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Abusive behaviour by MPs towards IPSA staff
FOI043
Disclosure Date:20 Aug 2010
Categories: IPSA - STAFF
Exemptions Applied: Section 36 Section 40
Request

Please can you identify the MPs who have been abusive to IPSA staff.  By "identify", I am after the names of these MPs (although as a matter of technicality, I didn't say "please disclose the names" in cases some MPs share the same name, so, if and where that happens, please disclose the consituency as well as the name, or some way of identifying the MPs who don't have names that are unique in current Members of Parliament.  (The name will be sufficient to identify if there is only one MP currently with that name.)

Dates (day month year) of incidents would be welcome as extra information and MPs listed in relation to the dates of each of their abuse (which could see a number of MPs listed against the same dates or could have some dates where only one MP is mentioned: and not all dates of the year would be given if there have been no incidents on those dates; alternatively you could list the entire 365 or 366 dates in the year but leave the row blank (apart from the date) where there has been no abuse on that date: however you disclose this, if you choose to do so, is up to you: you don't have to list all dates of the year(s) but may just give the dates on which abusive (or near abusive) incidents have happened and the MPs names on the relevant dates (some MPs could appear more than once if they have abused etc. staff on a number of dates, whether consecutive or almost seemingly randomly).  If all you have is a list of "abusive" (or "unacceptable behaviour") MPs names (and constituencies or suchlike if there is ambiguity which MP it is from their name only), then fine. No need to subdivide or identify which was "abusive" and which was "unacceptable" - I am taking my request 'in the round' as referring to either or both of these.

I assume that many of the incidents of abuse/other unacceptable behaviour from MPs will be abusive or aggressive etc. telephone calls, which not only weren't recorded, but also no records would have been kept of the fact the call had been abusive.  Instead the fact the call was abusive would have been relayed orally to other colleagues in the IPSA and, therefore, the information is not held.  However, it may be that notes have been kept or that some report(s) has/have been produced - please disclose copies of these notes/reports.

I've searched the internet to help find an article that may help you about what has prompted this request: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/7825899/MPs-Expenses-chaos-as-MPs-abuse-authority-staff.html.

This isn't actually the article I had read (which was probably in the Guardian) several months ago and which has actually now led onto me making this request.  Nonetheless the above Telegraph article I've now retrieved is a good guide to assist you as to the background.  The actual article I had seen I recall covered much, but not all, of the same ground but also reported something along the lines of MPs being difficult with IPSA and some of them veering into downright abuse.  The line between "difficultness" and "abusiveness" may well be subjective and, of course, to determine what information is in a request an objective standard has to be used over interpretation of the scope of the request so that it isn't a matter of personal opinion as to what is within the request or not.  Ideas as to what constitutes "difficult" or "abusive" might well involve an element of personal opinion.  However, objectively, what my request is seeking would be, if the IPSA, has classed some MPs as being "abusive" (that is they were abusive, in the IPSA's classification, on at least one occasion), then the identities of all those MPs.  If the IPSA has not actually classed MPs as being abusive, but instead there have been calls (or other contacts, whether written or not) from MPs to the IPSA which have been either difficult or, on occasions, almost ("veered into...") or even actually abusive, then details of the MPs involved in those incidents.  (If more than one MP was involved in a single incident, then there need be no breakdown into the MPs involved on each incident, just a list of MPs who have been involved at all in what the IPSA or senior people within it has felt was very difficult or (almost) abusive.  There is a line between persistent, but reasonable, behaviour and behaviour which is, or veers into the, unacceptable - and it's not the persistent, perhaps even difficult but nonetheless reasonable that I am after but the MPs who, in IPSA's view, have been unacceptable.

