Democracy is in danger, warns Theresa May - Parliament Matters podcast, Episode 35 transcript

17 May 2024
©Hansard Society/Roger Harris
©Hansard Society/Roger Harris

Former Prime Minister, Theresa May MP, delivered a stark warning about the state of democracy in a powerful Churchill-Attlee Lecture commemorating the Hansard Society's 80th anniversary. This week, we also got a tantalizing glimpse of Labour's parliamentary strategy in a speech by Lucy Powell MP, the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons. And Lib Dem Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP reveals the behind-the-scenes efforts and cross-party collaboration that led to a successful amendment this week to protect the safety of those on the parliamentary estate.

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00:00:00:00 - 00:00:17:02 You're listening to Parliament Matters, a Hansard Society production supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. Learn more at 00:00:17:04 - 00:00:40:20 Welcome to Parliament Matters, the podcast about the institution at the heart of our democracy, Parliament itself. I'm Ruth Fox and I'm Mark D'Arcy. Coming up, Theresa May warns democracy is in danger in the inaugural Hansard Society Churchill-Attlee Democracy Lecture. Suddenly, people are asking how Labour would govern. And this week we got a couple of glimpses of their strategy for Parliament. 00:00:40:22 - 00:00:57:01 And behind the scenes in the Commons knife edge vote on excluding MPs accused of violent or sexual crimes. I've only been on the side of a winning vote, maybe once, maybe twice, since I was elected. 00:00:59:11 - 00:01:23:12 But first, Ruth, I think we really do have to talk about Theresa May's warning about confidence in democracy in the Churchill Attlee Lecture. This is the start of the Hansard Society's 80th anniversary celebrations, and the former Prime Minister was actually rather downbeat about the state of our democracy at the moment, about particularly the lack of trust for democratic institutions amongst younger people. And the figures that she was producing were really quite alarming. 00:01:23:18 - 00:01:53:03

Democracy is in trouble here in the UK and around the world. We know from opinion research that support for our democratic institutions is wavering, especially among the young. The most recent United Nations Human Development report showed that for the first time ever, more than half the global population supports leaders who may undermine democracy. 00:01:53:05 - 00:02:20:08 Polling by TexC&C for the Munich Security Conference showed that over the last three years, support for democracy across the developed world has fallen. Of all the countries surveyed, support for democracy is lowest in the United States and Canada, and it revealed an approval rating of only 70% in the UK and just 58% among young people. 00:02:20:10 - 00:02:39:00 Yeah, I mean, she obviously looked to the research. She's reflecting on the fact that younger people don't quite have the faith in democracy that older generations did. You know, we found it in our own Audit of Political Engagement over the years that you can see support for Parliament as an institution, and support for the democratic process has waned. 00:02:39:00 - 00:03:03:04 People have less faith in it than they used to. And amongst young people, the idea almost of the strongman of politics, the Trumpian model almost, has been on the rise. And she's got quite a stark warning against that. What she was calling for was for a return of what she called a culture of service in politics. For politicians, by their actions to dispel the usual charge that they're only in it for themselves. 00:03:03:06 - 00:03:27:11 She took particular aim at the idea that being elected somehow made an MP different and above the rules, that she thought was one of the vibes behind the Downing Street parties, for example, and other scandals where MPs have just behaved as if there was no consequence for anything that they've done. While that's going on, she says it's very difficult to promote the idea that democracy is delivering for the public at large. 00:03:27:12 - 00:03:52:00 Yeah, I mean, I think if anybody's read her book Abuse of Power, the themes of the speech will be very familiar. She builds on and expresses in more detail some of those themes. What she's very strong on - and it's partly one of the reasons why we wanted her to give this speech - obviously, she's a successor in the Prime Ministerial role to Churchill and Attlee - and there are certain Prime Ministers of recent vintage, shall we say, that we wouldn't have had give this speech. 00:03:52:02 - 00:04:15:07 But one of the reasons was that she's always been a committed parliamentarian, and yet she's also somebody who, you know, you look at the record of recent years and you could pick up, shall we say, issues and problems in terms of her relationship with Parliament, particularly during Brexit. But one of the things that has stood out about her is that she's been both a frontbencher for a long period of time, but also an active backbencher. 00:04:15:07 - 00:04:56:12 When she returned to the backbenches after standing down as Prime Minister. And she's always had a very strong relationship with her constituency in Maidenhead, and she's always made this argument that MPs have got to be strong local representatives, constituency servants on behalf of the public, representing their constituents, bringing their issues to Westminster. But she's also in the book and then in the speech made some quite powerful statements about the need for people to come into politics and public life for the right reasons and that culture of service. And also with the right background to an extent, because what she didn't like was this idea that you can have a career where you're an 00:04:56:12 - 00:05:27:19 MPs assistant and you become a special adviser to a minister and then ba-da-bim the party parachutes you into an agreeable, safe seat, which you then represent for the rest of your life, serving in various ministerial offices along the way. She wants people to have had a background outside of Westminster, politics in particular, and she spoke highly of service on local councils, for example, as something that will give you some contact with the reality of people's lives outside of the SW1 postcode. 00:05:27:21 - 00:05:55:07 And she thinks that's particularly important. And leaving aside things like professional experience and life before and after politics. But she's also quite strong on this idea that people should come in not because they want to be and aspire to be ministers, but they should want to come in to be an MP. And that alone should be enough. Which you might say is fair enough to say when you've reached the heady heights of Number Ten - six years as Home Secretary plus a term as Prime Minister, you know, she she had actually reached the heights. 00:05:55:07 - 00:06:25:17 Yeah. So it's easy to say from that perspective. But she's very strong on this sort of idea that MPs have got to be servants of their constituents and deliver good representation, high standards. She’s very strong on this idea that when you come in to Parliament that the act of being elected does not make you different or should not make you different, and you shouldn't behave as if you're different, which, of course is one of the problems with the culture of the House, that too many take the approach once they're elected, that actually they are different. 00:06:25:19 - 00:06:56:24 And in a sense they are, because we've talked on the podcast before about constitutionally, the nature of the role means it's different to many other jobs. But I think it is telling that earlier this week, and this is a subject we'll be talking about later in the podcast. She was one of the Conservative MPs who voted for an opposition led amendment on the treatment of MPs when they are accused of serious violent or sexual crimes - exclusion at the point of arrest rather than at the point of charge, which is what the government was promoting. 00:06:56:24 - 00:07:15:18 Now that's one example of tackling this kind of culture of exceptionalism that's out there with MPs. But there were lots of very sort of romantic speeches about since the year 1340, MPs have had these special rights. So she's standing out against a view that's held actually by quite a lot of her colleagues, particularly on the Conservative benches it has to be said. 00:07:15:20 - 00:07:42:09 And a number of people have said to me, one of the things that struck them about the speech was reflecting on her time in office in Number Ten, how strongly she felt about John Bercow. And again, if you've read that book, it's there, but it comes through quite powerfully in the speech. And she was she was asked about that in questions, and she acknowledged that the problems of Brexit and the problems of her premiership did not come about solely because of John Bercow. 