MPs accused of sexual misconduct should be banned from the parliamentary estate
It seems absurd that in 2022 we are asking if Parliament is a safe and welcoming place for women to work.
The revelation that 56 MPs (a staggering 8.6 per cent of all serving MPs) have faced allegations about potential sexual misbehaviour, and the pathetic misogyny demonstrated in the anonymous briefing over the weekend about Angela Rayner, suggest that, sadly, this is still a very relevant question.
We must get to a place where women in Parliament are able to conduct their work in support of our democracy without facing discrimination, harassment and assault. This is an aim everyone should support – but a decision last week suggests the actions required to turn warm words into a concrete plan remain unpalatable to those responsible for making the workplace safe for women.
Last week the chair of the Procedure Committee, Karen Bradley MP, confirmed that the Committee would not hold an inquiry into a trade union proposal to exclude MPs accused of sexual misconduct from the parliamentary estate. Unions representing parliamentary staff, including Prospect, have strongly argued that allowing MPs under investigation for these serious allegations to come into Parliament puts the safety of employees, visitors and other MPs at risk.
A continued unwillingness to take action to make Parliament safe endangers staff and risks further damage to the reputation of our legislature
It’s not just unions making the case – it is supported by experts in women’s safety and Parliament’s own Workplace Equality Networks. This doesn’t mean presuming MPs are guilty – but there should be restricted access for these individuals whilst serious allegations are investigated.
One case of sexual misconduct is one too many – but with 56 alleged cases currently under investigation, this proposal cannot be dismissed as an overreaction to a few bad apples. One former MP is currently in jail for sexual assaulting a parliamentary worker; another was found by a family court of raping and physically abusing his wife; another found guilty at an employment tribunal of sexually harassing a member of his staff. The one constant in each of these cases - and many more - is that all of them were permitted to freely attend Westminster, despite widespread institutional knowledge of the serious allegations against them.
Indeed, this decision by the committee comes just a matter of weeks after another MP – who advised the government on child sexual exploitation – was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. It is understood that the MP reached an informal agreement to stay away from the parliamentary estate during the investigation, but that he subsequently breached that agreement and attended regardless. The attempt to reach a voluntary agreement shows that there is acceptance that there are circumstances in which those under investigation should not be able to attend Parliament. But the failure even to consider a formal policy to prevent the MP from attending shows a lack of seriousness about dealing with this problem: in no other workplace would this be acceptable.
In a cursory and dismissive response to the unions, Karen Bradley MP explained that concerns about "the difficulty in maintaining the confidentiality of investigations" was one factor that led to the decision not to proceed with an inquiry. However, an inquiry would surely have allowed unions and other experts to draw on best practice elsewhere - for example in the Civil Service or the judiciary - to construct a system that dealt with those legitimate concerns.
Parliament is clearly different to other workplaces – but it cannot be beyond the wit of our elected representatives to come up with a solution to issues surrounding constituency representation in these cases.
A continued unwillingness to take action to make Parliament safe for those working there endangers staff, visitors and risks further damage to the reputation of our legislature. If an MP commits serious sexual misconduct on the estate while under investigation for another alleged offence, those who allowed this situation to continue will rightly face questions about why they did not act. They will not be able to say they were not warned.
The Procedure Committee must reconsider its decision and finally take action to root out sexual harassment in Parliament – and live up to its obligations to those working at the heart of our democracy.
Mike Clancy is General Secretary of Prospect trade union, which represents staff working on the parliamentary estate.
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