With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on steps that are being taken to tackle harassment and abuse in Parliament.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear, there can be no place for harassment, abuse or misconduct in politics. I said that we would take action in days, not weeks, and that is exactly what we have done. Getting this right matters to everyone here, and I want to thank the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), who I know is taking a keen interest in this matter. I hope that today’s statement will answer her questions.
Last week, the Prime Minister convened a meeting of the party leaders to discuss this matter. All party leaders attended, and there was an agreement to work together to make swift progress. The proposals outlined by the Prime Minister for an independent grievance procedure have been embraced across the House and I am reassured by the consensus. All parties have acknowledged that any proposal must adhere to three specific criteria: it must have cross-party agreement; it must include both Houses of Parliament; and it must be independent. The new system will be available to all who work here, including: all MPs’ staff, the staff of Lords, including Cross-Benchers, interns, volunteers, journalists and constituency staff. It was agreed that the political parties would establish a cross-party working group to take this work forward, and I am pleased to report that the group met for the first time on Tuesday.
The working group is made up of representatives from every party and from both Houses: Conservative, Labour, Scottish National party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Democratic Unionist party, Green and Cross-Benchers. Very importantly, the Members and Peers Staff Association and Unite are representing parliamentary staff on the group, ensuring that their experiences and requirements are taken fully into account. The first meeting of the working group made clear that the voices of staff will be at the heart of the process. Any new system will need the absolute confidence of those who use it.
The working group also agreed that the new procedure must be independent of political parties, and that to inform the group over the next two weeks, we will hear from a number of different contributors. This will include hearing from staff directly, as well as groups including ACAS, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and experts on a range of topics that will help us to shape a new process. Anyone who wishes to submit their thoughts or suggestions to the group in writing is also welcome to do so.
This is very early days for the working group and we will certainly be working quickly but thoroughly to make that sure that we create a new procedure that provides confidence to all who use it. In addition, I know that many members of staff have expressed an interested in the provision of HR training, as well as better employee support for staff. All those employing staff need a certain amount of guidance and training to enable them to be good employers.
This week, the working group heard directly from the Clerks of the two Houses, who provided a very helpful account of the procedure used by House staff. While we recognise that the Respect policy used by the House authorities provides an excellent reference point, the independent procedure we are seeking to build will take into account the specific needs of Parliament, and the group has acknowledged the need for more than just mediation. The working group agreed that a new system should provide support, advice and action on a wide spectrum of complaints around bullying and harassment. We will do everything in our power to ensure the solution is transparent, fair, and effective. And that fairness must also apply to MPs and peers. We recognise that, right across both Houses, we have many model employers who genuinely care about their staff and look after them extremely well.
We are working to a tight timeframe, but we have all acknowledged it is right to address this issue with urgency. The publication of the final proposal will balance the need for fast action with the need for due diligence. The working group, including its staff representatives, is considering the timetable carefully and aims to report back to the House before it rises for the Christmas recess.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you and Mr Speaker have said you hope that all parties will live up to their responsibilities by demonstrating both an appetite for change and a practical means of delivering it. That is exactly what we intend to do. I thank all parties for working together in a supportive fashion. We share this duty to bring about positive change. People come to work in this place for a number of reasons—out of public service, to support the party of their choice, or to gain new work experience—and nothing should deter them from pursuing those ambitions. We are all determined to ensure that this is a safe and fair place to work.
I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and for letting me have sight of it, albeit late last night.
As the Leader of the House indicated, the working party has met. There are many issues to deal with, but we hope to have an outcome before the House rises for Christmas. The Labour party is working with all other parties to ensure that there is a robust process that everyone is signed up to, and that there will be due process. The shadow Minister for Women and Equalities is working hard to include everyone and is having many conversations too. We should also note that complaints are sub judice while they are going through the system and that nothing should be done to compromise further action, should it need to be taken. The process should also cover everyone who works on the estate, including contractors—it should form part of their contracts in the tendering process—and those seconded for a year from universities.
