MPs are no longer to be involved in dealing with allegations of bullying and sexual harassment against their parliamentary colleagues in a “seismic change” to the way such issues are dealt with.
Instead, an independent expert panel for determining bullying or sexual harassment complaints against MPs is to be created.
The long-awaited reform is being pushed through by the new Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. The powerful House of Commons Commission, which he chairs, backed it on Monday.
That comes more than a year after it was recommended in an independent report by Dame Laura Cox, whose inquiry found a widespread culture of bullying and harassment in parliament. MPs had criticised the Commons authorities for failing to implement it sooner.
“I am very happy to see that the commission has agreed with the preferred option of an independent expert panel, subject to consultation and to a sensible agreement as to a broad range of sanctions,” Cox said on Monday.
Lindsay Hoyle was born in Adlington, Lancashire, in 1957. The son of the former Labour MP Doug Hoyle, before entering politics he ran his own textile and screen printing business. Hoyle has been married twice, and had two daughters. One of them, Natalie Lewis-Hoyle, died in 2017 aged 28.
Hoyle was elected Labour MP for Chorley in 1997, and was elevated to deputy speaker of the House of Commons under John Bercow in 2010. He was elected Speaker in November 2019, succeeding Bercow.
As deputy speaker it was his job to chair the government’s budget speeches, and he also was in the chair in 2017 when he ordered the SNP to stop singing the European Union anthem Ode To Joy in the chamber.
As Speaker, Hoyle is obliged to renounce his former political affiliation, and remain strictly neutral. In hustings to take the role as Speaker, Hoyle said parliament needed to crack down on a drink and drugs culture. In his acceptance speech, he said he wanted the British parliament to once again be the envy of the world.
“I am extremely pleased to see that this option has commanded the most widespread support. It also meets the requirements of independence and expertise, which are so crucial to the success of any scheme.”
In her report, Cox criticised a tradition of “deference and silence” in Parliament that “actively sought to cover up abusive conduct” gave no protection to those reporting bullying or sexual harassment.
Among those to be accused of bullying has been the former Speaker, John Bercow, who has consistently denied the allegations.
The move to create a more independent process, which will now be opened to public consultation, was also welcomed by Parliamentary staff representatives.
“This is a seismic change for staff working in Parliament and we are pleased that the Commission has adopted our preferred model of a Parliamentary Tribunal, consisting of external experts, to determine outcomes on complaints,” said Amy Leversidge, the assistant general secretary of the civil servants’ union, the FDA.
She said this was a “victory for the staff who have bravely spoken out about their experiences of bullying and harassment, and the devastating impact that the unchecked power of MPs has had on their lives and careers”.
Garry Graham, the deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said: “It was always unsustainable to have MPs sitting in judgment on each other, so this step towards an independent system will be welcomed by parliamentary staff … It has taken far too long to reach this point but, this progress is certainly better late than never.”
Under the current system, allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct against MPs are sent to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who can then pass them on to the Select Committee on Standards, which is made up of both MPs and lay members.
This would be replaced by the new panel, which would be made up of experts who would have the power to determine cases and decide on sanctions. Among the issues on which the House of Commons Commission’s consultation is seeking views is whether or not to allow a former MP to sit on the panel.