Nearly one in five people working in Britain’s parliament were sexually harassed or witnessed inappropriate behaviour in the past year, according to a new cross-party report commissioned after a series of sexual misconduct allegations at Westminster.

The report calls for a new complaints procedure along with radical change of a culture that can deter some from challenging bosses and suggested forms of punishment for those found guilty of harassing their staff.

Fawcett Society Chief Executive Sam Smethers says:

"Sexual harassment in Westminster has been ongoing problem for many years, so we are glad to see the Cross-Party Working Group recommend an independent process that gives the complainant the right to anonymity. We also welcome the role of an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor in such complaints.

“We expect to see robust sanctions enforced, including the suspension or expulsion of MPs and Peers if they are found to have engaged in sexual misconduct or harassment. It is only right that those experiencing sexual harassment are not subject to continued contact with perpetrators and that others are safeguarded for the future."

Key recommendations of the cross-party group include:
  • All those who work in the Houses of Parliament should be subject to a new behaviour code.
  • Complaints and grievance should be handled by a new system independent of political parties.
  • Under the proposed system complaints would spark a confidential inquiry by the parliamentary commissioner for standards.
  • Sexual harassment and sexual violence should be dealt with by a trained “sexual violence adviser” in a procedure separate from complaints about other forms of inappropriate behaviour.
  • Complaints would be dealt with confidentially to protect the alleged victims’ anonymity. If allegations were proved, perpetrators would be identified and subject to tougher sanctions.
  • On receiving the commissioner’s report, standards committees in the Commons and Lords would be able to recommend the suspension of an MP or peer for a specified period.
  • This could trigger proceedings for recall of an MP – resulting in a new election in their constituency – or the expulsion of a peer. 

The plans will be considered by both the House of Commons and House of Lords with a debate taking place in the last week of February or first week of March.

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Last year, The Fawcett Society found that sexism is commonplace in local government with almost four in ten female councillors having experienced sexist comments from within their own party. A shocking one in ten have experienced sexual harassment from other councillors.

Read 'Does Local Government Work for Women?', our year-long study led by the Fawcett Society in partnership with the Local Government Information Unit, which investigated sexism in local government and contains recommendations to help solve the issues faced by women in town halls.