Changes to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme will make Parliament a better place to work for everyone
The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme was set up in the wake of the Westminster bullying and harassment scandal. Its second review was completed earlier this year | Alamy
Some years have passed since the continuing efforts to improve Westminster’s culture began. Now that the initial burst of activity has died down, the task of Parliament’s leaders is to refine and improve the measures put in place – building confidence that kindliness, courtesy and model conduct can be found in every corner of the parliamentary estate.
It was always clear that the culture change needed to achieve this would not happen overnight. Nevertheless the establishment of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), agreed on a cross-party basis after careful consultation, was a significant first step in resetting expectations. It showed a commitment towards meaningful change but all those involved accepted more work would be needed to convince everyone that sustained progress was being made.
During my time as Leader of the House I have spoken to some of those unfortunately affected by bullying, harassment or sexual harassment. These conversations have been sometimes uncomfortable but always invaluable, not just in providing further motivation to address this issue but also in providing insight into some of the complexities involved in resolving particular kinds of cases.
I have heard how important leadership is to complainants and indeed I and other senior Commons leaders do not want to let anyone down in championing a system which has fairness at its heart. This is why Mr Speaker has been so clear in his own dedication to this area. He shows the value of having a determined figurehead in the chair whose commitment is so widely appreciated. It is why the Clerk, John Benger, has repeatedly set out the steps taken by the House Service in this regard. And it is why I as Leader of the House have used my role to facilitate debate, giving the House an opportunity to have its say on the proposed reforms and their relative merits in advancing this agenda.
In the first three months of 2021, 105 unique callers took this initial step, prompting the start of 11 investigations by calling the independent helpline
I hope those in the parliamentary community recognise our words have been reinforced by the action taken since late 2017. The clarity provided by the Behaviour Code and the provision of HR advice for both Members and their staff have helped set expectations and support employers and employees in living up to them. The vast majority of MPs have completed the Valuing Everyone training. An Independent Expert Panel – now headed by former Lord Justice Sir Stephen Irwin – has been established to determine sanctions against MPs should a case of bullying or harassment be upheld. Above all, the ICGS itself has been twice reviewed, simplifying and streamlining its management of cases so they can be resolved more swiftly in the future.
The House of Commons passed a motion helping implement these changes at the end of April. Following the 36 recommendations made by Alison Stanley in her recent extensive review, the ICGS is being amended in several important ways. The language of the Scheme will now be less pre-judgmental – for example, by removing phrasing such as ‘a case to answer’. The wording of the bullying and harassment policy has been amended, to align more closely with that in the Equality Act 2010. The procedures were altered to enable the independent investigator to consider whether a complaint has already been fully and fairly considered in another context. That is an important development, which will mean that double jeopardy is avoided.
More updates can be expected in the coming weeks about how the ICGS team is implementing the review’s recommendations. In the meantime, I hope anyone who has experienced an issue that is not in line with Parliament's Behaviour Code will get in touch with the relevant people and expert services. In the first three months of 2021, 105 unique callers took this initial step, prompting the start of 11 investigations by calling the independent helpline.
Those on the end of the line are there to provide you with advice, support and help as part of a scheme which is fair to all concerned. I am grateful to all those playing their part in its continuing development. The ICGS is helping to make Parliament a better place to work, something we all want to see.
Jacob Rees-Mogg is Conservative MP for North East Somerset and Leader of the House of Commons