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by Matt Foster
07 November 2018
Fresh inquiry into Westminster’s culture of bullying and harassment launched

House of Commons bench - image credit: Parliament

Fresh inquiry into Westminster’s culture of bullying and harassment launched

Staff working directly for MPs will be asked about their experiences of bullying and harassment under a fresh inquiry into Westminster’s culture of abuse.

Lawyer Gemma White has been appointed to head up a new probe into the working conditions of MPs’ own staff after a report by Dame Laura Cox found that harassment and bullying of full-time officials employed by Parliament had been "tolerated and concealed" by Commons bosses.

The fresh inquiry will aim to mirror that process for researchers and interns working directly for MPs in Westminster as well as their constituency staff.

However, like Dame Laura’s probe, it will not name and shame MPs “or reopen past cases”.

Instead, the inquiry - which will report next Spring - is aiming to establish any “themes or patterns as to how previous complaints about such behaviour were handled or how complainants were treated” in a bid to inform a wider shake-up of the complaints process in Parliament.

Split into two stages, the inquiry will first look at the treatment of “present and past” staff, and then broaden out to include the way MPs and staff themselves treat each other.

The House of Commons Commission, which sets HR policy in Parliament, last month vowed to fully implement the three recommendations of Dame Laura’s report, which called for the new 'Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme' agreed by MPs last year to be beefed up to allow historical allegations to be considered.

The White inquiry has been given a cautious welcome by the FDA union, whose members include Commons clerks covered by the original Cox investigation.

The union’s Assistant General Secretary Amy Leversidge said she would “encourage MPs’ staff to go and talk to this inquiry and tell their stories” - but warned that it must not delay the wider overhaul of Commons rules recommended by Dame Laura.

“Dame Laura recommended that past cases restriction be lifted and the House Commission has agreed to do that," she told PoliticsHome. "So this new inquiry for MPs’ staff shouldn’t be a substitute for that."

She added: "Any inquiry of this nature does have benefits in that allows a bigger picture to be formed. And obviously there are certain conditions that MPs’ staff face that House staff don’t because they’re directly employed by the MPs...

"But there's no reason why that should have any impact on Dame Laura's recommendations."

A joint statement from the main political parties sent to current and former staff said: "It is important for the restoration of faith in the way the House and its members treat those working for us that as wide a range as possible of testimony is offered to the Inquiry.

"The parliamentary community must ensure that everyone is treated with dignity and respect and we hope that the outcome of Gemma White’s Inquiry will help us to do that."

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