PCS raises concerns over new Commons ‘independent’ complaints process
PCS has raised concerns over an ‘independent’ new Commons complaints process, which MPs are set to debate to deal with complaints of bullying and harassment made against MPs.
The new independent expert panel will have the power to determine sanctions in cases referred to it under the independent complaints and grievance scheme (ICGS).
High Court judge Dame Laura Cox, published a report into the nature and extent of bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff by MPs in October 2018. It was followed by a further report by Gemma White QC.
Currently, complaints against MPs are sent to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who has the power to refer complaints to the standards committee, which itself is comprised of MPs and a few lay members.
The investigations and outcomes of the commissioner are covered by parliamentary privilege, which means they cannot be disclosed to courts or the press, even where there is a clear link to the public interest.
The motion, to be moved by Jacob Rees-Mogg as leader of the House of Commons, also contains provision that the most severe sanctions imposed by the independent expert panel, including suspension and expulsion of MPs, will require the formal authorisation of the House of Commons. But the identity of any MP sanctioned by the panel, that of the complainant and details of the investigation, will still remain confidential.
PCS represents some parliamentary staff including those in security, cleaning and catering, and has called for Dame Laura’s recommendations to be implemented in full.
A further concern is that parliamentary privilege that acts to ‘gag’ complainants from making public interest and court disclosures could be abused by MPs in the House of Commons chamber, irrespective of proposed changes to the rules of debate.
MPs will continue to have the constitutional right to say what they wish in the House of Commons chamber and potentially that could include the naming of complainants on the floor of the House, and leaving those named staff without any legal recourse.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The measures being proposed by Jacob Rees Mogg will still mean MPs will have the protection of parliamentary privilege even when they have been found guilty of wrongdoing.
“MPs could still use that privilege to name complainants on the Commons floor while the potential victims of bullying and harassment are left without legal recourse.
“Our members want to see the Laura Cox report implemented in full which includes the process being entirely independent.”