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We have demonstrated that MPs who bully, harass, or commit sexual misconduct can be held to account

We have demonstrated that MPs who bully, harass, or commit sexual misconduct can be held to account

Parliament's Independent Expert Panel has published its first annual report | Alamy

3 min read

Just over 15 months ago I was appointed the first chair of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP). The House of Commons created the IEP to ensure that complaints about bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct by MPs are decided completely independently, and in a fair and rigorous manner.

We have now published our first annual report, summarising the cases we have decided so far and the themes that emerge from them.

Most importantly, through our public reports I believe we have demonstrated that MPs who bully, harass, or commit sexual misconduct against their staff, House staff, other MPs or anyone else in Parliament can be held to account. 

We are only the most visible part of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) process. We rely on the work of the ICGS team, the independent investigators, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. They ensure that investigations are rigorous, fair to all, and that those involved are supported throughout the process. 

It is of cardinal importance that people feel safe to complain, in some cases reliving traumatic events from some time ago. We pay tribute to those who have done so. The House owes them a debt.

It is also vital that we are impartial. We recognise our decisions can have a huge impact on complainants and on those complained about. There will always be people, on both sides, who are disappointed and hurt if they lose a case. We do not set out to be popular, but to be thorough and just to all. I would not be involved in a process that did not meet high standards of fairness. Nor would my fellow panel members.

I am lucky to chair a panel with colleagues from a wide range of relevant professional expertise. We are five women and three men, and two of us come from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background.  

We are conscious that although our independence and outside perspectives are strengths, we must also understand the House of Commons as a workplace, and its challenges. I would like to thank all those MPs and members of staff who have been generous with their time to help us do this. 

Too often Parliament’s unique characteristics, and the pressures on MPs, have been cited as reasons to avoid tackling unacceptable behaviour, or even to excuse it

The House of Commons is indeed a very special workplace. MPs, and those who work with them, face very particular challenges. But many workplaces have particular characteristics and challenges. Many other professions face similar levels of stress and difficulty, and they often have less control over their professional lives than MPs. 

Too often Parliament’s unique characteristics, and the pressures on MPs, have been cited as reasons to avoid tackling unacceptable behaviour, or even to excuse it. That is false and self-serving thinking.

The creation of the IEP and the ICGS were a recognition by the House that it wanted to change the attitudes and culture in this unusual workplace. That task was not invented by us: it was given to us, with others, to carry into effect. 

As Georgina Bailey’s article in the last edition of The House suggested, there is more to do. Our annual report highlights some areas that have emerged from our cases to date that others may wish to reflect on. They include tackling misconceptions about victims and perpetrators of sexual misconduct, and the support given to new MPs to help set up their offices. 

Overall, it should be the objective of all of us that poor conduct should diminish, and the IEP should have fewer cases. I hope our first 15 months have demonstrated that when we do receive cases, they will be dealt with rigorously, and without fear or favour. MPs who bully or harass can be held to account. 

 

Sir Stephen Irwin is chair of the Independent Expert Panel

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