Valerie responds to Urgent Question

As Shadow Leader of the House, I responded to the following urgent question asked on 16 October 2018: “To ask the Leader of the House to make a statement on The Bullying and Harassment of House of Commons Staff Independent Inquiry Report”.

I thank the Leader of the House for her response to the urgent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), and you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question. I, too, thank Dame Laura Cox QC OBE for taking the time to work on this important issue and for her comprehensive report. It is never easy for an institution when the spotlight is quite rightly shone in this way.

Hon. Members should know—the Leader of the House touched on this—that the terms of reference were drawn up by the non-execs on the Commission, Dame Janet Gaymer and Jane McCall, and hon. Members did not have sight of that, nor did we have sight of the report before it was published.

Two hundred people who are currently working or have previously worked here came forward to speak to Dame Laura Cox, and it must sometimes have been difficult to raise these issues. This 155-page report needs to be looked at carefully. Dame Laura said that this has been

“an inquiry, not an investigation.”

At paragraph 23, she said:

“Disputed allegations require due process and a fair hearing for both sides in order to determine the facts”.

She said that she was

“not in a position in this inquiry to determine or re-open any individual complaints.”

I was a member of the Governance of the House Committee that was set up to review the structures of the House. Being able to speak to Members of staff at all levels was helpful in determining changes. Like the Leader of the House, I see those changes as an ongoing process. Does the right hon. Lady consider that having an ongoing staff panel with trade union representatives would be helpful?

A process of change has already taken place. In paragraph 63, Dame Laura says that, as Professor Sarah Childs noted in “The Good Parliament” report, which was commissioned by you, Mr Speaker, in 2016, diversity also plays an important role in making Parliament a more diverse place.

Dame Laura did criticise the decision of the working group to implement a new code of conduct without waiting for the outcome of her inquiry. She said that implementing a new code of conduct should not have been rushed and went on to say that

“it is more important to get it right than to get it done in haste, in accordance with self-imposed deadlines”.

The independent complaints process is to be reviewed in January 2019. Can the Leader confirm that the Cox report can be fed into that process, and, if so, how? The report states:

“Delivering fundamental and permanent change will require a focus and a genuine commitment on the part of the leadership of the House.”

The Commons Executive Board will meet to review and discuss its contents, and, as the Leader said, a meeting of the House of Commons Commission has also been convened. The Leader also touched on the fact that in some places it is reported that there are only three members of the Commission. In fact, every party has a role to play on the Commission.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that we should look at other organisations for best practice to ensure there is an independent and robust system for dealing with complaints in a timely way, as Dame Laura set out in her introduction? We need to heed Dame Laura’s suggestion that we need to take time to consider this very important report. Her Majesty’s Opposition will continue to work on a cross-party basis to tackle this issue and to ensure new procedures are as robust and effective as possible to protect everyone working in, and visiting, this House.