A CULTURE of sexual harassment has evolved in the Houses of Parliament because too many powerful men work late into the night, according to Labour’s deputy leader.
In the wake of further sleaze and expenses claims, and an investigation by Channel 4 News that revealed staff of both sexes were the victims of a climate of sexual harassment in the House of Commons, Harriet Harman said Labour would be reviewing their codes of conduct to clearly set out unacceptable behaviour.
Yesterday Harman said there is a problem in Westminster “partly because it is male-dominated” and “partly because of the hours and people being away from home”.
Following a week in which parliament’s reputation plummeted further, Harman also called for the MPs’ allowances system to be reformed again.
Harman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We need to change the system on expenses… it is unfinished business in terms of assuring the public that we really have sorted the situation out.”
A Channel 4 News investigation last week claimed there was a prevailing “climate of sexual harassment” in parliament after interviewing 70 people from “all political parties and sexual orientations”.
It said young men were more likely to be sexually harassed than women, with 40 per cent of the men interviewed saying they had received unwanted sexual advances. A third of those interviewed said they had personally experienced sexual harassment, while almost a quarter said they had witnessed someone else being sexually harassed, or that a friend had confided in them about being harassed.
Harman said: “When it comes to sexual harassment we certainly have been looking again at our codes of conduct which we’ve had for some time in the party, which set out specifically what behaviour is not acceptable for an employer towards their employee in terms of sexual harassment and what the procedures are to deal with it.”
She added: “Certainly when I first arrived, if you had very, very long hours, people working beyond 10pm, if you have people away from home and you have a male hierarchy, that is a recipe for a culture in which sexual harassment can prevail. And therefore you have to have very strong procedures and send down the message that this is not acceptable, that you should be encouraged to complain and your complaint will be dealt with.”
The Conservatives are sending a new voluntary code of conduct to MPs, setting out “a basic statement of what should be best practice in the workplace”.
However the Conservative MP Douglas Carswell said he did not recognise descriptions of parliament as the “Palace of Sexminster”.
He added: “Of course, if you have 650 bosses you are going to get some who aren’t very good at managing people.”
The MP said giving voters the ability to sack MPs would “hugely change the culture” in Westminster.
“What we need ultimately is a right for voters to intervene and to sack MPs. That means a right of recall.”