Committee on Standards publishes report on the conduct of Christopher Pincher
6 July 2023
The Committee on Standards has today released a report on the conduct of the Rt Hon Christopher Pincher MP.
This report arises from a complaint made to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that Christopher Pincher MP had breached paragraph 17 of the 2019 Code of Conduct for Members by his conduct at the Carlton Club on 29th and 30th June 2022.
The Commissioner supplied the Committee on Standards with a memorandum relating to these matters, with the Committee then inviting Mr Pincher to submit written evidence to or request to give oral evidence. Mr Pincher indicated to the Committee that he did not wish to give oral evidence, but would provide written evidence, which was received and consequently considered by the Committee.
In order to protect the confidentiality of those involved in the case, and because of the sensitive and personal nature of the subject matter, the Committee have decided to refer to and quote from the written evidence rather than publish it in full, and, exceptionally, not to publish the Commissioner's memorandum.
The Committee summarises the Commissioner’s advice before setting out its decision.
The facts of this case relate to sexual misconduct. Members of the Parliamentary community may make a complaint about bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct by other members of the Parliamentary community (where this takes place on the Parliamentary estate, or elsewhere in connection with Parliamentary activities) to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS).
The complainant in this case initially made a complaint of sexual misconduct to the ICGS, which did not proceed beyond initial assessment as it was deemed to be outside the remit of the scheme.
The Commissioner has been clear that his investigation, initiated by his predecessor, was not a "substitute ICGS process" but rather an inquiry limited to whether Mr Pincher breached paragraph 17 of the 2019 Code. The Committee has considered this case solely on that basis.
The Commissioner’s opinion
Following his investigation, the Commissioner found that, during a visit to the Carlton Club on 29 and 30 June 2022, Mr Pincher groped two individuals; that his physical contact with those individuals was unwanted, upsetting, and deeply inappropriate; that Mr Pincher was intoxicated at the time of these events; and that his behaviour was witnessed by at least one other user of the Club and likely witnessed by others.
The Commissioner advised the Committee that "the serious and public nature of [Mr Pincher's] misconduct means that his conduct has caused significant and lasting damage to the reputation and integrity of the House", therefore breaching paragraph 17 of the 2019 Code of Conduct.
Mr Pincher’s position
Mr Pincher has accepted that his conduct has damaged his own reputation and that of the Government of which he was a member at the time, and has also apologised to the parties involved.
He denies, however, that his conduct caused significant damage to the reputation of the House (and therefore would not breach paragraph 17 of the Code). Mr Pincher also told the Commissioner, but did not repeat in his evidence to the Committee, that at the time of the events, he was attending the Carlton Club only in his personal capacity - with the implication that his conduct therefore falls outside the scope of the Code of Conduct. In his correspondence with the Commissioner and written submission to the Committee, Mr Pincher also drew attention to what he describes as "inconsistencies, anomalies and gaps in the evidence" which he argues "don’t present a complete picture".
In respect of the facts of the case, Mr Pincher also told the Commissioner that he is unable to recall the events in question.
The Committee’s findings
The Code of Conduct applies to Members “in all aspects of their public life”, but “does not seek to regulate what Members do in their purely private and personal lives”.
The Committee views it as “irrelevant whether Mr Pincher was invited to speak at the Carlton Club in his capacity as a current member of the Government, a former Minister, or a serving MP. Any of these would form a part of Mr Pincher's "public life", and therefore fall within the scope of the Code.”
The Committee reasserts that the Code does “not seek to regulate what Members do in their purely private and personal lives” but that Mr Pincher's participation in the event was “undoubtedly part of his public life”. It found that his conduct therefore falls within the scope of the Code.
The Committee has reviewed all the evidence at its disposal, including witness statements and accompanying exhibits, and states that this “manifestly meets the evidential test of the balance of probabilities” and that Mr Pincher’s behaviour was “unwanted, upsetting, and inappropriate”.
The Committee concluded that Mr Pincher’s conduct was “completely inappropriate, profoundly damaging to the individuals concerned, and represented an abuse of power”. Therefore, the Committee agreed with the Commissioner that Mr Pincher's conduct on 29th and 30th June 2022 breached paragraph 17 of the 2019 Code of Conduct.
The Committee’s recommended sanction
The Committee found the following points to be aggravating factors:
- Mr Pincher is an experienced Member of the House and was a senior Government Minister and Privy Councillor. As Government Deputy Chief Whip he had responsibility for enforcing party discipline and upholding standards.
- Mr Pincher's behaviour has had a significant impact on the individuals concerned.
- There was more than one instance of this behaviour on the evening in question.
- Mr Pincher was, by his own admission, heavily intoxicated at the time the conduct took place.
- Mr Pincher's behaviour represented an abuse of power, as he was in a position of authority.
The Committee found the following points to be mitigating factors:
- Mr Pincher has expressed genuine contrition, and in his submission to this Committee has offered an apology to those affected.
- Mr Pincher promptly resigned as a Government Minister and, in doing so, took responsibility for his actions.
- Mr Pincher has cooperated with the Commissioner's investigation.
The Committee note that the breach they had to consider is solely whether Mr Pincher has caused significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House as a whole, or of its Members generally. The Committee concluded that the perception that MPs can engage in such conduct with impunity significantly impacts public perception of the House and its Members.
The Committee therefore recommends that Mr Pincher be suspended from the service of the House for 8 weeks.
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