Independent Expert Panel Recommendations for Sanctions and the Recall of MPs Act 2015

– in the House of Commons at 1:51 pm on 19th October 2021.

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Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 2:01 pm, 19th October 2021

I beg to move,

That—

(1) the following Standing Order be made:

IEP recommendations for sanctions and the Recall of MPs Act 2015

(1) The Chair of the IEP shall send to the Chair and Members of the Committee on Standards and to the Clerk of that Committee any report from a sub-panel of the IEP which he has referred to the Clerk of the House under subparagraph (5)(d) of Independent Expert Panel">Standing Order No. 150A (Independent Expert Panel) and which contains a determination for a sanction that would, if made by the Committee on Standards, engage the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act 2015.

(2) Where a report has been sent to the Committee on Standards in accordance with paragraph (1) of this Order the Committee of Standards shall make a report to the House in relation to the Member named in that report, setting out a recommendation for a suspension equal to that recommended by the sub-panel to run concurrently with any sanction imposed as a result of the sub-panel’s determination.

(3) Reports under paragraph (2) must be made no later than on the third sitting day after the report of the IEP sub-panel is sent to members of the Committee on Standards, save that the day on which the report is sent shall not be counted in calculating this period.

(4) If the Committee on Standards is unable to meet within 3 sitting days, the Chair shall, if satisfied that the report from the IEP sub-panel has been sent to all members of the Committee, make the report to the House from the Committee required under paragraph (2).”

(2) The following amendments to Standing Orders be made:

(a) In Standing Order No. 149 (Committee on Standards), paragraph (1), at the end insert

“(c) in accordance with Standing Order No. (IEP recommendations for sanctions and the Recall of MPs Act 2015) to report to the House recommendations for sanctions to run concurrently with sanctions determined by a sub-panel of the IEP and implemented by the House.”

(b) In ICGS">Standing Order No. 150D (Motions consequent on the ICGS), paragraph (1), at the end, insert

“( ) a motion under paragraph (1) of this Order includes a motion to implement a sanction recommended by the Committee on Standards under Standing Order No. (IEP recommendations for sanctions and the Recall of MPs Act 2015), or a motion to implement both such a sanction and a sanction determined by a sub-panel of the IEP”.

Being a Member of Parliament is an honour and a privilege. The rights conferred on those who hold office as Members exist to help us perform our constitutional role of representing our constituents and their interests as fully as we can. Yesterday, we reflected on a Member of Parliament whose devotion to his constituents served as an example to us all. Today, with this motion, the House is asked to consider what happens when those elected to this House let down their constituents.

As Members of this House, we have all a shared duty to ensure that Parliament is a safe and positive place of work. In recent years, we have taken important steps to put in place suitable support and protection for all members of our community. Progress is being made in achieving culture change in Westminster. The elements of the independent complaints and grievance scheme—including the behaviour code and the independent expert panel—put in place so far have begun to make a real difference.

As Members will know, when the independent expert panel was established it was felt that recall would be an unsuitable consequence in ICGS cases. This was a decision that the House took in establishing the IEP in June 2020 after taking into account the views of the ICGS staff working group. It was the working group’s considered view that the opening of a recall petition could have implications both for the complainant’s confidentiality and the willingness of future complainants to come forward. It was also felt that, should the 10% signing threshold be reached and a by-election campaign be subsequently triggered, the risk to the complainant’s confidentiality would become greater.

It has been nearly 12 months since the independent expert panel was appointed in November 2020, and I thank Sir Stephen Irwin and the panel for their work. The panel has had to consider very serious ICGS cases. Since the panel commenced its work, this House has had cause to consider once more the discrepancy between ICGS and non-ICGS cases when it comes to their interplay with the Recall of MPs Act 2015.

Further to a period of engagement with the independent expert panel, staff groups and the trade unions, the House of Commons Commission has come to the view that it is right to amend the Standing Orders to enable recall to be triggered as a result of an IEP recommended sanction of suspension. I would like to thank the Clerk of the Journals for identifying a simple and clear mechanism by which that could be achieved. I note that Sir Stephen Irwin, chairman of the IEP, while ultimately wanting the matter settled by legislation, has urged the Government to make this change as soon as possible.

