Before calling the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) to ask his urgent question, I wish to make the following brief remarks. Having read with care the report by Dame Laura Cox and having also lived through the MPs’ expenses scandal, I am persuaded by at least two of her fundamental recommendations. Without seeking to pre-empt what the House might ultimately decide, I firmly believe that the only possible way to resolve this matter is the establishment of a body that is both entirely independent of and external to Parliament to hear and adjudicate on all allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, including deciding how far to investigate past misconduct. Whether the allegations involve MPs or staff, the same entirely independent body should be in complete control of the process from start to finish. As I have said before in this Chamber and to the Leader of the House’s cross-party inquiry in my oral evidence last December, independence and transparency are the best guarantors of a process that will both be fair and command general confidence.
May I thank the hon. Gentleman for his urgent question? I am genuinely pleased to have an opportunity to share some initial views with the House. I welcome Dame Laura Cox’s report, and I want to thank her and, in particular, all those who have come forward to tell their stories to this inquiry. Over the past year, we have all been shocked and appalled at the reports of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in Westminster, and I am determined to stamp it out. The findings in this report are undeniably worrying, and they reflect poorly on the systems in the House of Commons.
In all the work I have done to create a new, fair and transparent complaints system for Parliament, I have been clear that everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect. I am so sorry to hear of the experiences highlighted by Dame Laura’s report of members of Commons staff, and I speak to them directly when I say, “You deserve so much better”. It is vital that the House leadership now responds fully and promptly. In my role as Leader of the House, I have been determined to do all I can to put in place the right procedures and services to begin the process of culture change through the new complaints process. However, as Dame Laura points out and as I made clear in my statement in July, culture change will not happen overnight. It is an ongoing process to overturn entrenched attitudes to the way things are done round here.
Last November—almost a year ago—the Prime Minister asked me to convene a cross-party, bicameral working group, including staff members, to develop our independent complaints and grievance policy. The initial scope of the working group was not to include House staff, as it was understood that the policies in place, such as the Respect policy, were sufficient and robust enough to deal with any complaints made by House staff. Subsequent reports came to light through the media, however, that strongly suggested that that was not the case.
As a result, at my instigation, the external members of the House of Commons Commission, without further reference to any elected Member, appointed Dame Laura to conduct a fully independent inquiry into the alleged bullying and harassment of House staff and the effectiveness of policies such as Respect and Valuing Others. Her report is the result of that inquiry. To clarify the current position, the independent complaints and grievance policy has been up and running since July, and all staff have access to it, including House staff and those making historic allegations. We have set up two independent helplines—one to deal with allegations of bullying and one to deal with allegations of sexual misconduct.
The new scheme delivers a behaviour code that applies to everyone who visits or works in Parliament. We have a new HR advice service for MPs’ staff, and House staff have access to an employee assistance programme. We have also implemented a significant new training offer, as well as an induction scheme for staff joining Parliament for the first time. The complaints procedure provides full confidentiality for all complainants, and I am pleased that Dame Laura recognises the importance of this. I have been absolutely clear right from the beginning that this is the start, not the end of the process. The ICGP has reviews built into it at six and 18 months, and Dame Laura’s inquiry report will be central to shaping those views.
Colleagues may be aware that the House of Commons Commission has called an urgent meeting for Monday to consider this report, and as I have said, the House leadership must now respond fully and promptly. It is imperative that we make Parliament a modern, professional and safe place to work—where everybody is treated with dignity and respect.
When I raised the expenses scandal 12 months before The Daily Telegraph exposé, it did not go down well in Parliament. With the child abuse inquiry and the Westminster strand, the ongoing response of the political parties is to put a lawyer and QC into the inquiry to protect the interests of MPs past and present. In the sexual harassment scandal, people have gone public making serious allegations, but they have been left in limbo for more than a year. Now we have this. Paragraph 30 refers to
“a culture that is as embedded as it is shocking.”
That sums up the report. Paragraph 141 says that it is well known that there are “‘serial offenders’” currently in Parliament. Paragraph 160 goes through the 15 different forms of harassment and bullying behaviour. Paragraph 161 goes through the impact of that. Paragraph 419 pleads for “the active support” of MPs, which says rather a lot.
Will the Leader of the House guarantee that all three of the simple recommendations made by Dame Laura Cox will be implemented? Further, because I am aware what the problems are, will the Labour party and every other Opposition party guarantee their unequivocal public support today for those three recommendations so that they can be pushed through speedily and effectively?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman because this is an issue that he has pursued. He and I have discussed this a number of times, and he is gravely concerned about the allegations of bad behaviour that has taken place and a bad culture that has existed in this place for far too long. I pay tribute to him for all the work that he has done in this area.
This is a matter for the House, and as Leader of the House I will do everything in my power to stamp out all forms of bullying and harassment. I would say to all hon. Members—those who attempted to turn a blind eye or allowed it to go on under their view—that as we all know, for evil to succeed good men need only do nothing.
Dame Laura Cox says in her inquiry report that
“many consider that there is still no genuine understanding that things need to change.”
She says that a shocking culture of fear and deference is driven right from the top of the House of Commons—behaviour that we simply would not tolerate elsewhere. The new grievance procedure is welcome, and my right hon. Friend is to be applauded for what she has done to put that in place, but it is not enough, and Dame Laura says that. She makes it clear that there is a need for a culture change, too, which directly requires a change in the management of the House of Commons.
