The House of Commons has approved a motion to establish the new Independent Expert Panel (IEP) to deal with complaints of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment against MPs.
Under the new policy – which is based on proposals put forward by FDA reps in the House of Commons branch – complaints, investigations and sanctions will be handled with complete independence from MPs, a key demand from the FDA.
FDA Assistant General Secretary Amy Leversidge hailed the introduction of the IEP as “an historic moment for the House of Commons”.
“It is an astounding achievement for all the brave women and men who spoke out publicly to try and make Parliament a better place to work – they can say this evening that they have truly made a difference,” Leversidge said. “The FDA union has long campaigned for a fully independent process in the House of Commons so that bullying, harassment and sexual harassment complaints can be dealt with fairly and effectively without fear or favour and without political interference.”
The new policy looked doomed to be undermined at the last hurdle, as Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg included a provision that would allow MPs to debate complaints in the House as part of the new process.
Leversidge condemned this provision, stating that potential of a public debate would risk “deterring staff from putting in complaints, particularly in cases involving sexual harassment”. The FDA, alongside other campaigners, lobbied MPs to reject the plans to debate complaints and an amendment tabled by Chris Bryant MP, removing the provision for MPs to debate IEP determinations, narrowly passed by a majority of five votes.
The union began campaigning for this kind of independent complaints process to be introduced after an investigation into the bullying of an FDA member collapsed back in 2012. As the #MeToo movement swept through Westminster in late 2017, and even more victims came forward to share their experiences, the heightened media attention provided an opportunity for the FDA to finally begin to effect real change.
Following an emotive Newsnight report which exposed how careers and lives had been ruined by the culture of abuse in Westminster, then leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom announced an independent inquiry, which was led by Dame Laura Cox QC.
The FDA was a lone voice in rejecting a new Independent Complaints and Grievance Procedure, rushed through by MPs Back in July 2018 before Dame Laura had published her findings, with Leversidge branding it an “ineffective policy” that contained “serious flaws”.
Dame Laura’s findings, published in mid-October 2018, vindicated the FDA’s position and echoed the union’s key demands: namely, that any new complaints process must be fully independent from MPs’ influence, and that it must allow for historical allegations to be investigated.
While the House Commission immediately agreed to these recommendations in principle, it took over a year of pressure from the FDA and campaigners to compel MPs to fully implement them. This culminated in a consultation in which the FDA House of Commons Branch designed the idea of a Parliamentary Tribunal Body, which became the basis for the new Independent Expert Panel.
“In Dame Laura Cox’s inquiry she said that bullying, harassment and sexual harassment were able to thrive because they were tolerated and concealed due to a culture of deference to MPs,” Leversidge explained, immediately following the vote. “This evening, we have seen MPs make a stand and say they will no longer tolerate bad behaviour and they will no longer expect deference from staff. Staff will be over the moon that MPs voted for Chris Bryant MP’s amendment to not give themselves the right of debate. This shows they are willing to put their trust and confidence in the process, just as they have asked staff to do.
“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect at work and this is a great day for all staff in the House of Commons.”