POLITICS
23/06/2020 19:16 BST | Updated 23/06/2020 20:52 BST

Government Defeat Over Bid To Let MPs Debate Bullying Complaints Against Them

Several Tories rebel against "fundamentally problematic" move.

pcruciatti via Getty Images

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Boris Johnson’s government has been defeated in its bid to allow MPs to debate in the Commons bullying complaints made against them by staff. 

Tory MPs lined up with Labour and Lib Dems to vote down the motion, put forward by House of Commons leader Jacob Rees Mogg, which would have seen MPs debate findings of an independent panel. 

The amendment, by Labour’s Chris Bryant, was passed by a majority of five. 

It follows a major report by Dame Laura Cox in 2018 which found that bullying and harassment was widespread in Westminster and recommended that the current committee of MPs should be replaced. 

But the government had wanted to enable MPs to debate the decisions made by the panel in parliament - something which staff unions and opponents said would deter staff from complaining, particularly in cases of sexual harassment. 

Bryant, a former minister and chairman of the Commons’ standards committee, said the government’s proposals would have meant MPs would be debating a decision that has already been reached by an independent body which has “an appellate process within it where all the evidence has been considered, where both sides of the argument have an equal opportunity to put their case and have equal forces”.

He added: “That is not the case in a debate in the House of Commons and many complainants fear that they would be re-victimised.”

Tory MP and former employment law barrister Laura Farris was among those who rebelled against Johnson to back the amendment. 

She told MPs: “The reason why I support the amendment is because in my view, as a matter of employment law, any form of process which invites members to speak up for colleagues against a background of party allegiance and personal loyalties is fundamentally problematic.

“And that isn’t just a theoretical objection, we really do need to consider the debate that took place in the House of Lords in 2018 around Lord Lester. Now when that debate took place it prompted 74 members of staff employed in the House of Lords to write a letter of complaint the following week.”

Assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge of the FDA union, which represents staff in parliament, celebrated the move, saying: “It is an astounding achievement for all the brave women and men who spoke out publicly to try and make parliament a better place to work – they can say this evening that they have truly made a difference.

“The FDA union has long campaigned for a fully independent process in the House of Commons so that bullying, harassment and sexual harassment complaints can be dealt with fairly and effectively without fear or favour and without political interference.” 

She added: “Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect at work and this is a great day for all staff in the House of Commons.”

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