Putting up with sexual harassment in Parliament is a ‘necessary evil’ which must be endured by ambitious young staff who want to progress, a bombshell inquiry has been told.
A new report into inappropriate conduct in Westminster concluded the staff of MPs face ‘an unacceptable risk of bullying and harassment’.
It contained claims that some staff had been the victim of unwelcome sexual advances involving ‘breasts being grabbed’ and ‘buttocks being slapped’.
It said recent steps taken by the Commons authorities to address the issues had been insufficient as witnesses told the investigation that speaking out against abuse was ‘career suicide’.
They also raged that they are treated as MPs’ ‘b**ches’ and forced to help look after their children, pets and personal errands.
The inquiry demands the existing complaints procedure is improved and expanded to allow people to bring forward allegations of historic wrongdoing.
The current system only permits complaints to be made which relate to events which took place after June 2017 but Gemma White QC said in her new report that date must be scrapped.
The report is likely to send a shock wave across Westminster after some of the witnesses who gave evidence to the investigation painted a grim picture of life working in Parliament.
One person told the inquiry: ‘As long as getting political jobs in Parliament are dependent on who you know and who you’re related to, sexual harassment will be a necessary evil for ambitious young… people like me who will choose our careers over our comfort every time.’
Another said: ‘My time working for [MP] was the most stressful and hostile period of my life.
‘My entire sense of self was crushed, and by the end, I felt incapable and incompetent, despite all of the work I had done in that office.’
Another contributor said: ‘[The MP] absolutely crushed my confidence and made me feel worthless.’
The new report by Gemma White QC is likely to send a shock wave across Westminster
Gemma White’s report said ‘strong party and personal loyalties’ within parliament represented ‘significant barriers’ to complaints being made
The report concluded that ‘most Members of Parliament treat their staff with dignity and respect’ but the problems of bullying and harassment are ‘sufficiently widespread to require an urgent collective response’.
‘Some staff of Members of Parliament are subject to an unacceptable risk of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, at work,’ it said.
Parliament needs ‘root’ and branch’ reform – Truss
Ms Truss told reporters today that the Commons was ‘antediluvian with many archaic practices’
The House of Commons needs a comprehensive ‘modernisation’ of its working practices to protect staff, a senior minister said today.
Liz Truss hit out at the ‘archaic’ nature of Westminster politics, saying it needed a ‘root and branch’ reform fit for the 21st century.
She told reporters today: ‘I still think it is antediluvian with many archaic practices.
‘We need to modernise things like staff recruitment, staff management. And that applies to everybody, including the Speaker of the House.
‘It is simply not good enough in the 21st century, where we are going around lecturing other employers about how they deal with sexism, how they deal with representation, how they deal with bullying, but not to get our own house in order.’
The report found that some MPs asked their staff to carry out tasks which are ‘plainly not parliamentary work’ like looking after children and pets and running personal errands.
One witness said: ‘[w]ith the job of Parliamentary Assistant or Researcher you do become their b**ch.
‘It’s a bit like The Devil Wears Prada – you end up just doing personal stuff, no respect for hours, annual leave. You are expected to put 100 per cent of your life into it.’
The report also detailed examples of unwelcome sexual advances which were ‘often accompanied by attempts at kissing’.
Ms White wrote: ‘Many involved some form of unwanted touching: for example breasts being grabbed, buttocks being slapped, thighs being stroked and crotches being pressed/rubbed against bodies.
‘Most of these experiences were isolated, but some were part of a course of conduct on the part of a Member or fellow member of staff.’
The report’s recommendation of opening up the existing complaints procedure to old allegations is likely to spark controversy with such a move having previously been resisted by senior figures in Parliament.
Ms White also said the process should be opened up so that former staff can make complaints.
The report said: ‘To date, the group of MPs’ staff who would be most likely to bring a complaint under the new Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, namely former staff of MPs, have been denied the right to do so.
‘This limitation must be removed so that they have the opportunity to hold MPs to account.
‘They must also be permitted to complain about events which took place before June 2017 (the current cut-off date) as recommended by Dame Laura Cox.’
A separate report into abuse within the Commons Service – effectively the people who keep parliament up and running – was published by Dame Laura in October 2018.
But additional inquiries were commissioned by the parliamentary authorities on the grounds that the problems of abuse were not unique to the Commons Service.
Ms White’s investigation was set up to specifically examine the bullying and harassment of past and present staff of MPs as well as MPs themselves.
The inquiries were prompted by the 2017 Westminster sex scandal which saw a series of sexual harassment allegations made against politicians throughout the months of October and November.
Ms White said the steps taken so far to improve working conditions in Parliament had not been good enough.
