Bullying and Harassment of MPS’ Parliamentary Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:48 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 3:48 pm, 17th July 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Andrea Leadsom, the former Leader of the House, and I acknowledge the significant amount of work she has done to drive this forward.

I pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend Pete Wishart, who is travelling with the Scottish Affairs Committee. He, too, has been part of the process for some considerable time.

Most of all, on behalf of the SNP, our parliamentary group and our parliamentary and constituency staff, I thank Gemma White for her thorough and challenging report, which marks an important milestone on the journey towards culture change in this place. It is welcome that the Government have made time for this debate and for the motion on the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme so soon after the report’s publication.

I also thank, in particular, Emily Cunningham from the SNP’s central staff. She has been on several of the workstreams as a staff representative and has helped to inform a lot of this.

I will briefly address the report, which we are happy to endorse, and what it means in terms of culture change and the professionalisation of Parliament, with some best practices from elsewhere. As the opening speakers have said, the report makes for sobering but not necessarily surprising reading. It is important to note, as the Leader of the House did, that Gemma White says

“there are very many MPs who are good employers and who treat their staff with the dignity and respect that they deserve”.

We should also not be blind to the occasional possibility of vexatious or malicious complaints—we are in a high-pressured, high-profile environment—but overall the report presents a picture of a culture that badly and urgently needs to change. Sadly, it contains accounts of behaviours that many of us will have heard about and perhaps some of us will have witnessed. Bullying, harassment, and a toxic culture of insecurity and under- mining have been found to be commonplace, and they are all perhaps manifestations of deeper-rooted cultures and behaviours associated with the abuse of power.

As Chris Bryant hinted at, eventually that can become embedded and it becomes a form of learned and normalised behaviour that others either pick up or openly embrace. Challenges arise from the fact that we work in a particularly fast-paced, rapidly changing environment, where employment can be precarious and opportunities for advancement can be limited. When it comes, advancement can be massive, involving significant leaps in responsibility. So this is a huge challenge that requires each and every one of us to go back to the start and question our own behaviours and assumptions.