Business of the House

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 6th January 2022

(2 weeks, 6 days ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I have enormous sympathy on the issue that she is raising. There is nothing more vexatious for our constituents than being fined by officious bodies for doing things that are perfectly normal to do, whether they are private road or private parking companies, who seem to specialise in this, or people chasing for tolls. She is quite right to stand up on behalf of her constituents on this. It would be most helpful if she would set out to me in writing precisely what byelaws need changing and then I can take that up with the relevant Department.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Can we have an early debate on the operation—or should I say the lack of operation?—of the vaccine damage payments scheme? In the year in which it has been operating, not a single payment has been made in respect of any victim of covid-19 vaccine. We know from recent inquests and from other detailed material from professors at Bristol University of the link between damage caused by vaccines and the need for compensation for those who are in the unfortunate minority of having so suffered. Is that not fundamental to improving vaccine confidence?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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There should be huge vaccine confidence. What has happened with the vaccine programme and the booster programme has meant that this country has been able to get back to normal faster than almost any other country in the world. My hon. Friend and I would particularly note that it is thanks to the fact that we are not in the European Union that we were able to move so quickly. I encourage him to indicate his own confidence in the vaccine and support the vaccine roll-out, because that really has been essential to our economic reopening, to the health of the nation, and to the ability of the NHS to cope with covid. Of course everything else will be looked at in due course, but the success of the programme is fundamental.

Committee on Standards

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 16th November 2021

(2 months, 1 week ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I think the simple answer—[Interruption.] No, I think the heckle from the right hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) is unfair and unkind. It was simply that the tragedy that afflicted Mr Paterson coloured and clouded our judgment, and my judgment, incorrectly. It is as simple and as sad as that.

The Back-Bench amendment that we supported was intended to facilitate the exploration, on a cross-party basis, of the standards system, with a time-limited, ad hoc Committee. However, I regret that the amendment conflated an individual case with more general concerns. That was a mistake. Crucially, the amendment did not carry cross-party support, which is why we have changed our approach.

The Government fully recognise the role of the Committee on Standards in ensuring that the code of conduct reflects and fosters the highest standards of public life. I would like to thank all the Committee members and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for their service. We await the Committee’s report on the code of conduct with interest. The Committee performs an important role in identifying opportunities to improve the standards system, and I note that the Chairman, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), has made a recent, and helpful, commitment to commission a senior judicial figure to advise on possible changes to the process.

I assure all right hon. and hon. Members that I am always willing to discuss this matter further, and I hope to work with Opposition Members constructively on this issue. We all have the best interests of the House at heart and I hope that, setting aside the previous debate, we will work well together in the weeks ahead.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for facilitating this debate. [Laughter.] On 3 November, he said that the concerns expressed about the individual case in question included:

“the lack of examination of witnesses”—

of whom there were 17—

“the interpretation of the rules relating to whistleblowing…the application of aggravating factors; and the absence of the right of appeal.”—[Official Report, 3 November 2021; Vol. 702, c. 939.]

With regard to the first three of those, what is my right hon. Friend’s current view in relation to that particular case?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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First, the House will always have a debate when it wants to have a debate; that is how our procedures work. They are extremely straightforward and ensure that right hon. and hon. Members can come to this House and make objections, if they so wish, to have subjects debated on the Floor of the House—

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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Rescinding a motion of the House when it has already been passed earlier in the Session—and particularly in this case when it was passed fewer than two weeks earlier—is a major constitutional decision for this House, and it is absolutely right that we should be having this debate today, rather than the motion going through on the nod yesterday. I am delighted that the hon. Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) have enjoyed participating in this debate, having resisted the opportunity last night to insist on there being such a debate. They would have been quite happy for this issue to be swept under the carpet, but I think it is important for this House’s democracy to debate it openly. That is why last night I used the power, as an individual Back Bencher, to ensure that we had this debate today, and I have no regrets about that whatsoever.

Alicia Kearns Portrait Alicia Kearns (Rutland and Melton) (Con)
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I recognise that my hon. Friend is keen to make sure that Parliament has time to have its say, but we have had almost four and a half hours of debate on this issue already. Our constituents deserve a focus on delivering the promises we made to them on things that matter to them, rather than our spending time here trying to deny things, which would have the same outcome no matter what. How much time does he want to give—10 hours, five hours, 15 hours? When will it be enough?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Should I express shock or outrage at what my hon. Friend has said, because clearly, in the time to which she refers, she did not apply her mind to the principal issue, which is that the Government encouraged everybody—including her, probably—to vote for a motion on 3 November, the motion was passed by resolution of this House, and the rescinding or changing of that motion is a matter for this House, rather than for the Executive and the Government? What happened on 4 November was that the Government used their power to usurp this House and basically said to it, “What you decided yesterday is no longer valid and of good effect.” This motion is so important because we cannot pass motions and then rescind them without proper debate, and that is what I am trying to concentrate on today. The process is absolutely fundamental to the issue of natural justice.

