I wish to make a statement about recent disturbing allegations about a culture of sexual harassment at Westminster between Members and those who work for Members.
Let me make it clear: there must be zero tolerance of sexual harassment or bullying here at Westminster or elsewhere, whether that involves Members, their staff, parliamentary staff or those working on or visiting the estate. If there have been assaults, they should be reported to the police here, as anywhere else.
The House of Commons Commission, which I chair, has a duty to provide a safe place to work. In 2014, in addition to introducing the Respect policy providing a proper regime for complaints by parliamentary staff of bullying or harassment, the Commission introduced a helpline for Members’ staff to raise personal and work-related concerns. And I have consistently supported the workplace equality networks as peer group support for staff. These have all been established since 2010 and are doing important work, which I know to be valued by staff.
At its monthly meeting this evening, I will be inviting the Commission to consider any further action. I also propose to refer the whole issue of sexual harassment to the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, which I established last year.
Members’ staff are, of course, employed by individual Members. That means they cannot simply be treated as if they were parliamentary employees, nor of course can Members. I am therefore glad that the party leaders have, in statements made over the weekend, acknowledged their responsibilities to deal with such behaviour within their respective parties.
The Prime Minister’s letter to me, written as leader of the Conservative party, very candidly admits the difficulties the Conservative party has had in introducing the sort of mandatory grievance scheme that some other parties have introduced in recent years. It does not require my intervention for the party to adopt an effective grievance scheme. I hope that all parties will rapidly and thoroughly review the arrangements they have in place to ensure that those arrangements are credible, enforceable, accessible, transparent, and comprise an independent element. The latter notion, that any complaints system and grievance procedure must satisfy constituents as well as colleagues, strikes me as important.
The Prime Minister refers in her letter to the prospects of a House-wide “corporate” scheme. I would be happy to have the idea considered. In the first instance, I hope that parties will live up to their responsibilities by demonstrating both an appetite for change and a practical means of delivering that change without delay. Make no mistake, there is a need for change.
The House will also know that Members must abide by a code of conduct, which means that alleged breaches can be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. The commissioner suggested, in her September 2016 consultation on the code, a new rule that:
“A Member must treat all those who work in Parliament with dignity, courtesy and respect.”
I hope that the Committee on Standards, comprising equal numbers of Members and lay members, will take forward suggested revisions to the code with appropriate urgency and come to the House for its decision.
I hope I have the support of the House in calling for these issues to be resolved swiftly and decisively; it should not require endless debate and discussion. For my part, as Speaker, I am happy to do whatever I can. Others must do likewise.