Tuesday 14 July 2020
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huffingtonpost - 20 days ago

Parliament Staff Are No Longer Powerless Against Bullying By Our Most Powerful

When House of Commons staff first presented serious allegations of bullying and sexual harassment to Newsnight back in late 2017, they had little faith that the culture in their workplace and the behaviour of a minority of problematic MPs would ever change.They recalled horror stories of sexual harassment and bullying endured by themselves and their colleagues by Members of Parliament. They consistently highlighted how, without a truly independent complaints procedure, they were the ones doomed to suffer further both emotionally and professionally if they raised their concerns around their experiences. Tuesday night marked a historic turning point in the quest of those staff to restore trust in the institution they loved working for, changing the culture of the House for generations to come. Two years on from our initial investigation, MPs finally voted to implement a truly independent process for handling allegations of bullying and sexual harassment. This new system, whereby an independent panel of experts will investigate complaints and determine sanctions, finally prevents MPs from exploiting their power and their parliamentary privilege to influence HR outcomes. It drags Parliament, as a workplace, into the 21st century. It s been an emotionally exhausting, sometimes traumatic, and often demoralising journey for the apolitical staff who bravely came forward to achieve this outcome, and their efforts must now be commended not questioned by the MPs who pushed back against them for so long.The culture of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence , outlined by former High Court judge Dame Laura Cox in the wake of our reporting, will not change overnight. A mere five votes determined the outcome of Tuesday s vote, signalling how both MPs and House management must continue to learn from the lessons of the past.Despite Dame Laura s very clear assertions that a fully independent complaints procedure, free from the influence of MPs, was wholly necessary to protect the interests of staff, the past two years have seen many MPs either choosing to remain silent or throwing their energy into casting public doubt over the validity of certain allegations, rather than sorting out the rotten working culture to which a significant number of them contributed.In the very worst cases, we found that the inadequate response to the staff who raised issues led to emotional breakdowns and departures from Parliament.While some MPs were rightly outraged by our extensive reports of harassment and bullying that had, in some cases, ended the careers of talented staff, many made it clear that they were outraged on the contrary that Members should face a trial by media for their alleged inappropriate behaviour. What those adopting this argument failed to grasp, however, was the extent to which the people who worked so diligently for them had lost all faith that their concerns would ever be taken seriously and dealt with effectively through internal processes. They came to Newsnight not for any limelight, but as a last resort.While lacklustre HR processes lie at the heart of this story, so too do people. In the very worst cases, we found that the inadequate response to the staff who raised issues led to emotional breakdowns and departures from Parliament. The best case scenarios saw people moved from jobs they loved after complaints were made, as though they were the problem as opposed to the perpetrators. This not only undermined the morale of victims and staff, but the integrity of the institution and public trust in our parliamentarians more widely. During Tuesday s vote, many feared their best efforts to ignite change would be fruitless, due to the inclusion of a government clause whereby MPs could debate cases of bullying and harassment in the House after the independent expert panel had investigated allegations and recommended sanctions. This, yet again, risked undermining the implementation of the independent process that Dame Laura cited as essential.An amendment put forward by Labour s Chris Bryant enabled MPs to vote in favour of a truly independent process that rejected the spectacle of MPs debating on cases. At last, Members of Parliament rightly judged that this would have humiliating consequences, and act as a deterrent for complainants, if it were adopted.While the collateral damage caused to staff past and present along this laborious journey may never be fully repaired, MPs have now reclaimed their integrity by voting in favour of an independent complaints and grievances policy that is free from political interference, for all parliamentary staff. More importantly, those who have spoken out, time and again, both internally and externally, both publicly and from behind the scenes, can finally feel satisfied that future generations of parliamentary staff will not be powerless to prevent abuse by the powerful. That is something worth celebrating.Lucinda Day is an investigative journalist who worked on BBC s Newsnight s expos on harassment and bullying in Westminster in 2018. Follow her on Twitter at @LucindaCDayRelated... 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