When I intervened on the Leader of the House, I referred to three of the issues that he had talked about in his introductory remarks on 3 November. He expressed concerns that had been raised with him about the lack of examination of witnesses in this case—and there were 17 such witnesses available to be examined. He also said that he was concerned about the interpretation of the rules relating to whistleblowing, which have been reinterpreted retrospectively and much more narrowly than many people would think was justified on the basis of the actual wording of those rules. Then there was the issue of the penalty that was recommended, because the Committee decided that it was an aggravating factor for our then right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire to have raised with it in evidence the impact that the inquiry and the commissioner’s behaviour had had on himself and his family. That was—

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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No, I am not going to give way. [Interruption.] No, I am not going to give way.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to give way, he will give way. I think his slight indication was that he does not wish to give way to Mr Harper. [Interruption.] Well, whether he is right or wrong is totally different to the rules of the House.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I understand that some people find this rather an issue of sensitivity.

I raised a related aspect of this with the Leader of the House because a previous report of the Committee on Standards had decided, where colleagues had disputed the decision of the Commissioner for Standards, that that was, in itself, an aggravating factor in their penalty. That is completely at odds with the principles of natural justice in our country. In our country you can defend yourself in a forum—a court of law or an inquiry—and that cannot be regarded as an aggravating factor. If you admit your guilt, that can be a mitigating factor, but to defend yourself against charges cannot be regarded as an aggravating factor. The former right hon. Member for North Shropshire referred in his evidence to the Committee to the impact of the inquiry upon himself and his family. I cannot see how that could have been, in itself, an aggravating factor when it came to sentence. The Leader of the House referred to that issue on 3 November and I think it struck a chord with many of us.

It is so important that natural justice should be allowed to take its course and be applied in our proceedings, and that we should not allow ourselves to be pushed into positions of almost being subject to mob rule and mob justice. That is why I welcome this debate and the opportunity to hear people’s views about the—

Mark Harper Portrait Mr Harper
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Will my hon. Friend give way?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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No. My right hon. Friend has plenty of time in which to catch your eye, Mr Speaker, and make his own points in his own way. I know that he has a different view from that which I have about these proceedings. He is entitled to that view; each of us is entitled to our own views. What we should be doing in this democracy is actually enabling those views to be heard, and I am delighted that this debate is facilitating just that.

Business of the House

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 23rd September 2021

(4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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It is important to recognise that some people had to go into work to do their job properly, for security reasons or to ensure the integrity of systems, and the DVLA was one of those organisations. We are now getting back to work and people are going back to their offices, which is a thoroughly good thing.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Can we have an early debate on the role of the Committee on Standards in delivering natural justice for those against whom complaints are made? Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, in its second report, at paragraph 53, the Committee decided that my right hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) did not accept that he had breached the rules of the House and that this was treated as an aggravating factor? That is in complete contrast to the rules of the Sentencing Council, which say that pleading guilty can be a mitigating factor but that contesting a case cannot be regarded as an aggravating factor. Does that not show that natural justice seems to have been thrown to the wind by the Committee on Standards?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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My hon. Friend raises an important point: people must be entitled, in all circumstances, to defend themselves, and it would be unfair to penalise somebody who believed they had acted in good faith for that belief. The assumption must very often be that Members do act in good faith. That is not to say that we do not make mistakes, but to defend oneself must be a natural right of Members of Parliament.

Business of the House

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Tuesday 7th September 2021

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I am not entirely sure who my right hon. Friend receives his emails from. It may be from certain conspiracy theorists who think all sorts of things are going to be discussed in this House. I remind him of what I said about Thursday: there will be a motion relating to the second report of the Session 2021-22 from the Committee on Standards, followed by the remaining stages of the Rating (Coronavirus) and Directors Disqualification (Dissolved Companies) Bill, and then a very important general debate on the legacy of Jo Cox. If my right hon. Friend wishes to be here earlier in the morning, he can, of course, hear my business statement, which will update him on any further business.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Will the Ways and Means resolution be amendable? In particular, would it be possible to amend the Ways and Means resolution to ensure that the cap on care costs comes into effect at the same time as the higher taxes, instead of 18 months later?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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Ways and Means resolutions are amendable. My hon. Friend will have to have a discussion with the Table Office on what type of amendments it will accept, but, yes, the broad principle is that they are amendable.

