POLITICS
15/10/2019 21:37 BST | Updated 16/10/2019 09:39 BST

Failure To Tackle Westminster Bullying And Harassment 'A Scandal'

Dame Laura Cox and civil service union lash out at Commons Commission one year after seminal report.

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General view of the Palace of Westminster in shadow as dark clouds gather over Parliament.

Westminster’s failure to tackle bullying and harassment one year after a seminal report on the issue is a “scandal” that risks eroding public trust, it was claimed. 

Dame Laura Cox’s independent report, released exactly a year ago, uncovered a culture of “deference and silence” that “actively sought to cover up abusive conduct” in parliament.

It followed a tide of disclosures made about MPs, peers and staff in the wake of Me Too movement in 2017. 

Her report demanded an independent complaints procedure which could investigate historic allegations and a string of other reforms. 

It also called for Speaker John Bercow, who himself faced bullying claims, which he denies, to consider his position. 

In July, MPs voted to widen the remit of the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) so it could investigate cases that predate 2017 and from ex-employees, but this move has yet to be implemented. 

Bercow last month confirmed he would stand down on October 31 to spend more time with his family and there is a contest for his replacement.

Cox, whose call for an independent complaints system has been largely ignored, issued a statement to all Commons staff on Tuesday decrying the lack of progress made. 

Saying there is “still much to do to bring about the changes required”, she added: “Delay can only serve to increase frustration, and hinder the restoring of trust and confidence of both House staff and members of the public alike.” 

Dave Penman, general secretary of the civil service FDA union, wrote in a blog for HuffPost UK that he feels Bercow’s leadership has been “sorely lacking”. 

He feels the House Commission, which oversees the administration of parliament and is chaired by the Speaker, “prevaricated over the central and critical reform: a fully independent complaints process, free from influence of the MPs or their parties”. 

He said: “That we are here 12 months after Dame Laura reported is a scandal. The commitments from the candidates for speaker to quickly deliver an independent process is welcome, but this is not the end of it.

“We are still waiting on a broader range of sanctions to be introduced, more in fitting with a modern employment context, but this is still being considered by the Committee on Standards more than 18 months after we first raised the issue.”

He said hundreds of individuals have come forward since 2017 and have “told a similar story of abuse of power, bullying, harassment and even sexual assault”.

He said: “Each report has been met with horror and universal calls for reform. Each report now gathers dust in the parliamentary libraries.”

Adding that Bercow “may have reformed a number of antiquated practices in parliament”, he felt Bercow should have done more and parliament was “still a long way from a 21st Century workplace”. 

Jane McCall and Rima Makarem, members of the House Commission, told parliamentary staff in an email on Tuesday that “putting in place genuine solutions” would be a “lengthy and ongoing task”. 

Their joint statement underlines that there is now a helpline to support victims of bullying, harassment or inappropriate sexual behaviour. 

It adds that new training to help staff members recognise bullying will also be rolled out. 

“Changing people’s behaviours and attitudes is a far bigger challenge than changing a complaints process or putting in place training programmes. But we are confident that the House Service has the determination and the will needed to put through the changes still required,” they add.