Bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct: background

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5.2In 2017–18, in response to reports of sexual harassment and bullying in Parliament, the Prime Minister convened a cross-party working group on an independent complaints and grievance procedure. That group reported in February 2018.1 On 28 February 2018 the House of Commons endorsed the recommendations of that working group, and ordered further work to be undertaken to implement them by a working group of House staff and experts, under the supervision of a cross-party Steering Group of Members and others, such as staff and union representatives. On 21 March 2018 the House of Lords Commission referred the recommendations of the original working group to the sub-committee on Lords Conduct.2 In parallel with the work to establish an independent complaints and grievance scheme, the external members of the House of Commons Commission commissioned Dame Laura Cox QC to inquire into allegations of bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff.

The Steering Group completed its task in summer 2018, when the programme team produced a Delivery Report, which put forward a new behaviour code for all in Parliament, and arrangements for reporting bullying and harassment and (separately) sexual harassment, and for independent investigation of such allegations.3 The Delivery Report was endorsed by the House of Commons on 19 July 2018, in a motion which also:

  • amended the Code of Conduct to ensure it covered bullying and sexual harassment;4
  • approved a further independent inquiry into allegations of bullying of Members' staff;
  • endorsed reviews of the new arrangements after six months and eighteen months.

Dame Laura Cox reported on 15 October 2018.5 Her report considered that the arrangements endorsed in July 2018 should be revised and, of particular relevance for this Chapter, recommended that:

‘Steps should be taken, in consultation with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and others, to 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 House of Commons Executive Board and the House of Commons Commission accepted Dame Laura's recommendations. In July 2019, the House of Commons agreed to extend the scheme to include non-recent cases.5A In June 2020, the House agreed to establish an independent panel of experts to determine complaints against Members of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.5B

The House of Lords already had some scope within its existing Code of Conduct for Members to investigate allegations of bullying and harassment that were connected to the discharge of a Member’s parliamentary duties if that behaviour was considered to be a breach of the requirement that a Member should act always on their personal honour.6 In December 2018, the House of Lords Commission appointed Naomi Ellenbogen QC to inquire into bullying and harassment in the House of Lords. She reported in July 2019.6A Separately, the House of Lords agreed in April 2019 to incorporate the Behaviour Code and bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct provisions into its Codes of Conduct for Lords Members and Lords Members' staff. At the same time the House agreed to appoint a new Conduct Committee with lay members to oversee the operation of the Codes (in place of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct and its sub-committee on conduct) and to adopt a new standing order limiting the House's ability to debate reports on the conduct of individual Members.7

Footnotes

  1. 1. HC Deb (8 February 2018) 635, c 1668WS.
  2. 2. House of Lords Commission, Minutes, 21 March 2018.
  3. 3. Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy Programme Team, Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme Delivery Report, July 2018.
  4. 4. See Committee on Standards, Second Report of Session 2017–19, Complaints and Grievance Policy: Implementation, HC 1396; see paras 5.3 and 5.6 below.
  5. 5. The Bullying and Harassment of House of Commons Staff: Independent Inquiry Report.
  6. 5A. HC Deb (17 July 2019) 921.
  7. 5B. HC Deb (23 June 2020) 1270–72 (see para 5.5A ).
  8. 6. See for example Second Report of the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct, The conduct of Lord Lester of Herne Hill, HL 220 (2017–19).
  9. 6A. An independent inquiry into bullying and harassment in the House of Lords.
  10. 7. Committee for Privileges and Conduct, Fourth Report of Session 2017–19, Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme: Changes to the Code of Conduct, HL 335 (2017–19) and HL Deb (30 April 2019) 797, cc 862–87.