Senior MPs have called for an overhaul of employment arrangements and culture in parliament, including the creation of an HR department, following claims about bullying and sexual misconduct.
House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said “radical action” was urgently needed to stamp out inappropriate behaviour in Westminster.
He wants to create a system where an outside body employs staff independently. Under the current arrangement MPs employ their staff directly.
Former leader of the house Dame Andrea Leadsom – who was instrumental in setting up the independent complaints and grievance scheme (ICGS) in 2018 – has backed the call for an HR department in Westminster.
It is not the first time a parliament HR department has been proposed. In 2019, an independent inquiry led by Gemma White QC found that there needed to be a shift away from the idea that MPs are “650 small businesses” with “near complete freedom to operate in relation to their staff”.
Writing in the Observer over the weekend, Hoyle said: “I believe it is time we reviewed our working practices, and particularly whether it is right that individual MPs are the employers of their staff. Should someone else – or an outside body – employ the staff, as long as the MP has the right to choose them?
“In my opinion, it is time to consider radical action, and review structures and processes that could make a difference. Some serious allegations have been made, and we must address them as a matter of urgency. It is imperative we do the right thing by staff and MPs as well.
“At the end of the day, I want to make sure that everyone feels they have support and somewhere to turn – and to make this house not only a safe and inclusive place to work, but a model for other legislatures.”
The proposal comes following numerous allegations about lewd behaviour, bullying and sexual misconduct in parliament. Conservative MP Neil Parish resigned on Saturday after he was twice observed viewing pornography in the Commons chamber; Labour MP Liam Byrne was suspended from the Commons for two days after he was found to have bullied a member of staff; Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan resigned after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy; and Conservative MP David Warburton was suspended following allegations relating to sexual harassment and cocaine use.
MPs have also raised concerns about being subjected to misogynistic and inappropriate behaviour. Cabinet minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan said last week that she had once been “pinned up against a wall” by a male colleague and subjected to “wandering hands” on several occasions, while Labour MP Chris Bryant said he had been abused by an MP, who is still in parliament, “15, 18 years ago”.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he would like to see all staff employed on standard terms and conditions, with a route to report breaches of employment practices without having to go to the MP they work for. A parliament HR department would also give MPs formal support in managing their staff
Commons staff have said the ICGS, set up in the wake of sexual harassment and bullying claims a few years ago, was slow, complicated and often intimidating. About 43 complaints against MPs have been investigated by the service in the past three years.
Some serious allegations have been made, and we must address them as a matter of urgency. It is imperative we do the right thing by staff and MPs as well.” – Sir Lindsay Hoyle
The ICGS said its latest internal figures showed a “similar trend” to those for the year 2020-21, during which it had dealt with 15 cases against MPs for bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct.
Hoyle wants to form a cross-party “Speaker’s conference” to propose reforms to parliamentary working practices and culture.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News his party was “happy to participate” in a Speaker’s conference, saying: “There’s a cultural issue that we have to get to grips with. Cultural change has to be led and modelled from the top.”
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told BBC’s Sunday Morning that there were some “bad apples” in Westminster, but suggested they were not reflective of the general environment.
“It’s very similar to when people say, ‘Oh well, there are a number of racist people in this country, so that means the whole country is racist.’ That doesn’t follow,” he said.
“There are some bad apples. There are people who’ve acted very badly and they should be held to account.”