Business of the House

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Monday 12th July 2021

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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Right on cue—Sir Christopher Chope.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Can I ask my right hon. Friend whether it will be possible to amend the business of the House motion to facilitate the deferral of the debate on the draft Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2021?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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Those matters are matters properly for the Speaker rather than for me, but it may be possible that we could have an interesting discussion on the meaning of the word “forthwith”. I seem to remember that that topic exercised the House to a considerable degree in a previous Parliament.

Amendments to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 28th April 2021

(9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that extremely sensible point. I would not want to trespass on the exclusive cognisance in their own fields of the various other Parliaments, but if it were thought useful I could certainly ensure that copies of what we propose were sent on an information basis. I am looking at both the SNP and the DUP in the hope that they would not think that that was an impertinence and an attempt to interfere. If those proposals were of use, however, I think that that would be a sensible thing to do.

The ICGS will be streamlined with the removal of the right to seek a review of the draft formal assessment, which is a current means for a complainant to request review when an investigation concludes that the case is not upheld. The factual accuracy check will now be the single point at which both parties, complainant and responder, can correct inaccuracies in the report. The system that we have had until now, which combines a factual accuracy check and a review, has resulted in substantial delay in some cases. We have debated the need for investigations to come to a conclusion more speedily on a number of occasions, and this straightforward measure will help to achieve that.

Another important recommendation concerns the introduction of a time limit for non-recent cases. That will apply only to bullying and harassment cases. The new timeframe will be brought in a year from now, applying to new complaints arising from 28 April 2022. From that date onwards, people can report an incident of bullying or harassment up to one full year after it occurs. That compares with the three-month deadline for claims to an employment tribunal, so the House is once again setting a standard higher than that expected in external workforces. Given the particular nature of sexual harassment cases and the understandable reality that people often need longer to feel able to bring forward such a case, there will be no time limit for those cases.

In addition to the changes recommended by the review, further technical changes are proposed to the policies and procedures, including making it clear that although bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct are defined in the same way across the parliamentary community, the Commissioners for Standards in both Houses are responsible for overseeing investigations, so there are some procedural differences. Other recommendations include aligning the language of the two policies and procedures more closely; amending the procedure documents to be clear that they provide an outline only of the procedure; making it clear that complaints can be made of any former member of the parliamentary community; including in the bullying and harassment policy that victimisation is an aggravating factor, as included in the sexual misconduct policy; and finally, including information on data protection.

I would like to provide some reassurance about whether the changes set out in the motion would have retrospective effect. For the majority of changes to the text of the policies and procedures, the question of retrospection does not arise. Some of the changes are purely linguistic—for example, the change in terminology from “case manager” to “independent investigator”, to ensure that the documents reflect the terminology used by those involved in the process, or the change from “reporter” to “complainant” in sexual misconduct complaints. In those cases, it would not be meaningful to talk about retrospection.

Other changes have been made to reflect existing practice. For example, the factual accuracy check, which was introduced as a procedural step some time ago as a matter of fairness to both parties, is now expressly referred to in the documents. Other changes have been made to clarify the language and to amend defects in the drafting to ensure that the documents clearly reflect the policy intention at the time they were made. It will be for the decision maker to decide how to apply the policy in cases already under way, considering both the language at the time and the intention. I will repeat that for the benefit of the House, because it is a fundamental point: it will be for the decision maker to decide how to apply the policy in cases already under way, considering both the language of the policy at the time and the intention. For Members or former Members, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards makes the initial decision, which can then be appealed to the independent expert panel in accordance with the IEP’s own procedures. For former staff, the house service is the decision maker, and for Members’ staff, the decision maker will be the Member.

There are also some minor changes where it is fair and reasonable to apply the changes—

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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The Leader of the House has addressed the issue that has been a concern to me and that led to me seeking support for an amendment—the issue of retrospection—but I am rather disappointed that he does not seem to be ruling out the fact that changes to paragraph 4.3 are retrospective. How can it be justified that we make retrospective changes to paragraph 4.3 which, subject to the decision maker, can be allowed to be lawful? Surely if we change the rules we should change them prospectively rather than retrospectively.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. The issue is that it is not at this stage clear what decision the decision maker would make on the language that is currently used in the light of the policy that was adopted by the House. What we are passing today does not change the ability of the decision maker to make a decision on the language of the policy at the time. It is not an attempt to say that the decision maker must follow a new set of words or an old set of words. It is for them to look at what was there at the time both in policy and in terms of language and decide what the right decision is.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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But paragraph 16 of the Commission report states that the drafting of paragraph 4.3 has merely

“been updated so that it more clearly reflects the policy intention of the Commission and the House, when the resolution relating to non-recent cases was passed in July 2019”.