I want to mention a few steps that could be taken immediately. The Respect policy, on which House staff have worked for a long time and to which many have signed up, should be rolled out immediately to everyone working on the estate. We should respect the fact that people have taken a long time to refine the policy. Sometimes Members need a point of contact, but complainants and those complained about need professional advice, and complaints need to be reported immediately, so I am pleased to hear from the Leader of the House that the helpline has been rolled out to everyone working on the estate.
We should immediately put in place an independent specialist sexual abuse adviser, as the Leader of the Opposition has called for. That might be a matter for the Commission or the Government, but either way that clearly could be put in place now. I also suggest that the working party has a website and a point of contact so that anyone can make a contribution, including anonymously. Education and training could start now.
All parties’ procedures have been looked at, refined and improved, and the Labour party will continue to look at its procedures. The Leader of the Opposition has made our position clear in a letter to the Prime Minister. I will read it out now, just in case she has not received it, as she mentioned at yesterday’s Prime Minister’s Question Time that she might not have received some correspondence:
“In the case of the Labour party, these procedures and safeguards were strengthened by our national executive committee in July. We are now appointing an independent external organisation for reporting complaints and to guide and support anyone affected by sexual harassment through the party’s procedures. We have also appointed an independent legal expert, who will make recommendations as to how those procedures could be further strengthened. We have communicated these procedures to the party at every level in the week.”
I know that other political parties are also working on their policies.
We all want a robust process that has the confidence of everyone, but only when it is tested will we know whether it is robust enough so that everyone can work safely in this amazing place for the good of our constituents and the country.
I call Mr Bernard Jenkin.
I thank the Leader of the House for her statement—
Order. I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. I was much too quick in calling him; I have not given the Leader of the House an opportunity to respond to the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). I do beg the right hon. Lady’s pardon.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I welcome the comments made by the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz). We are both delighted that Mr Speaker arranged today for confirmation to be sent to staff in both Houses that the existing complaints helpline has been rolled out not just to House of Commons staff, but to staff in the other place, and, in addition, that face-to-face counselling will be available on the parliamentary estate from Monday 20 November. An email has been sent to all staff giving specific details of how to express a complaint, how to receive counselling and signposting, and so on. That is very important, and I am as pleased about it as the hon. Lady.
The hon. Lady mentioned the discussion in the working group about the provision of an independent sexual abuse expert to guide and advise that group, and we are seeking to ensure that someone will be available in time for our next meeting. She suggested the very good idea of a website for contributions, which we will certainly consider, but in the meantime, as I said, those who wish to provide written contributions should feel free to do so. I am sure that both the hon. Lady and I would welcome any emails of that kind.
Although the issue of education and training is not within the working party’s specific terms of reference, we will be discussing it further. We will be listening to thoughts from IPSA, among others, about what sort of training and HR support can be provided.
The hon. Lady referred to party policies and said that the Labour party has updated its party procedures. I gather that all parties have done likewise, and that those party policies have been made available on the parliamentary website. I look to you to correct me, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I am wrong and the information is not yet available, but I understand that that is the intention.
The hon. Lady observed that the system would only really be proven once it had been tested—of course she is right. I am sure that considering how we can review it after it has been operating for a little while will form part of the working party’s final work.
I call Mr Bernard Jenkin!
I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for also making a mistake.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. I agree that whatever needs to be done urgently must be done urgently to address the present situation, but as we graft more and more new bits on to current systems, will we not be in danger of adding to the confusion that already exists? The Public Affairs and Constitutional Administration Committee, which I chair, has submitted evidence to the review of our present code of conduct, which is being conducted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. Much of the current problem arises from confusion about an inadequacy in the code.
As my right hon. Friend develops her proposals, will she agree that whatever is put in place now, there needs to be a comprehensive assessment in the longer term—perhaps by a special Select Committee such as the House of Commons Governance Committee, which was formed during the last Parliament—of what is being introduced and how it should integrate with IPSA, the Standards and Privileges Committees and so on?
