Supplementary written evidence from the House of Commons Trade Union Side


Trade Union Side (TUS) follow up to Oral Evidence on 2 March to the Committee on Standards inquiry into the MPs’ Code of Conduct


Further to the evidence session on 2 March 2021, the trade unions representing House of Commons staff, thought it would be helpful to follow up to clarify our position on some of the issues raised by the Committee and to take account of developments since we submitted written evidence in October 2020 – in particular, Alison Stanley’s report on the 18-month review of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) and the establishment of the Independent Expert Panel.

Employers’ Duty of care


As set out in our written evidence in October, our priority is for arrangements to protect our members and ensure that the House can fulfil its duty of care as an employer. For this reason, we suggested that the MPs’ Code could be amended to include a new requirement not to behave in a way that interferes with the House’s responsibilities or duty of care as an employer could be incorporated into the MPs Code. This would enable the House authorities to make a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in circumstances where, for example, an MP has acted in such a way as to cause a risk to health and safety.


Strengthening confidence in the ICGS


The introduction of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), complete with Dame Laura Cox’s recommendations was a major step forward for staff. It is very welcome that the 18-month review, published in February 2021, found that stakeholders across the parliamentary community remained fully committed to the “core ICGS principles of fair, independent and consistent investigation of all formal complaints” and to the ICGS as a “signal of intent to build a workplace culture of dignity and respect.”[1]


It is important that there is a continued and concerted effort to maintain trust and confidence in the ICGS so that staff continue to use it. This means keeping the policy under review, being open and honest about any issues and/or identifying gaps and then finding solutions to deal with the issues. Related to this, the report of the 18-month review made some helpful recommendations, which are discussed below.


Employment support for MPs’ staff


The review found there was a perception among some MPs staff that a formal complaint to the ICGS would not be an effective option “even if the complaint was successful, given the particular features and dynamic of the employment context for MPs' staff. The working relationship would be broken, and the staff members' continued employment unlikely.” The report concluded that the answer to “increasing the confidence of MPs' staff in the ICGS appears to lie firstly in developing and implementing robust employment practice in MPs' offices and providing support to Members and their staff.It recommended “Members' Services trial for six months an advice service for MPs' staff providing coaching or tactical advice in dealing with day to day employment issues. This would not include legal representation for an individual.[2]  We agree and support the recommendation. Although we represent House staff rather than MPs’ staff, we believe all staff on the Parliamentary Estate should have access to appropriate support and remedies. The ICGS was set up to deal with complaints of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. If inappropriate complaints are taken to it because there is nowhere else to go, this will undermine confidence in the scheme.






ParliREACH’s 2019 report Stand in my Shoes: Race and Culture in Parliament said that some staff did not contribute to the Cox report because they did not have faith in the process. They considered it a “missed opportunity to address the religious and racial discrimination that takes place in Parliament because of its focus on gender, sexual harassment and bullying.”[3]


The 2020 culture survey of House staff found that BAME staff were significantly more likely to have experienced discrimination and generally more likely (although not significantly) to have experienced bullying/harassment. BAME staff who were desk-based were significantly more likely to have experienced discrimination; those who were not desk-based were significantly more likely to have experienced discrimination and/or bullying and harassment. They were also less likely to report bullying/harassment and/or discrimination, with concerns about reprisals and a perception of not being taken seriously the most common reasons.[4]


The Stanley report found that progress was needed to ensure equality of opportunity to use the ICGS for non-desk based staff, not only because of the nature of their job but also as it was recognised that staff from BAME communities are more likely to be found in non-desk based roles. [5]  However, its recommendations in this area appear limited and unspecific:


-analysis of Helpline usage statistics followed by further research and engagement activities to ascertain the reasons for which BAME staff were less likely to have used the Helpline; and

- the inclusion of references to gendered bullying and bullying based on other protected characteristics or intersectionality.[6]


We support the work being undertaken by the Clerk’s BAME advisory group and its proposal for a review of ICGS to ensure it is taking account the views of BAME colleagues, trusted by BAME colleagues and is equipped and demonstrating that it is addressing racism and supporting BAME people.


Valuing everyone training

We believe that Valuing Everyone training is a crucial part of the cultural change work within Parliament, without which the ICGS and the positive work of many members of the parliamentary community on these issues will be put at risk. Therefore we recommend that it be made mandatory for MPs, as it is in the Lords.

