Mark Spencer – 2022 Statement on the Speaker’s Conference

The statement made by Mark Spencer, the Leader of the House of Commons, on 22 June 2022.

I beg to move,

That this House considers that it is desirable to consider the employment conditions of Members’ staff in order to ensure a more inclusive and respectful working environment, and accordingly agrees that the following Order be made:

(1) There shall be a committee to be known as the Speaker’s Conference which shall consist of the Speaker, who shall be Chair, and up to 14 other Members appointed by the Speaker.

(2) The Speaker shall appoint one or more of the members of the Conference to act as vice-Chair in his absence.

(3) The Conference shall consider and make recommendations upon the contractual arrangements for the employment of Members’ staff.

(4) Notwithstanding any Standing Order of this House, the Conference shall conduct its proceedings in such manner as the Speaker shall determine.

(5) The Conference, and any sub committees thereof that the Speaker shall appoint, shall have power—

(a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House and to adjourn from place to place;

(b) to report from time to time;

(c) to appoint legal advisers, and to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee’s order of reference.

(6) The Conference shall produce its first report to the House, which shall include a description of the principles underpinning its work, no later than 31 October 2022.

(7) The quorum of the Conference shall be five.

(8) This Order shall have effect until the end of the current Parliament.

I bring forward the motion on behalf of Mr Speaker to establish a Speaker’s Conference to consider and make recommendations on the employment conditions of members of staff in order to ensure a more inclusive and respectful working environment. The treatment and safety of those who work on the estate is paramount, and I pay tribute to Mr Speaker for bringing this matter to the forefront of our attention today. I commend him for working across parties and across the House to make sure that this motion was brought before us in the House today.

As all Members will be aware, under our current system, individual MPs are responsible for the employment of their own staff. This is a long-standing practice. The Speaker’s Conference will be able to consider whether this remains appropriate. I do not seek to answer that question today, and I do not think this is the moment to debate it, but, should the House agree to today’s motion and the accompanying memorandum from the Clerk of the House, the conference will approach this task without any preconceptions.

Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con)

Paragraph 6 stipulates:

“The conference shall produce its first report to the House…no later than 31 October 2022.”

In view of the fact that there are two scheduled parliamentary recesses between now and that date, does my right hon. Friend not think that that is rather ambitious?

Mark Spencer

I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. That would be an interim report. It is my understanding that Mr Speaker would draw the Committee together, and establish a narrative and what it is looking at. I think the report would be an early opportunity for Members to get a sense of the Committee’s direction of travel.

Hon. Members will be aware that Speaker’s Conferences are not common. I think the most recent one was in 2008, which is before I and many other Members were elected to this place. It was established to look at the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in this place. It proved to make progress in that direction. I hope that this Speaker’s Conference will be as effective as the 2008 conference. It will be a Committee of the House of Commons, so it will have the powers and legal protections that that entails. That will ensure that it can secure any evidence it needs and that evidence will be given to it freely.

Angela Richardson (Guildford) (Con)

On paragraph 5(a), which talks about powers, is it my right hon. Friend’s understanding that Members of Parliament and current members of staff will be fully consulted in that process?

Mark Spencer

I would fully expect that the Speaker’s Conference will take representations from Members. Once we are aware of which Members are on the Committee—I encourage my hon. Friend to make representations to the Whips Office if she wants to be considered—all Members will be able to feed into the process.

The Speaker’s Conference will include Mr Speaker and 14 other Members. Mr Speaker will appoint those Members with regard to party representation. He will have full discussions with party representatives to give them the opportunity to feed those names in. As the motion sets out, the Speaker’s Conference will have the powers enjoyed by all other Select Committees. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight), it will report its preliminary findings no later than 31 October. As was the case with the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which was set up for the employment of Members and staff, it is ultimately a matter for this House to decide how we progress.

I pay tribute to my predecessors, my right hon. Friends the Members for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) and for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), who made great strides in establishing the ICGS. It provided a dedicated independent mechanism for the handling of complaints of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.

The Speaker’s Conference will be an opportunity to improve the working culture and to continue to make progress in that direction. The Government have made it clear that there is no place in this building or in this Parliament for bullying, harassment or sexual harassment. As Leader of the House, I am determined that we do all we can to ensure that that does not happen. With cross-party support, working together in this House, I think we can make great progress.

Should the House agree to establish the Speaker’s Conference, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr Speaker well in his endeavours. It will be a beneficial change, promoting positive working environments. I offer the House my full support in its progress.