issue before—are we talking again about an issue wholly in the remit of the House of Commons Commission, without the House of Commons Commission leading the debate on it? It asked Gemma White to produce the report and it has responded to it; indeed, as Gemma White clearly points out, it is the organisation most responsible for delivering on the report. As a Member of the House of Commons, I want to know where the accountability is so that we know how the House of Commons Commission has stuck to what Gemma White has set out and that it is being delivered on.
The House of Commons Commission is the most archaic bit of the House of Commons structure, and it is long overdue for reform. Unlike almost any other of our Committees, it is not chaired by an elected representative, or at least by somebody elected to that position; its membership is appointed, and it is not able, it appears, to come to the House of Commons to explain what it is doing. However, it is instrumental in making this a better place of work, a better parliamentary democracy and a better Parliament. Why is how the Commission operates still so opaque?
I can go on to the website and find details of the Commission’s meetings, although that is not always easy—and they are actions taken, rather than minutes of discussion. It is difficult, even for someone such as me who is interested in these issues, to stay abreast of what is going on. Is the biggest elephant in the room the need to understand who is accountable for implementing the Gemma White report? We have, of course, already had a debate about the Cox report, when the Commission had made very slow progress on the implementation of a number of recommendations.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire was right when she was Leader of the House to forever tell us that it is for Members to decide these things. The Commission, however, is the body that enables Members to have a collective thought and collective way of implementing things. Perhaps the current Leader of the House will be able to comment on that when he replies to the debate. I feel strongly that there is still opaqueness about how these things are handled. Why is that important? If we are to achieve the sort of institutional change that the Leader of the House, the shadow Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Glasgow North have spoken about, we must have clarity about accountability. At the moment, that clarity is not there.
We have not yet picked up on the fact that Gemma White did not receive any reports from Members about harassment and bullying by other Members. We should be concerned about that; as a body of 650 people, we will have such instances. Clearly, however, Members still feel that they are not capable of talking even to somebody independent. The Conservative party has a strong Whips Office that has changed radically in the past 10 years. We need to make sure that Members feel that they can talk about these things. I was concerned that Gemma White had no examples of Members wishing to talk to her about bullying and abuse from other Members. We need to address that.
I also wish to pick up on the fact that non-disclosure agreements were discussed and highlighted in the report. Will the Leader of the House discuss that when he responds to the debate? The recommendation is:
“IPSA should consider amending the wording of the standard confidentiality clause to make it clear that it does not prevent employees bringing a claim of bullying and harassment.”
I say clearly that all my members of staff already have a standard confidentiality clause. If they were to exit my employment, I would have absolutely no requirement to reinforce or reiterate that, because it continues to stand. It is already there in our employment contracts. Why are we allowing IPSA to assert that it is a requirement on Members to have a further confidentiality clause when people leave their employment? I know from the work of my Select Committee, the Women and Equalities Committee, that this can cause considerable confusion in people’s minds and a feeling that they are being muzzled from ever talking about adverse experiences in an employment setting. That requires a little more thought and consideration before we take it as read that IPSA should view confidentiality clauses and exit contracts, or exit agreements, as being standard, because legally that is not correct.
My final point concerns the independence of Members of Parliament. We jealously guard our independence, and we are right to do so. Our employment relationship with our staff has to be independent of interference from others—that is the right of MPs—but with that right comes a responsibility to act as a sensible and a good employer. Every employee here has the right to expect their MP, whoever they are and whichever party they represent, to act in a responsible manner. I absolutely agree with others who have made the point that that has to be a relationship of which we are in charge. The idea that IPSA would become the employer of my staff, potentially imposing conditions on their employment that are inconsistent with the way in which a particular constituency office is run, would be entirely unacceptable. MPs are right jealously to guard their independence, not because of any personal gain but because, if our democratic Parliament is to work in the way that our constituents expect it to work, we have to have MPs independent of interference from outside.
This is an important debate, and it is important for every Member to engage in it and to understand that treating our staff well is a hygiene factor in being a Member of Parliament, not an added extra. I hope that even Members who are not in the Chamber today can recognise that and make sure that they take part in the training, that they raise awareness among their staff of the helplines that are available, and that they adhere absolutely to the behaviour code and the code of conduct, so that we can be truly proud of this House of Parliament.
My colleague next to me, my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), has just reminded me of a point that I had omitted, but that I am now going to make. Let me clarify. From information that I have seen recently, it seems to me that, if a tribunal case were taken against an MP, the MP could use legal insurance to defend that case, and the only way that anyone would know would be the £500 excess that has been paid, which would be itemised as an expenditure. In other words, could a Member of Parliament use the parliamentary insurance system, and therefore very expensive lawyers, against an employee who had taken a case to tribunal? In particular, if the tribunal were to rule in favour of the employee, would the Member of Parliament be required to pay those legal costs back to the taxpayer?
The Leader of the House might like to clarify that point in his closing remarks, because that seems to tip the balance in favour of the employer and the Member of Parliament against the employee. The employee could, of course, attempt to get union representation. That used to be rather more difficult. It was the last Unite general secretary election when, mysteriously, just before the nomination process, I got removed from my local branch, where I have a little bit of influence, and put in the Westminster staff branch. The matter was not resolved until after the nominations were done. Having been a member for 40 years, I cannot imagine what administrative change led to me being moved out of one branch, in which I have influence, to a branch in which I have none.
There was a positive conclusion, however: I was able to demonstrate that I had found a whole range of MPs in the same union branch as staff in this building. That was clearly a total nonsense and it had been going on for decades. I managed to get that resolved by protesting about being placed there myself, and MPs were then excluded from that branch—reputed to be the largest union branch representing employees in this Parliament.
Even though these problems have emerged very publicly in recent years, the unions have not quite caught up, although one has. I was pleased to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), which were very appropriate, regarding the processes for selecting potential candidates for Parliament. I have previously given a bit of detail to the House about exemplary role of the GMB in the east midlands in addressing sexual harassment. Following some press commentary, perhaps I ought to give a little more detail. In the recent past, David Prescott—a member of the Labour leader’s office—went for selection in Mansfield, and the GMB east midlands decided to give him an interview about sexual harassment to see whether he understood the issue. He did not pass that interview, so the GMB withdrew its nomination of him.
It seems that trade unions might have this remit within the Labour party because they have a significant role in the potential selection of Labour MPs, but this is an exemplary principle that should be the case everywhere. It ought to be a requirement for political parties to ask and interrogate their candidates about issues such as sexual harassment to ensure that they are up to the mark; as the GMB east midlands withdrew its nomination, it obviously determined that the individual I mentioned was not.
