I spoke this afternoon in the debate on the implementation of the report by Dame Laura Cox into the bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff. Dame Laura’s report recommended three steps to improving the situation, one of which (the introduction of the independent complaints and grievance scheme) has already been achieved. I am very keen to see swift action on the remaining points, which will hopefully help to regain public confidence in Parliament and Parliamentarians.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), and I apologise for missing the opening speech, as I was attending a polling station at that time.
Like many in the Chamber, I very much welcome the good work undertaken by Dame Laura Cox and the former Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). She was emphatic in her support for Dame Laura’s report and eager to see its recommendations implemented. I am sure that her successor is equally keen. While a fundamental change in policy will always require time and patience, I feel very strongly that we must prioritise its implementation, as has been said so often this afternoon. I believe that that is essential if we are to regain the trust of the House staff and, equally importantly, the wider public. Indeed, I am convinced that it is also key to regaining public trust more generally in politics and politicians.
The implementation delays are unacceptable. As Members, I am sure that we all agree that the staff of this House do an absolutely remarkable job for all of us, often under intense pressure. Much of what goes on in this place involves some level of stress or pressure—not least time pressure—whether that is on the shoulders of parliamentarians or House staff. Often, it is indeed a shared pressure. We are all fallible as human beings, but what we must avoid, and what Dame Laura sought to highlight in her report, is the almost casual manner in which this wicked sort of bullying, harassment and behaviour seemed to have become endemic in this place. I imagine that this was sadly supported by a blind-eye policy adopted by those around them. Stress and pressure are no excuse for an underlying culture of bullying and harassment. As Members, we must remember that the tentacles of bullying and harassment go beyond the workplace to the domestic environment, social lives and general wellbeing of the individuals who are subject to bullying and harassment. We must never, ever condone any such activity.
It is clear that there was little confidence in the erstwhile Valuing Others policy, introduced as far back as 2007, or the Respect policy of 2011, however well intended they were. In fact, it is frankly astonishing that there was no formal avenue for dealing with complaints before these policies came into effect, or indeed, that even after their introduction, it seemed that the somewhat old-fashioned and antiquated “quiet word” in one’s ear here or there was sufficient. That is not acceptable any more. We can hardly be surprised, therefore, that there was little confidence in the policies or their implementation. However, by swift action we must be satisfied that the staff of this House—they are so important—will have confidence in the implementation of the Cox recommendations. There are indeed only three; there is not a raft of important recommendations to implement. The introduction of the independent complaints and grievance scheme marks a positive first step, but we must not lose our momentum. We must overcome the inertia that we have experienced to date.
Earlier this month, the House of Commons Commission confirmed that agreement had been reached on the implementation of the Cox recommendations. I am, however, concerned about the treatment of historical cases before June 2017. I see no acceptable justification or reason as to why it is impossible to assess historical incidents with similar accuracy as recent cases, and I hope that that decision will be reconsidered or revisited.
Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons or, indeed, in any area of public life whatsoever. It is abundantly clear that we have failed the staff in the past, and we must not fail them in the future. However, the solution lies not just in the implementation of the Cox recommendations but more fundamentally in the behaviour of ourselves as parliamentarians. In closing, I suggest that we as parliamentarians we would do well to listen to the wise words of Robert Burns, who wrote as follows:
“O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!”