As we have just heard, very senior management are the people who will decide what happens next as a result of the report. Will the Leader of the House explain how the brave staff who have spoken out can be reassured that action will be taken, because the House of Commons has a duty to lead by example—to be an exemplar employer. The report makes it clear that there needs to be a complete change in leadership at the most senior level, including you, Mr Speaker, as chief officer, if we are, in Dame Laura’s words, to “‘press the reset button’”.
My right hon. Friend cares a great deal about these issues. Again, she has been closely involved in the progress of the new complaints procedure and has had a hand in shaping its direction. She will know that all those involved in the working and steering groups across the political parties throughout the House worked tirelessly to reach an arrangement in which we would be in a position to change the culture of Parliament. She is exactly right to highlight the fact that that is what is needed. I am sure that the hon. Members for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), and all those involved in the working group will take the same view as I do that we have to change the culture of this place. It is absolutely vital that we do that. It is not going to happen overnight, and we have to continue to lean in and accept the recommendations in Dame Laura’s report and do everything that we can to ensure that this place mends its ways and becomes not just an exemplar but a role model for other Parliaments around the world so that they can learn from our experiences.
I thank the Leader of the House for her response to the urgent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), and you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question. I, too, thank Dame Laura Cox QC OBE for taking the time to work on this important issue and for her comprehensive report. It is never easy for an institution when the spotlight is quite rightly shone in this way.
Hon. Members should know—the Leader of the House touched on this—that the terms of reference were drawn up by the non-execs on the Commission, Dame Janet Gaymer and Jane McCall, and hon. Members did not have sight of that, nor did we have sight of the report before it was published.
Two hundred people who are currently working or have previously worked here came forward to speak to Dame Laura Cox, and it must sometimes have been difficult to raise these issues. This 155-page report needs to be looked at carefully. Dame Laura said that this has been
“an inquiry, not an investigation.”
At paragraph 23, she said:
“Disputed allegations require due process and a fair hearing for both sides in order to determine the facts”.
She said that she was
“not in a position in this inquiry to determine or re-open any individual complaints.”
I was a member of the Governance of the House Committee that was set up to review the structures of the House. Being able to speak to Members of staff at all levels was helpful in determining changes. Like the Leader of the House, I see those changes as an ongoing process. Does the right hon. Lady consider that having an ongoing staff panel with trade union representatives would be helpful?
A process of change has already taken place. In paragraph 63, Dame Laura says that, as Professor Sarah Childs noted in “The Good Parliament” report, which was commissioned by you, Mr Speaker, in 2016, diversity also plays an important role in making Parliament a more diverse place.
Dame Laura did criticise the decision of the working group to implement a new code of conduct without waiting for the outcome of her inquiry. She said that implementing a new code of conduct should not have been rushed and went on to say that
“it is more important to get it right than to get it done in haste, in accordance with self-imposed deadlines”.
The independent complaints process is to be reviewed in January 2019. Can the Leader confirm that the Cox report can be fed into that process, and, if so, how? The report states:
“Delivering fundamental and permanent change will require a focus and a genuine commitment on the part of the leadership of the House.”
The Commons Executive Board will meet to review and discuss its contents, and, as the Leader said, a meeting of the House of Commons Commission has also been convened. The Leader also touched on the fact that in some places it is reported that there are only three members of the Commission. In fact, every party has a role to play on the Commission.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that we should look at other organisations for best practice to ensure there is an independent and robust system for dealing with complaints in a timely way, as Dame Laura set out in her introduction? We need to heed Dame Laura’s suggestion that we need to take time to consider this very important report. Her Majesty’s Opposition will continue to work on a cross-party basis to tackle this issue and to ensure new procedures are as robust and effective as possible to protect everyone working in, and visiting, this House.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She was an absolutely core and integral part of the working group, as, likewise, was her hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) on the steering group. They know as well as I do that this was the result of an enormous amount of cross-party collaboration to come up with the right ideas, to hear from all those who work in this place who have had bad experiences and find out what they would like to see changed. We had a trade union representative on the steering group who had very useful input. We have had staff members at all levels. We have always sought to take soundings from right across the House.
I will answer the hon. Lady’s specific questions. On whether we should have an ongoing staff panel, she will know that the review after six months, which will begin in January, will include staff members. Likewise, the review after 18 months will include staff members. It will be for that second review to decide how frequently subsequent reviews should take place. The hon. Lady says that Dame Laura criticised the introduction of the scheme before the publication of her report. She will know that the working group agreed that we would not delay further on the grounds that, as her hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) pointed out in his urgent question, people had already waited for almost nine to 10 months before they could come forward. With no clear date for Dame Laura’s report, it was not right to wait still further. Nevertheless, Dame Laura’s report will absolutely be fed in as a key piece of evidence to the review at six months, which, as I say, starts in January.
The hon. Lady asked about whether we will be looking at other organisations. She will know that we did look at other organisations all the way through the process of putting together the complaints procedure, and we will continue to do so.
This is a matter for the House. All hon. Members who have an interest in bringing forward further recommendations and suggestions should be aware that every party has a representative on the working group or the steering group. They should let their views be known so that they can be taken into account to get the best possible arrangements.