Last week’s shocking “Panorama” programme featured eight mainly young former members of Labour party staff, who went through the traumas of harassment and intimidation that they had been involved in. The allegations are primarily against people who are employed by Short money through Parliament. I have a list with me, so I can see that large numbers of them are employed by Short money. Now, it is essential that these former members of staff, who are external to the building, can use our independent complaints and grievance procedure if they have complaints against individuals employed through Short money who have allegedly been misusing their power to pressure people in relation to various activities. It is essential that we clarify and confirm that position, because that route could then be open to these people.
The situation is similar when it comes to external sexual harassment allegations. This report is very helpful in strengthening the systems, but it is still noticeable how reluctant people are to pursue issues. I have spoken to people who work in this place and have very specific complaints against Members of Parliament or other staff. Some have been prepared to go out there, but I hesitate to use the word “brave” because there is no less bravery from someone who is not prepared to go public about their situation but is prepared to say things about it. The role of the political parties remains the Achilles heel—the weakness.
We have cases in the Labour party where people—I have met some of them—have made allegations but no action has been taken for two or three years. Where is the decency in that? What about the rights of those who say they have been inappropriately treated or harassed, whether it is sexual harassment or any other form? If there is no resolution one way or another for years, what message does that give to people working here about how seriously the political parties take this?
Nothing exemplifies this more than the House of Commons Commission. The Whips have never suggested that I should sit on such a body; I wonder why. That is the problem with it. I would have been more than happy to submit myself to the will of other Members of Parliament. I might get zero votes to sit on such a body—fine—but there would be accountability built in.
Things are done behind the scenes. There are time bombs in all the political parties. I am not aware of any political party that does not have them ticking away, and there are some big, very serious ones. The political parties love to cover these things up and try to manage them, especially if it relates to Members of Parliament. They do not want a Member of Parliament having to resign in scandal and shame, because that is not the best way to fight a by-election.
The norm now seems to be, “Let’s wait until we get to a general election, then we can quietly drop people, and no one will notice because it’s in the general hubbub and excitement of a general election.” There is nothing wrong with dropping people. I can think of one Conservative who was mysteriously dropped in a recent election. I was delighted to see him be dropped. It was done very discreetly and effectively, and I commend those running the party for doing so, but that has become the system—in other words, sending the message, “Hang on and hope for the best.”
There is no question: it is shameful how some of the Whips have dealt with this in my time here. Obviously, I only know my own party, but I do not think that this is particularly a Labour problem, as opposed to a cultural problem here. I will give one example. I was told in a meeting, unequivocally, “If anyone’s got a complaint about sexual harassment within the Labour party, they can go to the police.” If someone wanted to go to the police, they would have done so already. I deal with a lot of people when it comes to sexual assault and child abuse who have come to see me and had my assistance and advocacy and who do not want to be named and be in the public eye.
There was an exposé in The Sunday Times two or three weeks ago about an MP who went to their party leader—my party leader—and he did nothing about it. He did nothing whatsoever. We found out about it because emails were leaked that exposed what was going on. Is that leadership? It is not my definition of leadership. It is exactly the opposite.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I pay tribute to the brilliant speech he is making. I recognise much of what he is saying from my experience in my own party. The Liberal Democrats have been through an incredibly painful process of coming to our own independent complaints procedure, which enables many of the issues he is raising to come to the fore. Most importantly, it was co-created by activists and, in particular, young women in the party who felt that the current processes were not working. I believe that the procedure is now much more robust. It is by no means done, and he is right that the buck stops with MPs and that we have to lead from within our parties. I commend him for his words.
The Liberal Democrats have had problems, like every other party, but my specialism is dealing with antisemitism, and I will say that the only political party I have met in the last three years that has a robust process for dealing with antisemitism at the moment is the Liberal Democrat party. The reason why I can say that it is robust is that there are ways in which an external person—someone not in the party, and who may be an opponent of the party politically or electorally—can actually go in, make complaints and hold the party institution to account if it fails to take action. That does not mean it will necessarily draw the right conclusions in my judgment and it does not mean people will be coming forward, but it does mean people are far more likely to have trust in the system. It is a transparent system, and that is the key—it is not an opaque system—and it is impressive. The fact that it is transparent and that I and others were able to go in and say, “Well, you could perhaps change this, do it this way, consider this, speak to that person,” was also very healthy indeed.
Such a system would strengthen any political party. To be honest, it is in the electoral interests—in the medium term, not the short term—of political parties actually to get their act together, because it means they will keep far more young people, particularly women, and encourage more to stay. It will be easier for young people, and especially for women and minority groups, to progress within that party and feel confident in being able to do so. It is a sensible approach for any party that wants to be in power or expand its political base.
The “Panorama” programme shows where these things can end in terms of the impact on individuals. That could just as easily have been an exposé of members of staff in here about what has happened to them—just as easily. If all the emails, the WhatsApp messaging and the secret ways in which people deal with things, such as recordings from Whips Offices of meetings that I and others have unfortunately had to be in—not that they were recorded; I did not record them, anyway, but I hope that they were recorded—were put out there, such transparency would be of significance.
My appeal to this House is to speed up the processes, not to be scared of independence inside it and to get rid of the antiquated structures that are a blockage. We must make sure we have the widest possible definition of who can raise grievances, how complaints can be taken to the independent body and how they will be heard. We should be confident, if necessary and as necessary, in saying to people, “Well, the judge and jury has determined on you: out you get. We’re not having you in here as a Member of Parliament. You are not suitable because of the way that you have treated people.”
That would be a very good thing for democracy, because far too many people—brave people—are suffering anonymously and in silence, but they remain brave because they are refusing to be cowed by what has happened to them. There are far too many of them in here, and we need to think that we will get on top of it, which needs our action and our honesty and, for the political parties, leadership. Perhaps some political parties might be prepared to show some.
It is a pleasure to welcome this report and to speak in support of it. It is reassuring that the report shows that the majority of staff who responded have not experienced any harassment or bullying, but it is absolutely unacceptable that any of them have; we should really have a zero-tolerance approach.