The purpose of the motion before us today is therefore to amend the Standing Orders to ensure that a sanction of suspension of a qualifying duration, made following a report from the independent expert panel, will lead to a recall petition. The Recall of MPs Act 2015 provides three conditions for a recall petition process, one of which is a suspension of a period of at least 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days. For a recall to be initiated under the Act, the sanction must be applied on the recommendation of the Select Committee on Standards, or another Committee of the House of Commons concerned with standards of conduct. The independent expert panel is not a Committee of the House of Commons and therefore a sanction that might otherwise qualify can never result in a recall petition.

If today’s motion were agreed, in future should a Member be suspended for a period of at least 10 sitting days or 14 calendar days, whether on the recommendation of the independent expert panel, the Standards Committee or another Committee of the House concerned with standards, the Recall Act would be engaged.

Turning to the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, the chairman of the IEP has said he is “seriously concerned” by the proposal to apply these Standing Order changes retrospectively. I will go through his concerns in turn, as I think it is important for the House to understand them and take them into account, given the panel’s independence.

First, the amendment would offend

“against the principle that a sanction properly determined by the IEP should be final”.

Secondly, it would offend

“against the principle that there should be no retrospective imposition of a sanction which was not available at the time when a given case was determined by the IEP.”

It is also worth noting that expulsion was an option available to the IEP at the time, which it chose not to take. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it

“impinges on the independence of the IEP, since, if implemented, it would amount to a political decision affecting the sanction in an individual case.”

In establishing the independent expert panel, the House recognised the importance of ensuring the panel’s independence. The existing arrangements were put in place to protect the determinations of the panel from debate before the vote on a resolution. The amendment before us today in effect risks drawing the House into a debate on the substance of the IEP’s May 2021 report and whether recall is an appropriate sanction in this case. It is wrong in principle, as Sir Stephen explains in letters placed in the Library by the IEP, for a properly determined sanction to be altered by any other route than a proper appeal or to be made retrospective, but it would also set a very problematic precedent. It would mean the House was taking a decision directly affecting a sanction determined by the IEP. The effect here would be to increase a sanction, but once a change had been permitted, what is to prevent the House making a change so as to reduce a sanction properly determined by the IEP?

This debate is not and should not be about the merits of an individual case. While I do not dispute that in severe cases it is right that a sanction of qualifying duration should lead to a recall petition, it is not right that the House re-considers the effect of a suspension that was previously agreed forthwith and accordingly served. Moreover, we must keep the experience of the complainant in mind. To change how the IEP works now risks reducing confidence in the process. Such a change would not be a fair one, as the complainant arguably engaged with the process on the understanding that, at the time, it would not result in a recall petition being opened.

I therefore urge the shadow Leader of the House to withdraw the amendment, which would undermine the independence of the panel. To apply these measures retrospectively could violate the independence of the panel—an independence that is at the core of why the panel was created in the first place on the recommendation of Dame Laura Cox, and which the House has agreed is essential for achieving culture change in Westminster.

None of us doubts the Opposition’s wish to play their part in making Parliament a safe and supportive place of work. With this motion, we are asked to consider how best to achieve that, so it is in a spirit of co-operation, not confrontation, that I ask the shadow Leader of the House to withdraw her amendment. What we need to see is parity in the effect of sanctions that will, irrespective of their origins, lead to a recall petition. As Sir Stephen has made clear, that will build confidence in the system, and on that basis I commend this motion to the House.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 2:09 pm, 19th October 2021

I beg to move amendment (a), at end insert:

“(3) The provisions of Standing Order (IEP recommendations for sanctions and the Recall of MPs Act) shall be applied in respect of any report from the Independent Expert Panel published before this Order is agreed which contains a determination for a sanction that, if it had been made by the Committee on Standards, would have engaged the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act 2015, save that, notwithstanding the provisions of that Standing Order, the sanction recommended by the Committee on Standards in such a case, shall be limited to 14 days and the provisions of Standing Order No. 45A shall not apply in respect of any suspension imposed in consequence of such a recommendation, and the provisions of the Standing Order shall be interpreted as if the day this Order is agreed had been the day on which the Report was sent to Members of the Committee on Standards in accordance with that Standing Order.”.

