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Committee on Standards

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2022

I beg to move,

That this House–

(1) approves the Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards, HC 1036;

(2) endorses the recommendations in paragraphs 78 and 79; and

(3) accordingly suspends Daniel Kawczynski from the service of the House for a period of one sitting day, on Thursday 20 January.

Today’s motion follows the publication of the Committee on Standards’ fifth report of this Session. The report was agreed by the Committee and published on 13 January 2022. The Government have sought to schedule a debate as soon as possible, as is the usual practice.

It is always regrettable when a motion such as this is before the House. The matter has been investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and now reported on by the Committee on Standards. I thank the Commissioner and the Standards Committee for producing this report. The motion endorses the recommendations of the Committee, and proposes that my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) be suspended from the service of the House for one sitting day.

I commend the motion to the House.

I hope the House will forgive me if I detain the House for a few moments while I explain a bit about this report, because it is the first time that a case of this nature has come before the Committee and been adjudicated upon. Normally it would be the Chairman of the Committee who would be speaking in this debate on behalf of the Committee, but the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is on a Select Committee visit with the Foreign Affairs Committee and therefore cannot be here. I am speaking in his stead.

The House, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, always finds these occasions somewhat uncomfortable and there is an understandable wish to dispose of this motion without undue fuss and move on as quickly as possible. However, there are some important points surrounding this case which must be made, and I hope all hon. and right hon. Members will wish to understand these issues. The first is that the House has committed itself to supporting the new independent system for dealing with bullying and harassment—the independent complaints and grievance system. The ICGS has only recently been set up.

Independent is the key word. Dame Laura Cox, in her 2018 report on bullying and harassment of House staff, recommended that Members of Parliament should not be involved in adjudicating on their own colleagues accused of these very serious offences. The House agreed, and we now have a system of independent helplines, investigation and ultimately adjudication. The Committee on Standards, and MPs in general, quite rightly no longer have a role in deciding on bullying and harassment cases. ICGS cases are heard by the independent expert panel, known as the IEP. This is chaired by a very distinguished former Appeal Court judge, Sir Stephen Irwin, and he is supported by other experienced jurists. The House has also approved Standing Orders, which means that the House votes on any motion to suspend a Member without debate. This is the system that led the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) to be required to apologise in the original case. However, the Standards Committee and the House still have our role overseeing the House of Commons code of conduct. It is a breach of the Commons code if it appears that an ICGS sanction has not been complied with, and that is what the present case was about.

The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham—my hon. Friend—was found by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to have breached the ICGS rules for having bullied two members of Commons staff. The hon. Member did not appeal against that finding. A sub-panel of the IEP imposed the sanction that he should apologise in the House. He appealed against the sanction, but a separate sub-panel upheld it. The hon. Member—my hon. Friend—accordingly made the apology on 14 June 2021. Unfortunately, on the same day, before the publication of the report, he broke the embargo by giving a radio interview and by speaking to a newspaper. He made comments suggesting that he was only apologising because he was being forced to apologise, and which suggested that his apology was not sincere. He further challenged the legitimacy of the system and indirectly identified the original complainants, despite having been warned not to do so. That was in direct breach of undertakings that he had previously given to the IEP.

What my hon. Friend did was equivalent to showing contempt of court. It was a very serious attempt to subvert the system that the House so recently established. It was an attempt to not only undermine the credibility of the original complainants, but, if left unaddressed, discourage anyone who might be contemplating making a future complaint about bullying.

The IEP chair rightly referred the matter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards as a serious breach of the Commons code. The commissioner investigated the report and reported to the Standards Committee, finding that my hon. Friend had failed to comply with the IEP sanction, which was that he should unequivocally apologise. She also found that he had breached other undertakings and concluded that he had therefore brought the House into disrepute.

The Standards Committee has upheld the commissioner’s findings. Our report made it clear that we consider it to be a very serious breach of the rules. By endorsing our report, the House sends a clear message in this first case, not just that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated, but that legitimate complainants will be supported and that anyone who seeks to undermine the ICGS will be sanctioned.

The Committee decided that the appropriate sanction for the breach of the Commons code would be a suspension from the House for a significant period. In this case, however, the Committee considered that there were significant mitigating factors. Once my hon. Friend was confronted by what he had done, he co-operated fully with the commissioner and the Committee. He apologised to the Committee and apologised unreservedly for his conduct on 14 June 2021, as he did earlier today. We accept that he may have been triggered, as the term suggests, into that conduct by a prior leak of information about his case on the internet on 14 June.

We accept that my hon. Friend has been sincerely attempting to understand the causes of his poor attitude and behaviour and is seeking to address them. The Committee felt that he has made progress in self-understanding but that he has more work to do in cultivating empathy and a real ability to understand how bullying affects its victims. He has been candid in discussing with the Committee his own mental health issues.

We recommend that my hon. Friend is suspended for just one day, but we point out that there would have been a much longer period of suspension if it had not been for those mitigating circumstances. We have also required him to apologise for his conduct both orally in the House and in writing to those he has offended.

