House of Commons spends over £800,000 on 'gagging clauses' to silence ex-staff in last three years
5 March 2020, 08:29
The House of Commons has spent more than £800,000 on non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) for its former staff in the last three years.
A total of £808,000 was spent across 15 different agreements - often called gagging clauses - since 2017, according to data revealed after a freedom of information request from PA.
Seven of the 15 cases, which totalled £367,016 in payouts, also included confidentiality clauses - something the government says it hasn't used since 2018.
Meanwhile, £18,421 was spent by the House of Lords on four agreements with confidentiality clauses during the same period.
NDAs are legal agreements that stop people from revealing confidential information, but they have become well-known for their use by public figures to stop sensitive information and allegations of wrongdoing from reaching the media.
The topic has recently been covered in the wake of former Commons speaker John Bercow leaving his post, whose claim for peerage has been marred by accusations of bullying during his time in the role.
Leading the accusations, Lieutenant General David Leakey has said that many of the staff affected by the alleged bullying were paid off for their silence.
Following the release of the data on Wednesday, Labour MP Jess Phillips said she found the payout figures "very worrying" and called for an "outlaw" to the contracts.
She said: "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."
"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."
Maria Miller, the former women and equalities minister, said allegations of bullying and harassment from ex-Commons staff had "seriously brought into question its management culture".
She added: "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."
In response, the House of Commons reaffirmed that it hadn't used confidentiality clauses since 2018.
It added: "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."