This is a disturbing report, which identifies a number of unacceptable behaviours. Page 64 lists some of them: taunting, mocking and mimicking; deliberately belittling in front of other Members; making offensive personal comments about appearance; belittling someone’s junior status; and making lengthy and humiliating tirades of criticism and abuse in front of colleagues. How can we encourage Mr Speaker to stop this behaviour?
My hon. Friend will know that there are differing views about the implications of Dame Laura’s report. She is essentially urging all hon. Members to allow senior management to consider not only their own views on their own involvement, but what action needs to be taken by senior management to ensure that change is forthcoming.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this very important urgent question.
Quite simply, Dame Laura’s report should shame and appal all of us who work on the parliamentary estate. It is a devastating litany, with details of bullying, an inbuilt patriarchal culture and almost out of control gender-based power relationships. It is all about this place. Historical patriarchy practically oozes out of the walls. Centuries of deference is a feature of nearly all our political discourse. I support your call, Mr Speaker, for an independent look at this, but we have to build into that a look at the total culture of this place in the way we do our business. The way we do our business could not be more ripe for the issues Dame Laura identifies. As she says, the issues go all the way to the top in the way that this House is managed. We should simply say that we are no longer prepared to put up with that and that it should be addressed effectively.
I served with the Leader of the House on the grievance working party group. I actually believe it is an excellent piece of work. Does she agree, however, that we have to do much more to make it a reality and a feature of this place? Do we need to advertise it more? Do we need to say to people around this estate and House that this is now available to them and that they should come forward and use it? It is an effective behaviour code, which can go some way to guarantee behaviour in this place. We now have two particular routes through which complaints can be raised. We must get this up and running and working properly.
The one thing we did not address was the culture and environment of this place. Does she agree that the six-month review will look at how we do business in this place? It is no longer acceptable. We have to change the way power relationships are built in this House and the way we do our business. The way we address each other makes these types of issues more of a reality. Will she work with all of us in this House to tackle effectively the culture of this place and make it a place where we all do our business here with dignity, respect and equality?
I am truly grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He really contributed enormously and very collaboratively to the work we did on the complaints procedure. I am glad that he, like me and the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), is pleased with the work we did.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point out that there is a long way to go before we can say “Job done.” What we have done is start on a journey. We are by no means at the end of it. What we have done is ensure that people can come forward, with the confidence that their name will not be splashed all over the newspapers, to make a complaint and to get it dealt with seriously and sensitively. Where there is a very serious allegation, they can be supported where necessary—even to go to the criminal justice system. All those features are incredibly important.
All hon. Members will be pleased to know that the complaints system is working well. I have mystery shopped it, if that is the right term, to see how it is operating. It is operating well. It has been going for only three months. In a further three months, there will be the opportunity to review it thoroughly to see what more can be done. I absolutely assure all hon. Members that I will play my part in facilitating that.
Given that the current senior management of the House of Commons are so criticised in Dame Laura’s report, who can be trusted to take ownership of this important issue? How can those deemed to be the problem themselves ever possibly be part of the solution?
My hon. Friend raises an issue that is incredibly important and at the heart of this. Dame Laura makes some very specific recommendations for senior leadership to consider, but at the same time, she points out her concerns about how that can be facilitated when certain members of the senior leadership are themselves potentially part of the problem. The starting point for that is the urgent House of Commons Commission meeting that will take place on Monday. Commissioners there will want to consider very carefully what can be put in place to ensure that we can look at the recommendations independently and in a way that enables us to report back to the House on actions taken.
The report makes it clear that there is a small number of sitting MPs who are reported to engage in bullying and harassment on a regular basis. It is also clear that this is a long-running issue, so does the Leader of the House agree that we should scrap any limits on how far investigations can go back and get on with making this a workplace to be proud of?
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman raised that point. He will be aware that when the working group looked at the issue of historical allegations, we were really keen—unanimously—that the new procedure would be able to look at all historical allegations. However, the internal legal advice that we took suggested to us that it would not be possible to create some kind of system that looked back and judged behaviour that happened a long time ago on the basis of something that had just been agreed. We checked that with external counsel, who indeed confirmed that the further back we go, the more problematic it is. I see that, in her report, Dame Laura challenges that advice. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman raised that point, because it is something that I will be very pleased to add to the list of things for the review that will start in January.
The old adage is that the fish rots from the head, and the leadership failings that have been highlighted in this report are extremely worrying. I say to my right hon. Friend that the important thing is that nobody need fear being able to call to account those who—however senior they are—have failings. If this report has identified senior leadership failings, I consider that the comments from my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) should be taken into account. No one should be involved in this process who has potentially been linked to being part of the problem.
I take what my hon. Friend says very seriously. In this place, we are all aware that a number of issues are “matters for the House”. That is quite a tricky concept, because nowhere in the workplace are things simply a matter for all those who are involved in that workplace. So we have some unique challenges in trying to deal with Dame Laura’s recommendations, but deal with them we must. As I have said, the starting point will be the House of Commons Commission meeting on Monday, after which we will have a clearer way forward in what is not a matter for me, as Leader of the Commons, but a matter for the House. I, as Leader of the Commons, will make sure that I facilitate whatever the House decides.
