Amy Leversidge: Parliament's reputation is at risk – MPs must act now on bullying

Posted On: 
18th October 2018

Justice for those with complaints about bullying and harassment has already been delayed for far too long. Dame Laura Cox’s report must lead to real change, writes the FDA’s Amy Leversidge

"Parliament cannot say that it no longer tolerates bad behaviour if it continues to tolerate what has happened in the past," Leversidge writes
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The publication of the Dame Laura Cox inquiry must trigger urgent change. Her searing criticism of “culture of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have been long tolerated and concealed” strikes right to the heart of the matter. Every MP – and especially those sitting on the House Commission – who reads these shaming words should feel compelled to act, and act now.

Yet the lacklustre response to Dame Laura’s findings re-enacts the toxic culture her report describes. Even after reading her inquiry and its descriptions of widespread and systemic bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, some MPs have stated that they will continue to tolerate bad behaviour because party politics and the constitutional timetable are just far more important.

Two hundred members of staff spoke to Dame Laura, many who were afraid to speak out about their experience before, either because they found their experiences too upsetting to relate and relive, or because they were afraid of losing their job.

How will they and their colleagues feel when they hear parliamentarians respond in the way that they did? 

I wonder how those MPs will ever have the nerve to look staff in the eye again. We are talking about those working in the library, who provide you with expert and impartial advice; we are talking about the clerks who serve the committees; we are talking about the security staff who risk their lives and keep you safe every day; and countless others who without whom Parliament would not be able to function.

It is nowhere near good enough to wait for the six-month review of the Leadsom Policy and then just tinker around the edges of it. This is a procedure Dame Laura has stated replicates the defects in the failed Respect Policy.

Dame Laura recommends that past cases should be allowed to be raised with no limitations. In June I wrote for this magazine about the importance of not wiping the slate clean for bullies, and warned that trust and confidence will never be restored while past behaviours go unaddressed. Astonishingly, the Steering Group for the new policy made the entirely arbitrary decision to restrict past cases to June 2017. We condemned the decision, not only for its seemingly random limits – limits which held no legal basis – but because it served only to protect the perpetrators of bullying, not the victims. Dame Laura has now also stated this decision was wrong, and argued it must be overturned.

Parliament cannot say that it no longer tolerates bad behaviour if it continues to tolerate what has happened in the past.

Justice to those with past complaints has already been greatly delayed. Bullying, harassment and sexual harassment can devastate an individual, and this is made even worse when access to recourse is blocked through entirely ineffective policies. It is a moral failing to make staff members wait just one day more for their voice to be heard.  

The vast majority of MPs are courteous and respectful to staff. However, it is not enough to be respectful if you know about the behaviour of others and say and do nothing. It is not enough to have a report of this magnitude before the House and stall for time, investing different solutions rather than implementing Dame Laura’s. This continues the pattern of tolerating and concealing unacceptable behaviour.

Dame Laura is completely correct when she says that these behaviours diminish the authority and credibility of Parliament. Failure to act will only inflict further damage upon its reputation.

The House has a choice. It can continue to tolerate and conceal this behaviour and wait for the next scandal to erupt. Or it can do the right thing. Listen to what staff have told you, listen to what this inquiry has told you, and act on the report without delay.  

Amy Leversidge is the Assistant General Secretary of the FDA