An independent panel for examining claims of bullying and sexual harassment by members of Parliament is to be created, alongside an “HR service” for MPs and their staff.
The House of Commons Commission, the supervisory body for the Commons and the staff that work within it, announced the changes following two independent reports that looked into the extent of bullying and inappropriate behaviour in Westminster.
Dame Laura Cox’s 2018 inquiry found that staff working in the House of Commons were subjected to “predatory” behaviour and treated like “personal servants” by MPs, and that the procedures to deal with harassment were inadequate. She welcomed the plans to introduce an independent investigatory body for bullying and harassment complaints.
Bullying and harassment in the public sector
She said: “I am very happy to see that the commission has agreed with the preferred option of an independent expert panel, subject to consultation and to a sensible agreement as to a broad range of sanctions.
“I am extremely pleased to see that this option has commanded the most widespread support. It also meets the requirements of independence and expertise, which are so crucial to the success of any scheme.”
Currently, allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct against MPs are sent to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who can then pass them to the Select Committee for Standards – a group made up of MPs – for investigation.
The Commission has also decided to establish a “Members’ Services Team” which will act as an HR service for MPs and staff – something that was recommended by Gemma White QC in her report last year, which found MPs operate like “650 small businesses” with “near complete freedom to operate in relation to their staff”.
The Members’ Services Team aims to: tackle the sense of isolation that many MPs’ staff reported to Gemma White; co-ordinate and maximise the impact of existing service provision; and identify gaps in the services provided by the House and develop proposals for improvement.
The Prospect union, which represents civil servants among people in other sectors and professions, said the independent panel will give parliamentary staff far more confidence that their complaints will be taken seriously.
Deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “It was always unsustainable to have MPs sitting in judgment on each other, so this step towards an independent system will be welcomed by parliamentary staff….It has taken far too long to reach this point but, this progress is certainly better late than never.”
Last month it was reported that more than 100 of the 140 new MPs elected for the first time in December underwent voluntary training to help tackle bullying and harassment in Parliament. In 2018, just 34 of 650 MPs took part.