The House of Commons needs “HR department” for MPs staff
An independent inquiry by Gemma White QC has found that recent steps to address the “unacceptable” levels of bullying and harassment that parliamentary staff experience have been insufficient, with many describing the idea of raising a grievance through the Commons’ new complaints procedure as “career suicide”.
White has therefore recommended a shift away from the notion that MPs are “650 small businesses” with “near complete freedom to operate in relation to their staff”. Instead, they should follow the same employment practices and procedures as other public sector workforces. She goes on to suggest the creation of a centralised “HR department”, to oversee employment practices in MPs’ offices. Staff would remain employed by individual MPs, but the unit would monitor practices and welfare and, if necessary, have enforcement powers. It would also allow for the development of uniform policies and procedures for this group of staff; assist with fair and open recruitment by MPs; monitor probation periods and ensure appraisals take place; carry our exit interviews; and assist with grievances and the disciplinary process.
More than half of the 220 respondents to the inquiry said they suffered severe mental and physical illness as a result of bullying in the House of Commons. One worker said they experienced a constant “drip, drip” of behaviour that ate away at their self-confidence, which White said made staff feel anxious, exhausted and incapable of performing in their job. Another respondent said sexual harassment was a “necessary evil” for ambitious young parliamentary staff who “will choose our careers over comfort every time”.
The House of Commons Commission whilst condemning bullying and harassment of MPs’ staff pointed out that it does not employ the staff of MPs as they are employed by MPs themselves or via political parties. It pointed to a number of measures to tackle bullying and harassment that had been put in place since the publication of Dame Laura Cox’s report last year, including a complaints and grievance process and “Valuing Everyone” training to support a new behaviour code. However Gemma found that former staff who had tried to bring a complaint under the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme were denied the right to do so and only 34 out of 650 MPs and 135 out of 3,200 MPs’ staff have attended or were booked onto the “Valuing Everyone” training.