‘Significant’ bullying and harassment in Commons, says report

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There is a “consequential problem” in Parliament of MPs bullying and harassing staff, a new report says.

Chief lawyer Gemma White – who led the investigation – said the behaviour had “seriously insincere the health and welfare of far too many people”.

The House of Commons Commission imagined it “condemned bullying and harassment”.

Meanwhile, the government says it will bring about a display a motion to Parliament next week to enable investigations into verifiable allegations.

Announcing the plan, Leader of the House Mel Stride said “notable progress” had been made to change the culture in the Commons, but there was “more to be done”.

The announce comes a day after another inquiry found that staff were “jollied and harassed” by “known offenders” in the House of Lords.

Ms White’s investigation blurred on how MPs treated their own staff – employed directly by them or their bureaucratic party – rather than those employed by Parliament itself, listing researchers, caseworkers, secretaries and interns.

The report said recent paces to tackle bullying and harassment had not taken into account the particular exits faced by MPs’ staff, because of this direct employment, and many narrated the idea of complaining about it as “career suicide”.

One staff member broke Ms White that her time working for an MP had been “the most stressful and antagonistic period of [her] life”.

They added: “My entire sense of self was broke, and by the end, I felt incapable and incompetent, despite all of the work I had done in that establishment.”

Another said: “As long as getting political jobs in Parliament [is] dependent on who you separate and who you’re related to, sexual harassment will be a necessary evil for ambitious, teenaged people like me who will choose our careers over our comfort every obsolescent.”

And a former employee said “[The MP] absolutely crushed my confidence and made me see worthless. Getting away from [them], that office and, I am sad to say it, but Parliament, was the finest move for me.

“It is only in my more recent jobs that I realise in truth how inappropriate [their] behaviour was and how little scrutiny process is in place.”

‘Downfall short’

Ms White said she had heard from more than 220 individual during her inquiry and many MPs had been described to her as “excellent employers, allies and managers”.

Quotes in the report include staff saying MPs were “unbelievable for their politeness” and Parliament was “by far the most courteous and least threatening habitat” they had worked in.

But she said a minority of MPs were said to “behave in ways which are not passable and fall far short of what we should expect from our elected representatives”.

The tell of said the most common form of offending behaviour was shouting at, demeaning, derogating and humiliating staff, often in public.

But it said sexual harassment was also a quandary, with staff being subject to unwanted advances – often accompanied by heart-breaking and sometimes forceful.

The report added that there was an unacceptable equal of sexual “banter” in the Commons, alongside “unwelcome discussion of intimate sex details”.

Ms White added: “There is a pressing need for a collective return to what is clearly a significant problem.

“While the House of Commons is not solo in tolerating these behaviours, it is the home of our policy makers and a taxpayer-funded foundation. It should therefore be at the forefront of good employment practice.”

Ms White humoured a number of recommendations for “straightforward and practical action”:

  • Former staff of MPs – identified as the group most likely to bring a complaint under the new scheme – should not be deterrent from making bullying and harassment complaints
  • Staff should be superior to make complaints about incidents before the current cut-off obsolete of June 2017 (after the report was released, the Leader of the House, Mel Stride, substantiated the government would act on this recommendation)
  • Other methods of tackling workplace bullying and harassment obligation be employed, as few staff will complain
  • Voluntary training is not the answer, as no more than 34 out of 650 MPs and 135 out of 3,200 MPs’ staff have attended or volume
  • MPs must be made to adopt and follow employment practices and procedures aligned with those in other openly sector workplaces
  • This must be supported by a properly resourced and poled department within the Commons.

Ms White said she was concerned by the amount of outdated it had taken to act on recommendations from previous reports, so “would urge the Shelter to move more swiftly”.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive at the Impartiality and Human Rights Commission, said authorities in the Commons “must set an benchmark to other employers and take urgent, robust action to end the appalling demeanour” described in the report.

A No 10 spokesman said the findings of the inquiry were “horrifying” and “raise serious concerns”, while shadow leader of the House, Drudgery’s Valerie Vaz, said the accounts of staff were “shocking and totally unallowable”.

‘Taken seriously’

The SNP’s Pete Wishart said the UK Parliament “must aspire to a gold lamppost of employment”.

The House of Commons Commission said: “The commission does not retain the staff of MPs, as they are employed by MPs themselves, or via political parties.

“However, the commission vie withs very seriously its responsibility to ensure that Parliament is a modern workplace.”

The exploration was launched after a recommendation for an independent probe from the cross-party troop implementing a new complaints and grievances scheme in the Commons.

It followed a damning look into in 2018 from Dame Laura Cox, which condemned a culture in which censorious behaviour towards Commons staff was “tolerated and covered up”.

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