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his Committee’s work on this issue, and for keeping me up to date with its investigations and reports.
I hope I can reassure my hon. Friend that there is not intended to be any confusion about the outcome of the working group’s activities. We aim to create an independent complaints and grievances procedure that will be run within the House, using as a reference point the work that has already been done here, as well as the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and, potentially, support from existing organisations in the House. We intend to end up with the independent helpline, which will continue to provide immediate guidance and signposting, and an independent grievance procedure that will enable action to be taken against Members, staff, peers and so on. In addition, however, there will always continue to be the parties’ own complaints procedures. There will not be a mixture of those different processes; they will be separate, and very clearly set out. I hope I can reassure all Members on both sides of the House that there will be extreme clarity about how individuals can express their grievances.
I thank the Leader of the House for early sight of her statement. I commend her for the timely way in which she has set up the working group, her leadership on this issue, and the open and inclusive way in which she has dealt with the business of putting the group together and organising its important work. She is right to say that it must be a fully cross-party group with an input from staff bodies across the House. I am particularly delighted that Unite and MAPSA will be involved. Perhaps the Leader of the House will consider including other representative bodies.
Our approach has been to ensure that there is zero tolerance for any abuse or inappropriate behaviour, and that all means are deployed to tackle not just current issues, but the historical patriarchy and cultural hierarchies that have been allowed to develop in the House and have gone unchallenged in the past. We all agree that an independent grievance procedure that provides a safe place where anyone on the estate can raise any harassment issue should be the group’s objective and, as the Leader of the House has said, a solid start has been made. We must ensure that we act in a timely manner and are able to deal with each issue as it comes along.
I am sure that the Leader of the House agrees that anything that we design must have the full confidence of everyone who works on the estate, must be truly independent, and must command the support of all parties in the House. She was right to say—I can confirm this on behalf of the Scottish National party—that all parties have been developing and redesigning their own complaints procedures, which are available to all staff and to the various political parties in the House.
The Leader of the House mentioned the extension of the complaints helpline. Can she tell us when staff can expect to see some new facilities and resources to which they can turn, and perhaps remind everyone what facilities for complaints are currently available?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and his party for their offer to co-operate, very sincerely, in resolving this issue. As I said earlier, all parties have agreed that this is something we must deal with urgently and in a collegiate and non-partisan way. I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his reassurance in that regard. He is absolutely right to say that the independence of the new grievances and complaints procedure must be assured, and must have the full confidence of everyone who will be using it. We will ensure that, in due course, we can confirm very clearly to all staff—to all who work on the parliamentary estate and, indeed, those who work in our constituency offices—exactly what options are open to them.
Let me reiterate that we currently have the helpline, which is now available to all staff in both Houses—along with face-to-face counselling sessions if required—but that has a limited capability. The grievance procedure that we seek to establish will have a far greater capability when it comes to action to deal with particular grievances and complaints. There will, of course, always be the individual party process as well. There will be three different sources enabling people to express grievances or complaints. Only two of them, the helpline and the party processes, are currently in place, and it is the third—the independent cross-House, cross-party grievance process that we intend to establish—that will, I think, provide the full cultural change that we seek.
I also welcome this statement and the rapid action taken across all the parties to try and deal with what is a very serious matter. This must continue to be a cross-party matter in all parts of this House and we must continue to make the rapid progress we have made so far.
As we are looking forward to the future, will the Leader of the House give some consideration to perhaps pre-empting repeats of some of the abuse that has occurred in the past by making an information document available to all who apply to work on the parliamentary estate and in Members of Parliament’s offices, so people are clear about the standards of conduct to be expected from those privileged enough to work in this environment? May we also put that standard and conduct of behaviour clearly up on our website, so that people also know how they engage with MPs’ members of staff, people working here, and, indeed, even MPs themselves?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point about the need to ensure that everybody who works here understands the rules and code of conduct expected of them. There are many different places in which to find codes of conduct; indeed, the respect policy itself is very clear on the type of mutual respect required in this place, and online training is also available for those who want to understand more about the legal definitions of harassment and bullying, and I encourage those with a particular interest in pursuing that to look at it.