00:07:42:09 - 00:08:01:15 But it's pretty clear she thinks some of them did. Well she thinks that there was a key moment when John Bercow wouldn't allow a motion to be put to Parliament for a second time, which would, she thought have allowed her proposed Brexit deal to go through. That was the final nail in its coffin as far as she was concerned. 00:08:01:17 - 00:08:21:12 Now, I must admit I differ slightly with Theresa May on this point. And the difficulty she had, she was always on a hiding to nothing I think as a Prime Minister who'd at least nominally backed remain, succeeding David Cameron and having to push through Brexit and without being trusted by the Brexiteers, that was always going to be a pretty difficult wicket to bat on. 00:08:21:14 - 00:08:48:10 And then she called a snap election and lost her majority at a time when all the parties were divided and the Commons was as scrambled as its pretty much ever been in terms of movements across party lines and the various cross-cutting tensions that Brexit brought about, she was always in a fantastically difficult position. But after 2017 she was trying to party as if she was Tony Blair with a massive majority, able to do whatever he wanted in terms of policy. 00:08:48:16 - 00:09:18:22 When she hadn't gone through the small formality of securing such a majority at a general election. She did quite the reverse. She'd lost what majority David Cameron had bequeathed her. Yeah, I think also in terms of the way she treated Parliament, as you say, tried to govern with as if they got a majority and dismissing things like opposition day debates, trying to maintain majorities on public bill committees and so on, all the sort of the structural and procedural panoply of things that go with a majority government, which brought her into difficulties and into conflict. 00:09:18:24 - 00:09:46:04 I think just going back to what we were saying earlier, one of the things with Bercow in particular, I think also that probably sticks in her craw is the bullying allegations. And I think that underscores some of this and this idea that behaving differently, not setting an example. But on the other hand, when she got into trouble over Brexit and the various votes, you know, she agreed to various Conservative MPs who lost the whip for various allegations about different range of offenses that they were alleged to have committed and were under investigation 00:09:46:04 - 00:10:09:00 she let them have the whip back, brought them back into the fold for the vote. So when the backs are against the wall, even the Prime Ministers who talk a high - high moral tone - yeah, take a high moral tone, they slip back into lower standards shall we say. There was this whole Parliament versus the people tone to a lot of her pronouncements - which of course, is what Meg Russell at the Constitutional Unit brought up in questions. 00:10:09:06 - 00:10:33:21 And she didn't get much of an answer I fear. But I kind of feel that to some extent, John Bercow was saying there isn't a majority for this policy. It can't be pushed through purely by procedural means. The Commons has got to have its voice on this, wherever that takes it. And in that he was acting as a servant of the house, it might not have been particularly comfortable for a government, especially one that's just used to having a majority and getting its way. 00:10:33:23 - 00:10:52:18 But the basic fact is they didn't have a majority and there wasn't a majority for Theresa May's policy, except possibly for that brief moment when she thought she had the Democratic Unionist Party on side and thought she could deliver her own Brexit ultras all behind her deal. And that moment evaporated in a twinkling. So that was the difficulty that Theresa May had. 00:10:52:18 - 00:11:12:19 And while John Bercow must have been pretty annoying to deal with as a government, I'd imagine, I don't think he was to blame for it. No, no. Another aspect that she took a very strong tone on and has been topical in recent years as well, is this question of ministerial responsibility, not just ministerial responsibility to Parliament, but ministerial responsibility across the board? 00:11:12:19 - 00:11:36:01 This idea that you're the minister in charge of the department, you craft your policies, you bring forward your legislation, and you know whether or not the policy works or not, it's on you. And she was quite tough on the line that ministers have got to accept responsibility for the policies within their purview and have got to stop vilifying the civil service when things don't quite go their way. 00:11:36:03 - 00:12:05:05 It is particularly inexcusable to see the civil service repeatedly and publicly vilified and blamed when policy isn't working in the way politicians intended. Over the years, I've had the privilege to work alongside thousands of dedicated officials and have seen it first hand. The professionalism and commitment they bring to their roles. Like in any workplace, it is entirely proper to expect high performance. 00:12:05:07 - 00:12:25:18 I suspect the civil servants who've worked for me over the years would say I could be a demanding minister, but I would like to think that they knew that when challenge came, it was respectful and was motivated by a desire to see policy work and for government to be effective. But in our system, the buck stops with ministers. 00:12:25:20 - 00:12:56:24 Yeah, she didn't actually use the phrase “the blob”, but that was the whole idea that the idea that there's some sort of great institutional resistance to things that a radical Conservative government is trying to do, that's been promoted by other voices in the Conservative Party in recent years, is something she clearly doesn't agree with. I think there was a little underlying implication there that sometimes the reasons things went wrong was not that there was “the blob” resisting them, but that the ideas were basically nitwit to start. But she didn't identify any particular one! 00:12:57:04 - 00:13:31:09 Yeah. But plenty to choose from. Something else she picks up on that we talked about on the podcast, obviously just a couple of weeks ago is this idea of, I guess, back to where we started about democracy and about faith in democracy, was this idea of false facts and the way in which information and knowledge are shared and the difficulties, particularly in the current technological and social media environment, to be able to pursue your policies and be able to pursue arguments in a culture and an environment in which false facts can spread so quickly and undermine what you're saying. 00:13:31:10 - 00:13:57:09 Indeed, as a as a Prime Minister and before that, a Home Secretary, she had access to all the briefing from the security services and was talking about how malign foreign countries were more than happy to stir the pot in this country and create and amplify discord and plant what she called false facts and pernicious narratives out there, which were all too eagerly then picked up by an army of trolls and obsessives and conspiracy theorists in cyberspace. 00:13:57:10 - 00:14:30:15 So yeah, legislative scrutiny was also a strong theme. And again, easy to say when you're out of office, isn't it? The usual thing. But she reflected that arguably there's too much legislation, that there's not enough reflection after legislation is passed as to whether or not it's actually achieved the objectives that were set for it. Although she acknowledged that the Home Office was a department which has a lot of legislation, which really churned it out. Apparently in opposition, she had dabbled with the idea of having a limit on the number of bills the government would attempt to put through in a given parliament. And that was kiboshed, that was kiboshed. 