As many Members have already said, one of the most shocking things I found as a newly elected MP was that there was absolutely no support or training in taking on staff. I had worked for many years in the NHS as a research sister, leading a team and being responsible for the staff of the team. I had had extensive experience of advertising for staff, interviewing and recruiting; doing staff appraisals and staff development; taking on disciplinary proceedings and dealing with conflict management within the team; looking at the staff budgets; looking at sick leave and maternity leave; looking after the temporary staff; and doing the payroll returns each month. I was therefore pretty experienced in staff management, but if I had not been, how on earth would I have learned how to take on a team of staff and look after them? We elect MPs on the basis that they will be good constituency MPs and good legislators, who bring their knowledge to this place when we make laws. We never give a moment’s thought as to whether they will any good at employing and supporting a team of people.
Language is important. It is not by chance that we do not have a staffing budget, but are termed to have an “expenses budget” for staff. In any other institution or big workplace, we would not treat our staffing budget as an expense. That demeans the staff we employ. It suggests that they are seen as a little bit extra, an add-on, of no real significant structural value to the team. That term should be changed. It should be a staffing budget, which has procedures, policies and guidelines for how it is managed. The current term is unacceptable.
When I was a nurse with a team of staff, I had protected time to look after them. I had protected time to do their appraisals and training. I had other professionals to ask for support. I could phone up the HR department and say that I had someone going on maternity leave and had forgotten how to do the paperwork, and could ask for up-to-date guidelines? I could contact the payroll department if I wanted to look at giving someone a pay rise, or if someone needed to take sick leave. I had senior managers. If I was having a difficult time, I could ask for their support and some guidelines. We get none of that as an MP and we wonder why we run into problems.
My big difficulty with the report, which makes some excellent recommendations, is that it does not go far enough. It is all about dealing with bullying and harassment. We need to encourage a culture of staff welfare, because by the time we have got to bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, it is far too late. From day one, or when a person is even applying for a job here, there should be policies and procedures that safeguard their welfare. If they are then employed, those structures and processes would be in place.
I recognise much of what the hon. Lady is saying, but there is a Members’ HR service which has been dealing very professionally with some issues in my office. That service is available, although not enough. It should be much more structured in the way she suggests, but it does exist. I want to take a moment to thank the staff for their work; they probably just need a lot more resource.
I have used that service, and its staff do provide a fantastic service. The point is that as an MP we have to approach them and know that their services are available. I recommend them to any MP because they are fantastic, but they are not available to staff. When I was working in the hospital and I had an issue, I could go to the HR department whether I was a team leader or an ordinary member of the team. That is the difference. Our staff do not have access to that wonderful support, advice and experience which could make a huge difference. The report recommends that they do have access to it.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) that MPs should remain as 650 small individual businesses, but changes do need to be made. We are treated as if we have autonomy over our staff, but there are some subtle things in the way that stop us. For example, I have a south-east constituency and my staff budget—it is not an expense, it is a budget—is £11,000 less than that for a London MP. Some of my staff live in London and some live in the south-east, which is as expensive as London. Some have to commute to London, spending £4,000 or £5,000 to do so. As I have £11,000 less in my budget, I cannot pay them as much or I cannot take on an extra member of staff. My small team, which does the casework and everything else that other staff members do, is under extra pressure from day one because they have the same workload as a London MP but without the same financial recognition. How is it fair that from day one the staff of non-London MPs already feel the pressure of being in a smaller team or of being less valued financially, while doing exactly the same work?
I have an office manager to whom I delegate responsibility for looking after some of the other members of the team: taking on appraisals, looking at staff leave, conducting staff training and working with them. Most of my staff work in the constituency office. They do not work in Parliament, so they cannot nip to the office next door in Norman Shaw North and say, “I have a difficult case; can we get some advice on it?” They are completely isolated as a team, and my office manager has the responsibility for looking after them. We have had members of the public come into the office in tears because we are the last port of call when the jobcentre has let them down, when they cannot get their housing benefit or when they have been made homeless on a Friday evening. They often land in tears in my office, and my staff, many of whom have just left university and do not have a huge amount of life experience, have to pick up the pieces.
Ultimately, I am responsible for my staff, but I am not there every day of the week. My office manager has to support them as a team. What training and support is available for those staff? I cannot do it all as their employer, so it is incumbent on the House of Commons to help MPs to provide that support for their staff—whether that means the senior staff who are delegated to look after them or the junior staff who have to do some very difficult work on a daily basis.
I apologise for not hearing the start of my hon. Friend’s speech. Does she not agree that there needs to be accountability for who is looking at that? This process needs to be led by Members, and therefore there is a role for the House of Commons Commission to be doing such things, although we do not really know whether it is doing that.
I completely agree. Such things are part of our role, but I do not think they are treated seriously. We are seen as legislators and caseworkers, but our duty as an employer is seen as an expenses add-on. Until that is seen as a crucial part of our role, for which we need training on how to support our staff, including junior members of staff, a culture of staff welfare will not be created.
That brings me to my point about how we support MPs. I have been a MP for over four years. This is not a criticism of the Whips Office in any way—I do not think this is necessarily their job—but in that time, I have never had anyone sit down and ask me what my strengths and weaknesses are and what interests I have in policy. I have had health problems this year and I can get a slip any day of the week, but sometimes it would be nice for someone to sit down with me and say, “Can we give you extra support?” There is not the culture in this place to look after Members of Parliament, and that filters through to their staff. If we are dealing with a problem at the point at which it has become harassment, bullying or a sexual problem in the workplace, it is too late. We need to change the culture overall, and that starts with us looking after one another.
I come from an NHS background where training was ingrained in us. We all found that the fire training and so on was not what we wanted to be doing, but we had to do it; it was mandatory. Even as a bank nurse now, when I do shifts in the NHS, I get learning and development phoning me up to say, “You are not registered for your mandatory training. You will not be able to do any bank shifts until you have done it for this year.” I get HR telling me, “Your registration is due for renewal.” I have people checking on me.
We are busy people and we do not have someone to oversee what happens. That is exactly what is in the report. It says that we should have a body responsible to oversee us that can say, “Do you know your staff appraisals are overdue? Have you had those conversations with them? Have you looked at their annual leave? Are they taking their annual leave, or are you working them so hard that they feel that they cannot ask for it? Are they taking too much annual leave? Is there a problem with health and wellbeing?” We have no one.
