The Commons Speaker John Bercow has said that there must be “ zero tolerance” of sexual harassment in Parliament. He said that “Claims about inappropriate behaviour by MP’s was disturbing and all parties must have credible staff grievance procedures.”
Andrea Leadsom, Commons Leader has confirmed that the Cabinet Office was investigating specific allegations against ministers and the most serious allegations would be reported to the Police.
It is accepted that the existing system for handling grievances was inadequate she said and, “that staff who felt mistreated must be able to come forward in a safe environment with the knowledge that their concerns would be handled initially by independent specialist teams and referred promptly for further investigation.”
Leadsom promised a cross party complaints procedure for all those working in Parliament including MP’s peers, staff and interns. It would be policed by, “a new body with an independent element across both the Commons and the Lords.”
Mr Bercow stated that actions had to be taken, “swiftly” and his view was endorsed by other MP’s. Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts said she was, “ told by an employee of an MP that she reported being sexually assaulted to the proper authorities earlier this year, who did nothing. She is deeply disappointed and distrustful, and she tells me that distrust is endemic,”
At present people who work for MP’s are legally employed by them but they are not covered by the established grievance procedure which is in place for other Parliamentary employees. Whilst the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority ( IPSA) which pays MP’s and their staff offer guidance when they draw up employment contracts, this guidance is not binding and traditionally disputes are handled by the MP’s concerned and sometimes their political parties.
Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that she takes the issue very seriously. “The current system for airing grievances was not fair on employees, many of whom were young and in their first job. The Conservatives had offered their MPs a voluntary code of conduct in 2014 but that it had no legal force and therefore it was not fit for purpose.”
The Labour Party has written to its MP’s setting out rules for dealing with complaints of sexual abuse and harassment. The SNP have begun an investigation into two unconnected allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Over the weekend the Cabinet office commenced investigations relating to, “whether Conservative MP and International Trade Minister Mark Garnier breached ministerial rules after he admitted asking his secretary to buy sex toys and calling her “sugar tits”. Stephen Crabb, former Welsh Secretary is reported to have,” admitted sending “explicit” messages to a 19-year-old woman after a job interview at Westminster in 2013.”
Bercow has said that it is for Parliament, ”drive the process forward”. “It is a right, not a privilege, to work in a safe and respectful environment” concludes Andrea Leadsom.”