As the Lib Dems review their handling of harassment allegations and complaints of a “Kafka-esque” process, how should victims make their voice heard in Westminster?
This depends largely upon who is involved and whether the matter relates to the House of Commons or the House of Lords. MPs are accountable to three bodies: their constituency, the House of Commons and their party. Lords members are responsible to the House of Lords and their party.
In all cases, experts stress the importance of trying to resolve the issue informally in the first instance, ideally with a direct conversation to the person involved. The House of Commons’ Respect Policy, says:
“If you feel unable to speak directly to the person concerned, you may wish to write to him or her. Once he or she knows that their behaviour is unwelcome, your letter may be enough to stop it. Keep a copy of your letter and any reply.”
Civil servants and parliamentary staff that are unable to resolve the issue directly are advised to contact their union representatives before embarking upon the formal official complaints process. Formal complaints would be lodged with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards which currently operates under the Respect Policy. A signed letter should be filed with supporting evidence.
Lords staff could consider raising the matter directly with the person involved, or their party leader, chief whip or the convenor of crossbench peers. In the last resort they should contact the Lords Commissioner for Standards who is responsible for the investigation of alleged breaches of the House of Lords code of conduct.
In both cases the investigating commissioner would review the evidence and decide whether to take the case to a review stage. The only exception is matters that effectively purport to potential criminal acts. In such cases, matters should be reported to the police.
The House of Commons largely operates to its “respect” policy and a wider code of conduct, that is currently being revised. Staff believing they have been victims of harassment or bullying have the option to register a formal complaint with a so-called “nominated director”, which will be examined by members of the Senior Commons Service (SCS) who are assisted by staff trained in harassment investigation.
A nominated member of the SCS has the power to take matters even further to a wider political level and can even liaise with the appropriate party whip to seek resolution to the complaint.
Should the matter not be resolved – or the complainant is either a whip or a cabinet minister themselves, it can go before the Speaker of the House.
For Lords-related matters, the commissioner makes an initial assessment of the complaint and rules whether or not to investigate based on the code of conduct. If the commissioner decides that a complaint does not merit investigation then he will provide the person who has complained with a brief explanation of his decision.
Each department has nominated a senior manager to be the point of contact for all complainants, while a “nominated officer” can raise complaints at the political level. Criminal allegations will be handled separately by police.
The lords commissioner for standards who is responsible for the investigation of alleged breaches of the House of Lords code of conduct. The current commissioner is Paul Kernaghan.
New and ongoing revisions to the code of conduct give new powers to the standards and privileges committee. Penalties can range from a forced apology in the House, to a temporary ban and even expulsion.