There is a great deal in the report that is shocking, but in truth, there is very little that we should really regard as surprising. The Leader of the House is right when she says that culture change will not happen overnight, but we know from our experience of reforming our expenses system—in the most difficult and painful way possible—that we can in fact change the structures and procedures and that, through these structural and procedural changes, we eventually do change the culture. The root cause of both instances is the sense of entitlement that informs so much of what is done in this place. That is what has to change, and it has to change urgently. When the Leader of the House looks towards the Commission meeting next Monday, will she give me an undertaking that she will go to that meeting with a plan and a timeline for the implementation of the three very clear and straightforward proposals, which my party supports and which should be taken forward by the House as a whole?
First, the right hon. Gentleman is exactly right about the importance of culture change and about how changing the structures and processes, and getting rid of that sense of entitlement will lead to the change we want to see. I just point out to all hon. Members that the complaints procedure has a number of investigations under way already. There will be consequences for those who are found to have behaved inappropriately, whoever they are in this place. There will be consequences, including—whoever they are—the potential for their livelihood to be taken away from them. That was an absolutely core point behind the complaints procedure. None of those things has come to pass as yet, because it is still very early days. It is only once we see those complaints followed through to their logical extent that we will start to see that people find that there are consequences of the way that they indulge their own behaviour. That is when we will start to see the culture change.
In response to the right hon. Gentleman’s specific request for a guarantee from me, what is really important is that the review that will start in January—only a couple of months away now—will take into account very clearly Dame Laura’s recommendations and deal with and address them, because it will be caught up with the overall review of how the complaints procedure is working. The House Commission will absolutely undertake to address and draw some conclusions from Dame Laura’s recommendations, but it will be brought into the review of the entire complaints procedure, where we will actually see actions forthcoming.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has the right to initiate inquiries. Does she consider that, in the light of this report, it would be appropriate in some cases for the commissioner to initiate inquiries into some of the historical allegations that have been referred to, perhaps with the assistance and advice of Dame Laura Cox? In the light of that, does my right hon. Friend consider that the Standards Committee should rethink its position on the seven-year rule?
I have twice worked for bullies and it is absolutely miserable: one moment you are being lauded with praise and the next moment, you are being cut down to size. You get shouted at and face all sorts of abuse, but the bully does not think that they are bullying you, because they say that at the end of the week, they are always nice to you and give you praise at some point. But that is part of the bullying pattern. My anxiety in all this is that that is the bit we just ignore. We let the bullies continue in their act of denial. How on earth are we going to change that culture? I have a lot of respect for the work that the Leader of the House has done on this issue, but the report criticises the whole Commission and the House processes. I am not sure that it really can be the Commission who takes the next step forward; I wonder whether she would look at a way of making sure that more Back Benchers are involved.
The hon. Gentleman describes bullying extremely well and I am sure that that will resonate with all hon. Members. I say again that I have seen far too many instances of people standing by, witnessing such things taking place, and I urge all hon. Members to never let that happen again. As I just tried to explain, it is never easy in this Chamber to explain what “something is a matter for the House” means. I understand his point—we want Back Benchers involved—but I say, as I always do: seriously, my door is always open. I am really keen to hear from people. I could point to lots of hon. Members in the Chamber who have come to talk to me about the process during the complaints procedure. It was an entirely cross-party piece of work. There was an open request for people to come forward with ideas, and that request and invitation remains open. However, in terms of the practicality of how we have a review that starts from nowhere, with a group of Back Benchers, I think that it needs to start with the House Commission discussing how we take this forward, and then the House Commission will potentially need to report back to Back Benchers with some ability for them to feed in their thoughts about whether they agree, or do not agree. I need to think about this process.
I say again that this is not a matter for me as a member of the Government. It is for me as the Leader of the House to work with the other commissioners. It is not for me to overrule them; I am only a member of the Commission. Their views are equal to mine, and between us we need to find a way forward, but I hear what the hon. Gentleman says: it needs to be open to all Members to give feedback and also—this is really important—to others working in this place. It cannot be about only us; it must also be about House staff, Members’ staff and so on. It is a large consultation, and we do not want it to take forever, but I absolutely accept his point.
This is a sobering report, and I am pleased that the Leader of the House will take swift action. It is very apposite, too, because today in Geneva, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, both of whom happen to be women, have presented a new report on sexism, harassment and violence against women in Parliaments in Europe. Sadly, based on extensive interviews with parliamentarians and parliamentary staff in 45 European countries, we find that this is a common pattern across many Parliaments. Will the Leader of the House undertake to read that report and its recommendations? Perhaps those two important organisations, of which we are proud to be members, might be among those from which she takes advice.
As she often does, my right hon. Friend gives a really good, much-bigger-picture perspective, and she is absolutely right to do so. I have attended a cross-Commonwealth meeting of women politicians to talk about violence against women in politics, and the numbers are shockingly bad. She is absolutely right to highlight that report, and I will of course be delighted to read it. I have already had the pleasure of meeting the Llywydd in Wales and the Presiding Officer in Scotland, both of whom are interested to hear about the progress of our complaints procedure and what lessons they could learn. It was a good opportunity to share ideas.
May I suggest that these proceedings are not the time for Members to indulge in a bit of bullying of their own? There should be independent processes, not innuendo.
I warmly welcome the report. The Leader of the House will recall that, as a member of the steering group, I repeatedly argued that we should be able to investigate historical allegations, and the legal advice was clear that bullying and sexual harassment had always been unacceptable. External counsel did not rule that out, and I am delighted that Dame Laura makes the same point, so may we have an explicit guarantee from the Leader of the House that she will personally support the idea that historical allegations, with no endpoint, should be part of our investigation? I take on board what she says about different Commission processes, but people want to know now that she and everyone else understands this and will treat it with the urgency it deserves.
