Bullying and Harassment: Cox Report

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 7:26 pm on 5th November 2018.

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Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Conservative, Chichester 7:26 pm, 5th November 2018

It is a pleasure to follow Kate Green, and I congratulate her on her new role as Chair of the Committee on Standards. Having served as a member of Parliament for only a year and a half, I did wonder whether it was appropriate for me to speak in this debate. I personally have not witnessed many of the things described in the report. However, I do have prior experience of managing thousands of people from different backgrounds and cultures in large companies for more than 27 years, so I might be able to provide some useful insights into industry best practice. I completely agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend Philip Davies that many companies have gone through this culture change, and that we can learn a lot from them.

As a new MP, however, I can safely say that Parliament is very different from any workplace I have ever seen, and it has a very distinct culture. Parliament is effectively a common workplace for what are in reality 650 separate small businesses, each with their own leadership and teams. This is unusual, and it is probably one of the reasons why this issue has not been effectively tackled earlier. There is no real central control, and certainly no central HR support. The reputation of Parliament is vital, because we have the responsibility to pass legislation—not least, employment law itself. Dame Laura Cox’s report shows us beyond all doubt that our present approach is not working. It is letting staff down, and we need to change.

So, what does good look like in the workplace and how can we achieve it? Based on my experience, and on the valuable insights I have received from professional organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, I believe that we need to approach our “get well” strategy under two headings: preventing bullying and harassment from happening in the first place; and dealing with them decisively when they do happen. Our prevention approach needs to start at the top, by which I mean all of us elected representatives as well as senior managers in the House of Commons administration. We need to show that we are serious about tackling this issue, and that means that we as Members of Parliament should lead by example and personally demonstrate the right behaviours and attend training programmes and awareness raising events. Best practice would include monitoring attendance at such events and even publishing a list of those MPs who are and are not attending them or, as happens in the workplace, completing online educational work modules. That is usual practice in other industries. If we conduct ourselves in this way, we can start to shift the culture away from where it is now towards a more inclusive diverse and respectful workplace.

Turning to the subject of what to do when it is alleged that bullying or harassment may have taken place, we should again follow best practice, with a simple, well understood, consistent, confidential, independent and, above all, fast escalation process. There are some existing policies in this area, but the Cox report clearly states that they are overly complex and do not enjoy the confidence of our colleagues working in Parliament. In order to cleanse the system, we need to show that we take the issue seriously, acting when required with full transparency, and we must be seen to do that.