My right hon. Friend raises the important point that, once we have established our proper independent grievance and complaints procedure, we will also want to look at how we can roll it out, so that nobody can be in any doubt about the sort of behaviour that is expected of them.
I welcome the Leader of the House’s statement, although I notice from having quickly read through it, as well as having listened to it, that it does not use the term “sexual harassment” once. I therefore support what the shadow Leader of the House said in encouraging the Leader of the House to ensure that there is a specialist sexual violence service that gives advice to the working group and is in place for people in this place afterwards. I urge that mediation in cases of sexual harassment is never appropriate.
Employees have been put into this process in the round, but what if a person who used to work here wants to make a complaint against a Member of Parliament? What if an activist in a political party wants to make a complaint here through Parliament? What if a journalist who is not a passholder wanted to make a complaint? All the complaints we have seen so far speak to what I am asking here; where would they go in this new system?
I thank the hon. Lady for her urgent question earlier this week, which gave rise to this statement today, where we have had a bit more to say. I commend her for her efforts in this area, and I am very happy to speak to her directly at any time on any concern she has. I hope that she is reassured that I have said that we will be bringing in an independent expert in sexual harassment to be a special adviser to the working party for our subsequent meetings.
The hon. Lady raises some specific “what ifs”. As this is a working party that has not yet completely set out the parameters of who will be able access it, I do not want to make decisions on behalf of my colleagues on the working party, but we will absolutely take away every one of her “what ifs” and will make decisions and announcements as soon as we can.
I commend the Leader of the House on the progress made so far and her statement, and the work of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in all this. It is important that we get on with it, that we have this great leadership from the top and that we work cross-party. I fully support the comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips), which I will not repeat because I completely agree with her.
We accept that this is going to be very complicated, but there are some simple principles that must underpin it. For example, first, this independent system could apply to all passholders. Secondly, there must be sanctions somewhere along the line, and everybody must sign up to the system. Thirdly, as an underlying principle, it must confer rights, duties and responsibilities on all workers in this place just like workers in any other place.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and think I can give her reassurance on each of her points. The complaints and grievance procedure will include all passholders, as the working party has accepted. It will also ensure that people are very clear about rights and responsibilities, and that they all have a duty to abide by the rules as set out.
I welcome the positive response from the Leader of the House to the proposal I made, along with others, for this specialist in ending sexual violence to be a full member and adviser of the working group.
Does the Leader of the House support introducing a separate and named policy on sexual harassment? It is vital that we do not simply try to reuse an existing anti-bullying policy, which is essentially the respect policy, with its focus on things like mediation. Instead, we need a named sexual harassment policy, which will be more appropriate. Will the Leader of the House commit to looking to change the culture of this place, as well as the structures, and therefore look at issues like the consent training for MPs?
I commend the hon. Lady: she did first raise the issue of having a specialist adviser on sexual harassment, and I agree that that is important. I point out, however, that the House’s respect policy does deal with sexual harassment. It might not do so to her satisfaction, but for the purpose of clarity I should say that the helpline would include advice and guidance to individuals who wanted to complain of sexual harassment. I am, however, absolutely open to her suggestion that there should be a separately named policy on sexual harassment, which will be a matter for the working party to consider.
I fully support and congratulate my right hon. Friend on acting so speedily and working in a cross-party manner to get this situation reconciled, and I fully support everything that has been said. I agree that there is a real issue about separating sexual harassment from other charges and think that will have to be looked at separately.
I have two points to make, however, in observation. First, the parties keep on stating that they must have their own party procedures. There is, however, a real issue here. What we get is parties acting, by, for instance, suspending the whip from an MP, but they are still an MP and carry on with duties and responsibilities here in the House. How swift and co-located can the process be with what goes on in the House in terms of investigations? MPs stand accused, and the longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes for them to do their job, or should they be doing their job at all? I ask my right hon. Friend to look carefully at that, because if there is a false charge, we need to get that cleared up quickly. The dichotomy between an MP having a suspended party membership but still working as an MP could end up being the problem.
