The Working Group looking into Parliament’s independent complaints and grievance policy, of which I am a member of, published its report on 8 February 2018. As Shadow Leader of the House, I responded to the Leader of the House’s statement. Here is my speech:
I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and for her leadership of the group. We started this task on 14 November and worked on it until 29 January, and it felt like a long time. All credit must go to the staff, who heard our discussions and made sense of our ramblings, queries and questions. The result is this document, which I think makes some sense. When the new scheme is developed, it will cover 15,000 people working across the estate. It will hopefully also form part of any contracts on building programmes. There is still to be consultation with House staff, as Ken Gall, the president of the trade union side, has indicated, but the main scheme will cover a new behaviour code.
Paragraph 28 refers to other processes that individuals may choose, such as a process associated with their employment or the political party in question. The scheme will reserve the right not to investigate incidents investigated elsewhere. Paragraph 31 provides that there will be support services, emotional guidance and other guidance, including advice on processes. Paragraph 32 outlines the confidentiality arrangements.
The informal and formal stages of the new sexual harassment policy and procedure are outlined in paragraphs 50 to 61, in chapter 3. Complaints handled by a specialist trained sexual health advisor are outlined in paragraph 54. There will be a separate process for bullying and harassment policy procedures, which is outlined in paragraphs 62 to 75, in chapter 4. The HR advice service that is to be up and running for the staff of MPs and peers will be procured as discussed in paragraph 74. There will also be cultural change training, as outlined in paragraph 79, because some people may not know what unacceptable or acceptable behaviour is. Chapter 7 outlines possible sanctions, and paragraph 92 sets out the timeframe in which the work will proceed. The estimate for the completion of all workstreams is roughly three months.
Members should note that staff supporting the working group have had to deal with their own work as well as this unusual way of working. I am pleased that a formal secretariat will be set up that is dedicated solely to implementing the recommendations, so staff do not have to cover their other posts and this one.
Dr Helen Mott was a gracious and knowledgeable adviser to the working group. The report says that any legal advice that is requested will be from a senior lawyer, but I would suggest that it should be at QC level. The expertise of ACAS should also be accessed. Our survey response showed a 17% return—lower than expected. However, further work may usefully consider ongoing surveys to test the robustness of the procedures.
The Leader of the Opposition has read the whole report and he, too, passes on his thanks to the staff for their hard work.
This is a much better report than the draft that was available before Christmas, as the Leader of the House has kindly acknowledged previously. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), who is in her place, was keen to have flowcharts so that we could work out the procedure. There is a reference to that, and they may be forthcoming later. In the report before Christmas, there was no reference to the independent sexual harassment adviser, and that could have been lost. There is a body of work to be done, and I am grateful to the House authorities for ensuring that this work will continue. I know that it will be in capable hands.
Everyone in Parliament must be able to work together co-operatively, respecting the expertise of the House and balancing our responsibilities as elected representatives in a safe, secure and constructive workplace so that everyone, including our constituents and the staff of this House, can benefit from working for the common good in this extraordinary place.