We all know what it is like as busy MPs. I am just a Back Bencher—I do not have any other responsibilities—and I struggle to sit down with my staff every few months to go through some of the issues that they have. I absolutely agree, therefore, with the report’s recommendations that we need uniform policies and procedures, so that every MP’s office is the same; that assistance is provided with recruitment; that there is proactive contact with MPs’ staff; and that probationary periods are checked, because they can just go on indefinitely, with people on temporary contracts when they should be employed in substantive posts. We should ensure that appraisals are in place, because these are talented people. They are often graduates of universities, who could be getting good jobs anywhere else, but they can get stuck working as a caseworker, not getting a pay rise or staff development, which is absolutely criminal. Why? Because as MPs—as their employers—we are not there to support them.
There are lots of recommendations in the report that I strongly support, but I go back the point made by the former Leader of the House that when training has been provided—I know that the training on valuing people only started a few months ago—very few of us take up the offer. I think there needs to be more publicity around it. This week, we had a very good email from the Clerk of the House of Commons about the Valuing Everyone training, Members’ HR support, the health and wellbeing service, the sexual misconduct advisory service, the bullying and harassment reporting hotline and the employee assistance programme. There are great measures in place, but I put my hand on my heart and say that I have used none of them, and I have told my staff about none of them. If we do not read our own emails and act on them, no one oversees whether we use those crucial services.
I conclude by saying that I completely agree with the report. I believe we should have autonomy over our staffing, but we need support to be able to support our employees properly. I do not think we recognise how much is expected of MPs. We are members of probably one of the most hated professions in the country, and sometimes we need to give ourselves a break. We may be great constituency caseworkers or fabulous legislators, but there is no shame in saying that we are not sure how to employ people or how to look after those we employ. I urge everyone to read the recommendations, and to ensure that we and our staff take up the training and support that is available.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who gave an interesting speech. The Committee on Standards, which I chair, will be discussing Gemma White’s report at its meeting next week, and I do not want to anticipate the Committee’s views ahead of that meeting. Speaking personally, and like other Members who have spoken this afternoon, I very much welcome her report. I put on record my thanks to her for her work on it and pay tribute to the staff, past and present, who spoke to her, often about very painful experiences.
As with last year’s report by Dame Laura Cox—indeed, as with last week’s report to the House of Lords by Naomi Ellenbogen QC—Gemma White’s report does not make comfortable reading for us as parliamentarians, but we must pay heed to what it tells us. The White report reinforces Dame Laura’s message that abuses have taken place in the dark corners and closed offices of our institution. Of course, that does not mean that all, or even a majority of, Members or senior staff have been abusers or complicit in abuse—Gemma White acknowledges that many are seen as good employers—but there have been enough documented cases of bad behaviour where the House authorities and the political parties have been unresponsive to cause us significant concern.
The Standards Committee is determined to play its part in evolving a better standards system for Parliament. As we have heard, that has proven to be a complicated and very protracted process. That is partly because of the complexity of parliamentary structures, but there is no doubt that the sheer number of alternative and competing centres of authority—including, as we have heard, the House of Commons Commission, the political parties, the Government, various teams in the House administration, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the ICGS helplines and investigation services and the Standards Committee, as well as their duplicates in the House of Lords—have all made it much more difficult to capitalise on the political will that I believe exists in this place to deal with the problems that we face. The number of separate reviews that we have had, and the lack of co-ordination between them—not necessarily the fault of the individual reviewers—has not helped either. I hope that clarity is now slowly emerging and that Gemma White, like Dame Laura Cox before her, will assist us in moving forward rapidly.
I am pleased that Gemma White welcomes the Standards Committee’s current work on reviewing the range of sanctions available to the Committee, the House and the Parliamentary Commissioner. She notes that this development
“has been a long time coming.”
That is a fair comment, although we have not been short of other tasks to keep us busy in recent months. She has given us a deadline of December this year to put in place a package of reforms to the sanctions system. I assure the House that the Committee will use its best endeavours to meet that deadline, and I am confident that we will be able to put proposals to the Leader of the House, and the House as a whole, in time to do so.
I should add that the Committee’s work on this subject is without prejudice to any decisions that the House may make in response to Dame Laura Cox’s recommendation that Members should play no part in determining complaints about bullying and harassment against other Members. A working party of officials has been set up to put proposals to the Commission, and I am pleased that one of the lay members of the Committee has been appointed to it. I hope that the Committee will recommend an updated set of sanctions which are fit for purpose and can be implemented no matter who the decision-takers on sanctions are in future, whether they are MPs or not.
Other work by the Committee includes formulating a framework for considering ICGS appeals, on which we published a report in March. We have set up a formal sub-committee on ICGS matters to deal with that important and sensitive work. I am pleased to see that Gemma White comments favourably on the progress that the Committee has made in this area. As promised, we are keeping the appeal arrangements under review, and if necessary we will report further to the House on any modifications that we consider desirable. We have also set up an informal sub-committee to review the Code of Conduct and the associated Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members, which we are required to do in each Parliament. The sub-committee, which is dominated by lay members of the Committee on Standards, has been doing good work, and we intend to launch a public consultation in the autumn on proposals for revisions to the code and guide.
Our seven lay members continue to play a very active role in the Committee, and to provide an independent perspective from outside the Westminster bubble. I want to place on record my thanks to them. The House will recall that it conferred full voting rights on the lay members in January this year. Because the Committee has equal numbers of lay and elected members, and because I, as Chair, only have a casting vote, they now have, in effect, a majority vote on the Committee. However, I am glad to say that in the six months since we made that decision, no formal votes have taken place in the Committee. We are working very much as a unified team, following the consensus-seeking approach of all Select Committees.
We also plan to report to the House soon on the subject of confidentiality in relation to complaints, in the light of early experience of how the ICGS procedures have been working in practice, as well as reflecting some of the concerns of both the Committee and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards about the recent extension of confidentiality to non-ICGS cases. I can assure the House that Committee members, including me, have also undertaken the Valuing Everyone training, and I endorse the comments that we have heard about it this afternoon. I should add that I will be supporting the proposals in respect of non-recent allegations on which the House will be asked to vote later today.
I thank the House for giving me an opportunity to update Members on the work that the Committee on Standards has been doing in order to play our part in making Parliament a safe and respectful place for everyone who visits or works here.
I shall speak very briefly, because so many of the points made during last month’s debate on the Cox report apply to this debate, and so many further points have been made so effectively by Members on both sides of the House today.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) said earlier, many of Gemma White’s findings, and the evidence with which she was presented, were simultaneously shocking and, sadly, unsurprising. It is with sadness that we must reflect on that, and consider what measures we can take to ensure that those who work for us, those who work with us, and those who support us and allow us to perform our functions as representatives here in Parliament can be sure that they will be treated with respect and dignity, and with the basic decency that we would expect from any other employer in the country.
