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Theresa May is calling for new grievance procedures to tackle sexual harassment in Westminster.
She wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow to say that the House of Commons’ disciplinary regime needed to be reformed because it “required teeth”. She also called for a mediation service to deal with complaints and a binding complaints procedure for those employed by MPs.
Currently MPs, who are self employed, are not legally bound by the decision of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority because the grievance procedure is only voluntary and, while Parliament’s standards commissioner has the power to investigate potential breaches of MPs’ code of conduct, this does not cover sexual harassment.
Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House, promised on Monday that incidents of sexual harassment would not go unpunished.
Kate Palmer, Head of Advisory at HR experts Peninsula, said: “There is currently a voluntary grievance procedure in place which the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority recommends should be placed in staffs’ contracts. Without the procedure included, there is a lack of contractual right to raise concerns or have these addressed appropriately. The Prime Minister has called for this grievance procedure to be enforced. Setting in place a mandatory contractual procedure for staff to rely on is the first step towards ensuring they have a process to rely on when they need protection from sexual harassment at work.”
She added that, due to the fact that MPs are self employed and their staff directly employed by them, women may be put off from raising complaints about sexual harassment, particularly if their boss is the perpetrator. She said: “The House of Commons could combat this by setting in place a reporting line or body to whom they can raise their concerns. This will ensure behaviour is not left unreported or continuing for many years.”
On the Prime Minister’s call for an independent mediation service to be set up to handle concerns raised, she said that having an independent body in place would “ensure concerns raised are investigated, impartially and properly, with appropriate future action recommended”.
She added: “MPs are subject to the ministerial code which enforces “the highest standards of propriety”. A deterring procedure which could be set in place is to provide training or guidance for MPs on acceptable behaviour under the code, setting out conduct which should not occur within their office. This will ensure MPs cannot claim that certain types of conduct do not constitute harassment or that they have committed harassment unknowingly.”