The House of Commons has created a culture in which bullying and sexual harassment has been allowed to thrive, a new report has found.
Dame Laura Cox QC, who conducted the inquiry, stated that there were ‘urgent and serious problems’ in procedures for dealing with such issues in the lower house of parliament.
But despite this, the former high court judge said that it was ‘difficult to envisage’ how a solution could be found under the current senior House administration.
She stated that the House had made a culture, led from the ‘top down’, of ‘deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence’ that allowed for poor behaviour to be swept under the carpet.
‘Amongst current and former staff alike there is an obvious pride and affection for the House and its status,’ Dame Cox said.
‘Working there is, for many, a privilege – whether as a member of House staff or as an elected Member of Parliament – and there is an expectation of loyalty to the institution they serve.
‘But that sense of loyalty has been tested to breaking point by 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.
‘This is not to demonise the entire institution, but unacceptable behaviour by some, whether elected Members or House staff, inflicts damage on everyone and undermines the legitimacy and authority of the House of Commons. Parliament is diminished.’
But despite identifying the culture, Dame Cox added that it may take ‘several generations’ until the House is able to change – laying the blame at the feet of the senior House administration.
‘I fear that the House may fail those it is trying to help and sustain further damage to its reputation and to its credibility as an employer if this report leads only to another series of initiatives and process changes, she said.
‘A significant number of those members of House staff who came forward regard the status quo as untenable and express the view that “it will take several generations until the senior administration are capable of delivering the necessary changes”.
‘On this basis, 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 urged Members of Parliament to now reflect and attempt to recognise their own behaviour ‘in the best interests of the House’.
Dame Cox was appointed by the House of Commons Commission to conduct the inquiry after BBC2’s Newsnight brought attention to a series of allegations of bullying and harassment by MPs
Among the accusations were claims that John Bercow bullied his private secretary, something that he has denied.
Angus Sinclair alleged that the Speaker was prone to ‘over-the-top anger’ and that he was ‘not sure he was completely in control of it’.
A spokesman for the House of Commons said in response the report: ‘Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons, and the well-being of our people will always be our top priority.
‘Staff must be confident that unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with seriously, independently and with effective sanctions.
‘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.
‘The findings of this inquiry will be taken into careful account.’