A radical overhaul of working practices in Westminster is being demanded by the House of Commons SpeakerCommons Speaker, in the wake of a series of scandals over sexual harassment and bullying that have rocked parliament.
After a week in which MPs and staff have spoken out about their treatment in the Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle said a review of parliament functions was urgently needed after the damaging revelations.
In a major restructuring of parliament's operation, Hoyle wants to look at ending the current arrangements under which MPs employ their staff directly. He wants to create a system with an outside body that employs staff. It would provide an independent body to help MPs and staff with concerns.
Hoyle writes in the Observer, Hoyle states: "I believe it is time we review our working practices, and particularly whether it is correct that individual MPs are the employers of their staff." Should someone else or an outside body hire the staff, as long as the MP has the right to choose them?
I think it is time to consider radical action and review structures and processes that could make a difference. There are serious allegations that have been made, and we need to address them as a matter of urgency. It is imperative that staff and MPs do the right thing.
At the end of the day, I want to make sure everyone feels they have support and somewhere to turn and to make this house not only a safe and inclusive place to work, but also a model for other legislatures. The proposals come after a dismal few weeks for Parliament's reputation. On Saturday, Tory MP Neil Parish resigned for viewing porn in the Commons chamber. A Labour MP, Liam Byrne, was found to have bullied a former member of staff last week and will be suspended from the Commons for two days as a result. In the past, Tory MP David Warburton was suspended from the parliamentary party after allegations of sexual harassment and cocaine use. Another Tory MP, Imran Ahmad Khan, resigned after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
The Commons staff has been pushing for an overhaul for a long time. They have raised concerns that the ICGS' independent complaints and grievance scheme, set up in the wake of sexual harassment and bullying claims, remains a complicated, slow and often intimidating process. The service has investigated 43 complaints against MPs in the past three years. The number for the current year is similar to last year's figure of 15 MPs.
Hoyle is working to form a Speaker's Conference, a cross-party committee that will examine swift reforms and back an overhaul. Such a conference was called in 2008 to examine the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the Commons. The committee will hear expert testimony before finalising the reforms. It would have to be approved by the government and the Commons.
Jenny Symmons, Chair of the GMB branch for members staff, said: The current complaints procedure has brought us forward a long way as a workplace, even with its issues. It hasn't changed the culture of bullying and harassment that goes on in MPs offices. It is time to address the issue further up the river. MPs are not in an appropriate position to manage staff and be responsible for their entire employment.
We need to bring in a new employment structure for parliament, where one person hires staff, where there is a formal HR department, and while MPs can still choose who they hire, they are no longer in the position of unabated power over their staff.