I rise to move the amendment in my name and in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. We are here to debate, and hopefully fix, first, a loophole and secondly, a discrepancy between sanctions from the House of Commons Standards Committee and the independent expert panel of the independent complaints and grievance scheme. As it stands, as the Leader of the House said, if a Member is suspended from Parliament for 10 or more sitting days by the Standards Committee for a breach of the code of conduct, such as regarding expenses or for the misuse of resources, their constituents could, if they chose, cause a by-election under the Recall of MPs Act 2015. Currently, however, when the IEP recommends suspension for sexual misconduct or bullying under the ICGS, they cannot.

The motion that the Government have tabled, which I fully support, will close that loophole, but there is another discrepancy that my amendment seeks to fix. I have been encouraged by what the Leader of the House has said about the issue in general terms, and I seek to approach it in that way, and by the tone in which he said it. This week, in particular, we have been reminded how fragile and important our democracy is. Yesterday, in this place, we heard the best of our House, and today, we are talking about a topic that is not, but we can show the value of our democracy as we assert Parliament’s will—not through personal attacks, but by taking a stand on standards of behaviour.

When we have democracy, as we do in this country, we—each one of us, equally valid under the law—can choose our representatives, and we can boot them out when we do not want them. We can do that peacefully, without threats or coercion of candidates or voters, but that carries with it responsibilities. Because of the way we have constructed democracy in this country, for it to work well, our citizens—our constituents—need to feel able to hold us to account, to scrutinise, to challenge and to question us on everything that affects them and our country, and to do so safely. As elected representatives, we must therefore set and demonstrate the highest standards of behaviour, so our constituents can do all that. So far, so much agreement between me and the Leader of the House about prospective rule change.

The reason that I am putting forward my amendment, which creates a retrospective rule change, is that I cannot think of many jobs of public service where someone found to have carried out sexual misconduct would not face losing that job. In the one relevant case in the past year, however, that has not happened. I have notified the Member concerned that I will be mentioning their case. Let us consider the circumstances that might justify a public servant not losing their job in that situation: if that person demonstrates full and open recognition of the impact of their abusive behaviour on their victims and potentially on members of the public; if they demonstrate and acknowledge the need to change; if they show willingness to take part in some behaviour change programme or voluntary formal scrutiny of some sort; or—this is my preference—if they recognise the dishonour that they have brought to public service and the likelihood of people feeling potentially at risk if they work with or seek help from them, and resign. In the most recent case, in fact the only case to which we are referring, none of those things has happened, so my amendment seeks to make the provision of the motion retrospective in application so it will apply to that case.

I understand and I have listened very carefully to the misgivings and anxieties of colleagues I respect and hold dear, and to others outside this place, about retrospective rule changes. I would rather not table an amendment with retrospective force; it is far from ideal, although it is possible for Parliament to do it. If the Member concerned had taken any of the above options—preferably the last, but any would have been something—perhaps we would not need to do so. But unfortunately the Member did not; so we do. It cannot be right that, simply because of the timing of a complaint, the victims and constituents of one Member, who has been found to have carried out sexual misconduct by the IEP and who has lost an appeal, will not have the opportunity to trigger a recall petition and a by-election should they—not us—choose to do so, when none of the other options appears to have been taken up.

The Government’s strategy on “Tackling violence against women and girls”, published in July, states correctly:

“We are looking carefully at where there may be gaps in existing law”.

That is good, but we must also close the existing gaps in Parliament to tackle a culture of bullying and harassment that has been all too pervasive. The Home Secretary was right to say that of the Metropolitan police, and we need to set that example in Parliament too. We need to think of the staff, future staff and constituents of any Member found to have sexually harassed others. We have made great steps in this place to change the culture, but there is no room for complacency and we must lead by example.

This amendment is one step we could take to go some way to improving the culture around harassment and bullying and to send a clear message that such behaviour will never be tolerated inside this House or by us outside it. I know that all Members of the House share the aim to rid Parliament and our society of the toxicity that leads to cultures of sexual harassment. Although it is not something I wanted to do, the amendment that I have put forward today is a workable way to begin to tackle some of that in this place and set that example.

