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ICGS Investigations: Commons-Lords Agreement

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2020

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House approves the Eleventh Report of the Committee on Standards, ICGS investigations: Commons-Lords agreement (HC 988), and the proposed Scheme appended to that Report.— (Mr Rees-Mogg.)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will just speak very briefly to this matter. The Chair of the Standards Committee sends his apologies. He has had to take a close relative to hospital today. I am standing in for him, although I take responsibility for my own words.

The Standards Committee has co-operated constructively with its sister Committee, the Lords’ Conduct Committee, chaired by the noble Lord Mance, to develop an arrangement to address a loophole. As a member of the Committee on Standards, I support the motion to approve our Committee’s report. The report deals with what one might describe as an item of unfinished business arising from the House’s creation of the independent complaints and grievance scheme that we have just been discussing. The scheme was put together very rapidly, because the House rightly wished to demonstrate to the wider public that we take allegations of bullying and harassment within the parliamentary community extremely seriously, and it was acknowledged at the time that the scheme would need revision in the light of experience and that there were gaps or lacunae in the scheme that needed to be filled. One of those gaps was the lack of any arrangement between this House and the other place as to how allegations against ex-Members of one House would be proceeded with if they became Members of the other House.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. Just to put the record completely straight, the working group—Members who sat on that group are in the Chamber today—was very clear that the two schemes should be aligned between this House and the House of Lords. However, due to a very unfortunate investigation that took place in the House of Lords under the previous system, it was felt that the ICGS could not be implemented in that House at that time. That is why this anomaly has sprung up. I would also like to raise the important point that, as things stand with the ICGS having been working for some time, its findings are just too slow. There have been live instances where individuals who have been Members of this place are being considered for membership of the other place when potential complaints against them are still pending in this place. It is not clear to me that the Standards Committee’s report deals with that circumstance.

I will certainly take back to the Committee what my right hon. Friend is saying, and if we need to make a further amendment to the arrangements, we should do so. As things stand, however, former MPs who are now in the other place cannot be investigated under the ICGS for behaviour that is alleged to have taken place while they were MPs.

After our discussions with Lord Mance and the Lords’ Conduct Committee, and with the two Houses’ Commissioners also working closely together on this, the arrangement that we now propose is set out in an appendix to the Standards Committee report. It proposes that ex-MPs now in the other place should be investigated under the Commons procedures involving independent investigators, the Commissioner and, if necessary, the new independent expert panel that the House has just nominated. If that does not satisfy my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), could she put on record why it does not do so?

If an ex-MP who is now in the other place is found to have breached the behaviour code, this House will not be involved in sanctioning them. Instead, the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards will recommend a sanction and the Lords’ Conduct Committee would hear any appeal against that sanction. The full House of Lords would decide on imposing a serious sanction, such as suspension or expulsion, but the important point is that the investigation and the findings would be done under our system in this House, and the House of Lords has agreed to that.

I do not want to detain the House, but this is a really important issue and my hon. Friend asked me to put my views on record. This relates specifically to when someone who has been a Member of this House and has outstanding complaints against them is under consideration for being offered a position in the other place by the House of Lords Committee, which is not privy to the existence of the ongoing complaints about them in this place under the ICGS.

I think that would be a matter more for the Lords Appointments Commission or the vetting procedures—

That does not fall under our remit at all, but in recent cases that I can think of, an estoppel has been put on possible elevations to the other place of Members who are under suspicion or where there has been controversy. Obviously, if it was an entirely secret and non-disclosable allegation that had not found its way into the public sphere, we would need to check that there would be a procedure for that. However, that is a separate matter from whether a complaint is going to be investigated and adjudicated by the ICGS.

We have also addressed the complementary problem. There are not many Members of the other place who choose to renounce their peerages and seek election to the House of Commons, but this can and does occasionally happen. The Committee therefore recommends that the new arrangements should be reciprocal. Allegations against an ex-peer who might then be in the Commons would be investigated under the procedures of the other place, but any sanction would be carried out within this House.

The Lords Conduct Committee has agreed a report in very similar terms to our own, and this has been approved in the other place. I urge this House to do likewise and approve these sensible arrangements, which are necessary to block off this lack of redress in our measures for tackling bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct by our Members and ex-Members.

I will speak very briefly, if I may, simply to say that this is constitutionally very important because of the exclusive cognisance that both Houses have of their own business. Therefore, that an agreement has been reached whereby the House in which the offence took place may investigate, but the House where the person has ended up may sanction is a very satisfactory agreement. It respects exclusive cognisance, as is constitutionally proper, but will also ensure that the ICGS system is able to work effectively, so I commend the motion to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

I suspend the House for three minutes to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next.

Sitting suspended.