Menu

Login to access your account

Mon, 13 July 2020

Personalise Your Politics

Subscribe now
The House Live All
New appointments this week in UK politics, the civil service and public affairs Member content
Home affairs
Coronavirus
Economy
Press releases
By Hft

Commons staff will have little faith in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plans to tackle bullying and harassment

Commons staff will have little faith in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s plans to tackle bullying and harassment

Jacob Rees-Mogg on Tuesday will introduce plans for a new independent expert panel on bullying and harassment

4 min read

Powerful MPs will protect their powerful friends, at the expense of staff. This is precisely why they must play no part in the complaints process.

Nearly two years ago Dame Laura Cox’s inquiry recommended that the process to deal with bullying, harassment and sexual harassment complaints must be entirely independent of MPs. 

On Tuesday the House will get to vote to implement the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) and we will see Dame Laura’s recommendation become a reality. This is a true achievement for all the brave women and men who spoke out to try and make Parliament a better place to work. 

However, the Leader of the House has included the ability for MPs to debate IEP determinations as part of the new complaints process. 

Bullying, harassment and sexual harassment diminishes the authority and credibility of Parliament and the failure to act will only inflict further damage upon its reputation.

These debates would be carried out after a complaint has been independently investigated, the complaint upheld, with a sanction determined independently and the appeals process exhausted. 

As previously reported in The House magazine, the Commission’s consultation about the new process found that respondents overwhelmingly agreed that MPs should not have the right to debate the IEP’s findings and sanctions in upheld complaints.

Oddly, the Leader of the House has tried to mitigate the obvious dangers by saying that, “subject to the discretion of the chair” (a line that will clearly set hares running), there will be rules during any debate to say that the name of the complainant may not be revealed, nor any details of the investigation, and the findings and sanction may not be called into question. 

The most obvious point to make then, is what’s the point of the debate? Why not do as the Lords have done, and have a standing order to accept the findings and sanctions in complaints automatically, without debate? 

This is not without a check and balance – at any time if the House were concerned, they could overturn the standing order. There are other ways that this constitutional principle can be satisfied without giving a pulpit to those that seek to undermine a complaint.  

Fear of a debate among MPs risks deterring staff from putting in complaints, particularly in cases involving sexual harassment, and staff will clearly be concerned about how the proposed rules can meaningfully be enforced when MPs are protected by parliamentary privilege. 

There will be little faith that these proposed rules will be abided by because if MPs intended to abide by them, they wouldn’t be asking for the right to debate at all. 

When Naomi Ellenbogen conducted her inquiry into behaviour in the House of Lords, she described the debate of the complaint against Lord Lester in 2018 – where the Lords overturned the upheld complaint – as having a chilling effect on staff. 

In allowing a debate, the House also risks failing in its duty of care as an employer

She said that these kinds of debates would cause members of staff to suffer “public humiliation… immortalised in Hansard… making the complaint not just pointless but devastating, both personally and professionally”. 

In allowing a debate, the House also risks failing in its duty of care as an employer – if MPs overturn a sanction what happens next? Is the member of staff just supposed to accept it? 

What happens if the same MP goes on to bully, harass or sexually harass another member of staff? 

House authorities can’t say that they didn’t know about the behaviour – they did and they failed to address it. They would have failed in their duty to protect staff. 

The reason we are where we are – and why we have had three inquiries into bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in Parliament over the past two years – is because Parliamentarians have shown time and time again that they will always protect each other, regardless of the facts of the case. 

Powerful MPs will protect their powerful friends, at the expense of staff. This is precisely why Dame Laura said that MPs must play no part in the complaints process. 

Bullying, harassment and sexual harassment diminishes the authority and credibility of Parliament and the failure to act will only inflict further damage upon its reputation. 

The Independent Expert Panel will finally put in place an effective, independent procedure to deal with bullying, harassment and sexual harassment but only if MPs also put their trust in the process too and reject the plans to debate complaints.  

Amy Leversidge is the assistant general secretary of the FDA Union

Categories

Political parties
Partner content
NHS Parliamentary Awards

The NHS Parliamentary Awards sponsored by Fujifilm are a chance for all MPs in England to celebrate the outstanding care they and their constituents receive.

Find out more