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Westminster should be no exception to 21st century workplace rules if we are to root out misogyny and sexism

Westminster should be no exception to 21st century workplace rules if we are to root out misogyny and sexism
3 min read

Is Westminster such an exceptional working environment that modern HR practices should not apply?

Is Westminster such an exceptional working environment that modern HR practices should not apply? 

It is true that not many people get to work in a UNESCO World Heritage site, nor have a job which demands that they should work in two places, nor be able to influence national and even global events in such an obvious way.

But, just because the role of an MP is exceptional, does it mean that the culture in Westminster and the environment Parliamentarians, their staff and House of Commons and House of Lords staff work in should continue to be so very different from other working environments?

I would argue that allowing parliamentarians to believe we are somehow excepted from the rules that apply to other workplaces simply isn’t sustainable. Believing that Westminster is exceptional and should be treated as such was one of the root causes of the MPs expenses crisis and is at the heart of the ongoing culture crisis, most recently captured in the complaint about an MP watching pornography in the Commons chamber and the misogynistic briefing against the deputy leader of the Labour Party. This belief in their exceptional status seems to give too many parliamentary colleagues a feeling of invincibility.

Westminster needs to decide if it is a professional working environment or a workplace that gives full permission for drinking and socialising

I would urge my former colleagues not to think that complaints about behaviour in Westminster are going to recede.  Those who believe that keeping problems quiet is preferable, so that we don’t draw attention to them, are misunderstanding how the public view these issues and how badly these events tarnish everyone involved in politics. 

The recurrence every few months of stories about poor behaviour needs to be resolved.  The expenses crisis is a good example of how resolution can be achieved. When I arrived in the Commons in 2010, the new IPSA system was being introduced.  It was at times exceptionally painful for all concerned – but the principle that there should be full transparency and accountability around our expense claims and that there should be an auditable computer system requiring a paper trail was the right one.

MPs staff should be employed centrally – their contracts and pay scales are already set by IPSA.  Those staff need to know that if there is a problem with their employment or their employer – including facing redundancy - they have a fully functioning HR department to turn to.

I’d argue that a fresh look at the employment status of MPs is necessary too. The absence of a clear process of being held to account for poor behaviour but also provisions for sickness absence and maternity leave is simply baffling now to anyone who works outside Westminster.

Westminster needs to decide if it is a professional working environment or a workplace that gives full permission for drinking and socialising. At the very least bringing outside guests in to drink in the Palace needs to be looked at – it simply would not be countenanced in other working environments.  The bars should close at 10pm and the widespread availability of alcohol in the Palace be re-considered. 

Grasping the Westminster culture problems and tackling it on a non-partisan basis is essential.  While I applaud the introduction of the Independent Complaints and Grievance System the fact is that it is designed to deal with behaviour problems after they occur. Most modern workplaces now try to instil positive cultures and behaviour requirements to try to avoid such problems occurring in the first place. In the modern era Westminster should be no exception.

 

Baroness Morgan of Cotes is a Conservative peer. 

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