The report said: ‘Recent steps taken by the House of Commons to address bullying and harassment across the Parliamentary community do not engage sufficiently with the particular issues faced by Members’ staff, who are in a uniquely vulnerable position because they are directly employed by Members of Parliament.
‘Many describe the idea of complaining about bullying and harassment under the new complaints procedure as ‘career suicide’.
‘They also often have strong party and personal loyalties which constitute significant barriers to complaint.’
Some 220 people gave evidence to the latest inquiry.
Ms White said: ‘Many MPs have been described to me as excellent employers, colleagues and managers but a minority behave in ways which are not acceptable and fall far short of what we should expect from our elected representatives.
‘Workplace harassment and bullying by MPs towards staff has been tolerated and accepted for too long. It has seriously affected the health and welfare of far too many people.
‘There is a pressing need for a collective response to what is clearly a significant problem.
‘I have set out a series of conclusions and recommendations for straightforward and practical action.
The report concluded that ‘most Members of Parliament treat their staff with dignity and respect’
‘I am concerned by the amount of time it has taken to act on recommendations from previous reports and would urge the House to move more swiftly.’
John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, described the findings as ‘deeply shocking’ and suggested that ‘some of the allegations mentioned in her report should be reported to the police and action taken’.
‘It is totally unacceptable for any MP to behave in this way,’ he said.
‘The Speaker does not have any powers over MPs in relation to their staff.
‘However, he believes strongly that the House should restrict the sale of alcohol on the estate, consider the introduction of CCTV in MPs’ offices and encourage all Members to go on employer training courses.’
Commons Leader Mel Stride told MPs today that the report will be debated in the Commons next Wednesday.
Mr Stride said: ‘Let me be clear that there should be absolutely no place for bullying and harassment in this place and we all bear a responsibility to uphold the proper standards of dignity and respect in Parliament.’
The publication of Ms White’s report came a day after a separate damning report was published into abuse in the House of Lords.
That report found that one in five peers were considered to behave in an inappropriate or high-handed way to staff, with one lord described as a ‘notorious bullying pervert’ by a Westminster worker.
The report into peers concluded that some staff subjected to bullying and harassment had generally not complained because they thought nothing would happen.
Employees who experienced abuse also declined to make an issue of it because they feared reprisals, the report said.
Tory MP apologises to former office manager over claims of ‘volatile’ behaviour
Tory MPs Jack Lopresti and Andrea Jenkyns married two years after an affair between the two was uncovered. They are pictured with their son Clifford
A Tory MP who hit the headlines over his affair with another MP has apologised to his former office manager after she quit over his ‘volatile’ behaviour.
Jack Lopresti – who left his wife for fellow Tory Andrea Jenkyns in 2015 – was accused of treating Jo Kinsey ‘appallingly and thoughtlessly’ and of ‘bullying and harassing’ her.
She left her job in March 2017 and lodged a formal complaint against him under the then-new Conservative Party Code of Conduct hotline.
Mrs Kinsey submitted 240 pages of evidence of Mr Lopresti’s alleged ‘angry meltdowns’ and ‘temper tantrums’.
But after a two-year wait since resigning she has now received just two sentences of written apology from her former boss.
The short note read: ‘Dear Mrs Kinsey, I am sorry that your time working in my constituency office was not happy for you, and that it didn’t work out.
‘I am obviously sorry for any action of mine, however inadvertent, which contributed to your unhappiness.’
Mr Lopresti hit the headlines in December 2015 when his affair with Ms Jenkyns became public.
They were pictured together in matching elf jumpers as they left a festive knees-up in her West Yorkshire constituency.
The pair married two years later and had a son, Clifford, in March 2017.
Mrs Kinsey had known Lopresti for over 30 years but said his behaviour changed when she began working for him.
She told the BBC: ‘He would shout, he’d be volatile, or he wouldn’t talk to you, or he sulked.
‘I explained what he was doing and how it made me feel.
‘Unfortunately, he banged his hand down on the desk, slammed his Filofax shut, and just shouted at me saying, ‘This meeting is over’, and then just left.’
Mrs Kinsey worked for the MP for six months following the Brexit vote before resigning in March 2017.
A panel found Mrs Kinsey’s 240 pages of evidence ‘detailed and corroborated’ in several respects, and agreed that Mr Lopresti may have broken the party’s Code of Conduct.
She said she felt ‘vindicated and relieved’ now that Mr Lopresti had apologised for his actions.
‘I think when you know the man of Jack Lopresti, however short that apology is, it really must have been very difficult for him, so that makes it very sweet indeed,’ she said.
Mr Lopresti told the BBC he ‘categorically denied’ the allegations and had concerns about the inquiry process.
He said his apology was the end of the matter, and that he tried to resolve these issues at the time.