My right hon. Friend raises an important point, which the working party has acknowledged needs to be resolved. He is right that if somebody stands accused, it is difficult to be clear how to proceed where a party procedure might make a decision to take action on the whip and there is an ongoing grievance or, indeed, a criminal procedure in another area in terms of either the police or this grievance and complaints procedure. My right hon. Friend therefore raises an important point, which the working party will look at, but we do not as yet have the answer.
I welcome the progress made on this issue on all sides, but the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and my constituency neighbour the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) have hit upon the elephant in the room. What will the sanctions be if somebody is found to have behaved inappropriately in a workplace—to have sexually harassed a member of staff, a journalist, or another MP? In the Leader of the House’s statement in response to the urgent question on 30 October, she suggested that a member of staff who had been found to have behaved in that way would lose their job. As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green pointed out, suspending the whip means somebody could still be in Parliament and constituents would be expected to speak to them. So can the Leader of the House confirm that the working party is looking at the concept of recall as a way to resolve this issue?
The hon. Lady reiterates the point made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). Sanctions are absolutely integral to this, and they are within the scope of the working party, but as I have made clear, these are early days. We will be taking advice from a number of different expert groups who will inform the decisions that the working group takes, but I want to assure her that the subject of sanctions is absolutely within scope for resolution by the working party.
I would like to add my voice in support of the strong lead shown by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House and of the cross-party working that has gone on so far. I would like to raise two brief points. First, I welcome the fact that Mr Speaker has written to all members of staff, but as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) said, there is a much broader picture here. What other methods are being considered to ensure that the helpline is known to people? Perhaps it could be advertised on the back of lavatory doors, for example, so that others who come to work here, not necessarily on a full pass, know how to access help. Secondly, will the Leader of the House think about a suggestion from a member of my staff, which was put through her office, that we should have a staff Select Committee? Such a Committee could raise issues and produce reports that we could then consider. There are many people who do not have a voice here except through the conduit of ourselves, and we already know about some of the problems associated with that process.
I thank my hon. Friend for making those two specific suggestions. She asked about the notification of the expansion of the helpline services. I know that Mr Speaker has asked that an email should go out from the Clerks of both Houses today, and I think that it has already been sent. It contains specific advice on the alternatives available to people who wish to make a complaint. My hon. Friend has suggested posting helpline information on the backs of lavatory doors, and I think that that is a very good idea. My office has contacted the communications team in the Clerk’s office to suggest ways in which we could further ensure that people are aware of the helpline. She also suggested establishing a staff Select Committee. I am delighted that we have representatives of MAPSA and Unite actively on the working party, and I am sure that we will want to consider how staff can continue to be involved in the review of the system.
As warmly as I feel towards the Leader of the House’s efforts in this area, I think that the composition of the working party is not right. It is heavily overloaded with MPs and with the hierarchy within the political parties as well. One of the really big issues here is how very young, junior members of staff feel when they are being bullied or sexually harassed by someone who holds their life or their career in the balance because of the flow of patronage in Parliament. I note that there are no lesbian or gay members of the working party, despite the fact that issues can arise if a young man or woman wants to make an allegation about their boss that could in effect involve outing themselves or the person concerned. I hope that the Leader of the House will look again at the composition of the working party. However, my biggest anxiety of all is that we should have justice for both sides. If we just have trial by the newspapers, or trial by the front page, that is not justice for the people who feel that they have been abused and want to make allegations; nor does it provide justice for those at the other end. I remember, in 2003, a journalist from The Mail on Sunday coming up to me in the Strangers bar and saying, “We’re all taking bets on when you’ll commit suicide. I hope it will be before Christmas.”
