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Tuesday, November 21, 2023

A searing condemnation of Parliament

The Guardian reports on a statement by the head of parliament’s complaints watchdog that she “does not know” if the Palace of Westminster is a safe workplace for women:

Thea Walton joined the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme in March with a vow to build trust in the watchdog.

Established in 2018, the ICGS processes official HR complaints and also assesses complaints made on the parliamentary estate against a number of codes including the palace’s sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment policy.

Since the last general election, 24 MPs have faced at least a one-day suspension, according to Chris Bryant, the former chair of the House of Commons standards committee.

Bryant said this was because of those in power turning a blind eye to poor conduct, a temptation among politicians to protect their own, and hard-to-change behaviours and attitudes at Westminster.

When asked whether Westminster was a place women can feel safe, Walton told the House Magazine: “‘I don’t know’ is the honest answer. I wouldn’t say that nobody feels safe, but I have heard lots of things where women don’t from some of the engagement that I’ve done.

“I think all the time that there is a section of people that are saying they don’t feel safe, then people have to listen and do something about it.”

The number of MPs who have lost their party’s whip as a result of allegations of sexual harassment or assault has grown recently. The Labour party suspended Bambos Charalambous, MP for Enfield Southgate, after a complaint was made against him.

Senior Conservative MP Crispin Blunt has been arrested on suspicion of rape and possession of drugs and has been suspended by the Tory party. MPs and staffers have previously expressed concern that those already vulnerable after reporting serious incidents – and others shaken by reports of parliamentary sleaze scandals – are at risk from members under investigation but who are still free to roam the estate.

That the primary law-making body in the UK, with a duty to protect its citizens, can be deemed an unsafe workplace for women is a searing indictment of those who are elected to it. Something has to be done to correct this culture, and quickly.
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