FDA Assistant General Secretary Amy Leversidge has given evidence to the House of Commons Standards Committee, as part of their inquiry into the Code of Conduct for MPs.
Leversidge told the Committee that the Code of Conduct “shouldn’t be seen as a stick to beat MPs with”, but that it should be a source of pride, providing a set of principles enabling them to carry out their role with integrity, upholding the institution of Parliament. She compared the situation with that of FDA members in the civil service, who talk of the Civil Service Code with great pride as it underpins the core values of the service, including its impartiality.
Leversidge cautioned against being overly prescriptive about the kinds of behaviours covered by the Code, but said instead it needed to set out general principles covering “what is normal workplace behaviour” and the mechanisms by which you enforce those principles. The FDA believes, she argued, that the code must emphasise the duty of care MPs have to their staff, and clearly prohibit MPs from doing anything to interfere with the House of Commons’ ability as an employer to act in accordance with its own duty of care.
Responding to questioning about whether the Code should be expanded to cover different issues, Leversidge pointed that it is not unusual in any workplace to “have different policies to deal with different behaviours, and advised against a “one size fits all approach.” What mattered was ensuring those policies were effective and implemented correctly.
Reflecting on the vote last year to establish the Independent Expert Panel to deal with complaints of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment against MPs, she described it as “a turning point” in the culture of the House of Commons. However, there was still work to be done to ensure that staff had trust and confidence in the procedures and mechanisms available to them to raise concerns. She pointed to “gaps” that existed between the Code of Conduct and the behaviour code, with the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme being the only means for MP’s staff to raise concerns.
With the ICGS only being able to consider and take action on issues of bullying and harassment, staff do not have a mechanism to raise other important and legitimate workplace concerns, a situation which Leversidge warned could undermine confidence in the whole system – “if people think they can’t use it, they stop using it.”
Leversidge also criticised the lack of an independent system for dealing with complaints of bullying and harassment against ministers, pointing to recent FDA survey data that showed 85% of Senior Civil Servants and 90% of Fast Streamers had no confidence in the Ministerial Code. She added that the lack of a proper process had seen “trust and confidence completely destroyed.”