Gosh, I am so sorry to hear that. I really sympathise with the hon. Gentleman on that last point. That is really, truly appalling. We all recognise the challenge of living in the public eye, and allegations that are either spurious, malicious or designed to hurt are often made against individuals. That is not right. We are seeking to provide justice for those who work here at all levels, whether they are young and extremely inexperienced or have been here for a long time, whether they are LGBT+ or straight, and whatever their race or ethnic background. We are seeking to ensure that there is justice for all. The hon. Gentleman has raised some important points. As I have said, I am pleased that we have two members of staff who represent MAPSA and Unite on the working party, but we will also be hearing from individual members of staff, either in person or in writing if they do not want to come forward in person. We will be seeking to obtain the broadest possible amount of information from those who work here to ensure that we make the right decisions.
I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that there is a clear separation in this process between, on the one hand, the provision of training and advice for members of staff and MPs and, on the other, providing a safe space where people can report allegations. If the same people are involved in both processes, there is a huge risk that allegations will not be taken seriously and will not be advanced. We need to adopt best practice across both Houses, but we also need to give staff the opportunity to report abuses.
Yes, I think I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The working party is absolutely clear that we will be establishing an independent grievance and complaints procedure that will be free of interference by political parties, by individual Members or by individuals who work here in any sense. It will be independent and confidential, and it will be able to take specific action to support individuals right the way through a grievance procedure and up to the final sanction, whatever that might be. I can give my hon. Friend that absolute assurance. On his other point about training and advice for those who employ people here, or indeed for those who feel they might have a grievance and want to take advice on it, I can tell him that the working party is committed to looking at and making decisions on those items. However, it is not intended that the training and advice should form part of the grievance and complaints procedure. We recognise the need for those things, but we do not believe that they should form any part of the independent complaints procedure.
I would like to associate myself with the comments made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). The statement shows that there will be eight members of the working group representing employers and only two representing staff. Will the Leader of the House consider appointing a representative from the National Union of Journalists, which has a recognition agreement with the Scottish National party, and one from the Public and Commercial Services union, which represents House staff, so that they, too, can have access to this body? Their experiences and requirements might be different. Can she also assure me that trade union representatives will be able to phone the hotline on behalf of a member of staff?
I would like to assure all Members that the working party has already agreed on a number of individuals and organisations from which we want to hear advice and views. There will be a big emphasis on hearing from staff and staff representatives, and indeed from the unions. I know that the NUJ is one of those that we wish to hear from. The people sitting on the working party taking evidence include the two staff members representing MAPSA and Unite. At the same time, we are determined to hear from a wide range of staff with different experiences, at different ages and stages of their lives and coming from different angles and career profiles within Parliament, as well as from the organisations that represent them.
I, too, welcome the swift work that has gone on in this area. It is essential that we bring about positive change in relation to sexual harassment and bullying and, particularly, to the issues of confidentiality and trial by media that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned. It is essential that we tackle that, and I totally agree with the idea of getting someone from the NUJ on the working party. I also want to raise the issue of suspension. We need a framework in place for when people have been suspended to inform them what they have been suspended for and how long the suspension is to last. I have heard examples of people being harassed and harangued while suspended, and not really knowing why they have been suspended. They can also be subjected to terrible abuse from outside, and we really need to deal with that. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that we will put in place a framework that is in line with those of other businesses up and down the country? Up to now, we have had no such framework operating in this place.
My hon. Friend raises several different issues. One of the challenges is that Members of Parliament employ their own staff directly. Unlike large businesses in other parts of the economy, we do not have a big official corporate structure to draw upon, and the working party will seek to address that challenge.
On party suspensions, as I said to other Members, party procedures will continue to be available, and parties will update and have updated their procedures to ensure that they address issues for local councillors, activists, volunteers, MEPs and so on. The working party will need to examine carefully what happens when an independent—hence confidential—grievance and complaints procedure draws a certain conclusion that may have implications for party procedures. The working party will consider that, but it is still early days, and we will come back to the House with more updates as soon as we can.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that the helpline will be available not just to those who work in Parliament, but to everyone who works for an MP, such as non-pass holders, those working in constituency offices and, importantly, those who do not have access to parliamentary emails?
