Calls to dock MPs’ pay if harassment training not completed following abuse scandal
MPs should face having their pay docked if they fail to complete new training developed after the Westminster abuse and bullying scandal, the Commons has heard.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said the threat of withholding pay and allowances from their £76,011 basic annual salary might persuade some MPs to undertake training.
A cross-party working group chaired by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom (pictured) earlier this month recommended the establishment of a Parliament-wide behaviour code as well as an independent complaints procedure and confidential helplines to report abuse.
It also recommended the development of “comprehensive” training to help MPs, peers and staff on the parliamentary estate “understand and prevent” harassment – including sexual harassment – bullying and discrimination.
Mandatory training should be introduced in the next Parliament, the group added, while records of those who have completed the recommended training in the current Parliament should be publicly available.
MPs approved the new policy without a vote.
Ms Lucas told the debate that “every single peer and every single MP must learn about consent, about bullying, to understand the power that they hold and the weight of their actions”.
She added: “Crucially, I do believe, sadly, that this training does need to be accompanied by a system of financial penalties imposed on those who fail to cooperate, as has been recommended by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, and could include withholding pay and allowances.
“The systems and processes have to have teeth, otherwise they will be rendered meaningless.
“Unfortunately, serious sexual harassment and bullying is endemic in Westminster. We have to call it out, we have to name it and shame it at every turn.
“And the behaviour in this chamber is part of that problem.”
Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, earlier said it was right to promote a system of training to support the new behaviour code.
“I think there’s going to be some problems persuading some of our colleagues that they should be subject to such training,” he added.
Introducing a motion to endorse the working group’s recommendations, Mrs Leadsom said it would enable the House commission to authorise officials to take forward the group’s recommendations and implement the proposals in full.
She said: “This is a big step towards making a more professional environment and a Parliament that is among the best in the world in treating people with dignity and respect in work.”
Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper supported the motion, report and proposals, adding that shortly after becoming Government chief whip in 2015 there were a number of issues in the House.
He said: “So this was an area of work which I started in train on a cross-party basis working with all the parties in the House looking to see if we could improve the way this House dealt with some of these issues.”
Initially parties have their own process, but he said for “various reasons they don’t command the confidence” either of MPs, people working in parliament or those outside.
It was very clear from views expressed, he added, that a House process covering all MPs on a cross-party basis would be the best way of proceeding.
On training, he said: “It seems to me the people probably least likely to go to the training are those most in need of it.”
MP warns ‘frightening’ legal letter may discourage sex abuse victims form coming forward
Victims of sexual assault in Parliament may be discouraged from coming forward due to the threat of legal action, MPs have heard.
Labour MP Jess Phillips raised concerns that wealthy men in powerful positions could “frighten” victims with legal letters.
Ms Phillips, speaking during a debate on a parliamentary complaints and grievance policy, said: “The leader of the House said that both parties would be entitled to representation which is absolutely as it should be and fair in every system in the land, whether that’s trade union representation or legal representation.
“I do have a concern about how we will make sure in this place that there is an equality of arms in that representation.”
The Birmingham Yardley MP added: “If you are a case worker working in one of our offices and somebody sexually harasses you and the person who sexually harasses you is a very wealthy peer, for example, I worry that one person has really good representation and can frighten people with legal letters and I have received some myself in these past few months.
“That worriers me greatly that there will be an unfair imbalance.
“If the Weinstein issue teaches us anything it is that rich men know how to use the law to get away with murder.”
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