Westminster scandal: Report shows one in five people in Parliament have experienced sexual harassment

Exclusive: Andrea Leadsom will announce proposals for independent grievance procedure to tackle sexual harassment in Parliament

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 07 February 2018 19:18 GMT
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom is set to publish new findings into tackling sexual harassment in Westminster
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom is set to publish new findings into tackling sexual harassment in Westminster

One in five people working in Westminster have experienced sexual harassment in the last 12 months, a shocking report has revealed.

The explosive document, leaked to The Independent ahead of publication, lays bare the extent of the bullying and harassment in Parliament, following a slew of allegations in British politics that ranged from inappropriate behaviour to groping and rape.

The figures now in the public domain were compiled in a survey commissioned by MPs which questioned all types of worker on the parliamentary estate, as party leaders looked for evidence to inform proposals to stamp out abuse.

The survey – which found women reporting twice as many incidents as men – was released by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom on Thursday, along with recommendations for a new independent grievance procedure for staff working in Westminster.

It comes after Parliament celebrated the centenary of giving some women the vote, and amid the ongoing allegations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, which triggered the #MeToo movement to expose sexual harassment across the world.

A source close to the MPs’ working group that produced the report, said: “What is critically important for whether [new measures] succeed or not is that it changes culture, and people who work in Parliament feel that they are able to come forward without risking their future careers.

“You have a situation where 19 per cent, almost a fifth of people, are complaining that they have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment or inappropriate sexual behaviour here, versus the fact that the present respect policy has never had a complaint about sexual harassment.”

Theresa May set up the cross-party working group of MPs and staff to root out abuse in Parliament amid growing pressure to curb sexual harassment in industries ranging from Hollywood to the hospitality sector.

The parliament-wide survey, which spoke to 1,377 workers, also revealed 39 per cent of staff, MPs and peers had experienced bullying and harassment of some sort while on the estate.

Of those suffering bullying or harassment, 45 per cent were women and 35 per cent were male.

The proposals, published with the survey by Ms Leadsom on Thursday, recommended establishing an independent grievance procedure to make it easier for victims to report complaints.

There is also expected to be a new HR system for MPs’ staff, who are currently directly employed by politicians, making it difficult for staffers to complain about their bosses.

The report recommended considering tougher sanctions against those who have behaved inappropriately - such as suspension or expulsion for MPs and peers - while the independent parliamentary commissioner for standards would make final decisions on cases.

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There would also be training for MPs and staff around better employment practices.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon was forced to resign last year when the Westminster scandal was at its height following allegations of sexual misconduct.

MPs Stephen Crabb, Chris Pincher and Daniel Kawczynski were all investigated by the Conservative Party over allegations of sexual misconduct. They were all cleared by the party’s new disciplinary panel.

However, outstanding allegations are still being considered against Tory MP Dan Poulter and Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, who has had the whip removed.

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Labour MPs Ivan Lewis and Kelvin Hopkins have both been referred to the party’s ruling body following allegations of inappropriate behaviour. They both deny the claims.

Unveiling the report, Ms Leadsom said: "This is a big day for Parliament and our politics. The new independent procedure will demonstrate that we want to be the best parliament in the world when it comes to treating everyone who works here with dignity and respect.

"This is a major step in bringing about the culture change that Parliament needs."

After the Weinstein allegations emerged, the #MeToo phenomenon went viral across the globe, as a hashtag used on social media to help demonstrate the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.

It has led to wide-ranging allegations being made, including in Hollywood and the UK, in politics, business and universities.

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