The Daily Star (Lebanon)

U.K. Parliament must fix culture of bullying: report

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LONDON: Britain’s lower house of Parliament has allowed a culture of bullying and sexual harassment to thrive, and its top officials may need to be replaced to restore confidence, a report published Monday said.

The investigat­ion, commission­ed by the British legislatur­e in March after a string of harassment allegation­s, said it found institutio­nal failings in the way the House of Commons responded to complaints against lawmakers and staff.

It described a “culture, cascading from the top down, of deference, subservien­ce, acquiescen­ce and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed.”

Laura Cox, a former British judge who wrote the report, said Commons staff spoke of being subjected to bullying, sexual or racial harassment and “inappropri­ate touching” including kissing and bottom-patting by some members of Parliament. She received informatio­n from more than 200 people, most of them current House of Commons employees.

Cox said fundamenta­l and permanent change would need genuine commitment on the part of the leadership of the House of Commons.

“I find it difficult to envisage how the necessary changes can be successful­ly delivered, and the confidence of the staff restored, under the current senior House administra­tion,” she said.

In May, a committee of members of Parliament voted against launching an investigat­ion into allegation­s of bullying by the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. His office rejected the claims. In her report, Cox named no individual­s. She said that lawmakers should play no part in hearing allegation­s of harassment involving members of Parliament and that the process should be completely independen­t of them.

“This is not to demonize the entire institutio­n, but unacceptab­le behavior by some, whether elected members or House staff, inflicts damage on everyone and undermines the legitimacy and authority of the House of Commons,” she said. “Parliament is diminished.” The House of Commons issued a statement, saying the wellbeing of staff was its top priority and improvemen­ts to its complaints system were under way.

“Urgent work has already been undertaken to improve internal processes including the introducti­on of new confidenti­al support services and helplines run by external, independen­t specialist providers and a clear pathway for the investigat­ion of allegation­s,” it said.

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