00:14:30:15 - 00:14:53:08 And I think on mature consideration, she probably decided that it wasn't perhaps the best way forward. So she talked about that. But she was very keen on pre legislative scrutiny, which is where there's a kind of slightly less party poisoned scrutiny of a proposal before it's fed into the parliamentary legislating machine. So you have a draft bill and a committee goes away and looks at it and comes up with ideas on how to improve it or polish it up. 00:14:53:10 - 00:15:22:16 But she's also keen on post legislative scrutiny. A formal mechanism for reviewing how well a law has worked. So she suggested a joint committee of Lords and Commons, which would pick up on particular new laws, acts of Parliament and study how well that worked in practice after a decent interval to see how it worked. Of course the House of Lords already does this, I mean this this would be the House of Commons catching up, really, because the Lords has, within its current rules for setting up of whatever sort of ad hoc committee, several ad hoc committees. 00:15:22:16 - 00:15:46:06 Each session it sets up one, usually on post legislative scrutiny, and Peers can bid for which Acts of Parliament they think should be reviewed. And it's usually one, perhaps two each session. But the Commons really it falls within the purview of departmental select committees. But they don't really do that much of it. I think the general attitude in the Commons is once a Bill is off to be signed by the Sovereign, it never darkens their door again. 00:15:46:08 - 00:16:05:06 Although, having said that, of course, endlessly you've seen it with the Rwanda legislation. They constantly have to keep coming back to certain areas of law to try and update them, because the courts have ruled this or it hasn't worked because of that or whatever. So they do do a bit of - it's not quite post legislative scrutiny - but it's kind of post legislative patching up. 00:16:05:06 - 00:16:26:05 Yeah. Anyway, it's an interesting speech. It's big picture themes. It's quite reflective in parts based on her experience and her concerns about the direction of travel in terms of democracy, not just in the UK, but there's also a global element to her thinking as well. And, keep listening, you can find out how you can access the recording of the event later on. 00:16:26:07 - 00:16:59:05

But that wasn't the only speech about the workings of Parliament that's attracted our attention this week because Lucy Powell, Labour's shadow leader of the Commons, has been out and about talking about how Labour in government would go about running Parliament. And it was quite an interesting speech that she made to the Institute for Government, which will have it online there as well, I imagine, in which she talked about the wheels falling off the current government's legislative process. The result is that bills emerge badly drafted, need lots of amendments in midstream. 00:16:59:05 - 00:17:22:07 I think there's a big example at the moment of the latest criminal justice legislation where oodles of government amendments are going to have to be considered. Yeah, again, a big picture thematic speech, quite low on detail, I'd say, an assertion of how Labour is going to do things differently based on a self-denying ordinance, rather than any practical or actual procedural changes that they propose to make. 00:17:22:12 - 00:17:45:24 There was none of that. This was not “we're going to set up all sorts of new structures to constrain ourselves and make sure things are done properly”. We're just going to do things properly. We're not, for example, as a Labour government, she said, going to go for big skeleton bills where all the detail, all the crucial issues of what's going to be in that bill are actually dealt with by regulations later on, as ministers just have the power to make the regulations and they think up the policy later. 00:17:46:01 - 00:18:11:02 There are not going to be sweeping Henry the Eighth powers. They're going to just try and avoid what they see as some of the worst sins of the current government. And they're not, incidentally, going to announce policies outside of the House of Commons. I wonder how long that will last, because the pressures to get the right publicity for your big legislative centerpieces and for any government are just so huge that maybe you don't want always to announce them in the House of Commons. 00:18:11:07 - 00:18:30:09 Every government that's incoming says, we won't do that. We will not make the statements outside, you know, our responsibilities are to the House and this is the chamber which will challenge policies. We are democratically accountable. We must make those statements in the chamber. Taking a small onion from his pocket, the Leader of the House continued da da da da...Yeah. And then a few weeks later, oh, look what happens. 00:18:30:09 - 00:18:50:07 I mean, in the first few weeks, I'm sure they will endeavor, in the first flush of enthusiasm they will endeavor to do that. But the comms director in Number Ten is going to be tearing his or her hair out at that point. They won't. It won't happen. And I think, you know, Chris Bryant, now on the shadow frontbench, former chair of the Standards Committee 00:18:50:07 - 00:19:21:12 he's quite big on this every time it happens. A Conservative minister announces something on the Today programme or in a press conference and he's tweeting about, “shouldn't this have been made to the House”? And I keep thinking, yes, but you're making a rod for your own back, because I can't see any circumstances in which they're going to do. Now, what they could do, and we talked about this previously on the podcast, they could say we are, for example, going to put in stricter rules about the budget, for example, or particular forms of legislation where we're not going to assume Parliament's assent to what we propose to do. 00:19:21:12 - 00:19:45:13 And for those policies with particular financial implications, we're going to come to the House first. But for other stuff, shall we say, bog standard policy announcements. No, that or you're going to have to change somehow the sitting times of the house, because there's no way on a Monday that any director of communications in Number Ten is going to agree to proposals not being announced till 2:30, 3:00 in the afternoon. 00:19:45:13 - 00:20:05:10 That's the way the wafer crumbles I think. I can remember - I'm old enough, sadly, to remember - the beginning of the Tony Blair era, and in the first couple of weeks of the Tony Blair era, Gordon Brown held a press conference to announce operational independence for the Bank of England, which was a mega constitutional change with absolutely enormous implications, which was done outside Parliament. 00:20:05:10 - 00:20:25:17 at a press conference. And not to be outdone, Robin Cook, who was the new incoming Foreign Secretary, had a big press conference to announce his ethical foreign policy. Again, not in the chamber of the House of Commons. The temptation to do this stuff and announce your big initiatives in an absolute media spotlight is just so enormous. It's very, very difficult to see that avoided. 00:20:25:19 - 00:20:50:20 But plenty of other stuff in Lucy Powell’s speech as well. She gave a tantalizing glimpse of how Labour were planning to approach getting stuff through Parliament, at least at the very beginning of its term. She talked about the operation of a thing called the PBL Committee, the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee. Now this is a cabinet committee in government, which, she says has gone badly awry. 00:20:50:20 - 00:21:11:22 And is producing very bad legislation for the current government. But she also said that Labour had a kind of shadow version, which it was using to work up its own King's Speech proposals. This included such luminaries as the shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry, Angela Smith, the former Labour minister who's now the shadow Leader of the House of Lords. 00:21:11:24 - 00:21:35:21 Sue Gray, Keir Starmer's chief of staff, seems to be deeply involved in it as well. And these are all sort of hardened Westminster figures who are doing a kind of Dragon's Den process to assess incoming bills that various members of the Shadow Cabinet want in the first wave of Labour legislation. She said it was a pretty eye opening process watching these people picking holes and examining points of vulnerability in all this proposed legislation. 00:21:35:23 - 00:21:53:14 Yeah, I should probably say for transparency purposes that, the Chair of the Hansard Society, so my boss, Baroness Ann Taylor of Bolton, she as the former Chief Whip and former Leader of the House of Commons - she was the first Leader in Tony Blair's incoming government in 1997, so effectively had the job that Lucy is hoping to get - 00:21:53:16 - 00:22:11:04 she's obviously been advising Lucy a bit behind the scenes as well, and is mentioned in the speech as having done so, and I think has played some role in this sort of shadow PBL model. We are obviously careful in terms of Chinese walls about what is and isn't talked about. So Ann has been involved in that. But yeah, it's a stress testing process. 