This Insight explores the key changes to parliamentary procedures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Documents to download
Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (1 MB, PDF)
- ICGS Briefing Paper Appendices (101 KB, PDF) (101 KB, PDF)
Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme
On 19 July 2018, the House of Commons endorsed the Behaviour Code and the policies and procedures relating to bullying and harassment and sexual harassment set out in the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) Delivery Report, which was published on 17 July.
It agreed to incorporate, in the Code of Conduct, the expectation that Members observe the principles of the Behaviour Code. And a new rule was added to the Code: “A Member must treat their staff and all those visiting or working for or with Parliament with dignity, courtesy and respect”.
It agreed changes to Standing Orders:
- to give lay members of the Committee on Standards an indicative vote (rather than a formal vote) before any division in the Committee; and
- to give the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards the duty “to consider cases arising from the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme” and the power to rectify such cases.
On 7 January 2019, the House agreed that lay members of the Committee on Standards could move motions and amendments, including to reports, and vote.
The House agreed that, “to ensure complaints are handled confidentially”, “for consistency and fairness, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (PCS) should no longer routinely publish information about individual investigations before those investigations are concluded”.
The House divided on whether to apply confidentiality to all investigations undertaken by the PCS. Sir Kevin Barron, the Chair of the Committee on Standards, moved an amendment to continue the existing practice, for non-ICGS matters, whereby those under investigation were identified. The House voted down the amendment, and later in the day a list of MPs under investigation was removed from the Commissioner’s webpages. Sir Kevin subsequently announced his resignation as the Chair of the Committee.
The House agreed to establish a further independent inquiry, in similar terms to Dame Laura Cox QC’s inquiry (relating to House staff), to consider allegations of bullying and harassment in respect of those not covered by Dame Laura Cox’s inquiry, including MPs and their staff. This inquiry was conducted by Gemma White QC. Her report was published on 11 July 2019.
The House endorsed the proposal for reviews of the Scheme after six and 18 months. The reviews would take into account the findings of the two inquiries into bullying and harassment. The costs of the new inquiry and the reviews would be met from the House’s Administration budget. The six-month review was conducted by Alison Stanley (see below).
The new Behaviour Code was published and is now displayed widely across the parliamentary Estate. A brochure [intranet link] has also been published. It explains the Code and the accompanying policies and complaints and support processes.
On 13 March 2019, the Committee on Standards set out its interim role in ICGS appeals. It decided to delegate decision-making on appeals and cases referred by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to an Appeals Sub-Committee, with a majority of lay members. In its report, the Committee outlined the framework for appeals.
Six-month review of the ICGS
Her key recommendations relate to:
- ensuring continued focus, drive and coherence of the Scheme, by identifying the key accountabilities of senior leaders across the Parliamentary community;
- creating a fully resourced bicameral ICGS team, with the requisite skills and experience to ensure effective implementation and streamlined operation;
- a new dedicated approach to communication of the ICGS accessible to all and focused on each user group within the Parliamentary community clearly setting out the end-to-end processes;
- proactively using the Behaviour Code to improve ways of working in teams, for example as part of the wider cultural work being led by Julie Harding, the new Independent Director of Cultural Transformation in the House of Commons;
- building on the solid start on the training programme, ensuring the equal importance of training for all members of the Parliamentary community is addressed.
Scheme expanded to include historic cases
On 17 July 2019, the House of Commons amended the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme to allow historic (non-recent) cases to be within the scope of the Scheme. The House endorsed:
… the report of the House of Commons Commission entitled Extending the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (HC 2554) and laid on Monday 15 July and approves the steps set out in paragraph 8 of the report to make the changes necessary to extend the scheme, endorsed under the resolution of 19 July 2018.