The basic issue in the Gemma White report is the balance to be struck in terms of the role of individual MPs: the extent to which we are independent Members and employers and the extent to which we are part of a collective. Of course we are effectively 650 small businesses in this place, each operating our own shop, but like all small businesses our offices work best when they work as a team, and well performing teams are built on a strong culture of respect. It is very rare for an effective team to be founded on fear; a team is rarely strengthened by abuse and bullying. That principle clearly applies in our own offices.
I have previously worked for Members of Parliament, although in constituency rather than here in the Palace, so I have seen and know about many of the demands from both sides of that employer-employee relationship. I know the flexibility that is offered so freely by many of our staff, and it is offered so freely because they usually see themselves and us as part of a team—as engaged in a common endeavour, working in the same direction for the benefit of constituents and seeking to achieve the same things. In a good environment that is working properly staff are happy to be flexible. I know I was very happy to go well beyond what I was contracted to do; I never felt pressured to do work, including the kind of work referred to by Gemma White of a personal nature in terms of making sure MPs’ wider parliamentary activities and life are functioning smoothly. But we must also be mindful that, as other Members have said, there is a risk that the flexibility that we value so much can be taken advantage of, and not always consciously. It would be far too easy for us to get into a routine whereby we start to expect things of our staff that are clearly well beyond what they are employed to do and what it is reasonable to expect.
It is important that Members of Parliament are autonomous and, as Gemma White recognises, there is a need for MPs’ office structures to differ to reflect the needs of each different Member, but that should be an autonomy within common standards. We are autonomous, but we are not separate. We as Members cannot allow ourselves to become effectively chiefs of our own fiefdoms—judge, jury and executioner of our own parliamentary office. It would clearly be wrong and entirely unacceptable if behaviour that we would not stand for if any of our constituents came to us complaining about their own employer was allowed to happen here, under our noses and in our own offices and those of our colleagues, on very little basis other than that that is the way things have always been in Parliament. While respecting the autonomy of parliamentary offices, as Gemma White’s report does, we need to ensure that the common standards and the common framework for protecting our employees’ rights, decency and dignity at work are protected, whoever they happen to work for. The only way in which we can move on from the cases raised in this report is to embrace its recommendations and implement them. We need to establish those common standards and practices across the House, regardless of a Member’s or staff member’s length of service, apparent seniority or junior position.
Like those in other public sector workplaces, we need to ensure that there is a properly resourced HR department that can support our staff as well as supporting us as employers. That would go a long way towards providing the support that our teams need and deserve. It would provide an impartial eye, so that any difficulties could be corrected before they became serious problems. Everyone in all parts of the House should come behind this report and invest all the time and effort needed to ensure that we end the culture of harassment and bullying that has clearly been common in a small number of, but still too many, cases in parliamentary offices in recent years. As I have said, we would expect any employer in our constituencies to follow these standards of decency. We need to set that example and to lead.
I am sure none of us thought we would be surprised to read Gemma White’s report, given that there were reports of bullying and harassment of MPs’ staff in the press as far back as November 2017, but even though we knew there was a problem, the report has been no less shocking. It is shocking to know that in the place where I work, some staff have been and are still being subjected to an
“unacceptable risk of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, at work”
from their employers. Those employers are Members of Parliament, not some backstreet employer. They are people elected by this country to lead, not to have an attitude to staff that belongs to a bygone era.
No one reading the report could fail to be moved by the testimonies of those who have suffered at the hands of some of our colleagues. Like many others who have spoken today, I want to pay tribute to the former and current members of staff who have been brave enough to come forward and participate in this inquiry. I am sure that their stories were not easy to share, and I want to assure them that I and others will listen to what they have to say and do our best to put in place measures to ensure that those in the future do not go through what they have gone through. I want to read out the words of some of those members of staff. One talked about an MP who
“would intimidate, mock and undermine me every day”.
“After I resigned I suffered a breakdown which I have never recovered from”.
“My entire sense of self was crushed, and by the end, I felt incapable and incompetent”.
No one should be made to feel that way when they go to work.
Grown men and women have been shouted at, sworn at, belittled and humiliated. Some have been relentlessly picked on, day in and day out, and worn down by the drip-drip nature of the abuse that they have suffered. Others have been the victims of unwanted sexual advances or banter. This is nothing short of sickening. It might not be something that many Members have personally been on the receiving end of, but we all know people who have received appalling treatment at the hands of their employer. These are people who wake up each morning with a knot in their stomach, or worse, because they do not know what they will face when they go into work. However, they know that what they will face will be unpleasant, harrowing and debilitating.
Staff are already expressing their concern that the number of Members here today does not send out the right message about the importance that we should place on the way in which our staff are treated in this place. This has happened right here under our noses in these buildings, in the corridors and the offices. It is like something from a bygone era: staff feeling bullied and abused and, most importantly, feeling powerless to do anything about it. Talk to any member of staff and they will almost certainly know someone who has been involved in such issues. Unsurprisingly, that will have had a detrimental effect on them, with some becoming too anxious or ill to work. Some have been forced to resign, often following a period of sick leave, and some have been sacked. Some have left Parliament altogether with promising careers ruined while the perpetrators get off scot-free.
I recognise so much of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. He used the word “banter”—he was referring to the report—so I googled it, and it seems to imply some sort of friendly, playful exchange. However, the impacts that he is describing are far from friendly and playful. We should get away from the idea that abuse can sometimes be acceptable because it is casual.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. People may sometimes feel that they are being amusing or engaging in banter, but they have no idea of the effect that that is having on the individual. Many sexual harassment cases over the years will have the same characteristic. That is why training is important, because we all must understand that some of the things we say we can have a negative effect on people.
This behaviour has been happening for a long time, and perpetrators have been getting away with it, enabling them to carry on the cycle of abuse with the next member of staff, a problem that we absolutely must end. It is unsurprising that one contributor to the report states that staff have come to believe that there has been
“general disregard for the dignity, wellbeing and employment rights of MPs’ staff”.
I agree with that, and Gemma White agrees with that. She concludes that
“bullying and harassment in MPs’ offices is widespread and cultural”,
and it would be impossible for anyone who reads her report to conclude otherwise.
As has already been said, a minority of Members are involved in this kind of activity, but it is important to say at this point that Gemma White explicitly stated:
“Some Members were the subject of contributions from a number of different contributors.”