The hon. Lady was fully engaged with the working group and will know that we unanimously wanted to be able to investigate historical allegations. I absolutely undertake that the recommendation from Dame Laura and her challenge to the advice we received will be fully taken into account in the review in January.
As a relatively new Member of the House, may I say that I am enormously proud to serve in it? It is obviously deeply distressing to read the report. Politics, especially British politics at the moment, is a stressful place to be in, and where there is stress, that can enhance bullying and harassment. Will the Leader of the House consider how we can reduce stress levels, especially thinking about last-minute questions and changes to the agenda that put unnecessary stress on politicians and their staff? Can we look at how that is perhaps better dealt with in other Parliaments to find out whether there are ways in which we can try to decrease the stress?
As my hon. Friend will be aware, a number of new ideas have been presented to Parliament for MPs and their staff—courses on mindfulness, for example—and various all-party groups focus on trying to de-stress this place and make it a little more relaxing and enjoyable, despite the complexities of daily life. She makes a serious point, however, about changes to parliamentary business, and my heart is with her, but understanding as I do how new business can crop up and urgent matters arise, I know that it is difficult always to stick to agendas in a changing political environment. On a best-efforts basis, however, we will always try to give the House as much notice as possible.
I feel totally and utterly maddened by this. I am not here to defend anybody—including you, Mr Speaker. I have spoken to hundreds of the people involved throughout this process, and the neither right nor honourable—in my opinion; he probably is not either anyway—Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) has probably spoken to none of them. Some of us do not care who is the offender; it is the victims we care about and we will not use this for political gain. Nothing fills the victims with more dread than when people play with their feelings, so I say to him don’t do it—don’t do it for them; you are speaking only for yourself.
I personally think that the management of this place probably needs a massive overhaul, although I will not point the finger for the sake of newspaper headlines. But the fact of the matter is that nothing I have heard today fills me with any hope that politics will be taken out of this and that the same 12 people—we all know exactly who they are and how they are getting away with it—will not be walking around here for the next 20 years. What will the Leader of the House do about it?
Before the Leader of the House responds, I want to say one thing. It was important that the hon. Lady was heard fully, but everybody in this place is honourable, and I am certainly not suggesting that the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) is not an honourable Member. He has put his view, about which I have made no complaint, the hon. Lady has put her view, and the Leader of the House will respond.
I have encountered instances of disgraceful behaviour, and perhaps our constituents could be forgiven for believing that we are constantly going at it with knives, but overwhelmingly hon. Members behave perfectly properly. As for being treated like demigods, all I can say is that that experience is not general. I ask the Leader of the House therefore to hold on to a sense of proportion as she deals with these problems.
I am truly sorry to hear that my right hon. Friend is not treated as a demigod. I can assure him that I am not either, and I absolutely keep a sense of proportion in all things—that is the only way to survive in this place. He makes a very serious point, however, which is that, as Dame Laura points out, the issue is the few. The vast majority of Members of Parliament, as well as members of House staff and MPs’ staff, are neither victims nor bullies. We should share a common interest in ensuring that we eradicate this entirely from the Houses of Parliament. I say again that my ambition in the time that I hold down this job is to take the journey towards being a role model for all Parliaments around the world. I will do everything I can to see that happen.
I thank Dame Laura for her important report, in which she emphasises the importance of not just transparency and information—for everyone in the House—but independence. As we have heard, however, if we are to have confidence in that independence, it is not just the operation of the policy but, I am afraid, its formulation that must be independent. The notion of politicians adjudicating upon themselves also comes into the formulation process. If we are to get rid of the perception that individuals are using this process to further their political agendas, it is important that we take senior political figures out of the formulation process. I also agree with those who have questioned the notion of the Commission being the main driving force.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and I have listened carefully to what has been said by other Members. I will give it serious consideration. The hon. Gentleman, and indeed all Members, will appreciate that there are limited options for kicking the process off if it involves no elected Member—that does make it tricky—but I will give the matter some thought and see what can be done.
Dame Laura makes it clear that heads must roll, and she identifies some candidates, but can we ensure that this does not become a witch hunt? The House managed the expenses scandal appallingly and needs to take early action in this instance, but can we ensure that appropriate action is taken, including, where necessary, the re-education of Members in how to behave, how to manage staff and how to manage their own anger?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. One of the targets of our complaints work was to set up a significant offer of training for use as part of the sanctioning process. For example, someone who was bullying someone else might receive training in what constitutes bullying and harassment. Someone who was guilty of unconscious bias, or perhaps some sort of unmeant discrimination, might be sanctioned by being forced to undertake relevant training. Also available is a wide range of optional, voluntary training in how to carry out appraisals, how to lead an office and so on.
My hon. Friend is entirely right to say that the training offer needs to be there. We cannot expect people to learn these things through osmosis. Hon. Members have said that we need to do more to communicate with each other about the offer and encourage its take-up. We have a good employer standard, which will be on offer to those who have taken up the training. As we see greater understanding throughout this place—not only among Members of Parliament, but among chiefs of staff in their offices who may employ interns or junior researchers—it will be important for us to take steps to professionalise the House so that everyone knows what is expected of them.
