Bullying and Harassment of MPS’ Parliamentary Staff

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:28 pm on 17th July 2019.

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Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Conservative, Lewes 4:28 pm, 17th July 2019

It is a pleasure to welcome this report and to speak in support of it. It is reassuring that the report shows that the majority of staff who responded have not experienced any harassment or bullying, but it is absolutely unacceptable that any of them have; we should really have a zero-tolerance approach.

As many Members have already said, one of the most shocking things I found as a newly elected MP was that there was absolutely no support or training in taking on staff. I had worked for many years in the NHS as a research sister, leading a team and being responsible for the staff of the team. I had had extensive experience of advertising for staff, interviewing and recruiting; doing staff appraisals and staff development; taking on disciplinary proceedings and dealing with conflict management within the team; looking at the staff budgets; looking at sick leave and maternity leave; looking after the temporary staff; and doing the payroll returns each month. I was therefore pretty experienced in staff management, but if I had not been, how on earth would I have learned how to take on a team of staff and look after them? We elect MPs on the basis that they will be good constituency MPs and good legislators, who bring their knowledge to this place when we make laws. We never give a moment’s thought as to whether they will any good at employing and supporting a team of people.

Language is important. It is not by chance that we do not have a staffing budget, but are termed to have an “expenses budget” for staff. In any other institution or big workplace, we would not treat our staffing budget as an expense. That demeans the staff we employ. It suggests that they are seen as a little bit extra, an add-on, of no real significant structural value to the team. That term should be changed. It should be a staffing budget, which has procedures, policies and guidelines for how it is managed. The current term is unacceptable.

When I was a nurse with a team of staff, I had protected time to look after them. I had protected time to do their appraisals and training. I had other professionals to ask for support. I could phone up the HR department and say that I had someone going on maternity leave and had forgotten how to do the paperwork, and could ask for up-to-date guidelines? I could contact the payroll department if I wanted to look at giving someone a pay rise, or if someone needed to take sick leave. I had senior managers. If I was having a difficult time, I could ask for their support and some guidelines. We get none of that as an MP and we wonder why we run into problems.

My big difficulty with the report, which makes some excellent recommendations, is that it does not go far enough. It is all about dealing with bullying and harassment. We need to encourage a culture of staff welfare, because by the time we have got to bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, it is far too late. From day one, or when a person is even applying for a job here, there should be policies and procedures that safeguard their welfare. If they are then employed, those structures and processes would be in place.