Bullying and Harassment of MPS’ Parliamentary Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:20 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 3:20 pm, 17th July 2019

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.