Ber­cow ‘must re­spond’ to ha­rass­ment re­port

Speaker could face a grilling after re­port high­lights an ‘un­ac­cept­able’ risk of ha­rass­ment in Par­lia­ment

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - Chief Po­lit­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dent By Christo­pher Hope

John Ber­cow has been told by Theresa May to “re­spond fully and promptly” to a re­port that sets out how MPS’ staff face an “un­ac­cept­able risk” of bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment in Par­lia­ment. The Prime Min­is­ter said it was a mat­ter for the Speaker and other mem­bers of the “par­lia­men­tary lead­er­ship” to take ac­tion and force MPS to stop mis­treat­ing their staff fol­low­ing the re­lease of the damn­ing re­port.

JOHN BER­COW has been told by Theresa May to “re­spond fully and promptly” to a re­port that sets out how MPS’ staff face an “un­ac­cept­able risk” of bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment in Par­lia­ment.

The Prime Min­is­ter said it was for the Speaker and other mem­bers of the “par­lia­men­tary lead­er­ship” to take ac­tion and force MPS to stop mis­treat­ing their em­ploy­ees fol­low­ing the re­lease of a ma­jor re­port.

Gemma White QC, who car­ried out the in­quiry, found that there was a “sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem” and said many work­ers felt raising concerns would be “ca­reer sui­cide”.

MPS will now be given a free vote next week on whether to al­low in­ves­ti­ga­tions into historic com­plaints prior to June 2017.

It could see Mr Ber­cow, who chairs the House of Com­mons Com­mis­sion which has over­sight of the dis­ci­plinary process, quizzed for­mally about al­le­ga­tions of bul­ly­ing for the first time.

Mrs May’s official spokesman said: “There can be no place for bul­ly­ing or abuse in West­min­ster or any work­place and it’s im­por­tant that the par­lia­men­tary lead­er­ship now re­sponds fully and promptly to the concerns raised in this deeply wor­ry­ing re­port.”

Mr Ber­cow said: “Gemma White’s find­ings are deeply shocking and some of the al­le­ga­tions men­tioned in her re­port should be re­ported to the po­lice and ac­tion taken. It is to­tally un­ac­cept­able for any MP to be­have in this way.”

Liz Truss, the Trea­sury Sec­re­tary, said Par­lia­ment was an “an­te­dilu­vian or­gan­i­sa­tion with many ar­chaic prac­tices” that needs mod­erni­sa­tion. “That ap­plies to every­body, in­clud­ing the Speaker,” she added.

There are about 3,200 re­searchers, sec­re­taries and other staff work­ing di­rectly for the 650 MPS in the House of Com­mons – yet Par­lia­ment “does not pro­vide hu­man re­sources sup­port” to look after them, Ms White found.

‘Very se­ri­ous sex­ual as­sault’

Re­veal­ing her find­ings Ms White said staff had to with­stand be­hav­iour rang­ing from un­wel­come sex­ual ad­vances to “very se­ri­ous sex­ual as­sault”.

Most of the com­plaints were from women about ei­ther male MPS or male mem­bers of staff, and dated from the past five years.

Ms White said: “Many of the ex­pe­ri­ences re­lated to me were of un­wel­come sex­ual ad­vances, often ac­com­pa­nied by at­tempts at kiss­ing.

“Many in­volved some form of un­wanted touch­ing: for ex­am­ple breasts be­ing grabbed, but­tocks be­ing slapped, thighs be­ing stroked and crotches be­ing pressed/rubbed against bod­ies.”

Some of the more se­ri­ous in­ci­dents oc­curred when the mem­ber of staff was “with the per­pe­tra­tor in a pri­vate space such as a car, a ho­tel room or the per­pe­tra­tor’s home”.

Sex­ist com­ments

Staff com­plained of “a work­ing environmen­t in which deroga­tory com­ments were reg­u­larly made about particular women (in­clud­ing them­selves), or about women in gen­eral”.

“Some were re­quired to lis­ten to dis­cus­sion of oth­ers’ sex lives and re­la­tion­ships and were sub­jected to in­tru­sive ques­tion­ing about their own.

“A re­cur­rent theme ... was of MPS vol­un­teer­ing in­ti­mate de­tails about the prob­lems they were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing with their own per­sonal, and sex, lives.”

MPS’ rage and scream­ing

Staff re­ported “be­ing shouted at or sworn at by their MP em­ployer on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, some daily”.

Ms White re­counted how “some con­trib­u­tors de­scribed MPS ex­press­ing un­con­trol­lable rage, scream­ing that staff were “**** ing use­less” or “**** ing id­iots” in front of other staff, other Mem­bers and/or con­stituents”.

These staff “also re­ported be­ing present when ob­jects (usu­ally pieces of of­fice equip­ment, some­times heavy) were thrown in anger by their em­ployer MP, in some cases at them.”

One told how an MP “reg­u­larly spoke to staff in a sar­cas­tic, dis­mis­sive, mock­ing or be­lit­tling man­ner, which clearly un­der­mined peo­ple’s con­fi­dence, in­clud­ing my own”.

Clean­ing MP’S flat for party

Ms White re­ceived “many ex­am­ples of tasks which con­trib­u­tors have been asked to carry out for their em­ployer MPS which are plainly not Par­lia­men­tary work within their job de­scrip­tions”. She said: “Re­cur­ring themes are looking after chil­dren and pets, car­ry­ing out do­mes­tic tasks at the Mem­bers’ homes, wait­ing for do­mes­tic de­liv­er­ies, ac­com­pa­ny­ing the Mem­ber on per­sonal busi­ness, or­gan­is­ing per­sonal events for the Mem­ber and run­ning per­sonal er­rands for the Mem­ber.”

In one case staff – who are paid by the tax­payer – were asked to “vac­uum, clean and dust the Mem­ber’s flat ahead of a pri­vate party”.

One re­searcher felt like the MP’S “b **** ”, say­ing: “It’s a bit like The Devil Wears Prada – you end up just do­ing per­sonal stuff, no re­spect for hours, an­nual leave. You are ex­pected to put 100 per cent of your life into it.”

Staff suf­fered break­downs

Many of the vic­tims quit over their treat­ment, with some suf­fer­ing ner­vous break­downs.

Ms White said: “Over half of the peo­ple who I heard from de­scribed a se­ri­ous neg­a­tive ef­fect on their men­tal health with some ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what they de­scribed as very se­vere men­tal ill­ness and/or break­down.”

Some could not make a for­mal com­plaint be­cause they had signed a nondis­clo­sure agree­ment, she heard.

‘Ca­reer sui­cide fear’

Few mem­bers of staff com­plained to a new in­de­pen­dent com­plaints hotline set up two years ago be­cause it would risk “ca­reer sui­cide” if the MPS found out, Ms White heard.

Staff were con­cerned they could be dis­missed from their jobs and black­balled from work­ing for another MP if they com­plained.

Some had taken concerns to the party whips’ of­fice. But “some con­trib­u­tors felt rather than help­ing them the whips were more in­ter­ested in gath­er­ing in­for­ma­tion to use against party mem­bers for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses”.

Just 34 out of 650 MPS have taken up train­ing on a new be­hav­iour code in­tro­duced 12 months ago.

Ms White said it should be made com­pul­sory.

‘Many of the ex­pe­ri­ences re­lated to me were of un­wel­come sex­ual ad­vances often with at­tempts at kiss­ing’

‘In one case staff – who are paid by the tax­payer – were asked to vac­uum, clean and dust an MP’S flat be­fore a pri­vate party’

John Ber­cow has al­ways de­nied any al­le­ga­tions of bul­ly­ing against him

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