Following the publication of Dame Laura Cox’s report on the bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff, a meeting of the House of Commons Commission was convened to discuss the report’s recommendations and consider a way forward. The meeting was rescheduled from the original proposed date, on 22 October, to ensure it could be chaired by Jane McCall, the senior external member of the Commission.
We are grateful to all of those who contributed to the report, as well as those who communicated with us directly. All views and contributions have been fully considered. This includes a representation from the Commons Executive Board which called for acceptance of Dame Laura Cox’s three fundamental recommendations.
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.
It is time for a change.
We have therefore agreed to the three fundamental recommendations highlighted by Dame Laura on page 6 of her report.
1. We are terminating the Valuing Others Policy, and have suspended operation of the Respect Policy recommending that the House terminate it as soon as possible;
2. We recommend that the House amend the new Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme to ensure that those House employees with complaints involving historical allegations can access the new Scheme;
3. We recommend that the House consider the most effective way to ensure that the process for determining complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment brought by House staff against Members of Parliament will be an entirely independent process, in which Members of Parliament will play no part.
It is now up to the House to take forward these recommendations to which we are fully committed. We would expect to see them progressed as quickly as possible.
Furthermore, we are also committed to a thorough and robust response within the context of our statutory responsibility for the employment of House staff, in order to prevent the future bullying and harassment of and sexual misconduct towards staff. We have directed the Commons Executive Board to produce a timely and resourced action plan in consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. This will be taken forward under the auspices of the external members of the Commission and drawing on such independent and external advice as may be required.
These are first steps. These changes should not be limited to House staff but must encompass the whole Parliamentary community. In time, it may become clear that further changes are needed.
Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons, or in any area of public life. The persistence of this problem has rightly called into question the culture and leadership of the House of Commons. We acknowledge that we have a proactive role to play in improving the culture of the House Service, and therefore are resolved to ensure that Dame Laura Cox’s report marks the moment where we commit to swift and lasting change.
The Commission agreed to:
The House of Commons Commission repeated its determination to use its influence to support the three fundamental recommendations highlighted by Dame Laura Cox – as outlined in the Commission’s statement of 24 October – and to act on these as soon as possible.
In particular, the Commission agreed not to wait for the six-month review of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (due to start in January 2019) but to identify a way to give those with historical complaints access to the Scheme, and to provide for determination of complaints without the involvement of MPs. Work has started to progress with these issues immediately, together with the Leader of the House, and in consultation with the Standards Committee and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
The Commission also noted that, as directed at the Commission’s 24 October meeting, the Commons Executive Board will meet on 2 November to consider the outlines of an action plan – which will be overseen by the Commission’s external members. The Commission was also informed that the details of the inquiry into bullying and harassment of Members staff would be announced very shortly.
Published: 10 December 2018