I seek to test the view of the House, so I will press the amendment to a vote. Parliament can pass retrospective rule change, and it has before, so it is possible. Considering that we are in the circumstances I have outlined, I would like us to lead by example.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I do not want to get involved in the substance of the case, but as a general principle, does the hon. Lady think there is something in the notion of natural law that people should be punished according to the law at the time they commit the offence?

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

As I said, I completely understand the reservations that Members have—I have them myself. Retrospective rule change is an extremely unfortunate situation to be put in. As I outlined, other options were open, but unfortunately they were not taken up, so we find ourselves in a position where we will have a prospective rule change and there will be someone among us whom the independent expert panel has found to have carried out behaviour that would otherwise have triggered a recall. I respect and value the different views of the right hon. Gentleman and of other hon. Members, nevertheless I seek to test the opinion of the House by putting the amendment to a vote.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 2:16 pm, 19th October 2021

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for bringing the motion to the House as he said he would. He is absolutely right that it closes the loophole that was recognised and identified as we were putting the measure through the House.

I have been on the ICGS since its inception—I have been on all the working groups and bodies that have been assembled to get to where we are in producing the report and having the policy in place in the House—and I would say that what we have achieved in the past few years has transformed the culture and behaviour around the House. It has been a thoroughly positive initiative and piece of work. I thank everybody who has been involved in the past few years, because we are in a much better place in this House than we were a few years ago when some of these issues were identified.

The Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House are entirely right to talk about the experience of the last few days, its impact on all of us and how the House is being perceived, because there is goodwill towards the House. People are looking at Members of Parliament and what we do and observing how we conduct our business. For the first time in a long time, we are seeing a bit of respect and a grudging admiration for the type of thing that we get involved in and the work we do on behalf of our constituents.

It is right, therefore, that we start to pay attention to some of the outstanding issues in the House that we still have to deal with, such as the essence and culture; how we perceive the behaviour of others; and how some of those behaviours, when they go so badly wrong, as they have in a couple of circumstances, are addressed and rectified. In the ICGS, in the past few years, we have made good progress to address those things, but there are still issues and difficulties that we need to look at.

The SNP will support Labour’s amendment, because no one should get away with something because of a technicality or a loophole, or because a process was not in place at the time of the offence. There is almost a sense that somebody has got away with it and that the whole idea of justice has not been served, particularly for those who were so badly compromised by the actions of one of our colleagues in the House. It is absolutely right that that is addressed and put right.

The Leader of the House is right to identify the concerns of Sir Stephen Irwin, to whom I pay tribute for his work on the IEP. The coming together of the IEP in the last year has been a fantastic innovation. It has been the cherry on the cake for the ICGS; it has allowed us to go into these issues and cases with a depth and thoroughness that would not otherwise have been available. I thank Sir Stephen for the work he has done and for the way that the independent expert panel has made such a difference to the workings and arrangements of the ICGS.

I was at the Commission meeting when Sir Stephen detailed his concerns and difficulties with some of the proposals, but I think the shadow Leader of the House has designed a means for the amendment to be made constructively and within the spirit of what has been achieved. If there is a willingness to try to ensure that justice has been served for the victims in this particular case, we should do that, regardless of the difficulties we may encounter on the way. If it is the right thing to do, the House should do it. We will support the amendment today.

As we go forward, it is important that the House starts to look beyond this at some of the other issues. Something that has not been addressed yet, and which we will have to look at in future, is the concern that Members of Parliament under investigation for the most serious of transgressions against members of staff in this House are still able to access the parliamentary estate and go about their business as normal.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

What about the principle that somebody is innocent until proved guilty?

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

That is a very good principle, and it is one that underpins nearly everything we do in this House and throughout the legal systems of all jurisdictions across the United Kingdom, but it does not apply in all the other workplaces throughout the United Kingdom. If somebody has been identified as a transgressor in the most serious way, that person will not have access to their workplace as we are suggesting they still can in this House. I have discussed this with the staff unions in the House and with several members of staff, and I know there is still huge concern. They are looking to bring the matter forward for the House to take a view on and try to resolve to their satisfaction. We are going to have to confront this issue.

