'Time for change' - House of Commons bosses back major shake-up of bullying rules

Posted On: 
24th October 2018

Historic cases of bullying and harassment by MPs and peers could be opened up to scrutiny after House of Commons bosses voted to fully adopt a raft of changes recommended by a highly-critical report.

The House of Commons Commission said it was 'determined to take immediate steps to rectify past mistakes'
Credit: 
PA

A damning inquiry by Dame Laura Cox - launched in the wake of claims that parliamentary staff had been abused by MPs and peers - warned that a "disturbing" culture of intimidation had prevented victims from speaking out about bullying and harassment at work.

The report demanded that Parliament's current 'Respect' HR policy be ditched entirely, and said historic cases should be considered under an "entirely independent" replacement.

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In a statement, the House of Commons Commission - which handles HR policy in Parliament - acknowledged that it had "too often failed to provide a workplace free from bullying and harassment" and backed all three of the key recommendations in Dame Laura's report.

It said: "Dame Laura Cox’s report describes an institutional failure to address the problem which has undermined the legitimacy and authority of the House of Commons.

"The scale of the problem and depth of hurt caused is beyond dispute. 

"We are determined to take immediate steps to rectify past mistakes where and when we can and are committed to a robust effort to change the culture which has tolerated such abuses.

"The staff of the House of Commons are essential to the functioning of democracy. We deeply regret that their diligence has at times been so poorly repaid, and that it has taken so long for us recognise what must be done.

"It is time for a change."

In a significant move, the Commission called for the new "Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme" governing the behaviour of MPs and peers to include a way for past cases to be looked at - something that had previously been ruled out.

It also said MPs themselves should to "play no part" in "the process for determining complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment brought by House staff against Members of Parliament".

The group added: "Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons, or in any area of public life.  

"The persistence of this problem has rightly called into question the culture and leadership of the House of Commons. We acknowledge that we have a proactive role to play in improving the culture of the House Service, and therefore are resolved to ensure that Dame Laura Cox's report marks the moment where we commit to swift and lasting change."

The move was welcomed by the FDA trade union, which represents staff working in the House of Commons and has been highly critical of the current complaints process.

The union's assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge said: "We wish to pay tribute to all the brave members of staff, both past and present, who came forward and shared their stories. They courageously spoke truth to power and, finally, power listened. 

“This is an important, if overdue, decision. Though there is more work to be done, the implementation of Dame Laura’s recommendations is the first step to ending the toxic culture of deference and silence that has allowed bullying, harassment and sexual harassment to thrive within the House of Commons. 

“We want to thank Dame Laura Cox for her tireless work to bring about this crucial reform. Her recommendations echoed those the FDA have been campaigning for: a truly independent complaints process and the removal of arbitrary time restrictions."