00:22:11:04 - 00:22:26:10 So she, she made it very clear when she was appointed that Keir Starmer said to Lucy Powell, we want you to focus on preparing the first King's speech and putting plans in place, the legislative program to hit the ground running. And this is part of that. And no one should assume from this that this is sort of Labour 00:22:26:10 - 00:22:51:02 measuring the drapes in ministerial offices and being terribly complacent. Any responsible opposition has to have a pretty good idea of what it would do if it won an election. You can't be sitting around the cabinet table the morning after going, okay, chaps, what do we do now? And so they've got that part of it. And the emerging strategy seems to be, I don't know if they're aiming for a sort of Kennedy style hundred days period of frenzied activity, which is always a mistake, I think, to try and dramatise things in that way. 00:22:51:02 - 00:23:14:05 But they clearly are going to have a first wave of bills that they're going to ram through Parliament, and then there'll be a second wave of legislation after that, and there may even be further plans for future years King's speeches as well, to follow their first legislative program. But that second wave of bills, a lot of them may go out for what Theresa May was advocating earlier - pre legislative scrutiny, a draft bill examined by a committee. 00:23:14:10 - 00:23:32:20 And this is, I think, at least partly as a tool of kind of parliamentary party management. If Labour has, you know, 400 plus MPs sloshing around the chamber, most of them won't have a realistic prospect of becoming a minister any time soon. And this gives them something substantive to do on the principle that otherwise the devil will find work for their idle hands. 00:23:33:01 - 00:24:07:05 So it's a way of both improving the next wave of legislation showing progress being made on individual issues, even if there aren't formal bills going through the House and getting the rough edges smoothed off and the difficulties highlighted and dealt with before you get to the full dress legislative process a bit later on. Yeah. The other thing, I think was interesting, again, she didn't go into detail, but there were, as you described, a tantalizing glimpse of perhaps her thinking where she talked about arcane procedures in the House, but she particularly focused on E-petitions as something which is attractive, 00:24:07:08 - 00:24:39:00 one of the most watched parts of Parliament, the most popular debates being headed off into Westminster Hall, so the second chamber not in the main chamber, and also the nature of the procedures around Private Members' Bills on Fridays, frustrating potentially popular pieces of legislation. Legislation that's got support from either a constituency campaign or a civil society campaign, whatever it may be, and actually some quite good bills being lost along the way, frustrated by procedure rather than opposition being mobilised against it. 00:24:39:03 - 00:24:59:11 Well indeed, in my previous BBC incarnation, I spent a disturbing portion of my life watching the Friday Private Members' Bills debates in the House of Commons, and the procedure can be absolutely baffling. And it's not an improbable scenario that in the next parliament after the election, you will see Private Members' Bills on issues that have a real head of popular steam behind them. 00:24:59:16 - 00:25:24:20 So you might see something on assisted dying. You might see something on restricting young people's access to social media. These are ideas that are bubbling around now, but there isn't really going to be a chance to legislate on them before the election. And people care about those things and so if they see them being talked out in a jovial game playing manner where someone just uses up the available debating time till the music stops, and then that's the end of the bill. 00:25:24:22 - 00:25:49:18 I think that would be desperately damaging to the reputation of the House of Commons, and I don't think it's something Labour would want to see. By all means, if you don't agree with what's being recommended in a particular bill, kill it, but kill it in the light of day and explain your reasons. Rather than having this ludicrous sort of game playing, time wasting, strategic rule manipulation that goes on too often in the Private Members' Bill process. 00:25:49:20 - 00:26:12:03 Lucy Powell I asked her directly about this, and she didn't really have particular proposals for improving things, but she could see there was a problem. Yeah, well, I've got a plan for that because I wrote a paper nearly ten years ago on reform of Private Members' BIlls - dig it out of the filing cabinet - that’s there to be implemented. But I think it raises an interesting question about whether perhaps, you know, she highlighted those two areas, E-petitions and Private Members' Bills 00:26:12:06 - 00:26:41:08 are they perhaps thinking about the need to rethink what business is scheduled, when and where? What are the possible implications or impact on the timetable for Parliament ? At the moment, Private Members' Bills are dealt with on 13 sitting Fridays a session. The House for the past few years frankly has been operating as a two and a half day, three day a week house. Labour coming in is going to want much more focus and time from members in the House focused on the legislative program. 00:26:41:08 - 00:26:57:00 If it's going to have this big body of bills to get through. So if you're having E-petition debates in prime time in the chamber, what's moved out of the way to make way for that? Yeah. Or are you going to siphon off statutory instrument debates? I mean, she highlighted the fact that there seems to be a lot of statutory instruments going through at the moment. 00:26:57:01 - 00:27:24:10 There's not much interest in them. Quite right. There isn't, but there's other ways to deal with them. Are you going to move to saying, right, Parliament's going to sit Monday to Thursday? You deal with Private Members' BIlls on one of those evenings, Wednesday evening or Thursday evening. Yeah. And you keep Fridays clear and you send your MPs back and you say, right, you are going to be here Monday to Thursday, and you can go back Thursday evening and spend Friday, Saturday, Sunday in your constituency, but then you're back Monday morning, Monday lunchtime. 00:27:24:12 - 00:27:46:05 So it'll be interesting to see whether that's going to be a direction of travel. The other thing that stood out was she talked about in terms of stress testing and thinking about the management of the legislative program, that they were very mindful of taking a whole parliament approach, that this wasn't just about what was going to happen in the Commons, but they were very mindful about what's going to happen in the House of Lords. 00:27:46:05 - 00:28:05:13 And obviously, that's part of the kind of discussions that will be going on through this, this shadow parliamentary business and legislation committee. Absolutely. I mean, I mentioned, I mentioned, Angela Smith, Baroness Smith of Basildon, Labour's leader in the House of Lords, she was talking this week as well. She was in front of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee talking about membership of the Lords. 00:28:05:13 - 00:28:24:24 And again, just a tantalising little glimpse of the sort of things that Labour might do in the House of Lords. And in the upper house, they do have a bit of a problem, because Labour is not the second largest group in the House of Lords, behind the Conservatives, it’s actually the third largest behind the crossbenchers. And the number of Labour Peers has shrunk quite a lot. 00:28:24:24 - 00:28:43:02 Deaths, natural attrition, retirements from the House has seen to that. And at the same time, the Cnservatives have piled on a lot of new Conservative peers. So the Labour group is now actually quite small in the House of Lords ecology. Traditionally, the answer to that would be oh, right, fine, let's create 100 Labour Peers and get the numbers back up. 00:28:43:02 - 00:29:02:21 But everybody's very, very wary now because of the bloated size already of the House of Lords, much larger than the House of Commons. Just crowbarring in another 100 peers would look a bit ridiculous. So Labour are going to have to try and find a way to govern through the House of Lords without having that kind of dominant position that the Conservative’s have 00:29:03:00 - 00:29:33:03 Angela Smith had a very telling statistic, actually, that when Labour left office in 2010 and the Conservatives took over, she said Labour had 24 more peers than the Conservatives. At the end of this parliament the Conservatives have 100 more peers than Labour, so that the imbalance has grown progressively over the ensuing 14 odd years. So Labour might feel they could top their numbers up a bit, but at the same time, not enough to be decisively different in the way the House of Lords works. 