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.
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—
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a matter of considerable concern to the Government, and the Government have been raising it with the Nigerian authorities. I will pass on the details of the hon. Lady’s question, because we must do whatever we can to ensure religious toleration across the world.
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.
I am extraordinarily keen that the House should get back to normal operation. Hon. and right hon. Members may remember that when we reduced the hybrid Parliament on 2 June, it was perhaps not the most popular motion I have ever brought forward to this House—that there was at that point considerable reluctance to limit hybridity. But I thought it was fundamentally important that we set the lead for the nation. We have in fact been back at work in this place since the beginning of June, and we have been primarily physical from that point; and I think that has led the way.
I would encourage hon. and right hon. Members to look at what the motion actually does, rather than what they fear it does. We have the limitation on Members sitting in the Chamber, being physically present, but that is under a motion that says, under “Participation in Proceedings”:
“The Speaker…may limit the number of Members present in the Chamber at any one time”.
That does not set the number at 50; the number is not set in stone. These arrangements—the little cards that replace our prayer cards—are not under Standing Orders; they are at the discretion of Mr Speaker, on the advice of Public Health England. The Commission discussed with Public Health England, the last time they visited us, how we could change that; how, with the change to three and a quarter feet, we could have more people in the Chamber, and the Commission said we could do that, on the advice of Public Health England, if we made our speeches sitting down and wore masks. Now, I must say to this House that my personal opinion is that it would be far worse to allow a few more people in here, and to sit down with masks on our faces to try and orate, in a most ludicrous fashion.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) is one of the most distinguished orators in this House, and I think he did himself a disservice when he said that his speeches were received now, in this Chamber, as if it were a very quiet Adjournment debate. I think that, with 50 in the Chamber, Members can have an effect on the mood of the House. Yes, it is not the same as that packed and bustling Chamber that we get for the Queen’s Speech and Prime Minister’s questions, but look around: here we are, on a Wednesday afternoon, and the House is not full. There are spare seats, even with social distancing. Many of the people who watch our proceedings know that actually, with a few exceptions, this is broadly as full as the Chamber usually is. It is not that all the 400-odd seats are taken every day; it is that there are a few occasions when the Chamber is full, and those few occasions, I absolutely accept, are less exciting than they normally would be. But it does not mean there is no holding to account. It does not mean there is no representation of our constituents.
Criminal activity is always wrong, and the police need to have the resources to enforce the law. Therefore, I can give the hon. Gentleman the good news that of the commitment to employ 20,000 more police officers we now have achieved 3,005 of them, so the numbers are going up. This is about enforcing the law as it exists and we could not have a more doughty champion of law and order than my right hon Friend the Home Secretary.
The problem is that if we spend too long doing all this, by the time we have done it we have moved on to the next stage of the lockdown. We have to move at a pace to ensure that things happen in a timely manner, and I am a bit surprised that my hon. Friend is calling for bureaucratic folderol, rather than getting on with things—this is out of character for him. We need to do things properly and one sector or another will do it differently, but, as the opening up takes place, people must to some extent use their own wisdom to work out what they have to do.
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments with regard to the digital voting, and for the tribute he paid to the House staff for doing that. I re-emphasise its temporary nature. We have proceeded with almost unanimous consent to achieve a hybrid Parliament. We would not have done so had people thought this was a sleight of hand—a prestidigitation—to try to change our procedures on a permanent basis. It has been important to maintain the good will of all parliamentarians.
As regards the statement on Sunday, I think the Prime Minister’s answer at Prime Minister’s questions was the right one. Although the week starts on a Sunday, the business week starts on a Monday, therefore the announcement is being made in preparation for the business week on a Monday. It is therefore the right time to do it, but I can confirm that there will be a statement on Monday. [Interruption.] I notice some giggles in the Chamber, although, Mr Speaker, I am not sure I am meant to notice the giggles emanating from the Chair. It slightly surprises me, because I do not think there are any plans for the House to meet on Sunday.
As regards the hybridity of this Chamber, this House must lead by example. The Government have set out in their guidelines that those who cannot work from home are entitled to and ought to carry on working, especially those in crucial roles. To pretend our democracy is not crucial undermines and undervalues the whole purpose of our democracy. What goes on here—the holding to account and the legislation—is essential, and when we are asking other people to work and to go to their places of work, we should not be ones who are exempt from that. I am glad, therefore, that we have made a hybrid system work.
One of the reasons why everyone likes and admires my hon. Friend so much is that only he would think up the question of asking how many questions had not been answered. It is a splendid question that should be asked regularly, although most politicians might not be able to give an accurate answer. It is really important that written questions and named day questions are answered. I would, however, ask the House to have some sympathy for the Department of Health and Social Care under these very extraordinary circumstances. Whereas I would normally go in with all cudgels waving, I think with that particular Department under the current circumstances, a degree of latitude is allowable.