Without anticipating my own speech, all I can say is that there is no evidence at all that there was such a policy intention at that time, and I am very worried that those words in paragraph 16 could be used by a decision maker in order to justify what I would regard as retrospective change.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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It is not for me to say what decision the decision maker should come to, but the decision maker should base any decision on the language of the policy at the time. It would not be fair to make a decision on our clarification ex post facto. I hope that is helpful to the House.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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My hon. Friend makes a point that is sorted out by the fact that there is an appeals system and a senior body that can, on appeal, determine this, which I imagine other decision makers would then want to follow. It is not the same as a court, but it is not entirely dissimilar. Lower courts can make a decision, but ultimately there is an appeal body that will make a decision that we would then expect the lower-down decision makers to follow. I do not think that the problem he outlines would last, because there is a proper appeals system to the independent expert panel, which, very much at the request of Members across the House, contains very serious legal expertise, so that we can ensure that in all these cases, natural justice is done and it is fair to both complainants and respondents.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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Will the independent panel be accessible by former Members, rather than just current Members? In paragraph 3 of the Commission’s report, there is a reference to the changes to which we are referring being

“recommended by staff for clarification and updating of the documents.”

Are those staff involved in any of this decision making? Can my right hon. Friend ensure that those recommendations from the staff are published, so that we can all see what they were and the basis on which they were put forward?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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Alison Stanley carried out a very thorough review and spoke to a number of people across the parliamentary estate to get their views and to get a full understanding of how the overall system was working. She drew her conclusions from that and made recommendations to the Commission, the bulk of which will be implemented if the House decides to support tonight’s proposal. When discussions are held in confidence, it is unfair retrospectively to undermine that confidence, so I could not give the commitment that the views given to Alison Stanley should be made public, because the views were not solicited on that basis.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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It was a mistake to put two points in one intervention. My first point was about whether former Members of Parliament will have access to the independent panel for appeal.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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The independent expert panel is available for appeals for people who get caught up in the ICGS system. If any conclusion is made, I believe people have the right to ask to appeal to the panel. Not all appeals are guaranteed, but there is a right to ask for one. As far as I am aware, that applies to anybody who comes up within the system.

Let me come to the other minor changes. The original documents were clear that confidentiality is central to the process, but they made reference to the possibility that either a complainant or a respondent might wish to discuss the matter with a small number of people to seek practical support. Those mentioned were managers and HR services or other relevant parties. The new version refers expressly to trade union representatives and party Whips, because concerns were very reasonably raised that the document should make it clear that a Member who discussed his or her case with a Whip would not be in breach of the requirement of confidentiality. That clarification is relevant in all cases, whether or not the complaints procedure has already begun.

Where there is a real change to the policies and procedures, I am happy to confirm that the changes are not being applied retrospectively. In particular, the new one-year time limit on complaints of bullying and harassment will not be applied to any complaints made before 28 April 2022, and that is clear from the text before the House. Alison Stanley also recommended the removal of the complainant’s right of review because of the degree of overlap with the factual accuracy check. Any complainant who has made a formal complaint before the House’s approval of the amended texts will continue to be able to request a review on the grounds set out in the existing documents, namely that the procedure was flawed or that substantial new evidence has become available.

The purpose of all the changes we are debating today is to ensure that the ICGS is an effective, efficient, clear and comprehensive system for complaints and support. These alterations will make a difference to the running of the scheme and will help us to make progress towards real and sustained culture change in Parliament—something I know Members across the House are keen to continue to champion and support. I commend the motion to the House.

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Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. I think he missed the earlier discussion about the lack of clarity around that, but it should not be the case that current cases are subject to a changes of rules. To me, that is a breach of natural justice. We cannot have different decision makers applying the rules as they interpret them. In my view, we cannot have changes in procedure to cases, because each case will be dealt with differently, but as it was set out—as the hon. Member for Christchurch read out paragraph 4.3—it is fairly clear that there are the two limbs and therefore that any changes should apply to future cases.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I obviously agree with the right hon. Lady’s assessment of the importance of getting proper clarity and ensuring that we are not going to have retrospection, but may I also draw her attention to the sentence in paragraph 3 of the Commission report? I think my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House misunderstood that. It says that the changes that we are discussing were

“recommended by staff for clarification and updating of the documents.”

