MPs have “blown their chance” to investigate complaints made against fellow MPs, according to FDA General Secretary Dave Penman.
Arguing that they have demonstrated “time and time again” they are unable to regulate themselves, Penman has repeated the union’s demands for a fully independent complaints process for House of Commons (HoC) staff, which cannot be affected by “party politics”.
As he delivered evidence to the HoC Standard Committee on the subject of “sanctions”, the General Secretary was clear on what such independence entails. He explained that it was not good enough that the Committee was predominately made up of non-Parliamentarian lay members: no MPs should have a say in assessing behavioural misconduct cases against other MPs.
Penman remained unmoved by the argument that such independence would “send the unfortunate message” that “there’s not a single MP” that could be trusted to make an impartial decision on such a complaint. “We’ve had cases where there’s been clear evidence of misconduct,” the General Secretary said, “and the party has intervened, because they found it politically expedient to stop an individual MP being sanctioned.” When it came to the prospect of self-regulation, Penman argued “that ship has sailed.” MPs “had their chance. They’ve blown it.”
He categorically denied the premise, delivered by one member of the Committee, that we have “achieved the best of both worlds” with the body’s current make-up, and instead asked: “What is it about an independent panel making a decision that you’re scared of?”
Speaking alongside HoC Trade Union Side President Ken Gall, Penman pointed out that HoC reform has been painfully slow. It has now been a year, he explained, since the process to address the House’s bullying and harassment crisis started, and little has changed. Though the House Commission agreed to take on Dame Laura Cox’s recommendations more than six months ago, it has yet to make them all a reality.
These delays lead to a continued lack of clarity for staff, and the General Secretary stated that if they don’t understand the end-to-end complaints process, “they’re going to be hesitant in taking part.”
When asked about devolved governments’ policies on this matter, the Penman pointed to the Scottish Government as leading the way on this issue. In 2010, he told the Committee, they established a clear process where civil servants could complain about the conduct of Ministers – a powerful policy that has yet to be adopted by the rest of the civil service. In 2017, the Scottish Government extended this, allowing civil servants to complain about past instances of behavioural misconduct.
Last week, 18 June, the implementation of the Dame Laura Cox report’s recommendations was debated in the Commons Chamber. Jess Philips MP highlighted the FDA’s lobbying efforts on this issue, saying: “I have worked with the FDA throughout the whole process from the original complaints to the Cox report and all the different elements. I share the frustration of the right hon. Member for Basingstoke about there being another consultation with another group of people, because there seems to have been endless different reviews into different sorts of people who might come into this building.
“The FDA’s response to the Cox report included designs for perfectly reasonable independent systems with appeals processes that are completely fair and balanced for people both within and outside this building.”
The FDA continues to fight for its HoC members, and is determined to deliver justice to those who have been - or will be - bullied or harassed by MPs.