As I said, this is the first such referral to the Committee. It is an opportunity not just for my hon. Friend but for the whole House to learn that deriding or undermining the ICGS is a serious breach of the Commons code of conduct and is morally wrong. Any future such breach is likely to be met with a more significant period of suspension. With regret, I urge the House to support the motion.

I begin by thanking the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), and the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) for his wise and measured words. He did the Committee on Standards proud in how he represented its findings; I have read the report many times. I also thank the other members of the Committee, the Clerks and the other staff involved in the report and the process that came before it for their diligent work, well-evidenced findings and fair recommendations.

I agree with the Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex that it is never enjoyable to have to stand up and respond on a motion to sanction a Member or Members. It is disappointing for us all. It does us no good and it does no good to the reputation of this honourable place in which we are all proud to serve—including, I am sure, the Member concerned.

Depending on the reaction of that Member, or others in other cases, there is a risk of undermining the rules by which we should be proud to be bound and the processes set up to assess and enforce them. I believe that most Members do abide by that code, as well as by the standards in public life, on a daily basis. We all know that codes of behaviour and standards in public life matter for us. In a democracy, there is perhaps nothing we should be more proud of than our ability to serve our constituents not for political ends, but for public service ends, according to the codes—the parliamentary code of conduct and the ministerial code.

Our staff—the staff of this House—deserve to know that we will abide by this system and that we enter into that contract freely and willingly. The public also deserve it. They should be able to see us as public servants who value the opportunity to live out those high standards. We should always welcome and applaud those who are involved in the systems that are designed to assess those standards. To that end, I encourage all Members to take part in the live consultation on our code of conduct by the Committee on Standards.

I will not repeat what the Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex have said about this case. I have read the report and it is disappointing that a Member of this House appeared to show such a disregard not just for the rules of this place, but for the feelings of the other people involved and the impact of his behaviour on them.

However, this case also illustrates that the system is working. The fault was picked up, a further assessment was made, and today the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) apologised to the House, as was recommended. It appeared to me that his apology was genuine and sincere. I trust him to make amends and to make the behaviour changes that are needed to rebuild the trust that everybody—his colleagues and the staff—wants to have in him. I am assured by what the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex said that he is making those behaviour changes. I wish him well in that process. I hope he knows that the whole House is willing him to succeed, and that we will assist—every one of us—wherever we can.

It is unfortunate that the last time we debated a Standards Committee report and sanction, the Government led the charge against the sanction. It appeared that they were attempting to rip up the standards system. That did not go well and I am pleased that today’s motion was presented unamended. I welcome that and am relieved to see it, because it seems as though the Government have changed their attitude and will join me in welcoming the review of the code of conduct being carried out by the Standards Committee. I am glad that the sanction includes the condition that the suspension must not fall on a Friday. That is a mistake that, whatever the reason, should not be repeated.

This is a refreshing change. I support the Government in moving the motion and I value the opportunity to speak—thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham well in his process of change, and I ask all right hon. and hon. Members to ensure that we always do everything we can to live out the high system of standards that the public and our staff have a right to expect.

I echo the words of the shadow Leader of the House in congratulating the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, the ICGS and the IEP. I thank the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) for the way in which he presented the case of the Standards Committee. All his comments were welcome and I am grateful for them.

It is good to see that this motion will pass more seamlessly and with a little less fuss than the last motion that the Standards Committee brought to the House in November. I think the Government have learned the lessons of that bitter experience. I hope we will never ever see another attempt to overturn the verdict of our Standards Committee. I remember only too well that day in early November when the last Standards Committee motion was brought to the House, and the sequence of events that followed has led to the Prime Minister fighting for his political life today. The Government thought that they could reinvent the Standards Committee; I am grateful that that opportunity has passed by and that we are examining what the Standards Committee does properly.

The hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) is right to mention the ICGS, which has been a huge success for the House. The conclusion of this case demonstrates that it is working well. We have to ensure that staff feel confident to raise issues with the ICGS. They must know that these people will be on their side and make sure that they are listened to, and that any complaint they bring forward will be taken seriously. That is very welcome.

I do not want to go into the behaviour of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) too much. It is all documented and nothing needs to be added to what the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex said. I am relieved that a fulsome apology was made today, and the House welcomes it. We recognise that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham has had difficulties, but there can never be any excuse for bad behaviour towards the staff of the House, regardless of the situation and condition in which hon. Members find themselves. The staff of the House are here to serve us, and they do their best to accommodate us and to ensure that we are able to do our job in this Chamber and in representing our constituents. Taking out any sort of ill effect or bad temper on the staff of this House should be suitably punished, and I am glad that has been the outcome.

I hope the hon. Gentleman has learned from this experience, and I hope members of staff now feel confident in the process for properly raising complaints and are confident that such complaints will be listened to and addressed. I hope we do not see many more examples. Along with everybody else, I am prepared to let this mater lie. Let us move on.

Question put and agreed to.