We welcome Alison Stanley’s recommendations that the House of Commons should decide that all MPs attend the Valuing Everyone training on an ongoing basis. We agree that this “mandating of themselves to do so will resend a clear and powerful message to the whole Parliamentary community and externally that they remain committed to an improved culture.” We agree with the recommendations to set timescales for attendance and that all members of the Parliamentary Community should be required to retake training at least every three years.[7]

Third Party reporting

The trade unions were disappointed that the Stanley report concluded that it should “continue to be the position across both Houses that third parties cannot formally report behaviour under the ICGS policies and procedures.” It noted instead measures – such as Valuing Everyone training – designed to equip staff and managers with the skills and confidence to constructively challenge poor behaviour in the moment.[8]

The ICGS was created because the existing means of dealing with unacceptable behaviour towards staff by MPs – including an emphasis on “cultural” and leadership approaches not dissimilar to the ones Alison Stanley refers to in her report – had failed, and failed over decades. We are concerned that some staff may be reluctant to take the first step in taking a complaint. Gemma White, for example, said that contributors to her enquiry “expressed considerable concern about using the new procedures and scepticism as to what the ICGS can realistically achieve”. Many of them told me they would not contemplate making a complaint under the new ICGS procedure, because it would be “career suicide” (p3).


Although House staff are not directly employed by MPs, they may have similar concerns about the impact of taking a complaint on their career prospects and working relationships. For this reason, we think a third party such as a trade union or the employer should be able to initiate a complaint, with those directly affected providing evidence as witnesses. This would have provided a means by which Parliament could have acted corporately on evidence provided by its staff to mitigate or eliminate potential risk to them. The fact that the report of the 18-month review does not recommend this, does not absolve the House of its obligation to provide its employees with a safe working environment and to act promptly where there is institutional awareness of potential risk. One option would be – as discussed above - the insertion into the Code of Conduct of a requirement “not to behave in a way that the interferes with the House’s responsibilities or duty of care as an employer”. This could provide Parliament with the ability to make a complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standard where there is evidence of an MP’s behaviour or actions affecting their employees’ health and safety. 

The Behaviour Code


The MPs Code of Conduct largely details MPs obligations to register and declare their financial interests, and the restrictions on lobbying for reward or consideration.[9] From June 2018, the Code was amended to incorporate the Behaviour Code, saying that MPs were expected to observe the principles set out in it – of respect, professionalism, understanding others’ perspectives, courtesy, and acceptance of responsibility.[10]

In evidence to the Committee, the Cultural Transformation Director of the House of Commons commented on its interaction with the MPs’ Code of Conduct as follows:

Although, certain tenets of the Behaviour Code do not easily lend themselves to formal rules and requirements (for example, understanding others’ perspectives), it would be helpful to provide MPs with positive examples of what the Code means in practice and how to abide by it. Rules and sanctions clearly play an important role in ensuring a culture of dignity and respect. However, it is equally important to support and encourage positive behaviours.


It was left open as to whether this would best be achieved via the Code and Guide to the Rules itself or by separate guidance.


To support the Behaviour Code, the House introduced service restriction guidance on 15 March 2021. Endorsed by the Commissions of both Houses, this is intended to help managers to intervene ‘in the moment’ to address poor behaviour from passholders – including MPs. The behaviour covered is that which is judged to:



It enables managers to consider whether any further action is needed, which could include temporarily restricting access to a service or providing that service in a different way.


The trade unions fully support this policy. The House should commit to a review of the policy after one year of implementation to ensure it is working effectively.


The Ministerial Code

While the Ministerial Code was changed in 2018 to include that Ministers shouldn’t bully or harass their staff there is still no independent process (the equivalent of the IGCS) to deal with complaints against Ministers. This is clearly a problem for civil servants who work closely with Ministers but does create an unfairness when thinking about the two in tandem – an MP could bully their member of staff in Parliament and that member of staff would have a means for it to be investigated independently from beginning to end but if the same MP is also a Minister and they bullied a civil servant in Whitehall that civil servant would have no independent, transparent process to deal with it.

This has implications for the IGCS in so far as negative stories about the ineffective processes to deal with Ministerial bullying may cause damage to the reputation of the ICGS as often the systems can be conflated and confused by both the press and the public.

8 April 2021

[1]               ICGS: Independent 18-month review, Alison Stanley, 22 February 2021, Executive Summary

[2]               Ibid

[3]               Stand in my shoes: Race and culture in Parliament, ParliREACH, 2019

[4]               Everyone has a voice survey results, Feb 2020

[5]               ICGS: Independent 18-month review, Alison Stanley, 22 February 2021, para 167

[6]               Ibid para 81

[7]               ICGS: Independent 18-month review, Alison Stanley, 22 February 2021, chapter 7

[8]               Ibid, para 261

[9]               https://www.parliament.uk/mps-lor-bbds-and-offices/standards-and-financial-interests/parliamentary-commissioner-for-standards/code-of-conduct-and-rules-of-the-house/; rules of conduct in Part V

[10]               https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmcode/1882/1882.pdf