This is a very shocking report, and the obligation to show leadership in responding to it falls on every single one of us. That leadership obligation is explicit in the standards in public life to which we are all obligated. As others have noted, Dame Laura herself says that it is more important to get processes right than to introduce them “in haste”, and it is a matter of deep concern that in the same paragraph of the report she goes on to say that many now regard our very new processes as already
“unlikely to deliver coherence or restore confidence.”
Dame Laura spoke to many people in preparing the report, but has not had an opportunity to speak to the Committee on Standards, and in particular to our lay members, who have also warned that introducing policies in haste would be a mistake and said that her report should have been awaited. May I therefore urge the Leader of the House to ensure that we draw on the reputation, the expertise and the integrity of those independent Standards Committee members, who have a considerable amount to offer?
The hon. Lady may be aware that the working group did actually consult widely and at length with the Standards Committee, and its views were taken very much into account. Significant changes were made to the report as a result of its input, and the review that will start in a couple of months will give it an opportunity to provide further input. At all stages throughout the process of establishing the independent complaints procedure, care was taken to involve all those who work in this place and have a vested interest in upholding good standards in public life. I know that the hon. Lady looks forward to chairing the Committee, but it would be a shame if it did not wish to continue to work with the independent complaints procedure, which carries cross-party support and has been up and running for only a few short months. I think that there is a great opportunity to do something transformational for Parliament, and I hope that the hon. Lady will engage with it.
I speak as someone who has been in this place for just over three years, although frankly it feels like 30 at the moment—I had black hair when I started.
May I make two observations? First, we are all business owners, but many people who come to the House have no experience whatsoever of being a business owner. The Leader of the House mentioned training, and also the availability of voluntary training. Does it not behove us, as an institution, to ensure that new Members undergo extensive compulsory training, with parliamentary business constructed so that that training can take place without any need for people to disappear?
Secondly, Members take a solemn Oath. That was one of the proudest moments of my life, and I experienced it a yard from where I am standing now. Should we not add to that Oath the words, “We respect all staff working for us and in this place,” and should we not be reminded of those words by information and signs, as happens in our local NHS, so that the message gets through and we change the culture?
My hon. Friend has made two very good points. Compulsory training for new Members will be introduced after the next election. It was decided that there was no consensus in favour of compulsory training for those who were already Members, but it will certainly be in place after the next election. As I have said, a good employer standard is available for those who opt to take on training. As it beds in, it will become much more the norm, and I look forward to that.
My hon. Friend also suggests some sort of pledge on how we treat one another. There is already a behaviour code, which can be seen in a number of areas. That will be rolled out still further, including at the entrances to the Palace and Portcullis House, and all the entrances where members of the public come into this place, as well as bathrooms, restaurants and so on, to make it clear to everyone the code by which we are all expected to abide. Again, as that becomes more familiar, it will become much more lived by. It will be something of which people can remind each other, and something that they can think about when they see someone behaving inappropriately.
Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), I was one of the first Members to call for independent regulation before the expenses scandal erupted and during it. I think that independent regulation and external adjudication will be the only way forward. I agree with you about that, Mr Speaker.
Is it not clear from some of the contributions that we have heard that some Conservative Members, at least, are motivated by personal animosity towards the current Speaker, who is not in a position to answer back? At a time when our country faces what is probably its most serious constitutional and political crisis for a generation, we need a Speaker who is prepared to stand up for Back Benchers and to stand up for this House against an over-mighty and overbearing Executive, particularly when they are at least threatening to drive through a Brexit that would be completely intolerable to a majority of Members.
The right hon. Gentleman is not only not taking part in this in the spirit that is intended, but casting aspersions on the Deputy Speakers, who also stand up for Back Benchers, stand up for what is right for our country and are perfectly good at taking the Chair. I do not understand why he should feel that the future of this great nation relies on one individual, which is what he seems to be suggesting.
This is indeed a vitally important issue—it is so vital that an external body might be called for—but may I urge colleagues and the Executive not to conflate it with any campaign to get rid of the Speaker?
There is a good reason for me to say that. In centuries past, the Executive, and other forces in Parliament, tried to remove Speakers. It is vital to the independence of the House of Commons, and the independence of independent-minded Back Benchers, that the office of the Speaker is inviolate. That does not mean that he can behave badly or, for instance, do anything criminal, but he should not be the subject of a political campaign, because if that happens, Parliament, and the independence of the House of Commons, will suffer. Will the Leader of the House therefore assure me that when she meets the Commission on Monday, there will be absolutely no pressure on the Speaker from the Executive, and that we will deal with this as an issue, not in terms of personalities?
The House will have heard what my hon. Friend has to say. As I have said all the way through, what the House Commission will be doing is reviewing the recommendations in Dame Laura’s report and taking action as it sees fit. That is not a matter for me; that will be a matter for the House Commission.
People who are subject to harassment in any workplace in any organisation have the right to a rigorous and professional process that treats people with dignity. The same is true for staff of the House of Commons. Here we are also in a public and a partisan workplace. How can the Leader of the House reassure the House that people who experience harassment will not have the public and partisan nature of this place used against them? If they think their allegations will be used against any specific individual or for a political agenda, it will put them off coming forward.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point, and I remind all hon. Members that the point about the independent complaints procedure is that individuals can come forward in confidence: their name is kept confidential, as is the name of the person they are making allegations about. Only in the event that the complaint is upheld and it needs to go to the Standards Committee, rather than be dealt with by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards herself, could the perpetrator’s name ever come out into the open. That is the whole point of the complaints procedure. From all the evidence that we took from victims, it was clear that they would not come forward, rightly as the hon. Gentleman says, if they were going to be re-victimised by some sort of partisan attack on them or by the media spotlight and so on. So, very importantly, it was at the core of the process that the complainant’s confidentiality should be protected.
