Sexual Harassment and Bullying at Work

Women and Equalities – in the House of Commons on 17th October 2019.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

In the summer, we ran a consultation to understand people’s experiences of workplace sexual harassment and to assess whether the law in this space needs changing. Our consultation also included wider harassment protections, which cover many bullying behaviours. We are now considering the responses that we received, and we will publish proposals in due course.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint) Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Draft Domestic Abuse Bill (Joint) Committee

Last week, a partner at Freshfields solicitors was ordered by a professional tribunal to pay more than a quarter of a million pounds for sexual misconduct with a junior colleague. Should not every regulator treat actions of sexual misconduct as a breach of professional standards? If the regulators do not act, will the Government?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank my right hon. Friend, who as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee has done so much work on ensuring that employers’ and regulators’ responsibilities in the area are met. I welcome—indeed, I encourage—strong action from regulators to stamp out sexual harassment. We are working with relevant enforcement bodies and inviting them to join our public sector equality duty network to share and promote best practice. We are particularly focusing on regulators of specific relevance, to explore how they can support compliance with equality law.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

The #MeToo movement was inspired—if that is the right word—by the activities of Harvey Weinstein in the film industry. Despite all their celebrity, many of the women affected did not feel able to turn to anyone when they encountered bullying and harassment in the workplace. That is all the more true for women today, particularly in small businesses. What is the Minister doing to ensure that women have legal and present support? Does she agree that the fact that Harvey Weinstein remains honoured by the British state with a CBE is a terrible indictment of our honours system?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

Of course, the #MeToo movement met with a great deal of attention and support across the world. In terms of sexual harassment, the consultation that closed on 2 October looked at all sorts of workplaces across the United Kingdom, and we are looking at responses to it very, very carefully. The hon. Lady will appreciate that it is only just over two weeks since the consultation closed and I do not want to pre-empt anything. In terms of Mr Weinstein, I cannot comment on individual cases; his case will be dealt with in the US.