00:29:33:03 - 00:29:56:19 So that it looks to me like they're going to be relying quite a lot on support from the crossbenchers, perhaps from sympathetic and semi-detached Conservative peers, and in particular actually from the Lib Dem peers, because the Lib Dems still have getting on for 100. So they're quite a force there. They'll also, I think, be relying for a bit of protection by listing in some detail the bills they want to put forward in their manifesto. 00:29:56:19 - 00:30:09:08 So they come under the Salisbury Anderson Convention, which means that they can't simply be struck down in the House of Lords, although it's actually quite unusual for the House of Lords to strike down a government bill in any event. That's something I think we're going to have to look out for when the manifesto comes and sort of be combing through. 00:30:09:12 - 00:30:26:16 Absolutely. And how specific - we've talked about this before - how specific are they going to be about the legislative program? Because the more specific they are, the more protection they might have in respect of the Lords, but it also becomes, can become a bit of a bind when you're wanting a little bit more flexibility in terms of your policy development. 00:30:26:16 - 00:30:46:20 when you actually get into Whitehall. Manifestos become almost constitutional documents when people are seeking to invoke this, so does a general sort of commitment in a manifesto saying we want to promote law and order, mean that any criminal justice bill can't be touched? I don't think so. So you've got all sorts of issues about quite what the wording is and quite how specific particular commitments are. 00:30:46:23 - 00:31:03:06 One of the reasons the House of Lords has made merry with the Rwanda bill was it was nowhere near the government's manifesto. So yeah. And this, of course, is one of the things the convener of the crossbench peers has been I think looking at and considering. Is there agreement across the House about a manifesto Bill, what it constitutes. Exactly that point 00:31:03:06 - 00:31:24:19 does it have to specifically state the title or very close to the title of what a bill is going to be, or is it enough to say that we're going to legislate for immigration in respect of moving people to Rwanda, for example? Would that have provided sufficient manifesto cover for the convention? So we'll have to see. One thing - did she touch on question of whether they would remove the hereditaries? 00:31:25:00 - 00:31:41:05 Yes. That was one of the big things that was quite solid is, is Labour want to get rid of the 92 hereditary peers who sit in the House of Lords, who are the legacy of a long forgotten deal in the late 90s with the former Speaker of the Commons, Lord Weatherill, who by then was on the crossbenches and sort of ring mastering a deal 00:31:41:05 - 00:32:08:02 that okay, the House of Lords would consent to the removal of most hereditary peers if a small number could stay, and that would mean that the government's appointments weren't decisive in controlling the House of Lords. That deal has stuck much longer I imagine that any of its authors imagined, the result is these ludicrous by elections where, you know, there are 18 people vying to be a Labour Peer and there are about six voters, more candidates than voters? 00:32:08:04 - 00:32:30:09 Well, the irony of course in the House of Lords is that the only elected peers are those that are hereditary. So it's a very odd situation to have arrived at. But of course it's important to remember the context to all of this. The House of Lords is now about 800 members. I mean, they obviously don't all turn up. You get some 4 or 500 for most of the sort of the big debates and votes, but that is 150 more of them than the House of Commons. 00:32:30:09 - 00:32:59:09 I think it's second only to the legislature in China, which is not a great record to aspire to. So you've got these competing pressures. You want to reduce the numbers, but an incoming government has got a problem about its own numbers. And one of the things that I think Labour's got to think about in terms of managing government business is at the moment, a minister in the House of Lords may have to cover multiple departments and be responding in the House of Lords to questions and dealing with legislation for several departments. 00:32:59:11 - 00:33:20:04 It's actually really quite burdensome, quite challenging. And one of the arguments is whether actually there ought to be more Lords ministers to cover the range of things that they have to deal with. Not a popular idea in the Commons. No, of course not. But it is quite a burden. And Labour's peers are older than current government peers. And that is one of the big factors that Labour have to consider. 00:33:20:04 - 00:33:37:13 here is that the age profile of their contingent in the House of Lords is now really quite on the elderly scale, and they are going to need some new blood, if only to act as ministers. Yeah, as you've described. So so you start thinking about, well, who in the Commons is departing, who might make their way to the House of Lords. 00:33:37:13 - 00:33:55:17 And there are some obvious names. I mean, I would be amazed if Harriet Harman is not on the list to go to the House of Lords. Margaret Beckett, Margaret Beckett well, she wouldn't help on the age. Well, neither of them would help on the age profile. No, no disrespect to either of them, but MPs who have long-serving former leadership roles in the Labour Party. 00:33:55:19 - 00:34:19:07 I'm wondering if there might be some Blair Brown era ex-ministers who've gone out of politics who might perhaps be lured back in. I don't know if David Miliband might fancy swapping his current gig in New York for a seat on the red benches. Whether there's some of the other prominent ex-ministers who've been floating around might decide that the time was ripe to come back and be an actual minister rather than an opposition figure. Yes, possibly, it might be attractive. A bit of temptation there. 00:34:19:07 - 00:34:41:03 I would have thought for some at least. And with that, Ruth, shall we take a break? Let's take a break... If you'd like to watch that Theresa May Churchill-Attlee lecture to the Hansard Society about the state of our democracy, we're offering an online ticket to our Parliament Matters community. Buy a ticket and you can watch the recording online at a time that suits you. 00:34:41:05 - 00:35:03:17 We've got many dedicated listeners to Parliament Matters in the UK and around the world, but podcasts don't come cheap, so we've got bills to pay. Buying an online ticket - for a very reasonable sum - is a great way to support the podcast and help us keep the work going. Details about how to buy a ticket for the recording are in the show notes, or you can go to our website home page Thanks for your support. We really appreciate it. 00:35:04:23 - 00:35:28:02

