House of Commons Commission: Disclosure of Information

House of Commons Commission written question – answered on 16th May 2018.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

To ask the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington, representing the House of Commons Commission, how many non-disclosure agreements the House of Commons has signed with employees of the House in each of the last five years for which figures are available.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

In the last five years, the House of Commons has signed a number of settlement agreements with employees (formerly known as compromise agreements). In some cases, the House has reached agreements with individuals through ACAS, which are equivalent to settlement agreements but known as COT3 agreements. The majority of these have brought the employment contract to an end, although there have been a small number of in-employment settlements.

The figures inclusive of all of settlement and COT3 agreements for each of the last five years are:

  • 2017 – 8 agreements
  • 2016 – 15 agreements
  • 2015 – 5 agreements
  • 2014 – 14 agreements
  • 2013 – 11 agreements

Confidentiality clauses are included in all or almost all of these agreements. Confidentiality clauses are intended to protect both the employer and the employee, as well as to ensure that the content of the settlement agreement itself is not discussed (so, for example, neither side will reveal how much, if any, money was paid under the agreement). An agreement will often include an agreed reference or public statement from the employer about the employee, and the confidentiality agreement will state that the only comment made by either party will be in the specified form.

Since January 2015 such clauses have no longer been included as a matter of course. Each case is considered on its merits. Reasons for including a confidentiality clause can include: supporting an individual to leave in a dignified manner; not publicly undermining managers who have been involved in the case; and discouraging similar future claims.

The House’s approach to confidentiality clauses follows the 2015 Cabinet Office Guidance on Settlement Agreements, Special Severance Payments and Confidentiality Clauses on Termination of Employment. They also follow this guidance with respect to protected disclosures (“whistleblowing”). Any provision in a settlement agreement which seeks to prevent protected disclosures is unenforceable, and since 2015 this has been made explicit with the following statement added to all agreements: “nothing in this Agreement is intended to prejudice the Employee’s rights related to protected disclosures”. All employees who sign settlement agreements receive advice on the contents of the agreement from an independent lawyer or an independent trade union official, for which the House pays.

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