Implications of the Dame Laura Cox report for the House’s standards system: Initial proposals Contents

Introduction

1.On 19 July 2018 the House approved a Behaviour Code for Parliament and an Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), on the basis of a ‘Delivery Report’ of a Steering Group chaired by the Leader of the House,1 and our Report on Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy: Implementation.2

2.The Resolution agreed by the House on 19 July noted that Dame Laura Cox QC was conducting an independent inquiry into allegations of bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff, with terms of reference published on 23 April 2018, and called for the planned six-month review of the ICGS to incorporate the findings of Dame Laura’s inquiry.3

3.On 25 October 2018 Dame Laura published her report, The Bullying and Harassment of House of Commons Staff: Independent Inquiry Report (hereafter referred to as the ‘Cox report’).

4.The response of the House of Commons Commission to the Cox report is set out in detail below.4 The Commission stated that:

We have a statutory responsibility for the employment of House staff and have too often failed to honour the responsibility to provide a workplace free from bullying and harassment. Dame Laura Cox’s report describes an institutional failure to address the problem which has undermined the legitimacy and authority of the House of Commons.

The scale of the problem and depth of hurt caused is beyond dispute.

We are determined to take immediate steps to rectify past mistakes where and when we can and are committed to a robust effort to change the culture which has tolerated such abuses. The staff of the House of Commons are essential to the functioning of democracy. We deeply regret that their diligence has at times been so poorly repaid, and that it has taken so long for us recognise what must be done.5

5.The functions of the Committee on Standards and of the House of Commons Commission are different, but with some degree of overlap. The Commission is a statutory body with responsibility for the employment of House of Commons staff; this includes a duty of care and protection of staff. The Committee on Standards is a select committee set up by the House to oversee its standards system and to consider, in certain specified circumstances, complaints against Members. We, like the Commission, deeply regret what has gone wrong, and commit ourselves to contributing to putting things right.

6.Since publication of the Cox report we have held helpful discussions with members of the Commission: its two external members Jane McCall and Dr Rima Makarem; the Leader of the House, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP; and the Clerk of the House, Sir David Natzler KCB. We are grateful to them all for the constructive and candid spirit in which they have engaged with us.

7.In this Report we summarise key elements of the Cox report relating to our responsibilities and those of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who is independent from us but with whom we work closely. We then set out some specific proposals which we recommend that the House implement without delay. These are aimed at increasing the powers of the lay members of the Committee on Standards, increasing the independence of the Commissioner, and modernising the complaints process.

8.These recommendations are only an interim contribution to tackling the problems which Dame Laura identifies. However, we believe they are steps in the right direction which can be put into effect by the House almost immediately, if it chooses. We emphasise that this can be done without prejudice to any future actions the House may take as part of the process of implementing the Cox report and reforming its standards system.

9.We see our own role in this process as being two-fold.

10.First, we note that until the full package of Cox report reforms is put in place, the ICGS as agreed on 19 July 2018 remains in place. Complaints under the Scheme are being investigated, and we are advised that there is a possibility that before long we may be asked to consider appeals in ICGS cases. We note Dame Laura’s recommendation, accepted by the Commission, that “the process for determining complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment brought by House staff against Members of Parliament [should] be an entirely independent process, in which Members of Parliament will play no part”. However, Dame Laura herself notes that much work will have to be done to establish how this “entirely independent process” might operate, with “the practicalities of delivering it […] carefully considered in conjunction with all the relevant parties”.6

11.Until this work has been done, and decisions taken on the new process, the Committee on Standards will continue to be under a responsibility which the House has placed on it to carry out the appeal function under the ICGS. We propose therefore to continue with contingency planning for dealing with such appeals, including the establishment of new protocols for the mechanics of the process, evidence handling, the protection of witnesses, and rules governing confidentiality and anonymity. We will publish our conclusions on this as soon as possible so as not to introduce unnecessary delay into the consideration of appeals.

12.Secondly, we propose to contribute as best we may both to the House’s implementation of the Cox report recommendations, and to the planned six-month review of the ICGS. We will report further on these matters, including on the question of what the appropriate sanctions for bullying and harassment offences should be, who should impose and enforce those sanctions, and whether there should be a formal tariff of sanctions specifically relating to complaints against Members of Parliament.

13.In addition, as and when time-sensitive matters relating to the Cox report’s implementation have been dealt with, and the nature of the Committee’s future role is known, we propose to undertake a comprehensive review of the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules, involving public consultation. This would take into account previous work, including that by the previous Commissioner, but would be a wide-ranging and holistic look at the whole system of regulating Members’ conduct, including the basic values underpinning the system.


1 Delivery Report Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy Programme Team, Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme Delivery Report, published July 2018

2 Committee on Standards, Second Report of Session 2017–19, Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy: Implementation (HC 1396), published 13 July 2018

3 Votes and Proceedings, 19 July 2018

4 Paras 30–33 below, and Appendix

5 Extract from House of Commons Commission statement issued on 24 October 2018; the full statement is set out in the Appendix to this Report.

6 Cox report, para 396




Published: 10 December 2018