Extending the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme was published following the Commission’s meeting on 15 July 2019. Paragraph 8 of the report proposed the following changes to the ICGS:
a. Replace Section 5.3 of the Bullying and Harassment Policy with “Complaints predating the start of the 2017 Parliament can also be investigated under this policy and will be assessed using the current accepted behaviour regime.”;
b. Replace Section 15.2 of the Sexual Misconduct Policy with “All members of the present and past Parliamentary Community as set out in section 9 (Scope) of the Sexual Misconduct Policy can access the ISMA Service for advice and support”;
c. Replace Section 15.3 of the Sexual Misconduct Policy with “People who have concerns about behaviour prior to the start date of the 2017 Parliament can raise a complaint using the current scheme”;
d. In the Bullying and Harassment Policy, in para 4.1, replace “any member” with “any present or former member”, in para 4.2, replace “all those working for or with” with “all those who have worked for or with or who are currently working for or with”.
The Commission’s report recognised that “none of the proposals in this paper will apply to staff of the House of Lords Administration or to Members of the House of Lords or their staff, until the appropriate Lords authorities agree to these or similar arrangements”.
Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy: Delivery Report
On 17 July 2018, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy (IGCP) Programme Team’s Delivery Report was published. It set out how the Programme Team, overseen by a steering group, had taken forward the House’s decision of 28 February 2018 to implement recommendations to develop a parliament-wide behaviour code and independent complaints and grievance schemes to respond to and manage complaints of (i) sexual harassment and (ii) bullying and harassment.
The Delivery Report included a proposed Behaviour Code; procedures for reporting and investigating allegations of bullying and harassment; procedures for reporting and investigating allegations of sexual harassment; and a system of training to support the Behaviour Code. The Delivery Report set out steps that had been taken to ensure that a human resources support service was available for staff of MPs. It set out the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Committee on Standards in investigating complaints about Members of Parliament. Before the Delivery Report was published the Steering Group had asked the Committee on Standards for comments – the Committee’s comments are taken into account. The Delivery Report confirmed that “The Steering Group has agreed that the new Scheme can investigate incidents that occurred from the start of this Parliament (June 2017)”. However, the Delivery Report also noted that “The Steering Group are determined that the new Scheme is not a ‘day zero’ approach that ignores the problems of the past”. The Delivery Report has “set out the options available to complainants to pursue a route that offers the best chance to deliver what they need to find resolution” – these noted that some pre-2017 complaints might be taken into account if they constitute “continuing acts”. Complainants bringing forward older cases that were not continuing “will be able to talk through the details with an independent adviser and be pointed in the direction of where they can get support and counselling services”. Any decision on investigation would be based on the policy or code in place at the time.
The Delivery Report set out the scope of reviews, recommended by the Working Group, that should take place six and 18 months after the Scheme’s introduction.
In a message to House of Commons staff, following the publication of the Delivery Report, the Clerk of the House stated that if the report was agreed to by the House, the Policy would be applied to House staff.
In November 2017, allegations and accounts in the press of inappropriate behaviour and a culture of bullying and sexual harassment at Westminster led to the establishment of a cross-party Working Group on an Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy. The Working Group reported in February 2018. It recommended the development of a parliament-wide behaviour code and independent complaints and grievance schemes to respond to and manage complaints of (i) sexual harassment and (ii) bullying and harassment.
At the end of February, the House of Commons agreed a motion endorsing the Working Group’s recommendations and asking the House of Commons Commission to authorise officials to undertake the work to implement those recommendations. The House also agreed that the Working Group should reconvene as a Steering Group and that the officials working on the Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy should report to the Steering Group.
Independent Inquiry into bullying and harassment of House of Commons Staff
Complaints about the behaviour of Members towards staff of the House were reported by Newsnight in March 2018. Following the first Newsnight report, the House of Commons Commission agreed to establish an independent inquiry into Bullying of Staff in the House of Commons. That inquiry was undertaken by Dame Laura Cox.
Dame Laura Cox’s report was published on 15 October 2018.
An Urgent Question was asked on 16 October 2018.
On 24 October 2018, the House of Commons Commission met to consider Dame Laura’s report. In a statement, the Commission thanked Dame Laura for her report; acknowledged its statutory responsibility “for the employment of House staff and have too often failed to honour the responsibility to provide a workplace free from bullying and harassment”; and expressed its determination to rectify past mistakes. The Commission agreed to the three fundamental recommendations highlighted by Dame Laura:
- We are terminating the Valuing Others Policy, and have suspended operation of the Respect Policy recommending that the House terminate it as soon as possible;
- We recommend that the House amend the new Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme to ensure that those House employees with complaints involving historical allegations can access the new Scheme;
- We recommend that the House consider the most effective way to ensure that the process for determining complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment brought by House staff against Members of Parliament will be an entirely independent process, in which Members of Parliament will play no part.
