The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Jacob Rees- Mogg): I beg to move,
That this House endorses the report of the House of Commons Commission entitled Amendments to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, HC 1384, laid on Thursday 22 April; and approves the revised bullying and harassment policy and outline procedure, and sexual misconduct policy and outline procedure, set out in Annexes 1 to 4 of that report.
Sir Christopher Chope: The Leader of the House has addressed the issue that has been a concern to me and that led to me seeking support for an amendment – the issue of retrospection – but I am rather disappointed that he does not seem to be ruling out the fact that changes to paragraph 4.3 are retrospective. How can it be justified that we make retrospective changes to paragraph 4.3 which, subject to the decision maker, can be allowed to be lawful? Surely if we change the rules we should change them prospectively rather than retrospectively.
Dr Julian Lewis: I apologise to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I did not hear the opening comments from the Leader of the House because I was chairing a Committee meeting in another building. Following as closely as I can what the shadow Leader of the House is saying, as I understand it – on this particular paragraph 4.3, about passes – I presume that she would not have any objection to a change in the rules saying, “Passes used to be required but no longer will be required”, as long as that applied only to future cases. It seems rather strange that it should be said, “We are not changing the rule – we are just clarifying what the House meant previously, and when it previously said that the person has to still hold a parliamentary pass, what it really meant was that he or she did not have to be holding a parliamentary pass at all.” That is surely not a clarification of the rule; it is a change of the rule and, therefore, it should be forward-looking and not retrospective, should it not?
The Shadow Leader of the House (Valerie Vaz): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. I think he missed the earlier discussion about the lack of clarity around that, but it should not be the case that current cases are subject to a changes of rules. To me, that is a breach of natural justice. We cannot have different decision makers applying the rules as they interpret them. In my view, we cannot have changes in procedure to cases, because each case will be dealt with differently, but as it was set out – as the hon. Member for Christchurch [Sir Christopher Chope] read out paragraph 4.3 – it is fairly clear that there are the two limbs and therefore that any changes should apply to future cases.
Mr Rees- Mogg): ... My hon. Friend [Sir Christopher Chope] reiterated his concern about the issue of retrospection. The best I can do is to go back to what I said in my speech, because this is fundamental. The people considering any of these cases must do so looking at the language of the policy at the time. I said that twice when I was speaking, I think I then reiterated it in an intervention, and I have now reiterated it a fourth time in winding up. I think that is very clear. Where I cannot be clear, because we have not had a decision, is on how the panel would interpret the rules at the time, because that is rightly a matter for the panel because it is independent. I hope that I am giving my hon. Friend most of the comfort that he wants, without trying to be a soothsayer and make a prediction of what may be determined in the future.
Dr Lewis: I know that my right hon. Friend will only be able to give me his opinion on this, in the light of what he has just said, but does he know of any specific historical case that is currently under way that would be ruled out of scope unless the rewording of paragraph 4.3 was applied retrospectively?
Mr Rees-Mogg: My right hon. Friend raises a question of considerable importance and one that I have been very careful to avoid in all these discussions. It seems to me that it would be quite wrong to be making this decision, in relation either to what I have said about the rules at the time or to the new rules, with reference to any specific cases. That is fundamental to having a just and fair system. On the question he asks me, I know of gossip, but I have no confirmed knowledge of reports of who may or may not be facing an investigation. In all the deliberations I have done, whether on the Commission, in preparing my speech or in discussions I have had privately with the shadow Leader of the House, I have done it on the basis of general principles rather than trying to consider specific names. I think that is very important. ...