The motion is a good one, which we can all support, and I thank the Leader of the House for bringing it forward. It deals with the loophole, and we now have recourse to recall in a way that we never thought we would be able to secure, even a year ago. There is no good reason not to apply the provision retrospectively, if there is a willingness in the House for the issue to be addressed, and to be addressed in the way outlined in the amendment that the shadow Leader of the House has put forward, which I will support. I thank everybody once again for the support we have had throughout the creation of the scheme. I acknowledge the progress that we have made, but there is still more work to be done.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges 2:21 pm, 19th October 2021

I agree with much that Pete Wishart has said, but I am a little more sceptical about whether the changed attitude towards the House and its Members will remain for much longer than another 24 hours. I have been here before, and if we look at some of the online comments some of us have received over the last 72 hours, we see that they have been even more aggressively nasty than the ones last week.

I thank Sir Stephen Irwin, who I think has done a magnificent job ever since he started with the independent expert panel, and all the other members of the panel. However, it is also worth remembering that the person who works most closely with them is the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I think we should pay tribute to the magnificent work that she has done in this field as well. These are often complex, difficult and highly emotionally charged cases to deal with, and coming to a secure idea of what has actually happened in some instances is not simple.

One danger with adopting the policy that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire suggested, in an environment where each parliamentary office has a Member of Parliament and perhaps three or four members of staff, is that it might reveal the name of the complainant, which breaches confidentiality. That needs to be addressed carefully.

When the 2015 Act was introduced, it was absolutely clear that the House intended the process to apply to all the cases that might possibly be brought, because they could then be brought only to the Committee on Standards and Privileges, hence the way in which the legislation was drafted. Any case of bullying or sexual harassment that might have come to the Committee on Standards and Privileges, if we proposed a sanction of 14 or more days or 10 sitting days, would have invoked the recall petition process. When we created the independent expert panel, as the Leader of the House was absolutely right to say, many of the trade unions were opposed to the idea of making that process apply. I have always thought that they were wrong, for the very simple reason that we have ended up looking as if we take offences about registration of interests, paid advocacy and things like that more seriously than bullying and sexual harassment.

Bullying and sexual harassment cases could not possibly lead to somebody leaving the House through the recall petition process as it is presently constituted. However, the independent expert panel could, if it wanted to, recommend the expulsion of a Member. I do not know what the case would have to be to lead to that—that is a matter for it—but I will come on to that later in relation to the amendment from my hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. I just think it is wrong that we should have what seems to be a higher bar for sexual harassment and bullying cases than for other cases that come before the Committee.

As Sir Stephen has said and as the Leader of the House intimated, it would be better to correct that by legislation, and I have had this conversation with the right hon. Gentleman. Leaders of the House always say that there is never any time to do anything by legislation and that it is absolutely impossible, until suddenly they find that it is absolutely possible, it is absolutely necessary and it must all be done in one day. That is the kind of thing that happens to Leaders of the House: somebody who lives on a street a little bit further up Whitehall somehow manages to tug the ear of Leaders of the House, and they find time that they never had before.

The slight danger of doing it this way is that something has to go from the independent expert panel to the Committee on Standards. I know that the Committee shall produce a report and it must be equal to the report that has come from the independent expert panel; none the less, there is a danger that the process is a bit more cumbersome and it undermines an element of the independence of the independent expert panel. We might end up having a debate in the Standards Committee, and I think that would be entirely inappropriate. If the House cannot have a debate on it, why on earth should the Standards Committee be able to have a debate on it? I can assure the House, having discussed this with the Standards Committee, that we will not debate that. However, I am the Chair today, and who knows who might be the Chair in the future or who might be the members of the Committee in the future? So I would still prefer us, at some point, to have proper legislation to clear this up, rather than simply relying on the Standing Orders and the good will of the Committee on Standards.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee, Shadow SNP Leader of the House of Commons, Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee

The hon. Gentleman is a very effective Chair, and I think we all respect and admire the work he is doing. On the legislation versus Standing Orders issue that he raises, he is right that Sir Stephen did indeed want legislation, which I would support, but the concern was that such legislation might be subject to legal challenge, and I do not know exactly where that leaves us. I am interested in his view if we were to go down the legislative route. What would be his concerns if legal challenges were to emerge because of that?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

