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Thu, 16 July 2020

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Union bosses slam Westminster sex abuse complaints procedure for excluding historical allegations

Union bosses slam Westminster sex abuse complaints procedure for excluding historical allegations
3 min read

A new complaints procedure set up to handle allegations of bullying and harassment within Westminster has come under fire from a major trade union.

The FDA union, which represents civil servants and staff working in parliament, said that MPs responsible for the new set-up had "made a choice to protect the perpetrators of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment rather than protect the victims" after proposing that historical cases should not be covered.

MPs will vote on Thursday to approve the new behavioural code which could see parliamentarians sacked from their jobs if they are found guilty of bullying or sexual harassment.

The scheme, devised by a steering group of cross-party MPs led by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, was developed in the wake of the bullying and sexual harassment scandal which rocked Westminster last year.

Under the new plans, independent helplines will be set up to ensure that victims can make confidential complaints, and procedures put in place to enable “harsh punishments” to be handed down to offenders.

But the steering group confirmed that the scheme will not be extended to cover allegations relating to incidents which occurred before last June’s general election.

Instead, an independent review will be opened for six months to hear complaints of bullying and harassment and to provide victims with guidance and support.

They concluded that applying the new sanctions to historical cases would leave the process open to “significant legal challenge.”

But Amy Leversidge, Assistant General Secretary of FDA, said the decision meant that victims were being denied access to justice.

“Effectively they have chosen to wipe the slate clean and placed arbitrary restrictions on staff raising complaints about past cases and there is no legal reason why they couldn’t have done more," she said.

“Since House staff have been unable to use the flawed Respect Policy this means they are unable to access justice. Our view on past cases is that the Steering Group have not done everything in their power on this and they need to do more.

“We want to see past cases included in the new policy.”

In the most severe cases of abuse, MPs, peers or Commons staff could be dismissed if found guilty by a committee of standards made up of seven MPs and seven lay people.

But Ms Leversidge highlighted that the lay person vote was indicative – meaning that MPs were not bound to follow their decision.

“It is still MPs that have the power to block serious sanctions," she said. "MPs are still going to be able to mark their own homework. We want to see independence at all stages, including decisions on sanctions."

Andrea Leadsom defended the procedure, saying: “It would be a very, very brave set of seven MPs who then decided that just because they didn’t get what they wanted, they would go off to have another one themselves."

Green MP Caroline Lucas, who sat on the steering group, said that the new procedures proved that huge progress had been made toward making parliament a “safer, more respectful and equal environment”, but admitted that there was “more to do” when it came to delivering justice for historical cases.


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