I am not referring to the Alison Stanley recommendations; this is something completely different. These changes that are causing us concern were recommended by staff. Is it unreasonable to ask whether we can see the document in which those recommendations were made and see whether some of the staff who made those recommendations may themselves have been involved or know decision makers?

Valerie Vaz Portrait Valerie Vaz
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I do not have an issue with clarity. In fact, I think it is really helpful to see the thinking behind why the changes are being made, so unless there is some confidentiality issue, I do not see any problem. We are here discussing this, and we are not getting any clarity on it—certainly not from the interventions, or from the responses. There is no clarity on this, and I wish there were. There could be. That actually helps to make a system much fairer and work better, so I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Let me move on to the next part of the Stanley report. She found in her review that those with a BAME—visible minority—background were less likely to have used the ICGS helplines compared with their white colleagues. She was concerned that several surveys

“carried out across Parliament have indicated that these groups are more likely to report that they have experienced bullying and harassment, sexual misconduct or discrimination.”

Despite that finding, there are no specific recommendations in the report that try to remedy it. Certain things have been remedied, but not others. In the light of the current climate, with Black Lives Matter, they should be considered.

Interestingly, in the introduction to its 2019 report “Stand in my shoes”, which has been published again on the intranet for Stephen Lawrence Day, ParliREACH stated that its findings confirmed its view that

“there is insufficient focus on and actions to challenge racial bias (both conscious or unconscious), and that many BAME”—

visible minority—

“staff expend effort each day to defend their right to work in Parliament and to progress through the organisation.”

It found that only 54% felt

“confident…to raise issues of concern”,

and 56% felt “comfortable being themselves”.

We know from other regulatory bodies that regulate professions, such as the General Medical Council and the Solicitors Regulation Authority, that BAME—visible minority—figures are over-represented among those complained about. The Alison Stanley review recommended that

“demographic analysis of the Helpline usage statistics”

should be

“carried out as soon as possible”.

I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that that is undertaken, because it is unclear whether that recommendation has been implemented, or whether there are any other measures taken to address this issue.

I want to draw hon. and right hon. Members’ attention—they may not be able to see this in some of the reports—to the costs of the ICGS. Its budget for 2021-22 is £1.8 million. We have investigators. I recall from the start of setting up the ICGS that we wanted it to be as fair as possible. Some 28% of those investigators are police officers: these are not criminal matters, although if they are criminal they should go to the criminal justice system, and that is what they are there for.

I think there are many barristers on the Attorney General’s panel, even the C panel, who are not very expensive—they are quite cheap—who could do the investigations cheaply and weigh the evidence in a proper way in a fair system. In the end, we all want a system that works. We want to stop bad behaviour. It is in all our interests to have a fair system that is transparent so that we abide by the rules of natural justice and we get justice for all. In that sense, I support the motion.

As there will not be another opportunity to do so unless the Leader of the House schedules more business, I want to say a few thank yous at the end of the day. The Parliamentary Digital Service is getting us all back to Parliament. We have a message from PDS to turn off and turn on our computers. It is showing us what to do as more people return to the estate. I specifically want to thank Ian Doubleday in Norman Shaw South, who has been really helpful in enabling Members to come back, and in keeping us and Members’ staff safe.

I pay tribute to one of our senior doorkeepers, Ray Mortimer, who has been here since 2003. He has led the Speaker’s procession for eight years, and the procession to the Lords during state opening twice. He has been through six Serjeants at Arms and three Speakers, and is on his fifth Prime Minister. His good friend, mentor and boss—in capital letters—Phil Howse said:

“Ray has been a superb asset not only to the doorkeeper team but to the House, dedicating the past 18 years to delivering fantastic service. His colleagues will miss his knowledge and guidance to the team. He is going from one house of drama”—

here—

“to another, the Marlowe theatre in Canterbury. We wish Ray and his wife Sam good luck and all the very best for the future, and thank him for his amazing public service and the loyal service to the House of Commons.”

I am sure the whole House agrees.

From me, on a personal level, and just as the Leader of the House said, Ray is always good fun. He is always ready with advice about what is going on in the Chamber. He is extremely supportive of Members, all our work and the smooth running of the Chamber. He is always smiling and in a good mood. We will remember him as our little Ray of sunshine. Thank you, Ray, from all of us.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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May I too express my thanks and good wishes to Ray Mortimer?