We have not been advised of any problems with legal challenge. I still think legislation would be better. Legislation always—or nearly always—puts things completely beyond doubt, whereas Standing Orders changes do not always put things completely beyond doubt. However, it would then be a proceeding in Parliament and, as we all know, article IX of the Bill of Rights says that no proceeding in Parliament should be

“impeached or questioned in any Court” of law or any other place.—[Interruption.] I have got it right, have I not? I think we would be able to rely on that very solidly, and that must appeal to the Leader of the House because it goes back to the 17th century. On the question of the independence of the IEP, we are very keen in the Standards Committee that we will do everything to maintain that independence, and it will not be questioned or impeached by us in any shape or form.

I note that the changes to the Standing Orders say that the Chair of the Committee can do something if the Committee has not managed

“to meet within 3 sitting days”.

I think this would happen quite often, because it is quite difficult to ensure that the Standards Committee is going to meet within three days, especially because the independent members come from some distance and we would not necessarily be able to gather them together, and we can be quorate only if we have three lay members and three members who are Members of the House.

I gently suggest to the Leader of the House that it might be nice, at some point, to have a Standing Order that says that all motions from the independent expert panel or from the Committee on Standards will be before the House within three sitting days as well, but I know what he is going to say. He will say that it is all very difficult, and that sometimes it is impossible to find time and sometimes it is possible to find time—

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

The Leader of the House takes my point.

On retrospectivity, I am afraid I am not going to vote for the amendment in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and shadow Leader of the House; I will be voting against it. The independent expert panel could have decided in the case we are referring to that the Member should be expelled from the House; I do not make a judgment as to whether that would be the right thing to do, but it could have done that. It knew perfectly well that these were the rules and that it was unable to allow the invoking of the Recall of MPs Act 2015. That is why it is unfair to introduce an element of retrospectivity.

It does, however, present a very difficult example for the House that somebody who has been found to have behaved so inappropriately that in any other set of circumstances it would have been invoking the Recall of MPs Act chooses to continue in the House. The Leader of the House himself has said that he thinks the hon. Member should resign, and that is my view as well. The situation is very difficult for constituents in that constituency and for other Members and staff around the House, and I wish it could be other than it is, but that does not mean we can surrender the fundamental principles we have always had.

My main point, however, is that I fully support the closing of the loophole, and I wish this had done before the IEP came to its decision on the case hon. Members have referred to. I only wish that attitudes across the House were changing more rapidly, and we still have a considerable job of work to do on that, but I am assured that many members of staff both of Members and of the House feel reassured by the independence of the IEP process, and I would encourage anybody who ever feels that they have been bullied or have been subject to sexual harassment in their line of work here to present themselves, because they will have a fair hearing from the system.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:31 pm, 19th October 2021

I wish to say from the get-go that had the case that has been discussed involved a Labour Member I would say exactly the same thing as I am about to say.

On the substantive motion, I echo the words of many about the progress that has been made on closing the loophole but only wish, as my hon. Friend Chris Bryant said, that it had been made sooner, because we find ourselves in a difficult position today. I very much hope we do not end up voting on party political lines, however. We cannot be whipped on these issues, and I am sure that standard has been maintained across the House. It will be a shame if we vote on party political lines on these issues rather think about the consequences of for and against. I will be voting for the amendment on retrospectivity, and many of my constituents—[Interruption.] Does Michael Fabricant have something to say?

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I said to the hon. Lady—not sufficiently sotto voce, apparently—“No doubt you’ll be voting on party political lines for the Labour amendment?”

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Absolutely not. We have just heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, who is highly respected on this issue, that that will not be the case, and I have not been whipped to vote for the amendment, nor has any other Labour Member. So I would welcome my hon. Friend from Lichfield—we can be friends; his home is slightly north of mine—listening to what I am about to say and to what others have said and making a decision based on that.

