Commons spends more than £800,000 on paying off former staff

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Signing a non-disclosure agreementImage source, Getty Images

The House of Commons has paid out hundreds of thousands of pounds in non-disclosure and settlement agreements with former employees, according to official figures.

Since January 2017, more than £808,000 has been paid out on 15 settlement agreements with departing staff.

Seven cases included confidentiality clauses, totalling £367,016.

A Commons spokesman said such clauses had not been used in settlement agreements since 2018.

Over the same period, the House of Lords paid £18,421 in four non-disclosure agreements.

The figures were obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by the PA Media news agency.

Non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, are legal contracts used to prevent the release of sensitive or confidential information.

MPs have called for Parliament to "outlaw" the use of NDAs in cases of harassment or discrimination.

'Tolerated and concealed'

Labour MP Jess Phillips welcomed that the Commons has not used confidentiality clauses since 2018, but she said the new figures were "very worrying".

"Parliamentary inquiries and recent high-profile cases such as Harvey Weinstein have shown how toxic these agreements can be and how they hide the need for institutional change," she said.

"Parliament should outlaw the use of NDAs going forward in any case of harassment or discrimination and show the leadership needed to end the culture of power and money silencing people."

An independent complaints scheme was introduced in Parliament in 2018, after allegations of bullying and harassment in Parliament were first made public.

A damning report by High Court judge Dame Laura Cox found lewd, aggressive and intimidating behaviour by MPs and senior staff had been "tolerated and concealed" for years.

'Gagging clauses'

Former Conservative women and equalities minister Maria Miller said: "Allegations of bullying and harassment affecting House of Commons staff have seriously brought into question its management culture.

"With new leadership of the House of Commons management now in place, it is important that secrecy and cover-up has no place in the running of our Parliament.

"With almost 3,000 people employed directly by the House of Commons, quite separate from MPs' own office staff, this FOI request demonstrates the need for transparency and accountability in the way such payments are being used."

A Commons spokesman said: "The House of Commons has not used confidentiality clauses as part of settlement agreements (commonly referred to as NDAs) since 2018.

"In line with many other organisations, the House of Commons - which employs over 2,500 members of staff - has and continues to follow best practice guidance on employment matters as specified by Acas and the Cabinet Office."

In 2018, BBC Newsnight revealed that the House of Commons spent £2.4m on so-called "gagging clauses" with former staff in the five years from 2013.