No, they are not.
The point I want to make to the Leader of the House is that this should not just be about avoiding bad and negative behaviour; it should also be about a culture where people can thrive and reach their true potential, as in any other workplace. What are her thoughts on that point?
My own recipe is that we have cake-eating Thursdays—and homemade cake on occasion, which is a highlight of the week. My hon. Friend makes a really important point. It is vital not only that people are not bullying each other, but that they are treating each other with respect and creating a happy and enjoyable workplace that inspires people and enables them to learn and grow and expand in their own role. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is essential that we take that into account.
I have never worked in a workplace—in some of them I have been responsible for HR policies and procedures—where there would be open discussion about individual allegations of the type we have seen here. It is so important that we remove individual and specific complaints, which do not appear in the body of this report, from a discussion about the process. Does the Leader of the House agree that we need to make sure, consistent with the point made by the new Chair of the Standards Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), that all historical allegations can be dealt with under the existing legal framework and principles of accountability in public life, and, secondly, that we bring genuine independence not just when things go badly wrong and people feel compelled to make formal complaints, but so that members of staff, or indeed Members of this House, feel that they can consult HR about having difficult conversations and about raising problems early enough that they never become a source of stress, anxiety or distress?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. In looking at this new complaints procedure, we were seeking to achieve culture change and prevention, so he is right to point out the importance we gave to establishing an HR support service for members’ staff, so that they could find out whether something that was happening was fair, and what they should do about it. The next step would be mediation, to explain to their boss, whether their MP or the chief of staff or whoever, that what was going on was not right—prevention rather than straight to public allegations, when everyone is embarrassed and it is horrible for the victim. The hon. Gentleman is right that there needs to be a step change—victim or complainant-centred, with proportionate measures to try to change behaviour, so that the situation does not immediately become a case of “Right, you’ve complained about me, so either you’re leaving or that’s it,” which was frequently raised with us. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s direction of travel, and it is vital that wherever possible we improve the culture and focus on prevention.
I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), and row in behind the sentiment of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), just before he leaves the Chamber. The House of Commons Commission has a bit of a reputation as a sort of hybrid of the Magic Circle and the College of Cardinals. It needs to be able to fish for its members in a wider and deeper pool. It is drawn from too narrow a base of Members of this place and therefore, if it is to command the respect of this place and those who take an interest in its proceedings, that needs to be looked at as a matter of some urgency.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. When I was first asked to serve on the House Commission because of my role as Leader of the House I was told, “That is what you do when you’re Leader of the House.” A review some years ago looked at how the Commission was made up. Parties are represented, but those appointments tend to be made through the usual channels. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point; it is clearly something we need to look at and I will be very interested to consider it.
Order. It is important to be clear. I hear what the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) has said and express no view on that, but the present composition is determined in accordance with statute, so it has not just happened by happenstance or because a particular individual has a given preference. [Interruption.] No, I am sure the hon. Gentleman is certainly not suggesting that. It is the result of law, and law can of course be changed.
The Leader of the House and others have spoken about the critical change of culture we need to achieve, but as we know, the problem is rarely with those who engage; it is actually with those who do not. Does the Leader of the House agree that every MP, whether they are here or elsewhere on the estate or around the country, should today take personal responsibility for that change in culture and lead the way by undertaking training, whether compulsory or not, in harassment and bullying? Furthermore, can she say when such training will be available and does she agree that the details should published so that those who do not engage are publicly encouraged to do so?
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her contribution to the work on the independent complaints and grievance policy; she was very engaged with, and extremely helpful in, the final stages of establishing the complaints procedure. I agree that we should take steps to encourage everybody to undertake training. This is not just about MPs; there are other managers of staff in our offices who would benefit, and indeed welcome, that. My own chief of staff was trying to get on to a staff training course for two years and was waiting for more people to sign up—need I say more? I have certainly said that as soon as new comprehensive training is available I would like myself and my team to be some of the first experimenters with it, and I will certainly undertake to make sure the whole House is updated on when those new training programmes are available.
I worked at The Daily Telegraph during the expenses investigations and, regardless of changes in personnel, what changed the culture in that instance was a change in the fundamental structures with which this House had worked apparently happily for many years. Does the Leader of the House agree that in this instance, regardless of any personnel changes, we also need to change some fundamental structures if we are to change the culture?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The complaints procedure that we have established is a means for anybody who works here to make a complaint, but it does not address the specific points in Dame Laura’s review about the structures of the House of Commons. He makes the point that it might be necessary to make further changes to the way in which the House of Commons is managed to improve and support the work of the independent complaints procedure.
This is a deeply dispiriting report containing some profoundly serious comments. I do not know about other Members, but I was shocked to hear that 200 or more people had come forward to express their concerns. First, will the Leader of the House reassure me that she will not be subjected to any pressure from the people who I fear are exploiting this issue to serve their own personal or political agendas? That might be uncomfortable to say, but it has been evident in the newspapers and here in the House today. Secondly, does she believe that there needs to be a greater measure of independence in whatever way we take forward these processes in future?