I heard what the Leader of the House said about making this retrospective being bad for the people who come forward, and I take it in good faith that he says that with all meaning, but I have spoken to almost every single complainant in every single case in this House from the Conservative party, the Labour party—the Greens have got off lightly in this House; I have never had a complaint against Caroline Lucas—the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats, and I have never heard that echoed by any of them. In fact the exact opposite is the case: there is the appalling feeling among those who have come forward that people just get away with it. I have read through every single word of any report released by the ICGS; it is a brilliant panel whose members are learned, capable, thoughtful and absolutely without question fair, but anyone who thinks they would send one of their most vulnerable constituents into a surgery in Delyn tonight has not read the report.

In the last few weeks I have repeatedly had to meet with one of my constituents, a 19-year-old girl who is going through a serious rape trial, and she needs me to tell her it is going to be okay; she needs me to say, “I’ll call you next week.” I hope no one in this House would think it acceptable for her to go and sit in front of a Member of Parliament who has been found, when a member of their staff sent them a text message to say they were struggling with mental distress, to have asked them if they wanted “fun times”.

It is unacceptable that we do not take a safeguarding role. There is nothing in any piece of legislation, whether perfect or not—and much of it is not—that allows me to safeguard that 19-year-old rape victim in north Wales. That is the fundamental point here, and I agree that the amendment is not perfect—although my constituents who pay the bedroom tax will be delighted to hear that people do not think retrospective legislation should apply to them.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

I am listening to my hon. Friend with great interest, but it is a little unfair to start drawing a comparison with rape, because whatever we might think of the individual concerned no one has accused him of rape.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Nobody made that connection until the hon. Gentleman just stood up. What I said was that it is unacceptable because that person would have nowhere to go. The reality is that someone who is vulnerable is not going to come forward to somebody who has used vulnerabilities for their own ends. I am simply using an example; I could use any example, but that is a case I have been dealing with and I would not be able to say that that person should go to a surgery in Delyn.

I do not necessarily particularly like the retrospective nature of this—actually, I do not mind, because it was a loophole that should never have existed and we are all about to vote to say that it should not have existed, apart from in this instance. I do not believe that many people could stand here and say they would feel the same way if it involved their political party, and the vote today is not a political decision for me. I understand the concerns of the ICGS chairs, but it is not a political complaint that I am making: it is a moral one, and a safeguarding one that is needed to protect our House and our reputations, and to protect our constituents.

As we walk through the Lobby we have to ask ourselves if we are comfortable with how we are voting. Young women work in my offices here—and there are, by the way, people who were expelled because of this case: the two people who felt they could not work here anymore. People get expelled because of sexual harassment in this building all the time, but those people are the staff who can no longer go on because it is just not worth it. Then they cannot get a job with another Member of Parliament because they are told, “I’ll lean on your references”. I have heard that a few times from complainants in this place.

The truth is that the system was never perfect before and it still will not be perfect. As we go through and test it, we are going to find other things. Lots of us—I can see the faces of those who have been involved in this debate for the entire time that it has been going on—want to make it so that people feel confident and comfortable coming forward. The complainants, most of whom I have spoken to, do not like that we have left this as unfinished business. They want it finished, and retrospectivity will enable that to happen. For me, it is nothing to do with politics; it is to do with what is the right thing to do—what we would want for our children working anywhere, and what we would want for our constituents.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons 2:41 pm, 19th October 2021

With the leave of the House, I will respond to the debate. I thank all those who participated in it. I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House, Thangam Debbonaire, for her support for the main motion, and I am very grateful to Pete Wishart not just for his support for the main motion but for the considerable contribution that he has made to ensuring culture change in the Palace of Westminster.

I am in considerable agreement with Chris Bryant, the Chairman of the Standards Committee. He made the very important point that this is not a loophole, but it was a deliberate decision that was taken because of representations that were made to exclude recall when the independent expert panel was set up. As it happens, I also agree with him that that was a mistake. The arguments against allowing for recall were essentially weak and erroneous. I think that we agreed to them because we wanted to set the panel up in a spirit of consensus and compromise, and to ensure that all the participants were happy, with the knowledge that we could go further in the future.

I turn to the speech by Jess Phillips. I agree with a great deal of what she says. I confess that my first reaction when I heard about this case was that the Member concerned should not remain a Member of this House, and I said that I thought he should resign. However, I listened very carefully to what the chairman of the IEP said and very carefully, actually, to the basic principle of justice that nobody has a punishment inflicted upon him that was not available at the time the offence was committed. That principle does not apply just to this House; it applies throughout our court and legal system, and it has, really, from the earliest times. I think that is an important principle of justice.

