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

Conclusions and recommendations

Introduction

1.We, like the Commission, deeply regret what has gone wrong, and commit ourselves to contributing to putting things right. (Paragraph 5)

2.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. (Paragraph 7)

3.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. (Paragraph 8)

4.We see our own role in this process as being two-fold. (Paragraph 9)

5.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”. (Paragraph 10)

6.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. (Paragraph 11)

7.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. (Paragraph 12)

8.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. (Paragraph 13)

Voting rights for lay members

9.We believe, in the light of the Cox report’s critique of our current decision-making, that the House needs to take decisive and immediate action to give lay members equal status on the Committee in terms of voting rights. We emphasise that this is without prejudice to any subsequent steps taken by the House to implement its response to the Cox report recommendations. (Paragraph 46)

10.We recommend that the House should proceed without delay to amend its Standing Orders to confer full voting rights (and the right to move motions and amendments) on lay members of the Committee. If this is done, the provision for indicative votes can be abolished as no longer needed; but we recommend that the provision for any lay member to append an opinion to a Report be retained, as a reinforcement of the status of lay members within the system. (Paragraph 49)

Independence of the Commissioner

11.We agree with the Commissioner’s view that the requirement for her to consult the Committee before beginning an inquiry relating to events more than seven years earlier is an unacceptable encroachment on her independence. We therefore recommend that this requirement should be abolished and that future editions of the Guide to the Rules should reflect this.(Paragraph 55)

12.We believe there should be no exceptions to the general principle that the Committee does not seek to direct the Commissioner’s operational decision-making. For that reason, we also recommend that the requirement for her to consult the Committee before beginning an inquiry into a former Member should also be abolished and that future editions of the Guide to the Rules should reflect this also. (Paragraph 56)

13.Both we and the Commissioner propose to discuss with the Metropolitan Police possible revisions to the 2013 protocol. These would include a redrafting of paragraph 3.5 to make clear that the Commissioner does not require the permission of the Committee to make a referral of a case to the police. A further option under consideration is the replacement of the present trilateral protocol with two bilateral protocols (Commissioner/police and Committee/police), the better to assert the Commissioner’s independence from the Committee.(Paragraph 60)

14.In the period until a new agreement or agreements with the Metropolitan Police are in place, we wish to make clear that, notwithstanding the provision in paragraph 3.5 of the 2013 protocol, we do not regard the Commissioner as being under any obligation to seek the Committee’s approval before referring a case to the police on grounds of suspected criminality. (Paragraph 61)

Submitting complaints by email

15.We recommend abolition of the requirement that complaints against Members should be submitted in hard copy before the Commissioner can investigate them, and that future guidance should make clear that email submission is also perfectly acceptable. (Paragraph 64)

Conclusion

16.We recommend that the Government provide an early opportunity for this Report to be debated, and approval sought from the House for our proposals and the associated Standing Order changes.(Paragraph 65)





Published: 10 December 2018