In some cases, we are talking not about isolated incidents, but about the same MP repeating a pattern of abusive behaviour with successive members of staff. The fact that this is just a minority must not stop us treating the matter with the utmost urgency. If the same names keep cropping up in reports, without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing or any action to put things right, we know that something is not working.
The majority of us, of course, are perfectly able to be fair and reasonable employers, but that is not an excuse for a small number who behave inappropriately. People have got away with that for too long, because we have not had the right procedures in place. We must now collectively find a way to deal with the situation, or we will all be responsible for what goes on in this place.
There is no place for bullying and harassment in any workplace, but we should be the exemplar of best practice. We should be the place that people look to for positive behaviours. We should set the standards for others to emulate. If we cannot get our own house in order, how can we effectively challenge the employment practices of others? We are failing badly to get our own house in order, because we have here another publication with yet more cases of bullying and harassment, but we have not properly implemented the recommendations from the last one.
We must stop dragging our feet. We must at least implement changes to employment practices to give our staff the same protections that we would expect from every other employer and that we would expect our constituents to have. We must ensure that the necessary steps are taken so that staff can report incidents without any fear of reprisal or retribution, because many who took part in the inquiry were clear that they felt unable to raise a complaint against their MP because, until July of last year, those complaints had to be made directly to that MP. In many cases, they were complaining to the boss about the boss’s behaviour, so who could blame them for concluding that there would be literally no point in doing so because the same person being complained about would be the judge and jury over that particular complaint?
Staff now have access to an independent complaints and grievance scheme, but it is clear that, even though the new system is in place, they still do not have confidence that it would not be career suicide to refer complaints to it. Indeed, Gemma White concludes that, even now, it is
“unlikely that the majority of bullying and harassment suffered by MPs’ staff will be reported under the ICGS.”
We must consider that seriously today.
Staff are simply not convinced of the process’s independence, so it is vital that we move to a fully independent process in which MPs are not able to sit in judgment on their colleagues in any way, shape or form. No longer should an employer be a judge in his or her cause. It really is not good enough for the Commission to recommend the non-involvement of Members in determining bullying and harassment cases. We have to move away from it altogether.
It is not good enough that there is a complete lack of clarity on the sanctions that can be imposed on an MP. The Women and Equalities Committee heard at the beginning of this month, in evidence on a gender-sensitive Parliament, that sanctions against MPs appear to amount only to an informal quiet word with a dozen or so offenders. If that is all that happens, who can blame staff for feeling that there is not much point in going through the system?
It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman raises that point. The Select Committee’s concern is that, even though there is now a formal grievance procedure in place, it appears that some senior members of staff still think it is the right procedure just to have a quiet word. If they are not recording who they are talking to, there is no ability to monitor repeat offenders. We are quite concerned that that procedure and practice still seems to be embedded in this place.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that point. I find it incredible that we are still in that place. I cannot imagine that the contracts of employment of those staff do not make it explicitly clear that bullying and harassment are considered gross misconduct. A quiet word following an allegation of gross misconduct is not good enough, and it deters people from making valid complaints in future. That really has to change.
Even if we get to a truly independent process, we still need to think about why staff feel inhibited in making a complaint against their employer. The employer might have to write them a reference, or they might still share an office. Until recently, staff could not pursue a complaint at all if they left Parliament. I think that will change with the motion on the independent complaints and grievance scheme, but it was a ridiculous distinction to make—it would not be allowed in any other workplace—because a lot of people, for valid reasons, will not make a complaint until they have left their employment.
I am pleased that we will finally have a chance to extend the independent complaints and grievance scheme to cover non-recent cases of bullying and harassment. I do not know why we need to wait for the autumn, as has already been mentioned, and we have to be clear that this is not the final point on our journey but is a step towards it.
From what Gemma White has said, it is clear to me that, without effective sanctions and a truly independent complaints panel, we will not have true justice. It is bizarre that we can talk about extending the scheme, when the report basically says that staff do not have confidence because of the lack of independence and the lack of sanctions. That problem will not be rectified when we pass the motion on the independent complaints and grievance scheme, and we need to address it as a matter of urgency.
Ultimately, this comes down to the power imbalance between MPs and staff, the high demand for jobs in politics and the reliance on patronage in our political system, which means that the risk of abuse of power is all too great. We have 650 individual offices, which together employ more than 3,200 staff. Any other public sector organisation of that size would have a body that allows some degree of independent oversight of its employment practices, whether it be the use of probation periods, appraisals, performance management or training.
As an absolute minimum, we need basic policies and procedures to drag our worst offenders into the 21st century, and it cannot be ignored that probation periods and performance management were repeatedly raised by contributors to the report. Those of us who already recognise employment practices in a fair and reasonable manner use them to support and develop our staff, but they can be used as a stick to prevent people from making complaints—those are the tactics of a bullying employer. So I welcome the Commission’s statement that it will begin consulting immediately to see what implementation issues there will be in the creation of a new HR department, because it is clear that we need to give much more support to Members and staff in developing and implementing policies in a fair and reasonable manner. That we do not already do this in 2019 is shocking to the outside world, so we have to get on with it as soon as possible.
Having spoken to staff, I know that they are keen to see that department set up, because, as Gemma White recommends, it would also support staff welfare. We hope it would also introduce initiatives such as a buddy system for new staff, to reduce isolation, and peer mentoring for staff who need extra support. Many staff do this in an informal way already, but others are struggling behind closed doors and are not calling for help but actually need it.
There is a role for IPSA or a similar independent body in respect of the introduction of both a leavers survey and a way to collect data to monitor MPs’ employment records, which would help to identify trends or specific pockets of concern in individual offices. That is important, because there must be nowhere for bullies to hide. Only through introducing transparent systems and independent scrutiny will we be able to end the impunity that currently exists in some quarters to hire and fire at will. Let us imagine it became public knowledge that a Member had gone through a dozen or more staff in a couple of years—questions would rightly be asked about what was going on there. So although I also welcome the Commission’s announcement that it will consult on how to collate this data and use it to improve employment practices, I again urge it to do that with the utmost expediency.