My interest in the issue arises from when I was on the Standards Committee, particularly during the 2017-19 Parliament. During that time, I was involved in discussions leading up to the creation of the ICGS and its extension in 2019. I have read the conclusion of the House of Commons Commission following Alison Stanley’s review, and I accept that the Commission is right to take the necessary measures in response to that review, but my concerns tonight are about the Commission’s endorsement of

“other changes recommended by staff for clarification and updating”.

I say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that those are changes recommended by staff not in response to a request from Alison Stanley, but off their own bat. I do not know how they have appeared, who they were sent to or why we cannot see them, but it would be useful for the purposes of transparency if we could.

Those are set out in paragraphs 12 to 18 of the report. As has been discussed, the most significant change is in paragraph 16, which changes the scope of the provisions on bullying and harassment. I do not have any problem with the revision, but what I do have a problem with is the possibility that that change is retrospective. The issue of retrospection was discussed quite usefully in the original report. There was a legal opinion from Tom Linden, QC, on what were then being discussed as pre-scheme cases, and the opinion is set out on page 93 in the delivery report, published in July 2018. In that legal opinion, Tom Linden makes it clear that there is a common law presumption against retrospective effect. I hope that we are not going to get into territory where litigation will arise if people feel that the common law presumption against retrospection is not being honoured by the decision makers.

In that opinion, Tom Linden quotes Lord Brightman giving a good definition about what is retrospective and what is not. Lord Brightman says that it is

“retrospective if it takes away or impairs a vested right acquired under existing laws, or creates a new obligation, or imposes a new duty, or attaches a new disability, in regard to events already past.”

It seems to me, from what we have heard, that the changes to paragraph 4.3 would be regarded as retrospective if those principles were applied.

The words in paragraph 16 that these changes are

“so that it more clearly reflects the policy intention of the Commission”

are weasel words. I can say that there is no evidence whatsoever—I was on the Standards Committee—that the Standards Committee, the Commission or this House ever intended, when extending the scope to non-recent cases in July 2019, that it should be possible to complain of the conduct of any former member of the parliamentary community until that person died. In other words, it might be 10, 20 or 30 years hence.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Would it not be helpful if the Leader of the House, when he sums up this debate, made it absolutely clear that in the case of historic allegations, if the subject of that complaint is no longer a passholder, then that complaint should be judged firmly on the rules of the time?

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- Hansard - -

I think the Leader of the House will say that he has more or less said that, but anything else that he can do to reconfirm that would be extremely helpful. Where is the evidence that there was a misrepresentation of the intention in the wording of paragraph 4.3? The text of the paragraph remained the same in July 2019 as it was in June 2018, and if the new text had been intended to change the rules, then I think the Standards Committee, this House and the Commission would have been totally in opposition to any suggestion that we could expose former Members of Parliament to the risk of being complained against and investigated for the rest of their lives after they had left the House. In a sense, what this Commission report seems to say is that that was the intention, but it was never properly expressed in words. My view is that if that had been the intention and it had been expressed in words, it would never have been passed by this House, which is why I am agitated about this and particularly keen to see the terms in which the staff were recommending these changes.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I realise that other people want to join in the debate, but this issue will not go away unless we clarify that these changes will not be retrospective in any respect.

Sittings in Westminster Hall (Suspension) (No. 2)

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 13th January 2021

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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As I understand it—though it may be better to seek wise clerkly advice on this point—if the Committee of Selection were to approve members for the Committee, the Committee could go ahead, and then my right hon. Friend’s Bill would be ready for the point at which we bring back Fridays, which, as I said, I look forward to doing at the earliest opportunity, when it is possible and practicable.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I thought I had almost finished, but I would never refuse to give way to my hon. Friend.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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I am very grateful. My right hon. Friend says that he is committed to coming back with proposals as soon as practicable. If we passed the amendments tonight, they would ensure that his will prevailed until after half-term, and then after half-term there would have to be a fresh look at these issues. Does he not agree with that?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I think my hon. Friend is saying, “Not my will but thy will be done”—essentially, that is his point—but I think the commitment is a sensible one. There is limited time, and therefore we should bring back something when we can actually do it rather than going through the motions again and again. That is why we have not reset dates for private Members’ Bills on Fridays, because we have reset dates now several times, and we have found that we have had to re-reset dates because, when we got to the new dates, it has turned out not be practical to sit. Therefore, I think this is the most sensible way of doing it, but I reiterate my reluctance. This place is here to scrutinise, to hold to account and to ensure that our constituents are represented. Anything that reduces scrutiny is something that no Leader of the House should ever wish to do.