What the hon. Lady said in her impassioned plea is so right in so many ways. Actually, when the recall Bill came through, I was of the view that we could always trust our constituents under the widest possible circumstances of recall. I have never felt that we should shy away from what our constituents want. I was very much in support of what my noble Friend Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park was trying to do. However, Parliament decided otherwise. Parliament decided to introduce a recall Act subject to strict criteria, including going through a Committee of this House, and those criteria were deliberately not used to extend the Act to the independent expert panel.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I will not, actually, on this occasion; I want to complete my thought.

I think so many of us were so desperately depressed when, after all that this House had tried, after the efforts that we made to improve the standards of behaviour, to achieve culture change and to ensure that people working in this palace felt safe and secure and respected, somebody so recently elected, who went on the course about treating people properly—somebody who did all of that and got every message from the Whips, every message from the Government, every message from this House—had broken the rules within a few months. But that was the system that there was; that system provided for a penalty that was imposed; that penalty was imposed by an independent body, and that is justice. One may then change it for the future. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley knows how much I respect her—that is not the normal waffle of politics; I hold her genuinely in the highest regard, and I admire her campaigning spirit—but I am afraid that on this occasion, justice must trump anger.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

The Leader of the House knows that I will vote with him on this matter, but for me the biggest problem is that the Member concerned has shown absolutely no insight into his conduct. That was a point that the independent expert panel made, and it has been absolutely self-evident at every single moment since. That really does pose a problem for all of us. I know that many Members on his own side have said to him, “It would be better for you and for the House if you were to step down.” I very rarely say this, but as a former priest, I would say this to him as well. I think it would be in his own best interests, for him to be able to move on in his own life, if he were to step aside, and that is what I would prefer.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons

I do not think that it is really for me to respond to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but it will be in Hansard tomorrow.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 84 Independent Expert Panel Recommendations for Sanctions and the Recall of MPs Act 2015

Aye: 213 MPs

No: 307 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

The House divided: Ayes 213, Noes 297.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That—

(1) the following Standing Order be made:

“IEP recommendations for sanctions and the Recall of MPs Act 2015

(1) The Chair of the IEP shall send to the Chair and Members of the Committee on Standards and to the Clerk of that Committee any report from a sub-panel of the IEP which he has referred to the Clerk of the House under subparagraph (5)(d) of Standing Order No. 150A (Independent Expert Panel) and which contains a determination for a sanction that would, if made by the Committee on Standards, engage the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act 2015.

(2) Where a report has been sent to the Committee on Standards in accordance with paragraph (1) of this Order the Committee of Standards shall make a report to the House in relation to the Member named in that report, setting out a recommendation for a suspension equal to that recommended by the sub-panel to run concurrently with any sanction imposed as a result of the sub-panel’s determination.

(3) Reports under paragraph (2) must be made no later than on the third sitting day after the report of the IEP sub-panel is sent to members of the Committee on Standards, save that the day on which the report is sent shall not be counted in calculating this period.

(4) If the Committee on Standards is unable to meet within 3 sitting days, the Chair shall, if satisfied that the report from the IEP sub-panel has been sent to all members of the Committee, make the report to the House from the Committee required under paragraph (2).”

(2) The following amendments to Standing Orders be made:

(a) In Standing Order No. 149 (Committee on Standards), paragraph (1), at the end insert

“(c) in accordance with Standing Order No. (IEP recommendations for sanctions and the Recall of MPs Act 2015) to report to the House recommendations for sanctions to run concurrently with sanctions determined by a sub-panel of the IEP and implemented by the House.”

(b) In Standing Order No. 150D (Motions consequent on the ICGS), paragraph (1), at the end, insert

“( ) a motion under paragraph (1) of this Order includes a motion to implement a sanction recommended by the Committee on Standards under Standing Order No. (IEP recommendations for sanctions and the Recall of MPs Act 2015), or a motion to implement both such a sanction and a sanction determined by a sub-panel of the IEP”.