‘Political staff exposed to sexual harassment’

A new report calls for legal changes to curb sexual harassment in Parliament.

Getting more women into Parliament

 

MPs, Peers, volunteers and staff are unprotected if they are sexually harassed in Parliament, according to a new report.

The report by the Fawcett Society and global law firm Hogan Lovells found ‘glaring gaps’ in equality law covering these groups. MPs and Peers are exempt from Part 5 of the Equality Act (2010), which includes provisions on sexual harassment in the workplace that apply to employees. The report says volunteers are left completely unprotected and staff who are sexually harassed by a third party are also not covered.

It also reveals that:

    • 73% of both men and women believe there needs to be a change in how unwanted sexual behaviour is dealt with in politics, with little difference in opinion across gender, political affiliation or age
    • there is strong public support for sanctions against MPs, with 70% backing removing the MP from office and banning them from running for a period of time
    • 70% of people think that the MP’s constituents should be able to trigger a by-election
    • 70% think the MP should be required to issue a public apology
    • 80% back independent investigations into allegations of sexual harassment
    • 29% of people say that accusations of sexual harassment made them less likely to get involved in politics and 23% said it has made them less likely to vote

The report is launched after heightened focus on sexual harassment, several reports on sexual harassment in politics and the introduction of new measures to enable those who work in Parliament to report sexual harassment. However, the Fawcett Society say they do not address gaps in the law.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Chief Executive said: “Everyone is entitled to work in dignity, free from harassment and abuse. Parliament and other political workplaces should be no different.  However, MPs and peers have exempted themselves from the Equality Act, making Parliament effectively ‘above the law’ on this issue and leaving women unprotected. This is fundamentally unacceptable.”

“It is vital that we increase women’s representation in Parliament, but in order to do that we need to end sexual harassment in our politics which is deterring women from getting involved and also alienating voters.”

“Volunteers and interns, who are often young and inexperienced, can routinely be found working in Parliament so it should be of concern to all of us that they are left completely unprotected by the law.”

Jo Broadbent, Counsel at Hogan Lovells, added: “Parliament is a working environment. Like any other, people need to feel safe and protected, and know that there is an accessible and independent system in place that can be trusted to evaluate complaints fairly. As a national legislature, making laws about employment, Parliament should itself be setting an example for all those responsible for the working environments of people in the UK.”

The report calls on the Government to reform legislation to ensure that everyone working in the parliamentary estate is protected; the reinstatement and strengthening of Section 40 of the Equality Act to provide third party protection for all workers; and a new legal duty on employers to prevent and tackle sexual harassment, backed up with a statutory code of practice. It also calls for the setting-up of effective independent complaints policies within political parties.

The report also shows that the public is in favour of making sexual harassment complaints public, if the complainant wants it, with 43% backing this against 36% who think they should be kept private. Some 76% of people think that if an investigation was to take place, information about it should only be made public if the accusations are found to be true.

Meanwhile, Karren Brady has resigned as chair of Taveta Investments, the company behind Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group. Baroness Brady was appointed chair in 2017 with a remit to “beef up corporate oversight” and “sort out” corporate governance issues. No reason was given for her departure, or that of non-executive director Sharon Brown. However, she recently said she had a “duty” to employees to remain in her role in the face of allegations against Green of sexual harassment and racial abuse, which he denies. Taveta said it is “in active discussions with individuals who have significant relevant experience” and expects to make further announcements regarding the board shortly.



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