Bullying and Harassment of MPS’ Parliamentary Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 3:30 pm, 17th July 2019

I thank the Leader of the House for opening this debate, and I, too, want to start by thanking Gemma White QC for all the time she has put into talking to Members and Members’ staff. As she said in her report, she spoke to 220 out of 3,200 people—Members’ staff. I will look at her report in detail, but I first want to mention Carl Sargeant. Perhaps we should pause for a moment to think about the stresses that resulted in him taking his own life; I am sure there are lessons to be learned from the inquest, although it had a narrow remit and did not look at everything. We must be aware of the stresses and strains people are under and the effect of accusations on them.

Gemma White outlined the testimony in an extremely accessible way in what is an accessible report, but it does not make for pleasant reading. It must have been very debilitating to have had to go through those experiences, and I say sorry to those who had a terrible experience. However, the White report also says that staff took time to relate their positive experiences, as the Leader of the House said, and at paragraph 26 it says that Members wished to share their experiences as employers and also expressed concern about current levels of support for them and their staff. But the ICGS is in place and any system requires refinement. Paragraph 118 cites the Alison Stanley report’s finding that the experience of first users of the ICGS has been mixed, with much of the input being negative. Gemma White said that she shared that view.

Alison Stanley reviewed the first six months of the operation of the ICGS and her report was published on 12 June. I want to pull out some of its recommendations, because it is important going forward that we look at them. She suggested creating a fully resourced bicameral ICGS team with the requisite skills and experience to ensure effective implementation and streamlined operation; it is important that both Houses are able to access this excellent team. She also suggested proactively using the behaviour code to improve ways of working in teams, for example as part of the wider cultural work being led by Julie Harding, the new independent director of cultural transformation here in the House.

The Stanley report said also that the solid start of the training programme should be built on, ensuring that the principle of the equal importance of training for all members of the parliamentary community is addressed. It is compulsory for House staff to go on the training, and I think it should be compulsory for all of us. I think the Leader of the House has already been on the training or is about to go on it, and I have been on it. It is not a very onerous task, although not many people have signed up to it, as mentioned in the White report. The training is in groups of 12, and it might be difficult for the trainers to provide the training in one whole day. I know that it has been changed to two sessions, so I wonder whether later on when Parliament is sitting we could look at having a training session specifically for Members and Members’ staff, perhaps in a Committee Room, and have that rolled out over a long time so that we ensure that everybody takes part.

The Leader of the House was right to pull out Gemma White’s recommendation that there should be fair recruitment and that the management of staff with disabilities should be specifically covered in future training. I would add that that should also apply to visible minorities. Parliament needs to become a more diverse place. We know that the Bank of England has undertaken unconscious bias training, and it may be available here. A really good report has been produced about this place entitled “Stand in my shoes: race and culture in Parliament”, and it is available on the intranet. I certainly know that people sometimes feel uncomfortable about being around people from ethnic minorities and certainly they do not want to take instructions from us, because we are in an unusual position. A bit of training along those lines might be useful.

On page 47 of her report, Gemma White refers to a “collective centralised solution”. In paragraph 166, she talks about having a body that she calls an “HR department” to support both Members and Members’ staff. In setting up such a department, it would be vital to ensure that staff felt that they had access to their own HR advice, which might be different from the HR advice given to Members.