I note the Telegraph article, which I have seen only today and for the first time, mentions Paul Farrelly, who happens to be my own MP.  His name was not mentioned at all in the Guardian(?) article - indeed I don't recall there were any MP's names mentioned in that article, but nonetheless although the Telegraph says Mr Farrelly says the new regime makes it impossible for him to do his job, it does not necessarily mean Mr Farrelly is one of these MPs and I am not just interested in my own MP (I happen only to have seen the Telegraph article today and it wasn't what prompted this FOI request) but interested in MPs in general and their general accountability and openness to the public, as elected representatives, whom if they are being unacceptable towards the IPSA or its staff, we are entitled to know their names.  It is therefore not just a confirmation or denial regarding Mr Farrelly but the identities of all MPs who have been abusive to IPSA staff or veering into (or nearly into) downright abuse or even difficult but in an unreasonable/unacceptable way and the IPSA has classed them as "abusive" or otherwise has had concerns about the MP's conduct in relation to the manner in which they have treated IPSA staff, or a member of IPSA staff, such information which may appear in emails forwarded to senior staff (such as Andrew McDonald, mentioned in the Telegraph article), or may be recorded in a log book of incidents of abuse - in which case a copy of that book is requested (or a copy that contains the full entries of the incidents of abuse involving MPs or any MP, redacting out the cases of abuse from private members of the public, or "other" members of the public in the sense that MPs are, like everyone, "members of the public", but you know what I mean, the details of the MP cases but not from members of the general unknown public who happen to ring or contact IPSA and do so in an abusive way, just the MPs)).

If there are notes or memoranda or reports that either include or consist entirely of details of any incident(s) in which MPs have been abusive (or otherwise unacceptable in their behaviour), then I request full copies of those notes/memos/reports, including, where it is in there, the identity of the MPs on the cases.

 

Please can you supply information preferably by email using any combination of the following:

the body of an email; PDF attachment(s); Word attachment(s); Excel attachment(s).  Attachments to be in normal format i.e. not a fancy format that can't be read by most readers and to be without password(s).

 

Except that if any information is "environmental information" and the Environmental Information Regulations are being concerned, I am technically not giving any preference at all for those purposes.  (This is due to the technical differences between the two laws: if you can, you can supply by the same format as the FOI Act preference expressed above, but this is technically voluntary on your part under the Environmental Information Regulations (in the unlikely event information is within the Regulations) but subject to advice and assistance etc. of the Regulations as the preference I have given is only expressed for the purposes of the FOI Act.)

Response

I am responding to your request as the member of IPSA designated by the Lord Chancellor as the Qualified Person under s.36(5)(o)(iii) of the Freedom of Information Act. I can confirm that IPSA does hold information relevant to your request but that some of the information is exempt from disclosure.

As the Qualified Person I have conducted the public interest balancing exercise in relation to the engagement of the exemption at s.36(2)(c) (prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs) of the Act, alongside consideration of the s.40(2) (personal information) exemption and our duties under the Data Protection Act, specifically paragraph 6 of Schedule 2. It is my opinion that certain forms of adverse effect would or would be likely to follow from a full disclosure of the information you request. However, I am also of the opinion that some of the information you request does not qualify for exemptions under the Act and should be disclosed.

In the process of my deliberations I have consulted the other IPSA Board members and senior IPSA staff. You requested the following:

  • The identities of MPs who have been abusive or acted unacceptably towards IPSA staff;
  • Dates of the incidents;
  • Copies of notes, memoranda and reports relating to any incidents of inappropriate conduct from MPs towards IPSA staff; and
  • Details of any Peers who have made abusive or otherwise unacceptable contact with IPSA staff.

Please find attached to this letter a digest of the recorded details of such instances. You will note that individual names and place names have been redacted. It is my opinion that this information is exempt in respect of MPs under s.36(2)(c) and in respect of IPSA staff under s.40(2) of the Freedom of Information Act. In short, although the information is personal information, there is a legitimate interest in the public knowing the details of the conduct to which IPSA staff have been subjected. However, it is also very important and in the public interest that there is a satisfactory and effective working relationship between MPs and IPSA in implementing the new expenses regime. This would, in my view and in the view of those at IPSA whom I have consulted, be damaged by making public the names of the individual MPs concerned. I have therefore concluded that there is a greater public interest in withholding this information than there is in its release.

Please note that IPSA has not referred any Member of Parliament to the Parliamentary Commissioned for Standards over their conduct. Nor has IPSA invoked any action or financial penalty against any MPs.

I should make clear that IPSA has a clear anti-bullying policy and that no member of staff who has experienced inappropriate conduct by MPs has wished any action to be taken against them.

IPSA does not hold any information relating to the behaviour of Peers towards IPSA staff.