We're back, and Ruth, perhaps now we can take a look at the dramatic events in the Commons on Monday night, when MPs were debating the rules around risk based exclusion of those of their number who were accused of violent or sexual offences considered to be serious enough to potentially merit their exclusion from the parliamentary estate. 00:35:28:04 - 00:35:50:17 The idea is there be a set of rules where, once an accusation emerged, the panel would consider what to do about a particular case, and the options would range from banning someone completely from entering the parliamentary estate to some kind of sort of chaperone or escorting or making sure that they're kept in public places where they can't misbehave while an accusation was still live against them. 00:35:50:19 - 00:36:09:03 The key issue that emerged from these proposals, which themselves came from a thing called the House of Commons Commission, a committee chaired by the Speaker involving the Leader and shadow leader of the House and assorted other grandees - it’s kind of the ruling committee of the House of Commons administration - the key issue that emerged in this was where these rules should kick in. 00:36:09:03 - 00:36:40:09 Should it be at the point of arrest? That was an original proposal that had been slightly dialed back to the point where the Commission was actually arguing for them to kick in at the point of charge. This produced quite a passionate debate in the House of Commons. And indeed there was a remarkable speech from the Labour MP Jess Phillips. “Today, just today, just on this one day, I've spoken to two women who were raped by members of this Parliament, two just today.” 00:36:40:11 - 00:37:15:15 That's a fairly standard day for me. and I notice that these are not the people who've so far been mentioned much today, and some of them told me what they wanted me to say today. And, so I will just read out, actually some of, what they sent to me. So the to the exclusion at the point of charge sends a clear message to victims that not only will we not investigate unless a victim goes to the police, but we won't act 00:37:15:21 - 00:37:37:20 unless they are charged, which happens in less than 1% of cases. So what's the point? Was essentially what this victim said to me.” Well, it's hard to imagine, after hearing that, that the Speaker and the House authorities could do anything other than follow up on that claim and investigate what's, what was at the heart of it . And indeed the police as well quite possibly. 00:37:37:20 - 00:38:02:09 Yeah, quite possibly. So, we'll see if we hear anything further on that. But, I mean, it was quite dramatic at the end because the House voted and by one vote, they rejected the Commission's proposals in favour of agreeing to exclusion or to consider risk based exclusion at the lower level of arrest. And that was based on an amendment to the government motion that came forward from the Lib Dem MP, Wendy Chamberlain. 00:38:02:09 - 00:38:20:23 So we've been a long to talk to her, the Lib Dem chief whip, about how it all came about. Well, to look back at that extraordinary Commons vote we've come to a Commons committee room to talk to one of the key players in that debate, Wendy Chamberlain. Wendy, thanks, first of all, for joining us on the pod. 00:38:21:04 - 00:38:38:23 Did you expect to win - you put down the crucial amendment that changed it from the point of charge to the point of arrest? Did you expect to win that point, or was this intended to be a gesture? I thought it would be close because the other aspects of Monday's business were two statutory instruments, which ended up not going to division. 00:38:39:04 - 00:39:14:07 So basically, on a Monday, you're asking MPs to come in of their own volition to vote in House business. And it certainly looked like the House was quieter than normal on a Monday. But it yeah, there was a point of principle to it. And part of the point of principle, putting aside the whole reasons why I think suspicion is better than charge in relation to this is the fact that the House of Commons Commission agreed in 2022 to consider this issue because they were aware that voluntary exclusions were taking place and have done probably since time immemorial, in relation to MPs via their whips, and had looked at what a risk based exclusion process would 00:39:14:07 - 00:39:40:01 look like. And the initial proposals after consultation were at the point of arrest . We were expecting to have a vote on that last year, it turned into, at the last minute a general debate at the behest of the Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt. And then the new motion that comes forward has swapped out arrest for charge. And so I felt very strongly that actually the point of contention clearly was, because the Leader of the House felt it was, was between arrest and charge. 00:39:40:04 - 00:39:58:21 So I thought it was really important that the House had an opportunity to take a view on the arrest option as well. And the argument here is the kind of any other workplace argument that anywhere else but Parliament, a member of staff who'd been arrested on suspicion of a serious sexual von offense, would probably be sent home then and there. 00:39:58:23 - 00:40:30:14 But in Parliament, they're saying you've got to be charged. Yeah, I think you're absolutely right. And I think the other aspect is that actually, in a workplace like Parliament, it's actually even more important that these considerations take place because we know that the power dynamic in Parliament, the role that MPs have in relation to their staff in relation to other people on the estate, and indeed visitors, does mean potentially that, you know, some of these inquiries or offenses can be more serious and need to be dealt with appropriately. 00:40:30:16 - 00:40:52:01 When an MP is arrested, the Speaker of the House has to be informed in the natural course of events. How clear will it be to the Speaker if someone is arrested for a serious violent or sexual offence that that is the basis of the arrest. You're a former police officer, so do you arrest on the basis of a specific potential charge or how does it work? 00:40:52:02 - 00:41:10:04 It's a different legal system in Scotland. For a start, when I was in the service in Scotland, we had detention rather than arrest on suspicion, which is what we now have. But yeah, this is one of the things in relation to vexatious complaints, Ruth, is that, you know, let's be very clear, the police don't arrest on the basis of a single allegation. 00:41:10:08 - 00:41:31:02 There needs to be a degree of corroboration, as we would call it, between the allegation itself and anything that might back that up before you would potentially move on to arrest. Because the purpose of arresting suspicion is to get information from the suspect themselves. So I think this is obviously the work that now needs to be done. But, you know, Nigel Mills's amendment was very interesting as well. 00:41:31:02 - 00:41:59:16 And indeed, I would have voted for that if it hadn't passed, because his view was that arrest had these additional precautionary measures where indeed, exclusion might not even be the option that's taken. But you might be looking at other aspects, but the panel would be meeting and there was more to kind of mitigate the fact that arrest is different from charge. Whereas Nigel's view in his amendment, was that if the point is charge, somebody has been charged with a serious sexual or other offense, they should not be coming into Parliament full stop. 00:41:59:19 - 00:42:23:00 So we do not need the panel. We do not need the other suite of options. It's just exclusion. And as I see if my amendment had fallen, I would have supported Nigel's on that basis. This was the odd thing, wasn't it, about what happened on Monday, the Leader of the House put down a motion which was essentially the previous motion that she planned to bring forward from the Commission based on the idea of exclusion at the point of arrest. 00:42:23:02 - 00:42:46:11 But then because of pressure essentially on the Conservative backbenches I think, it was changed to charge. But two aspects of the proposals - let's, you know, have a panel to consider mitigation measures, let's have the option for the MP to have a proxy vote- those were all retained. And that seems odd - why do you need that if you were going to exclude somebody at the point of charge? Ruth, I entirely agree. 00:42:46:11 - 00:43:22:11 And that she was you know, I think potentially if a motion had come forward where arrests had been swapped out for a charge, and indeed those other aspects would be taken out because, you know, everybody, I think feels uncomfortable about the proxy position, about potentially some of the message that it sends, because at the moment, proxies are only for those on paternity or maternity leave or parental leave, or for a long term health condition that does have an end point. It therefore then doesn't sit right with with many, many MPs in relation to somebody who's been excluded in relation to a sexual serious offense also receiving a proxy. 00:43:22:16 - 00:43:44:22 So actually, I think maybe the Leader of the House and those Conservative backbenchers might have got what they wanted if there had been more thought given to reshaping the motion once the decision had been made to move from arrest to charge.