--- Later in debate ---
Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I beg to move amendment (a), in line 3, leave out from “until” to end and insert “Monday 22 February”.

May I first thank you, Mr Speaker, for selecting the two amendments in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends, and for facilitating this debate? It is a pity, in my view, that this debate was not volunteered by the Government and that it had to be forced on them by us objecting to the motions that were put down on the Order Paper for yesterday. One consequence of that is that at least we were able to have debates in Westminster Hall today, which otherwise would have been curtailed by the Government.

This is an important issue because we are talking principally about Back-Bench scrutiny. The Leader of the House, in his opening remarks, which I thought were very reasonable, said that he recognises the importance of Back-Bench scrutiny. What we have on the Order Paper at the moment is a proposal that will remove 21 hours a week of scrutiny of the Government—16 hours in Westminster Hall and five hours in private Members’ Bills each week. My right hon. Friend is reluctant to do that and he has said that he will come back to the House as soon as he can to bring forward alternative proposals. What I would like him to do tonight is to guarantee that the Standing Order that requires that there should be 13 sitting Fridays where private Members’ business takes precedence will be complied with in any event in this Session, and that if it cannot be complied with in this Session, the Government will honour the spirit of the Standing Order and allow for the carry-over of those Bills that are set down for days that are not able to be used.

If my right hon. Friend gives me that guarantee, in a sense, it will negate the need for amendment (a) to the second motion, because that amendment is designed to ensure that we can carry on with private Members’ Bills between the period after half-term and the end of April, and it is modelled on the previous motions brought forward by him, most recently on 30 December, when he arranged for the Friday sitting scheduled for 8 January to be moved to 15 January. That system was working perfectly all right and my question is, why, in one week, has it not been possible to replicate the same motions that were put forward previously?

The Prime Minister said today that he will be reviewing, for example, what happens in our schools after half-term. Surely it is appropriate that we should, in any event, have a guarantee that these issues will be revisited by the Leader of the House after half-term. We are talking about no fewer than 151 private Members’ Bills. I have received stick from the Government and colleagues in the past for having insisted that individual private Members’ Bills are debated, but never did I think I would be in the Chamber when the Government put down on the Order Paper a proposal that has the effect for the time being —unless it is ever amended—of depriving 151 private Members’ Bills of any opportunity to be heard and discussed in this Chamber.

I wait to hear from my right hon. Friend—I am happy for him to intervene to give me this guarantee, because I am concerned that we will get to the end of this debate and there will not be an opportunity for him to respond, and this question will go unanswered. I hope that it will not.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I might be able to help to reassure the hon. Gentleman on that, because I will be bringing the Leader of the House in at 7.50 pm, so whoever may be speaking I would expect to sit down. Let us go to the Chair of the Petitions Committee, Catherine McKinnell.

--- Later in debate ---
Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call Sir Christopher Chope to move his amendment (a) to motion 4.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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In the light of this debate, I am going to put my trust in the Leader of the House; if that trust is not well founded, I will behave like the late Sir Alan Herbert. Having said that, I will not move my amendment.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I think we will leave it that the amendment will not be moved.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 10 (Sittings in Westminster Hall) and the order of this House on 23 September 2020, there shall be no sittings in Westminster Hall with effect from Thursday 14 January until the House otherwise orders.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now come to motion 5. Sir Christopher, I take it that you will not move your amendment (a), so I will put the Question, with your agreement.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
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indicated assent.

Business of the House (Private Members’ Bills) (No. 9)

Ordered,

That the Order of the House of 16 January 2020 (Business of the House (Private Members’ Bills)), as amended by the Orders of the House of 25 March, 22 April, 12 May, 10 June, 1 July, 3 November and 30 December 2020, is further amended as follows:

leave out “15 January 2021, 22 January 2021, 29 January 2021, 5 February 2021, 26 February 2021, 5 March 2021, 12 March 2021 and 26 March 2021”.—(Mr Rees-Mogg.)

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Can I just say to everyone that the Commission of this House takes seriously its role as an employer and its duty of care to all who work here? At its most recent meeting, as has been the case many times before, we have been guided by Public Health England’s advice. We want to do everything in our power to make our workplace as safe as possible for both Members and staff alike, even if at times that means we have to put some limits on our activities, which goes against all our instincts as parliamentarians.

I am thinking of the tragic loss of one of those people who serve this House, so at this time my thoughts are with their family and their colleagues. All I can say is that it is not a great time for this country—it is a sad time—and as soon as we can, I want this House back to normal. That is an assurance from myself, as well as from the Leader of the House.

