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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Natural justice wins-out over Government idiocy

Commonsense prevailed in the House of Commons yesterday when MPs voted down controversial proposals introduced by the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, that would have allowed them to debate complaints about serious bullying and harassment.

As the Guardian reports, an open letter sent by past and present parliamentary staff, union leaders, MPs and women’s groups had accused Rees-Mogg of undermining a new independent system designed to prevent bullying and sexual harassment in parliament, by allowing MPs to debate serious sanctions made by a new independent expert panel (IEP). But this was foiled when an amendment tabled by Labour MP Chris Bryant, which ruled out debating complaints against MPs in the chamber, passed by five votes:

MPs were given a free vote, but Tory whips told their MPs that the chief whip would be voting against the Bryant amendment and for the motion in the name of the leader of the house.

However, the amendment found favour on both sides of the house. New Tory MP and former employment law barrister Laura Farris said: “Any form of process which invites members to speak up for colleagues against a background of party allegiance and personal loyalties is fundamentally problematic.” Former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom argued that allowing a debate, even with constraints, would “result in a complainant feeling re-victimised”.

Labour’s Jess Phillips said allowing debates would stop victims from coming forward, while fellow Labour MP Meg Hillier raised concerns about a “bully pulpit” being used in the Commons.

MPs voted in favour of supporting the creation of an independent panel of experts to deal with allegations against them. The eight-member panel will have the ability to investigate independently and impose sanctions including the suspension and exclusion of MPs in the most serious cases.

The paper explains that the introduction of an independent complaints procedure came more than 18 months after an independent inquiry by Dame Laura Cox revealed the scale of sexual harassment, intimidation and bullying in Westminster. Cox said the vast majority of abuse was targeted at women, whose careers had been blighted by a lack of action.

Whatever the motives of the Leader of the House in seeking to undermine that process, at least a majority of MPs saw sense and have now enabled natural justice to take its course in future complaints.
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