Harassment rife in Westminster
By Diane Cooke
The stark facts about harassment and inappropriate behaviour in Westminster reveal a deeply flawed system which has failed to address abuse issues and protect staff.
Some 75% of those who experienced it directly did not speak to their boss.
And only 50% of respondents working in the Commons and 52% of those in the Lords said they had confidence in authorities to manage the complaints.
Sexual harassment specifically proved prominent, with nearly one in five parliamentary workers reporting they had been subjected to it.
The survey got 1,377 responses, or 17% of the Westminster workforce,
The results prompted Green MP Caroline Lucas, who sat on the working group that commissioned it, to say the findings "have the potential to shake up a really toxic political culture in Westminster".
"As in Hollywood, our political parties have long operated along cultural norms that not only make the abuse of power possible, but, as the MP Anna Soubry argues, actually offer protection to abusers. Thanks to their contacts and influence, MPs and ministers can wield great influence over aspiring political careers. Each MP acts as their own employer, giving staff little access to independent guidance and support should they experience harassment.
"Such incidents are often treated as indiscretions to be reported to the whips’ office, to be hoarded as future leverage against rebellious MPs. In a world seen through the lens of tribal party allegiances, coming forward with a complaint is viewed as a sign of disloyalty."
In future, MPs found to have bullied or harassed their staff will have to write a letter of apology and undergo training, under new proposals.
In more serious cases, they could be suspended or forced to face a public vote on their future.
Under the new proposals, which will also apply to members of the House of Lords, a trained sexual violence adviser will be appointed to handle complaints.
The adviser would lead an "informal" resolution process, which could result in a written apology for the complainant or workplace training for the perpetrator.
Complainants would be given "practical and emotional" support, whether or not they decide to take the matter to the police or pursue their claim.
In more serious cases, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner would investigate and recommend the suspension of an MP or peer for a specified period.
Caroline Lucas rejected claims that workplace training was unnecessary because MPs should already be aware of how to behave towards staff and colleagues.
"The MPs who are kicking up the most fuss about the training are precisely the ones who should be first in the queue for it," she told BBC News.
She also defended plans to grant anonymity to both the accusers and alleged perpetrators, amid claims that keeping the identity of an offender secret could prevent other alleged victims from coming forward.
If the most serious sanctions were applied, the identity of the alleged perpetrator would be made public, under the committee's proposals.
MPs are in a "constant media spotlight" and "checks and balances" were needed to guard against "vexatious" complaints, the report said.