Nearly one in five people working in Westminster have experienced or witnessed sexual harassment, a report has revealed - and politicians found guilty of it could face the sack.
The survey, ordered by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom in the wake of a raft of allegations of inappropriate behaviour and assaults in and around Parliament, also revealed 39% of all MPs, Peers and staff experienced non-sexual harassment or bullying in the last year alone.
Twice and many women experienced incidents as men, and more than half of politicians’ staff said they had experienced, witnessed or heard of bullying and harassment during the course of their employment.
The findings of the cross-party investigation - which drew 1,377 responses - will be discussed in the Commons on Thursday, along with a raft of recommendations to help tackle the problem.
But critics, including outgoing Women’s Equality Party leader Sophie Walker and Labour MP John Mann, say the report does not go far enough.
Proposals include enhanced protections and support for victims, an independent, confidential complaints process detached from political parties and tougher sanctions for politicians found to be perpetrators - including proceedings to give constituents the power of recall, triggering a possible by-election.
Leadsom, who chairs the working group that commissioned the report, 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.”
The group also recommends enhanced HR processes and additional training for politicians and staff members, along with a specific code of conduct.
Georgina Kester, who represented the Members and Peers’ Staff Association on the working group, said: “Having called for this action for many years, MAPSA welcomes and endorses the report and the proposals contained within it, which will go a long way to combatting the bullying and harassment that staff have experienced.
“We look forward to staff being fully involved in the next stages of the roll-out of the disciplinary processes, sanctions, training and support mechanisms.”
The Labour Party brought in a team from charity Rape Crisis to deal with reports of incidents from its own staff at the start of the year.
Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said: “When the working group formed, Labour called for the immediate establishment of an independent specialist advisor on sexual harassment. Although we would like this to have been put in place sooner, we are pleased it is included in the report and hope it will be implemented as quickly as possible.
“Labour will be advocating that relevant bodies do their utmost to ensure the group’s recommendations are put into place as a matter of urgency. This includes mandatory training for MPs, Lords and staff on consent, equalities, tackling bullying and harassment, and trade union recognition, to ensure staff are able to collectively raise grievances and lobby for changes to rules and procedures.
“There is more to do to tackle pervasive prejudices and unacceptable behaviour in Westminster which has gone unchallenged for far too long. But today’s report makes an important start. We will continue to work with all parties to ensure we develop the most robust procedures possible in Parliament.”
Leadsom will deliver a statement to the Commons later today, which will be followed by a full debate by MPs in early February.