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Constituency Staff Could Remain At Risk Despite Parliament Ban For MPs Arrested Over Sexual Assault

The Palace of Westminster, pictured in February 2024 (Alamy)

3 min read

A union representing staff working for MPs in and out of parliament has said that a new ban on MPs who have been arrested in connection with sexual assault does not go far enough to protect those working in constituency offices.

There is also concern over the inability to enact retrospective application of changes backed in the House of Commons that mean MPs arrested for serious offences face a ban from Parliament.

Under the proposals approved in a knife-edge vote on Monday night, any MP who is arrested for a violent or sexual offence will be subject to a risk assessment by a panel, which will decide if they should be banned from the Parliamentary estate. 

MPs voted by a majority of one – 170 to 169 – in favour of bringing in the risk assessment and ban at the point of arrest. The government had wanted the threshold to be at the point of charge, but members were given a free vote. 

Jenny Symmons, chair of the GMB union’s members’ staff group, told PoliticsHome that officials would be “involved in discussions” over the coming months to make sure that the change is “implemented to the best effect,” and the process is “thorough”. 

However, she predicted that the next “headache” would be implementing a similar process for constituency offices “to protect vulnerable members of the public”. 

The rules over exclusion and suspension do not apply to the constituency office, Symmons explained, and said “that’s a whole other thing to get our heads around because Parliament doesn’t have jurisdiction over constituency offices”.

“It’’s taken us years to get to this point where we have agreed to do risk assessments for people who are arrested on suspicion of serious crimes, but it’s encouraging to get a win and we’ll keep going,” she said.  

“There’s lots of things that need to be changed in Parliament and we’ll keep pushing.” 

The amendment had been proposed by Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain, and received support from most MPs in her party, as well as more than 120 Labour MPs and 8 Conservatives. 

Chamberlain told PoliticsHome that systems like the Independent Complaints and Grievance Service (ICGS) “just fall on their face if we don't feel that it’s a workplace for everybody and that people are treated proportionately and accordingly and as equally as possible”. 

One issue Chamberlain said she would like to be looked at in the future is the idea of retrospective exclusion given the change in rules, and whether there would be any scope for review. 

“That to me is obviously one of the first things that we should be looking to ensure that it’s done,” she said. 

The relevant Standing Orders – the written rules which regulate the proceedings of both Houses in Parliament – were updated following Monday's vote, and PoliticsHome understands this means the system is now “live”. 

In a speech at the Institute for Government on Tuesday, shadow leader of the House of Commons Lucy Powell said that she was “really pleased” that the Commons backed the plans, adding that “it is what would happen in most professional work-places and it’s right we agreed it”. 

She said that Labour would “work to make Parliament a better and safer workplace” and look at “how we can enhance good employment practices, tackling abuse and harassment in Parliament”. 

She added that the party would support a recommendation that parties agree to all complaints relating to MP behaviour should be directed to the ICGS, and said that a Labour government would look at how that process could work.

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