POLITICS
05/01/2018 10:31 GMT | Updated 05/01/2018 12:32 GMT

Westminster 'Unwilling And Unable' To Tackle Sexual Harassment

Leaked report proposes HR shake-up in wake of scandal.

PA Wire/PA Images

The Westminster establishment as been accused of being “unwilling and unable” to deal with its sexual harassment problem after proposals to tackle abuse were leaked.

A cross-party panel, chaired by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, has suggested MPs may have to take online learning modules to ensure a “better understanding of bullying and harassment” and recommends a human resources service for Parliament.

MPs are currently responsible for hiring their own staff.

The report, leaked to Sky News, also calls for a specialist helpline staffed by qualified experts in sexual harassment – which would be separate from other workplace issues.

A specialist investigator, likely to be a lawyer with experience in this field, could also be appointed to look into allegations independently.

And the panel also recommends that another committee is established to consult on imposing tougher sanctions.

But Sophie Walker, the leader of the Leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said the draft measures did not go far enough.

“Parties obviously should not be in charge of looking at the allegations made against their own MPs, and the report acknowledges that there needs to be an independent process of investigating. It acknowledges as well that the sanctions on those found guilty need to be toughened. So the fact that the group cannot agree to focus on these as a priority is doubly disappointing.

“MPs must be subject to recall if they are found to have sexually harassed someone. If a political party or MPs want to vote against that in the Commons, they should do so openly and bear the consequences.

“We applaud the individual MPs who have been working hard to find a way forward and urge their wider parties to stop focusing on minimising the damage to their own reputations and do right by the victims.

“When the allegations of sexual harassment hit Westminster more than two months ago, victims were promised action in ‘days, not weeks’. They are still waiting – something that should shame those in power.”

She added: “This leaked report proves that Westminster is unwilling and unable to confront its sexual harassment problem.”

In a statement to Sky News, Leadsom said: “This is a very serious matter that the working group are determined to get right and, as the chair, I will not comment on the content of leaked documents.

“We all recognise the need to change the culture in Westminster.

“The Working Group will meet as soon as Parliament returns to make further progress in creating an independent complaints procedure. In the meantime, interim support has been put in place by the House Authorities.”