The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Jacob Rees- Mogg)
I beg to move,
(1) in accordance with Standing Order No. 150C (Appointment of Independent Expert Panel Members), the following be appointed as members of the Independent Expert Panel—
(a) Mrs Lisa Ball, Mrs Johanna Higgins, Sir Stephen Irwin and Professor Clare McGlynn for a period of 4 years, and
(b) Monica Daley, Miss Dale Simon, Sir Peter Thornton and Dr Matthew Vickers for a period of 6 years; and
(2) notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (4) Standing Order No. 150A (Independent Expert Panel), Sir Stephen Irwin be the Chair of that Panel.
It is a pleasure to open this debate on the appointment of the independent expert panel, which would provide important support to the work of the independent complaints and grievance scheme. The appointments that we debate today represent a significant next step in our collective efforts to ensure that Parliament has a culture that is respectful to all and where there is no place for bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct.
I want to emphasise that this panel is just one step. Although significant progress has been made on this agenda, none of us is under any illusion that to bring about the lasting change needed to our culture will not take painstaking work, tireless communication and myriad reinforcing actions by many over a considerable period.
The steps already undertaken are significant ones. They include, of course, the creation in 2018 of the ICGS itself and I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), and all those who worked with her to generate a consensus and set a way forward for the scheme.
The ICGS is now open to all members of the parliamentary community and, importantly, it has been broadened to include investigation of non-recent allegations and from those who have since left the parliamentary community. As set out in the ICGS’s annual report published last week, over the past year, the pool of investigators has been expanded so that more cases can be processed, including non-recent ones, and there has been the creation of a single helpline service to provide confidential and immediate advice, which includes a speciality independent sexual misconduct advisory service.
Recently, we have also seen the launch of the second of two planned independent reviews of the ICGS to ensure that consideration is given to how what is still a fledgling scheme can be strengthened. May I briefly again take the opportunity to encourage all members of the parliamentary community to participate in that review being undertaken by Alison Stanley. As I mentioned in business questions last week, an online survey seeking views will run until 4 December—it is a very simple survey; even I managed to do it. I ask Members please to take the survey if they can so that the widest range of views are captured and taken into account.
Looking beyond the ICGS, a new Member services team has also been established to provide human resources support to MPs and their staff, and I should add that more than 4,000 people in Parliament have now taken the Valuing Everyone training, which aims to demonstrate how to recognise and understand what harassment and sexual harassment mean in the workplace and how to tackle them.
Turning to the independent expert panel, it is important to note that the appointments that we are discussing today form part of our fulfilment of the key recommendations made by Dame Laura Cox in her 2018 report. Members will remember that Dame Laura made three fundamental recommendations: the first was that Parliament’s existing policies relating to bullying, harassment or sexual harassment should be abandoned; the second was that the ICGS should be accessible to those with complaints involving historical allegations. Both of those recommendations have been met. The final recommendation was 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 play no part. This is that independent process.
Under our current arrangements, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has the power to determine cases and impose sanctions up to a certain level of severity. More serious cases, including those where suspension or expulsion might be the resulting sanction, have been for the Standards Committee to determine.
In February this year, the House of Commons Commission considered a number of alternative approaches developed and presented by the staff team. The Commission agreed that the strongest option was that an expert panel, comprising an independent chairman and seven panel members, none of whom would be MPs, would determine ICGS cases, decide on sanctions and hear appeals by either party against the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards’ conclusions.
Dame Laura was consulted on the options considered by the Commission and was among those who supported the approach. Members will also remember that, in June, a motion was passed to establish the independent expert panel. The panel will determine complaints of bullying and harassment or sexual misconduct made under the ICGS. It will do so entirely independently of MPs. In cases where the IEP recommends the most extreme sanctions, such as suspension or expulsion of an MP, the House must approve the recommendation via a motion in this Chamber that will be taken without debate.
I have always been clear that the panel must be of the highest calibre collectively. Its members should provide considerable expertise in relevant fields, and they should do so under the leadership of a chairman of the standing equivalent to that of a High Court judge. I am therefore delighted that we have such a strong set of candidates to consider, and that recommended for the role of chairman is Sir Stephen Irwin, who was Lord Justice of Appeal from 2016 until his retirement last month, and was previously a High Court judge for a decade.