MPs to be stripped of power to vet bullying and harassment claims, Commons bosses announce
MPs are to be stripped of their role in vetting claims of bullying and sexual harassment against their own colleagues, Commons authorities have announced.
The House of Commons Commission, headed up by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, has thrown its weight behind a new system for assessing complaints that it said would be "completely independent of MPs", in a major boost for campaigners trying to root out harassment and abuse in Westminster.
The move comes in the wake of the Dame Laura Cox report into Parliament's handling of such cases, which accused Commons authorities of allowing a "disturbing" pattern of abuse to develop and demanded an overhaul.
The report called for harassment and bullying claims brought by House staff against MPs to be overseen by an "entirely independent process, in which Members of Parliament will play no part".
Under the current system, complaints are directed to the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
But the final say on sanctions rests with MPs on the Committee on Standards, leading to accusations that politicians are allowed to police their own conduct.
In a statement, the House of Commons Commission said it had "backed the creation of an independent expert panel for determining bullying or sexual harassment complaints against MPs".
The authority added: "The proposal, which is now open to public consultation, would involve a new independent panel of experts with the power to determine cases and decide on sanctions. Unlike the Committee on Standards, which it would replace, the panel would be completely independent of MPs.
"If introduced, the measure will implement the third and final recommendation of Dame Laura Cox QC on the determination of complaints against MPs under the Independent complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) without MP involvement."
The move has been welcomed by Dame Laura, who said: "I am very happy to see that the Commission has agreed with the preferred option of an independent expert panel, subject to consultation and to a sensible agreement as to a broad range of sanctions. I am extremely pleased to see that this option has commanded the most widespread support. It also meets the requirements of independence and expertise, which are so crucial to the success of any scheme."
The plans for a new independent panel will be open for consultation until March, with trade union the FDA - whose members include clerks working the House of Commons - also welcoming the proposals.
Assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge told PoliticsHome: "This is exactly what we've been campaigning for since the year dot. We know that we need a procedure that is fully independent from investigations to the determination of sanctions.
"Determining sanctions has always been the biggest sticking point, so to get the House of Commons commission to accept that fully today is fantastic and we are over the moon and I think our members will be feeling really vindicated."
But the union urged caution on the proposals and said it would be pushing to ensure that suspensions and expulsions cannot be debated on the floor of the House of Commons - one of the suggestions raised in the consultation.
Ms Leversidge said MPs could end up seeing that process as "a second appeal for complaints".
She said: "The big sticking point in there - because there's always a but - is they have put a question in the consultation: 'should MPs be allowed to debate final reports in the event of a member being expelled from the House or suspended'.
"We are going to argue strongly that they shouldn't be allowed to debate in the House. Members will fear a repetition of the Lord Lester case, where Lord Lester had a complaint upheld against him, a sanction recommended for suspension and then it went to the House of Lords to be debated and the House of Lords overturned it."
The move came as Sir Lindsay Hoyle also confirmed that staff representatives, including trade unions and membership organisations, will be given a seat on the House of Commons Commission's monthly meetings for the first time.
MPs’ constituency staff will also be given their own HR service to oversee employment practices in MPs' offices, "offer regular contact and support for their staff and assist with fair and open recruitment by MPs", the Commission said.
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