I can give the hon. Lady that reassurance.
I warmly welcome the Leader of the House’s work on this matter and her statement this morning, but part of the difficulty, especially over the past few weeks, lies with discerning the difference between the serious cases that must, should and can be dealt with and the spurious, fictitious and plain wrong allegations that must be weeded out and that, quite frankly, detract from the other serious cases. I have two specific questions. First, the Leader of the House mentioned fairness, including fairness to Members. Is it not a matter of fairness and natural justice—this affects parties on both sides of the House—that a Member who has received an allegation against them should know the basis of the allegation? Secondly, does she agree that any grievance and complaints procedure must be truly independent of any one political party?
Order. For the sake of clarity, I have allowed the hon. Gentleman two questions on this occasion, but one question is sufficient on an occasion such as this.
I absolutely share my hon. Friend’s concern about the spurious, wrong, malicious and appalling accusations that have been made against some Members, causing considerable upset and hurt. Right across the House, we have concern for those in public life who are accused unfairly. On natural justice and fairness, I agree that every attempt to consider allegations against particular Members or members of staff must be treated in a completely fair and, as far as possible, transparent way. He asks for equal treatment across all parties and for all members of staff, and I completely agree with that principle. The working party will certainly seek to ensure that we have an equal, transparent and fair grievance system.
I thank all the Members and anyone else who will sit on this working party. It is a considerable time commitment, so I am very grateful. Many of us have short-term team members—shadows, work experience placements, interns —who are often not here long enough to get a pass. They can be young and are often inexperienced, so will the Leader of the House assure me that whatever is put in place will consider them, too? In the few short months that I have been here, I have found that some HR matters can be slow, so the induction processes that we put in place should be nimble so that all are protected.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her thanks to the members of the working party, which certainly is a time commitment. All the Members involved and our colleagues from MAPSA and Unite are working hard on it, so I echo her thanks to them. She asks about those who are here on short-term placements, and it is intended that those individuals would also be able to access the grievance procedure.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will agree that by the time an allegation is made, we have potentially already failed employees. Will she reassure that House that the system will not just be reactive and respond to allegations, but engage and prevent potential incidents from happening in the first place? Every other employee under a good employer enjoys that privilege in the workplace. Can people who work here say the same?
The hon. Gentleman is exactly right and raises an important point. When a complaint has been made, something has already failed. The working party hopes that the creation a new system of complaints will by its very existence change the culture in this place. I reiterate that we do have examples of good employers and teams that work extremely well right across the parliamentary estate. Many MPs, peers, chiefs of staff, and senior parliamentary assistants are very good employers and treat their staff with the utmost respect. Nevertheless, he is right to point out that we need to change the culture. By providing proper support for employment matters, which is the intention of the working party, by offering proper training to those who employ staff, and by creating a proper grievance procedure, I hope and expect that we will also change the culture and significantly reduce the number of complaints that need to be made.
The last word is left to Rupa Huq.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am encouraged to hear that the new system will apply to all 4,000 workers who keep the parliamentary estate going, many of whom are my constituents. There is deep concern among the tour guides that sweeping changes to their terms and conditions, which they feel are being foisted upon them, will rationalise many of them out of existence. Will the Leader of the House assure me that none of those who are dedicated to this vital work of the House will lose their jobs? Will she also meet PCS, MAPSA and Unite to allay those concerns?
I am glad that the hon. Lady has raised that point. I reassure her that House staff already have their own well-established grievance procedures, which have been in place for some time, and that will not change. They will continue to be supported by and subject to House staff procedures. I cannot envisage a scenario in which any of their roles would be changed or affected by what we are seeking to do for non-House staff, so I hope I can totally reassure on that. If she wants to talk to me or the Clerk of the House of Commons about that, I think we can clarify her concerns. We certainly intend to hear from all those who wish to offer their views, so if PCS wants to provide a written submission, to see me separately or to appear before the working party, I am sure that we would be happy to hear from it.