What is role of parliamentary watchdog ICGS set up in response to #MeToo?

Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme was set up three years ago to process official HR complaints

Before this week, 56 MPs – including two shadow cabinet ministers – had reportedly been referred to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), a parliamentary watchdog established more than three years ago.

The profile of the ICGS has been heightened after news that a Conservative MP, who allegedly watched pornography on his phone in the House of Commons, has been reported to it.

What is the ICGS?

The scheme was set up as an independent process with cross-party backing as a result of the #MeToo movement and after figures including Sir Michael Fallon and Charlie Elphicke faced allegations relating to sleaze and sexual misconduct. Its function is also to process official HR complaints.

It consists of a number of codes, including parliament’s sexual misconduct policy, and had its scope expanded in 2019 to cover historic cases.

An extension of her remit has allowed Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards (PCS), to oversee investigations and make findings in cases against MPs under the ICGS.

How does it work?

The ICGS applies to everyone working on, or visiting, the parliamentary estate. Complaints to a helpline are assessed by an external independent investigator. If the complaint meets the criteria under the scheme, an external independent investigator will carry out a full investigation.

Complaints against MPs or MPs’ staff are investigated by external independent investigators. Complaints against members of the House of Lords, or Lords members’ staff, are investigated by the independent House of Lords commissioner for standards.

An independent expert panel (IEP), which does not include MPs, decides appeals and determines sanctions in complaints against MPs of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct under the ICGS.

What has been the scale of the work of the ICGS?

The former Speaker John Bercow.
The ICGS investigated complaints against the former Speaker John Bercow. Photograph: Reuters

The ICGS says it has investigated more than 100 cases concerning bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct since July 2018.

Most investigations are not made public, though seven cases involving accusations against MPs, which were considered by an IEP, have been made public.

Three of the cases involving the behaviour of John Bercow, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, were part of an IEP report in March which upheld 21 out of 35 complaints against him by former staff and colleagues.

How does the ICGS differ to the PCS?

The original idea was that the ICGS would cover normal HR matters, including sexual harassment and bullying, leaving the PCS to cover behaviour relating to the role of MPs, such as lobbying.

However, critics have suggested there has been some crossover. One MP told Conservative Home that the PCS has started picking up cases theoretically covered by the ICGS, thereby “gold-plating” its punishments rather than policing a different class of behaviour.

Is it working?

An 18-month review into the scheme by the HR director Alison Stanley found “much progress” had been made, but raised concerns about equal access for diverse groups and processes that had become “over complex”.

She said there was “a perception among some that it is a stressful, isolating and very lengthy process”. Jo Willows, the ICGS director, said last month that 28 of Stanley’s 33 recommendations had been implemented.


Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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