‘Significant’ bullying and harassment in Commons, says report

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PA Media

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

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

She also said it had been “tolerated and accepted for too long”, and urged the Commons to “move swiftly”.

The House of Commons Commission said it “condemned bullying and harassment” and would offer MPs’ staff support.

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

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

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

This investigation focused on how MPs treated their own staff – employed directly by them or their political party – rather than those employed by Parliament itself.

The report said recent steps to tackle bullying and harassment did not take into account the particular issues faced by MPs’ staff, because of this direct employment, and many described the idea of complaining about it as “career suicide”.

‘Collective response’

Ms White said many MPs were described to her as “excellent employers, colleagues and managers”, but a minority were said to “behave in ways which are not acceptable and fall far short of what we should expect from our elected representatives”.

She added: “There is a pressing need for a collective response to what is clearly a significant problem.

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

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

  • Former staff of MPs – described as the group most likely to bring a complaint under the new scheme – should not be blocked from making complaints about bullying and harassment
  • Staff should be able to make complaints about incidents before the current cut off date of June 2017
  • Other methods of tackling workplace bullying and harassment must be employed as few staff will complain
  • Voluntary training is not the answer as only 34 out of 650 MPs and 135 out of 3,200 MPs’ staff have attended or booked
  • MPs must be made to adopt and follow employment practices and procedures aligned with those followed in other public sector workplaces
  • This must be supported by a properly resourced and staffed department within the House of Commons.

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

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