Firstly, I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the reassurance that I will not be pressured by anyone in any direction. I think that I have evidenced that throughout the work of the working group in setting up the complaints procedure. Secondly, he is exactly right to say that we will need to consider again how the structures in this place work, but as I have said, that is a matter not for me but for the House.
The report suggests that the health and wellbeing service does not have the recognition that it deserves. It is a valuable resource for all of us on the estate, including those affected by bullying and harassment. Does my right hon. Friend believe that it should be expanded, promoted and properly resourced?
My hon. Friend is exactly right to suggest that the health and wellbeing work that goes on in this place is excellent, and that it is probably not as widely known about and appreciated as it should be. I will be presenting to a significant group of House staff in the near future about all the measures we have put in place with the complaints procedure in relation to training and support for staff and about the health and wellbeing support that is available. I completely agree that we need to do more to communicate this more widely, and there is a plan for further broad communications over the coming months.
The allegations in the report are clearly shocking, but as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said, they are, sadly, unsurprising. I wholeheartedly agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) about the importance of taking politics out of this process. We cannot have personal agendas being pursued. Does the Leader of the House also agree that it is unhelpful to the victims and to the integrity of all our processes for these matters to be discussed in such ways in the media and for briefings to be given, not least because they draw undue attention to certain aspects of these issues while not drawing attention to the many cases that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Jess Phillips) mentioned, which we all know are going on in here and which are not being discussed? Does the Leader of the House agree that having this matter debated through the media is extremely unhelpful?
I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that if he is aware of appalling things going on, he should make the complaints procedure aware of them. He should support people to go to the complaints procedure—[Interruption.] He says that he has done that, which I am very pleased to hear. I thank him for that. This should be about making Parliament a place where people can come and work in the knowledge that they will be treated with dignity and respect. This is about making this a better place for all those who have no voice in this Chamber and who do not have the power of a Member of Parliament or a member of the senior House staff. It is for them that we are doing this. We are trying to make this the best place to work, and it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that that happens in everything that we do as individuals. It is also about everything that we walk past. You know, if you are walking past a problem, don’t walk past it.
May I join those who are expressing concern that the House of Commons Commission is not the appropriate first step for the consideration of this report? My right hon. Friend is the Leader of the House, not just the leader of the Commission, and she has rightly said that this is a matter not for her but for the House. It seems to me to be a sensible first step for her to make Government time available for a debate about, and a vote on, the recommendations in Dame Laura’s report. During that debate, members of the House of Commons Commission could be present to contribute and to gauge the mood of Members. After that debate, there would be a clear set of recommendations decided by Members, which the Commission could then act upon.
My hon. Friend makes a really sensible suggestion, and it is something to be taken into account. He might wish to suggest it to the House of Commons Commission spokesman, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake)—I am glad to see him in his place—who will be able to raise the matter on his behalf at the meeting of the House Commission on Monday. In the first instance, however, it would be helpful for the Commission to consider the recommendations and to set a framework for at least a debate in this place.
This report is so stark that we cannot ignore it. Serial offenders and serial predators are still walking around this place with apparent impunity, and we cannot allow that to continue. What kind of message does that send to the victims, and what does it say about our ability to tackle these unacceptable behaviours? I have not seen the legal advice given to the Leader of the House’s group about why historical allegations could not be investigated, but it seems pretty clear from this report that there is no reason why those allegations should not be dealt with. Please may we have confirmation that that will be changed as soon as possible?
The hon. Gentleman sets out very well the fact that we are all appalled by the contents of this report. As I have explained a couple of times, the steering group received advice that it would be problematic to try to measure historical allegations under a behaviour code that had only just been introduced and that to do so could result in a legal challenge that could undermine the whole new complaints procedure. We took external advice, and we were advised that the further back we went, the more problematic this would become. Dame Laura has challenged the advice that we received, and I have already said that we will look at this again as one of the items for review at the six-month review of the complaints procedure, which will take place in January.
The Leader of the House will no doubt be aware that I have spoken publicly about being bullied for seven years as a teenager. I had two nervous breakdowns and one episode of hospitalisation as a result of bullying, so I say without making any kind of partisan point that I find it abhorrent that Conservative Members have used this report to pursue their own agenda and used the issue of bullying to bully the Speaker. As a victim of bullying, I find that appalling, as will all the victims who have come forward to the Leader of the House and to other Members.
May I plead with the Leader of the House not to forget our constituency-based staff? There has been a lot of discussion about what happens on the estate and in the House, but can we ensure that, for example, HR staff can visit our constituency offices, just as representatives of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority do? There are only 650 of us. We are a small profession in that respect, and I ask the right hon. Lady not to forget those members of staff. She has also talked about putting training for Members on a statutory footing, although there was no consensus on that. I would be her first volunteer to take such training and, frankly, we should all be made to take it.
I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who has spoken out very bravely in the Chamber on a number of occasions about his own experience of being bullied as a teenager. He is absolutely right to raise this issue, which will help other people to feel that they can come forward. He says that he would be the first to take up the offer of training. Perhaps he and I could do the first course together; it would be a great pleasure to do so. He is absolutely right to say that we need to take this incredibly seriously, and I can assure him that we will definitely do that.