Business of the House

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 30th December 2020

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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I am so sorry I was not clear; I thought that everybody knew that “da-da-da-dah, da-da-da-dah” was the fifth symphony. It was, of course, used as the signature tune of the BBC during the second world war to indicate that freedom was coming to Europe. As regards fishermen, the deal delivers for our fishermen. It recognises UK sovereignty over our fishing waters and puts us in a position to rebuild our fishing fleet and increase quotas in the next few years. There will be a rapid increase in quota—an uplift of up to 25%—by the end of five and a half years, beginning at 15%, before annual negotiations mean we can steadily increase beyond that point. In addition, £100 million will be spent in a programme to modernise the fishing fleet and the fish processing industry, so this is a great new opportunity for fishing. As the Prime Minister said in his speech earlier, it is putting right the wrongs of the common fisheries policy. May I finish by wishing my neighbour in Somerset a very happy new year? I am sorry that both Bath and North East Somerset are going into tier 3 from midnight tonight, or one minute past midnight tomorrow morning, but at least we will be able to have happy celebrations among ourselves.

Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his sterling personal contribution to securing the full Brexit of our dreams, but may I remind him that there is an organisation still frustrating our power to control our own borders and laws? I am referring to the European Court of Human Rights. Can we have a debate about that Court, particularly in light of its judgment, reported in The Times law reports yesterday, in the case of Unuane? That is a case where we deported a foreign national offender who had been sentenced to five and a half years’ imprisonment for very serious immigration offences—facilitating other people to break our immigration laws. The Court has said that deportation was unlawful. Can we have a debate to discuss judge-made law, which the Court itself referred to? It said that it was interpreting the law itself, although it is not spelt out in article 8.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The official Home Office line is that the Home Office is disappointed with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, as it has a duty to protect the public by removing foreign criminals who violate our laws, and that is obviously right, but I would say to my hon. Friend that there is one fundamental difference between the ECJ and the European Court of Human Rights: ECJ judgments became our law automatically, but judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have to come through Parliament at some point to make our law compatible, but that ultimately is a choice. He will remember that was a choice we were very reluctant to make over voting rights for prisoners. The European Court of Human Rights has a different status—a lesser status—and the great protector of human rights in this nation is this House of Commons, not any court outside the country.

Business of the House

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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Never has parliamentary scrutiny of Government become more important than it is now. In the light of that, will my right hon. Friend agree to allow the House to sit until Christmas Eve so that we can discuss all these important issues, not least the tiering process, and to enable the House to have a chance to consider an issue dear to Mr Speaker and the Deputy Speakers—namely, whether or not we should introduce a change to the Standing Orders relating to the length of speeches?

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Mr Rees-Mogg
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It is a matter of great concern that speeches are much too short. I know that Members of the House would like speeches to go on for many hours as they used to in the 19th century—particularly those of my hon. Friend, who has made some spectacularly long speeches in my period in this House and done so with great panache and verve. I agree with him that scrutiny is fundamental, but I can assure the House that we will not be sitting on Christmas Day.

Proceedings During the Pandemic (No. 4)

Christopher Chope Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con)
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I very much agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Sir Robert Syms), and also with my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), because this motion is over the top. It was only at the end of July that we agreed to extend the arrangements until the end of September. What has happened since the end of July that has caused us now to feel the need to extend them until the beginning of November?

The motion is consistent with the knee-jerk way in which the Government are dealing with many of our constituents. Take, for example, last Saturday when at 24 hours’ notice the Government introduced an extension to the restrictions on evictions of tenants from 20 September until March of next year. That six-month extension was implemented without any impact assessment and without any notice. Now we are talking about having a much longer period of notice before we introduce changes to the way in which we operate in this House.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden made an excellent point in saying that we are on the cusp of being able to have a testing regime of the type that was spoken about by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care yesterday.

He said that a 90-minute testing regime would soon be in place. If that is in place in the next two or three weeks, which I very much hope it will be, that would negate completely the purpose of the motion before us.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who is generally a great facilitator of parliamentary and legislative scrutiny, will agree that although the motion is likely to go through this evening there will, notwithstanding what is in the motion, be a review in which the Procedure Committee will be able to express its own opinion, so that we can take into account the emerging evidence and the ability to provide us all with tests. If we were all tested and those tests were pretty accurate, we would be able to set a much better example to those people who are going back to schools, the people we are encouraging to go back to factories, the people we are encouraging to get back on to public transport.

I will not speak at greater length now because I have a very similar subject on legislative scrutiny for this evening’s Adjournment debate and I would not want to eat into my own time.