The Commission confirmed that it was “up to the House to take forward these recommendations to which we are fully committed”.
On 5 November 2018, the House held a general debate on Dame Laura Cox’s report.
On 10 December 2018, the Committee on Standards’ report, Implications of the Dame Laura Cox report for the House’s standards system: Initial proposals, was published. The Committee made recommendations to allow the Committee lay members to have formal votes, and to allow the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to initiate an inquiry into either a former Member or a matter which goes back more than seven years, without permission from the Committee. The Committee argued that these recommendations would enhance the independence of both the Committee and the Commissioner. However, it accepted these were interim arrangements and until the ICGS was amended it would continue to be have a role in appeals from Members.
The Committee’s report was debated and agreed to by the House on 7 January 2019.
On 3 May 2019, the Committee launched an inquiry into possible reforms to the system of sanctions for breaches of the rules set out in the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament.
Work on Dame Laura Cox’s recommendations
On 18 June 2019, Maria Miller led a Backbench Business debate on the progress of implementing the recommendations of the Cox Report. She expressed concern that the House of Commons Commission had not put in place “changes demanded by [Dame Laura] Cox eight months ago”.
That this House welcomes the publication of, and recommendations in, the Dame Laura Cox report on bullying and harassment in Parliament; welcomes the implementation of the recommendation to abandon the Valuing Others and Respect policies; expresses concern about damage caused to the reputation and standing of this House by the lack of progress made on other recommendations on historical allegations and the non-involvement of MPs in Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme cases; and calls on the Leader of the House and the House of Commons Commission to push forward the implementation of all three key recommendations in full without delay.
Historical allegations: A consultation on incorporating the investigation and subsequent sanction, if necessary, of non-recent cases into the ICGS was launched on 21 May 2019. The consultation closed on 14 June 2019.
At its meeting on 24 June 2019, the House of Commons Commission agreed to include non-recent cases in the ICGS. It issued a statement, confirming that “Subject to approval by the House, implementation work will take place over the summer, including the recruitment of a bank of additional expert independent investigators, with the intention of opening up the Scheme to non-recent cases from October this year”.
On 11 July 2019, the Leader of the House said that the Government was “bringing forward a motion that will implement the important recommendation in Dame Laura Cox’s report that historic cases should be in scope as part of the independent complaints and grievance scheme”. He announced that the debate would take place on 17 July 2019. The motion for this debate was agreed to and the changes to the Scheme, set out in a report from the Commission, are noted above.
Independent process: The House of Commons Commission considered how to take forward this recommendation at a number of meetings. On 10 June 2019, it was announced that a staff team would be created to lead on producing options on implementation for the Commission.
The Commission received a number of options from the staff team. At its meeting on 10 February 2020, it agreed its preferred option for implementing the recommendation, which would involve the setting up of a new independent panel of experts with the power to determine ICGS cases and decide on sanctions; and agreed that formal consultation on the selected preferred option be undertaken.
At its meeting on 27 April 2020, the Commission confirmed that it wanted to see its preferred option implemented. The House would need to agree to the establishment of the independent expert panel and would be asked to consider whether, once established, the panel’s findings involving sanctions would need to be debated in the House. The panel would not include current or former Members. It would adopt the Committee on Standards’ appeals framework.
Documents to download
Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (1 MB, PDF)
- ICGS Briefing Paper Appendices (101 KB, PDF) (101 KB, PDF)
This paper provides details and links for ministerial statements and parliamentary debates (from both Houses of Parliament) that cover international affairs and defence.
The Procedure Committee has completed a review of the pilot of the use of proxy voting for parental absence in divisions in the House of Commons. It recommended that the scheme should be made permanent. It also recommends the continuation of proxy arrangements for public health reasons relating to the pandemic, as long as their are restrictions on MPs travelling to Westminster.