Bullying and Harassment of MPS’ Parliamentary Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:19 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 5:19 pm, 17th July 2019

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 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, 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 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.

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 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.