Finally, I come to an issue that I have spoken about before and that the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) spoke about at length. Many MPs enter Parliament with little or no management training or experience, but that cannot be used as an excuse. If we know MPs lack that training, we should be providing it, to make sure that no one falls behind. Even with my experience in the law, I would still have welcomed a Members’ staff handbook, with correct procedures and policies in place, and I was shocked to find that there was little support here when I was starting out as a new MP, having to hire staff, set up offices and so on. Clearly, with such a low take-up so far of the Valuing Everyone training, voluntary training is not the answer. I see no reason why that training should not be mandatory for all current Members and their staff, and it should be completed within a short timeframe. It is up to us as Parliament to set the standards not just for this place, but for the rest of the country. We cannot lecture others on the way they treat their staff if we cannot get our own house in order. We must be an example of the best practice, not the worst. That starts with getting our house in order, and getting true independence in our procedures and meaningful sanctions for those who transgress.
I wish to begin by apologising for not bobbing earlier; I was enjoying the speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) so much and reflecting upon it that I forgot to get to my feet. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), and I was obviously so engaged with what he was saying that I wanted to join in.
I can almost encapsulate the essence of my contribution in one or two sentences. I simply want to reach out to the staff who work on the estate or in offices around the country and say, “We are on your side. Clearly, bad things have happened. We understand and appreciate now, at least to some extent, the scale of the problem. And you do not need to fear that it will be limiting to your career or ‘career suicide’, to use the term used in the report, if you report terrible behaviour by your boss, who happens to be an MP.”
My hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) said that being an MP is held in very low regard by members of the public, but there is an unusual double-edged sword here, because although the public in many ways do not respect the role of an MP, a lot of people hold the job in such reverence that it gives us power, which should be used appropriately. For example, there are 150,000 doctors in the country, and I guess that vacancies for doctors are probably coming up every day of every week, but there are only 650 MPs and the opportunity to become one does not come around very often. Therefore, many people—we encounter them on the estate all the time—treat us with a degree of reverence that is completely inappropriate. Initially, I was surprised and delighted by it, but now I am slightly embarrassed by it. So I can completely see that a small number of MPs might let that feeling of power go to their heads and exercise it in a completely inappropriate way when it comes to their staff or other people—and we see that in the report.
Let us remember that the number of people who contributed to the report—220 people—feels relatively small, given that we have heard that figure of 3,200 staff, but it says in the report that more than half those people had significant mental or physical illness as a result of the behaviour that they experienced. That is 110 people, just from that small sample, who have experienced totally dreadful behaviour. I do not see how we could be in a position to do anything but treat this issue urgently and get on and address it.
With regard to the training, I seem to have made a bit of a mistake: when I said that only 34 MPs and 135 members of staff had taken part in that training, I did not realise that the opportunity to take part came about relatively recently. I was reminded of the fact that when I became a councillor in 1999—as a young, I think, very well brought up lad—I went to the council and was totally shocked by the way councillors berated and belittled members of staff. I just could not understand how they could treat them so poorly, yet it felt like that was just the way that relationship worked: the councillors had the upper hand, and it was perfectly acceptable for them to be rude in public to staff at the council. That clearly was not acceptable, and fortunately, three years later, the council was placed in special measures and it became mandatory for councillors to attend training.
One problem we have with training is that those people who need it least are the people most likely to take it up. Those people in the council who actually would have benefited from the training were completely aghast and self-righteous—“Why should I be made to attend any training?”—but the Government said, “This is mandatory. You don’t get out of special measures unless you attend training,” so those who needed it were forced to have it and the council moved quickly to a much more comfortable position. I hope that we do not end up in a position where we need to make training mandatory, but that MPs just accept that we have a problem and that it would be a good idea if we sought to address it.
Personally, I still found it a shock coming here. I had run teams and managed budgets—all those sorts of skills that would be necessary do a good job of running a team in Parliament—but I distinctly remember how completely overwhelmed I was in my first weeks as an MP. There was information coming from all directions; I was trying to understand parliamentary procedure; and emails were coming in by the hundreds and thousands. I felt almost a sense of panic. I just wanted to understand my role as an MP, and my role as a manager was secondary.
When I attended the parliamentary assessment board to get on the candidates list, that was not exactly the skillset being tested. The board wanted to know that someone was a committed Conservative, that they understood policy and that they could make a reasonable job of representing the Conservative party publicly; it was not so focused on whether someone could manage a budget and staff and handle HR procedures. It is therefore completely appropriate that we have a beefed-up HR department and that there is the opportunity for us all to access the excellent support that already exists but perhaps not at a scale that is appropriate for 650 MPs.
I have one other thing to say. I agreed with almost everything that the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) said, with one exception, which was when he said that we should not have tables saved for us in Portcullis House with something that says “Reserved for MPs”. I completely understand his point, but on an estate where meeting rooms are at an absolute premium and with 650 of us looking to have meetings perhaps two or three times a day, sometimes the only way that I find the space to have a meeting is to meet people in Portcullis House and sit at one of those tables. I do not feel in any way that that sets me at a level above; it is just a practical thing. Give us some more meeting rooms and I say, “Let’s have equal access to tea, coffee and cake in future.”
I wish to conclude where I began, by saying to the staff, “We are wholeheartedly on your side. Do not suffer. If you have any problems with your boss, come and talk to one of the people who have contributed to this debate, because we are on your side.” I have no doubt that the Leader of the House will make that apparent.
I thank everyone for their valuable contributions to the debate. Interestingly, there has been a high level of consensus. It appeared that it had broken at the end, when my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) suggested a disagreement with the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), but then the hon. Gentleman started to nod vigorously, so we are in agreement on virtually every aspect of the matter.
We agree that, as was set out in the White report, in the main Members of this House behave appropriately and in some cases in an exemplary manner towards their staff. We all recognise, however, that there are cases in which the behaviour between Members of Parliament and their staff is inappropriate, sometimes grossly. We all agree that, particularly as a Parliament that sets an example to others and, rightly, sets the legislation that requires businesses to conduct themselves in a certain manner, we should uphold the highest possible standards and that any example of egregious behaviour between a Member and their staff is one example too many. Equally, as has been clearly expressed, we share a desire to do something about that, which is why we welcome the recommendations of the White report, and to make sure that we proceed at pace to tackle the issues that Gemma White has rightly shone a light on.
I will deal with some of the specific questions asked in the debate. The shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), among others, raised the Valuing Everyone training and made the point that a relatively small number of hon. Members and their staff have engaged with it. Notwithstanding the valid point that it is in its early stages—I believe that it was only earlier this year that it was being piloted; my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) said that she had taken part in what was then a pilot—it is important to make sure that each and every Member undertakes it. I have undertaken it, as have the shadow Leader of the House and you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I found it helpful and useful.
