House of Commons has ‘urgent and serious problem’ of bullying and harassment, finds investigation

Culture of silence allowed to foster preventing change

Monday 15 October 2018 17:50
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House of Commons clerk Emily Commander speaks out on bullying

Bullying and harassment of staff has been allowed to thrive in the House of Commons, an independent report has found.

Dame Laura Cox QC, a former high court judge, was appointed by the House of Commons Commission to conduct an inquiry after a series of allegations made by MPs.

In her findings she said there were “urgent and serious problems” and the Commons had allowed a culture to develop where bullying and harassment went ignored.

She added that it was “difficult to envisage” how solutions could be delivered under the current senior Commons administration.

“Among current and former staff alike there is an obvious pride and affection for the House and its status. Working there is, for many, a privilege – whether as a member of House staff or as an elected member of parliament – and there is an expectation of loyalty to the institution they serve,” she said.

“But that sense of loyalty has been tested to breaking point by a culture, cascading from the top down, of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed.

“This is not to demonise the entire institution, but unacceptable behaviour by some, whether elected members or House staff, inflicts damage on everyone and undermines the legitimacy and authority of the House of Commons. Parliament is diminished.”

In the report Dame Laura called for a “focus and a genuine commitment” to bring about a “broad cultural change” in the Commons.

“Having commissioned this inquiry, I fear that the House may fail those it is trying to help and sustain further damage to its reputation and to its credibility as an employer if this report leads only to another series of initiatives and process changes,” she said.

“A significant number of those members of House staff who came forward regard the status quo as untenable and express the view that ‘it will take several generations until the senior administration are capable of delivering the necessary changes’.

“On this basis, I find it difficult to envisage how the necessary changes can be successfully delivered, and the confidence of the staff restored, under the current senior House administration.”

Dame Laura said that she had been presented with a series of serious allegations of abusive conduct by both MPs and staff, some of whom were referred to as “serial offenders”.

She did not name any of the individuals involved but noted: “When reading this report some people may privately recognise their own behaviours in some of the alleged abusive conduct I have described.

“I would hope that a process of reflection leads them to consider what, if anything, they should now do in the best interests of the House.”

A spokesperson for the Commons said: “Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons, and the wellbeing of our people will always be our top priority.

“Staff must be confident that unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with seriously, independently and with effective sanctions.

“Urgent work has already been undertaken to improve internal processes – including the introduction of new confidential support services and helplines run by external, independent specialist providers and a clear pathway for the investigation of allegations.

“The findings of this inquiry will be taken into careful account.”

Agencies contributed to this report

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