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BULLYING and sexual harassment are thriving in the Commons, where MPs enjoy “God-like status,” a damning report declared today.
Dame Laura Cox QC, who was appointed by House authorities to investigate claims of abusive behaviour by MPs and staff, found a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” in Westminster.
She found MPs enjoy a “God-like status,” knowing they would never be subject to disciplinary action and abusive behaviour was actively covered up, she said.
The vast majority of MPs were found to treat staff with courtesy and respect. However, some were alleged to have engaged in “shocking and abhorrent” behaviour that would cause outrage in any place of work.
Complaints ranged from staff being shouted and sworn at and belittled on an almost daily basis to the predatory behaviour of some male MPs towards female staff.
They included frequent propositioning and inappropriate touching — including “trying to kiss them, grabbing their arms or bottoms or stroking their breasts or bottoms” — in an atmosphere fuelled by ready access to alcohol.
Ms Cox called for an “entirely independent process” for dealing with staff complaints against MPs. She said that, while there was an “expectation of loyalty” among staff towards the institution they worked for, the standing of the House was being diminished by the failure of its senior leadership to deal with the issue.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
A spokesman for the Commons said that bullying and harassment had no place in the organisation and the well-being of staff “will always be our top priority.”
He said: “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.”
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