And the proxy issue is now a terrible mess, really, isn't it? You can be absent from the House because of a family bereavement and not get a proxy. 00:43:44:22 - 00:44:06:19 You can be charged with rape and get a proxy. It seems inelegant, and I think this is something that's clearly going to have to be revisited, isn't it? Certainly I would expect the Procedure Committee to look at that. But I think your term - inelegant - is probably a good one, Mark. When you tabled your amendment my understanding is Jess Phillips was very supportive and involved in that process, how does that sort of cross-party work come about? 00:44:06:21 - 00:44:25:19 I'm going to talk about it from the perspective of being a member of the fourth party. Obviously, the fourth party doesn't have a place on the Commission. So you know, there is that issue around representation. And I was very conscious on Monday. I referenced it the fact that there were a number of smaller parties that signed on to my amendment. But how it really came about I suppose is 00:44:25:24 - 00:45:00:06 I've done work on standards previously. Ruth, you've said I'm an ex police officer, so this is something I care about. And I was looking basically for the motion to be returned with the expectation that charge would have replaced arrest. And I thought, I'll just get in very quickly with an amendment. I was probably aware that there may be other work ongoing, and it really wasn't till sort of midway last week, where cross-party conversations via the shadow Leader and Jess meant that we got to the place where actually Jess will sign on to my amendment and that will be the one that will be pushed and and actually, Jess and I and I think she referenced 00:45:00:06 - 00:45:21:09 in our speech her engagement with Christopher in the Table Office, that was the point where she was signing on to my amendment. But we were also tabling a couple of consequential amendments to tidy up the motion, because obviously there was a couple of other areas in the motion where it mentioned charge rather than arrest. So if we had accepted the main amendment “H”, we needed to tidy up the others. 00:45:21:11 - 00:45:42:00 And that meant that actually the amendment we voted on was an amendment “O” which really just changed the title. Ah, ,the complexities of it all. But you mentioned that this is an issue where there's been a bit of cross-party working and house business, by tradition, is in quotes “lightly whipped”, in theory, at least. Give us a picture of what was really going on here. 00:45:42:00 - 00:46:05:16

Was this something where there were sort of heavy party lines developing, or was this something where there was a lot of genuine across the board cooperation? We literally did a search of Hansard to see what MPs had spoken about this issue and who might be sympathetic. So, for example, I did approach Theresa May. Now Theresa May did vote for my amendment on Monday night, and I thanked her there. 00:46:05:20 - 00:46:34:24 And she also explained that she doesn't sign amendments. But, you know, we were attempting to have a sort of more targeted strategy. I did have the impression that Labour would be more supportive. I mean, I'm also the chief whip of my group as well. So, you know, it's not that I'm not having conversations through the Usual Channels. And I suppose in terms of this issue, the fact that I am a former police officer who did work in sexual offences for a time as well, you know, I have had conversations asking for advice over years. 00:46:35:01 - 00:46:57:18 But as I say, I think the key point was that there was an acceptance that the arrest and charge was the point of contention. And so when I made my case to the Speaker on Monday to select the amendment, that was the point that I was giving. And I think the fact that we only had a general debate on arrest last year was a key consideration for the Speaker because we didn't get a view of the House on arrest, we didn't have the opportunity to do that. 00:46:57:22 - 00:47:17:03 One of the features of that debate was the shattering speech by Jess Phillips, the Labour MP, who said that she had spoken that day to two women who had been raped by Members of Parliament. And that was an extraordinary thing to have heard said. Did it swing the debate? I don't know if it necessarily swung the debate in the chamber. 00:47:17:03 - 00:47:42:18 It certainly made those who were arguing for the other side much more defensive. But I think from an external perspective, it was very decisive in terms of how the public viewed what took place on Monday. Because, look, I'm very conscious that whenever I've talked about this, it's complicated. It's MPs talking about themselves, which can sometimes be a real turnoff, but it's vitally important as well. 00:47:42:24 - 00:48:18:12 So, yes, she spoke incredibly passionately and obviously in terms of the issue of what she said, those are extremely serious allegations, and I hope that, you know, she's had the right approaches from the House in relation to what, if anything, those complainants might want to do about it. But again, we've just talked about myself as a police officer, but Jess clearly has a background of supporting victims, and feels very passionate, very strongly about it and speaks to victims. Was one of the big dividing lines in the chamber between those who were treating this entirely as an internal matter and those who were thinking crumbs, what’s the general public. 00:48:18:12 - 00:48:44:22 going to make of what we're doing and saying here today. I think there was a bit of that. But I think for me, that probably for those who are on the other side of the debate, they were, for me thinking about themselves as MPs. And I was very clear right from my response to the Commission's proposals when we went out to consultation, I was very clear that in terms of order, safeguarding needed to come right at the very top. Of course there’s a consideration of members. 00:48:45:00 - 00:49:05:18 And again, from a whips perspective, I would be very cognizant of the fact that if I had a member of our party who was subject to this exclusion, that the whips would have a very important role to do in supporting them. What then happened in terms of the votes? Because obviously the initial division was very, very close and then sort of the government didn't put up tellers for a second vote. 00:49:05:22 - 00:49:22:23 So obviously, when Jess had signed on to my amendment and through conversations with the Labour whips, it was agreed that when my amendment was called and that would be the first amendment, that Labour would provide the tellers. So we knew that that was covered. What we do in the Liberal Democrats, when there's a free vote is we say this is the issue, 00:49:23:03 - 00:49:40:02 it's a free vote, this is what the spokesperson is doing in relation to that. So my colleagues were aware of that. Then it was just obviously from my perspective, trying to ensure that colleagues who said that they were supportive were going to stay on the estate. So I suppose it was whipping in some respects, though not on party lines. 00:49:40:02 - 00:50:11:09 It was a case of people told me that they were going to support the amendment, and then it did feel quite close in terms of numbers. I did just assume, because I've only been on the side of a winning vote, maybe once, maybe twice since I was elected, that it would not go our way. And really, the realization point was when I saw the tellers standing on the other side, and that was a point where I thought, and I have to say, I did properly, you know, “Haaah” and cover my mouth when I realized that we'd won and by the margin by which we did. 00:50:11:11 - 00:50:30:14 And then the realization that obviously what was going to happen next in terms of were there going to be any other divisions. So the Leader did move the motion where the panel can meet during recesses or indeed prorogation to make a decision. And then the key bit was clearly there was a shout to vote down the motion as a whole. 00:50:30:19 - 00:50:50:13 My understanding through Usual Channels is that the government had said that they would provide tellers for the amendment, but not for the motion itself. And I think that's why the final division collapsed. Was that essentially because they didn't want to get into the position of having a disciplinary procedure brought in, reshaped in a way they didn't entirely like and then voted down. 00:50:50:13 - 00:51:22:11 They'd rather not see the whole thing sunk at the final. Difficult to know. I'll be honest. I haven't seen the government chief whip this week. He cancelled on me yesterday and I haven't seen him for a couple of weeks. Actually, I think there's been some things going on, so I really, genuinely don't know. But if I look at the messages I've had in recent days, if I think about the staff that have spoken to me or stopped me in the corridor, I think at the very least, there must have been an acceptance in government to have voted down this whole motion and process, which leaves us in a position where we are back to 00:51:22:11 - 00:51:44:21 voluntary exclusion was just simply not acceptable. And after the event, there was this series of WhatsApp messages from Conservative MPs and one of their backbench WhatsApp groups that emerged where they were clamoring to try and vote this down. Yeah, I mean, there's two aspects of that. There's one, the fact that I've obviously just said that what I've been told is that the government had said that they wouldn't provide tellers for the motion as a whole. 