Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 pm on 16th November 2017.

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Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 12:00 pm, 16th November 2017

With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on steps that are being taken to tackle harassment and abuse in Parliament.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear, there can be no place for harassment, abuse or misconduct in politics. I said that we would take action in days, not weeks, and that is exactly what we have done. Getting this right matters to everyone here, and I want to thank Jess Phillips, who I know is taking a keen interest in this matter. I hope that today’s statement will answer her questions.

Last week, the Prime Minister convened a meeting of the party leaders to discuss this matter. All party leaders attended, and there was an agreement to work together to make swift progress. The proposals outlined by the Prime Minister for an independent grievance procedure have been embraced across the House and I am reassured by the consensus. All parties have acknowledged that any proposal must adhere to three specific criteria: it must have cross-party agreement; it must include both Houses of Parliament; and it must be independent. The new system will be available to all who work here, including: all MPs’ staff, the staff of Lords, including Cross-Benchers, interns, volunteers, journalists and constituency staff. It was agreed that the political parties would establish a cross-party working group to take this work forward, and I am pleased to report that the group met for the first time on Tuesday.

The working group is made up of representatives from every party and from both Houses: Conservative, Labour, Scottish National party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Democratic Unionist party, Green and Cross-Benchers. Very importantly, the Members and Peers Staff Association and Unite are representing parliamentary staff on the group, ensuring that their experiences and requirements are taken fully into account. The first meeting of the working group made clear that the voices of staff will be at the heart of the process. Any new system will need the absolute confidence of those who use it.

The working group also agreed that the new procedure must be independent of political parties, and that to inform the group over the next two weeks, we will hear from a number of different contributors. This will include hearing from staff directly, as well as groups including ACAS, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and experts on a range of topics that will help us to shape a new process. Anyone who wishes to submit their thoughts or suggestions to the group in writing is also welcome to do so.

This is very early days for the working group and we will certainly be working quickly but thoroughly to make that sure that we create a new procedure that provides confidence to all who use it. In addition, I know that many members of staff have expressed an interested in the provision of HR training, as well as better employee support for staff. All those employing staff need a certain amount of guidance and training to enable them to be good employers.

This week, the working group heard directly from the Clerks of the two Houses, who provided a very helpful account of the procedure used by House staff. While we recognise that the Respect policy used by the House authorities provides an excellent reference point, the independent procedure we are seeking to build will take into account the specific needs of Parliament, and the group has acknowledged the need for more than just mediation. The working group agreed that a new system should provide support, advice and action on a wide spectrum of complaints around bullying and harassment. We will do everything in our power to ensure the solution is transparent, fair, and effective. And that fairness must also apply to MPs and peers. We recognise that, right across both Houses, we have many model employers who genuinely care about their staff and look after them extremely well.

We are working to a tight timeframe, but we have all acknowledged it is right to address this issue with urgency. The publication of the final proposal will balance the need for fast action with the need for due diligence. The working group, including its staff representatives, is considering the timetable carefully and aims to report back to the House before it rises for the Christmas recess.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you and Mr Speaker have said you hope that all parties will live up to their responsibilities by demonstrating both an appetite for change and a practical means of delivering it. That is exactly what we intend to do. I thank all parties for working together in a supportive fashion. We share this duty to bring about positive change. People come to work in this place for a number of reasons—out of public service, to support the party of their choice, or to gain new work experience—and nothing should deter them from pursuing those ambitions. We are all determined to ensure that this is a safe and fair place to work.