Further suggestions were made about the training. We have discussed whether it might become necessary to mandate it. In the event of there not being broader engagement, that might have to be seriously considered. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire suggested that there might be a three-month induction period, during which that and other training sessions might be expected to be completed and, in the event that they were not, passes might be withheld as a consequence. There are different ways to address the issue, but there is no doubt that it needs to be addressed.
The shadow Leader of the House asked how long the consultation on the report will last. As she knows, although she is right to ask me that question in the context of this debate, which I am leading, it is a matter for the House and the House of Commons Commission, on which she, I and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, sit. What I will say is that we will press forward as quickly as we can in that respect, as was expressed at its last meeting.
The shadow Leader of the House also asked how we might measure the cultural change that we are seeking to achieve in this place. There are various statistics and numbers that we can use to measure progress: the statistics on access to the helplines that form part of the independent complaints and grievance scheme are publicly available; we touched on the number of hon. Members and their staff who attend the Valuing Everyone training; and there will be the 18-month review of the ICGS, as recommended under the terms of the Alison Stanley report.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire welcomed the fact that the White report does not recommend a fundamental change in employment status when it comes to Members of Parliament and staff, and I would agree. She also speculated about where the new HR function should rest, suggesting either IPSA or the House authorities. She had a fairly strong view on “the former”, as she termed it—on IPSA. That was echoed by the hon. Member for Glasgow North. We must have that debate, which is why sometimes these things take a little time. It should not take longer than it needs to, but we need to work our way around the human resources recommendation in particular, to make sure that that aspect is absolutely right in every possible detail.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North also spent time discussing hierarchy and the areas of the Palace not available to non-Members. He made an important point, and the House of Commons Commission is discussing those issues. Although the Government may not agree with him on the matter of Scottish nationalism, we can perhaps even learn some things from the Scottish Parliament in that respect, as he suggested.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) asked two specific questions, one by way of intervention on my opening remarks: it related to the treatment or accessibility of the ICGS for those whose employment is funded through Short money. I have had further notice from the box to tell me that if someone was part of the parliamentary community they would have access to the independent complaints and grievance scheme, irrespective of how their employment was funded.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the payment for legal advice of which Members may be able to avail themselves under insurance policies provided by IPSA, if I understood him correctly. He may have been referring solely to industrial tribunals, which would be outside the context of the internal arrangements that we are discussing here. However, if his remarks pointed more towards the ICGS scheme, I should say that, as I understand it, there would be no advantage, under insurance arrangements or otherwise, to the MP as opposed to the member of staff who might be complaining about them.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) specifically asked about why the Cox 2 recommendation, which we will address in a moment by way of a motion before the House—that the scope of the ICGS be extended back beyond June 2017 and include those no longer employed at the House—should not be rolled out immediately when the motion is passed. The answer is that it will take a little time, particularly to get on board the specialist independent assessors required to look at cases that, of necessity, will sometimes go back some time.
The Leader of the House may or may not know the answer to this question. What would be the total cost of setting up an organisation such as that?
I do not know; the House of Commons Commission will consider that. I interpret the hon. Gentleman’s question as showing concern that we should always be aware of the costs of putting recommendations into place, and he is entirely correct. Often, reports come forward with recommendations, and off we go saying that we should accept everything exactly as it is presented; further down the line, we decide that it was rather bureaucratic and expensive. In making sure that the recommendations of the report are bedded in correctly, we should have such issues at the forefront of our minds.
No one would expect non-recent cases to be dealt with immediately; it is obvious that they will take time to look into. Why cannot the Leader of the House enable cases to be brought forward now, while the recruitment process is going on? Clearly, during the summer period people might have more time to gather the necessary information to submit a claim.
The message from the Dispatch Box this afternoon is that we expect these measures to be introduced by October. Therefore, the message to anybody who is minded to come forward is that there is now time to prepare prior to October, when we hope that the independent assessors, who will handle that work, will be in place. I think that I can at least signal that that is our anticipation, and hope that that in itself is helpful.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way. I must say that I am a little perplexed that we have a scheme that is essentially identical to the current complaints scheme, that it has taken this long to come to fruition and that there will be a further delay. What is also of concern is that there may be an election later this year and those who may get caught by this historical complaints process may no longer be Members of this place. Can the Leader of the House confirm that, in those circumstances, those people will essentially not face any inquiry?
The hon. Gentleman has very perceptively poked his finger into one of a few areas where it is not entirely clear how the system will work. Indeed, he is right. If a Member has left this place, I guess that an investigation could be conducted, but then there would be the issue of what sanctions could be applied and by whom. Indeed, a Member may have left this place and gone to the other place and, in those circumstances, he might ask what the process would be and who would apply the sanctions—if sanctions are to be applied. The best answer that I can give him is that there are elements of this that will require further work. If he would like to contribute to that, my door is always open.
That brings me rather neatly on to the important point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke. She rightly asked the question about this whole issue of transparency, ownership, accountability and leadership, and where these decisions ultimately rest. I am standing at this Dispatch Box as a Minister leading this debate, but, of course, these are matters not for the Government, but for the House. They are matters for all 650—600-plus—MPs who have actually taken their seats in this place. In some senses, there are some quite deep and reform-related issues around governance here that various Members have raised, which really fall to the House to grapple with. My role in that is that I sit on the House of Commons Commission, as does the shadow Leader of the House, but I do not lead the House in terms of reforming its own procedures and practices, albeit that I can facilitate some of those changes, as I have done, by bringing forward this debate today, and, indeed, the motion that we will very shortly and hopefully be passing in regard to historic cases.
Finally, let me turn to some other points that have been made. I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) for her outstanding work on the Committee on Standards, and for the time and courtesy that she offered to me when we met recently to discuss a number of the aspects of the work of her Committee. I also thank her for the work that she is doing at the moment on the different sanctions that may apply to Members of Parliament and for her best endeavours to complete that work, as suggested in the report, by December of this year. Finally, I thank her for the work that she will be doing alongside the House of Commons Commission in respect of the Cox 3 recommendation around MPs effectively not being able to mark their own homework.
In conclusion, I thank again all those who have contributed to this very important debate. We in this House hold this place dear. We are the guardians of its present and of its future, and we have a duty to ensure that it represents the very finest traditions and principles of our country. The way in which we treat those who support us in that endeavour lies right at the heart of any claim that we may make that we meet that vital test. I thank Gemma White for her report. Progress has been made, but there is still more to do and we will press ahead now with vigour.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Gemma White report on bullying and harassment of MPs’ Parliamentary staff.