00:51:44:23 - 00:52:04:18 I think, certainly I've heard anecdotal evidence of at least two Conservative MPs who were eating during the first vote. So potentially were maybe trying to redeem themselves. But the other aspect of those messages is, you know, I was very clear that I felt arrest was the right point because this was about ensuring the safety of people on the estate. 00:52:04:18 - 00:52:27:11 And I'm very conscious of the fact that, you know, the house has no power elsewhere, in constituencies, for example. But that this was about safeguarding. It was also about ensuring that MPs are aligned with other workplaces where possible. And I think you mentioned that earlier. I think generally in the history of this place, when MPs make out that they are something special or unique is when they actually get into a lot of bother with the public. 00:52:27:13 - 00:52:54:15 And then this whole focus in those WhatsApp messages around vexatious complaints, I feel quite strongly that that is not the message that this place should be sending out here, that actually MPs prioritize the likelihood or otherwise of them getting vexatious complaints about them over the safety and well-being of people who work and visit Parliament. So I think I would ask them to reflect on whether that was a good look or not. 00:52:54:17 - 00:53:16:20 I mean, at a very basic level, I think Nadia Whittome in Prime Minister's Questions this week highlighted the shockingly low conviction rate we have for sexual crimes, and how many complaints drop away. I'm making absolutely no aspersions on anything that happens in Parliament or has happened, but I think we have to be very cognizant that lots of investigations come to an end, not because they are vexatious. 00:53:16:20 - 00:53:45:22 And I think that is, again, going back to the Conservative WhatsApp group, I would, I would challenge those individuals to say, have you spoken with and engaged with victims? Because if not, you should be doing that. One of the things that struck me during the debate was that Penny Mordaunt, Leader of the House, implied that she didn't think the House of Commons Commission was necessarily the right body to be making decisions about these matters, because it wasn't cognizant of all the cases, of all the issues and standards matters 00:53:45:24 - 00:54:13:17 and these kinds of things are dealt with by other bodies within Parliament. As chief whip of the fourth party, I mean, what are your thoughts on how the House is governed. As the fourth party I probably don't have the visibility, particularly as I'm an MP that was elected in 2019. I mean, what I thought was quite astonishing about the leader's contributions on Monday is literally she spoke for two minutes at the start of the debate and stood down. She didn't, for me, make a real defence for, you know, the motion as it was. 00:54:13:17 - 00:54:31:15 And one of the things that is quite clear, as the Leader of the House, yes, obviously, is a political appointee by the government and a member of that party, but is supposed to act on behalf of the House. I think my other view is just on this whole issue, is that Parliament clearly needs to get better at it. 00:54:31:17 - 00:55:01:06 We had the ICGS review published on Monday as well - the Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme. Yes, thank you for that! Which is the third review by former Chief Constable Sir Paul Carnahan. And I think Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme is beginning to build trust with people on the estate. I use the example of the Peter Bone case, where if we put to the side what the Conservative Party did - and that's one of my arguments around the way I think we should be approaching things, is take the politics out - a complainer made a complaint. 00:55:01:08 - 00:55:30:23 The respondent appealed the initial finding. The independent expert panel then considered it and upheld the initial finding. And Peter Bone is no longer an MP in this place, and that process took about 12 to 13 months. We'd all like that to be shorter, but that for me, I think demonstrates a system that is beginning to work. So with the ICGS alongside where police investigations come into play, can be seen to be working effectively and people being held to account accordingly. 00:55:30:23 - 00:55:52:03 That can only be a good thing. It is clumsy and cumbersome and imperfect. But I think also we have to accept - and this is me again from a police officer perspective - is these kind of crimes and offences are never clear cut, they are complicated, they are difficult. And so I think Parliament is making the right steps to navigate. 00:55:52:03 - 00:56:12:07 But clearly there's much, much more to do. And my final thought on that is the parties have much, much more to do as well. Just to pick up on that, there is a general move, it seems, to get the parties out of the business of dealing with these complaints. So, for example, if a researcher is on the receiving end of inappropriate behavior by an MP, they don't any longer go to the party machine or the party whips. 00:56:12:12 - 00:56:39:15 They go to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. The idea is that all the parties should sign a kind of self-denying ordinance, saying that they shouldn't get involved in those kind of complaints. They should go straight to the official scheme and not be kind of enmeshed in party considerations. Well, the reality of of it going through the party means that the whips and I mean, I know that nobody will have tiny violins out for the whips, but all I would say is you know, I didn't come into Parliament with a burning ambition to be a whip. 00:56:39:17 - 00:57:03:20 You know, dare I say it I worked in HR, worked in the police. You can see why maybe I ended up with the role. And I hold the responsibility of being, you know, a female chief whip. I feel that that is an important thing. But the reality is, is where it is politicised in being dealt with, you then effectively have whips making decisions in relation to discipline, but also expected to provide the pastoral support to the individual as well. 00:57:03:24 - 00:57:25:00 And that just doesn't sit right either. I mean, I can speak for the Liberal Democrats. When I became chief whip, we reviewed our standing orders. Any complaint that comes through my party system, to me, in relation to a member that would fit within the scope of ICGS that's where I say it would go. My issue is I can't third party report into the ICGS system. 00:57:25:02 - 00:57:41:23 So I am relying on a complainer to do that and that, you know, for a complainer to have made a complaint in the first place can sometimes be a big, important step. To then send a message to say actually the right process for this is the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme for these reasons, can, you now go and do that. 00:57:42:00 - 00:58:01:20 I accept could be quite difficult for some complainants. And so again, I would like to have that opportunity to be able to third party report that complaint into the system so that I have confidence that the complainer has been supported and has been dealt with. Wendy Chamberlain, thanks very much for joining us on the pod today. Thank you very much. 00:58:01:22 - 00:58:21:19 Okay Mark, well I think that's all we've got time for this week. Well, indeed, we'd been hoping to get to some of the questions you've been sending in, but unfortunately it's been such a busy week that we haven't quite managed to. But next week we promise to get to them. Until then. Bye. See you next week. 00:58:21:21 - 00:58:41:19 Well, that's all from us for this week's episode of Parliament Matters. Please hit the Follow or Subscribe button in your podcast app to get the next episode as soon as it lands. And help us to make the podcast better by leaving a rating or review on Apple or Spotify and sharing your feedback. Our producer tells us it's important for the algorithm, to give the show a boost. Oh Mark, tell us more about the algorithm. 00:58:41:21 - 00:59:05:06 What do I know about algorithms? I write my scripts with a quill pen on vellum and then send it in by carrier pigeon. Well, before we go, a quick reminder also that you can send us your questions on all things Parliament by visiting We'll be discussing them in future episodes, including our special Urgent Questions editions dedicated to what you want to know about Parliament. 00:59:05:10 - 00:59:23:11 And you can find us across social media @HansardSociety to get more content related to the show and the wider work of the Hansard Society. 00:59:25:05 - 00:59:41:08 Parliament Matters is produced by the Hansard Society and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. For more information, visit or find us on social media @HansardSociety.

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