Letter from Clerk of the House of Commons to staff of the House concerning bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment

12 March 2018

David Natzler, Clerk of the House of Commons has sent a letter to staff of the House concerning bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment. Read the full text here:

Dear Colleague,

The last few days have been an upsetting time for many of us in the House service. Thursday and Friday’s BBC Newsnight programmes and subsequent media reports have carried allegations of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, of our colleagues by Members.

Some of you have expressed to me and to others your dismay at the tone of our statement to Newsnight and the subsequent email we sent to you on Friday morning and in particular at the implied view that there were no problems to address and that we had all the issues sorted. I assure you that this is not what we believe. But I acknowledge that we got it wrong in giving the impression that we were in denial. I wholeheartedly apologise for that.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are unresolved issues over bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, which need to be addressed. The public testimony of colleagues confirms that.

We lay great emphasis on using the Respect procedures agreed by the House in 2014 because, for the first time, they offered a route which could end in genuine sanctions, ultimately including suspension of a Member from the House. I appreciate that raising a complaint is not easy, especially where you are in continuing contact with the Member concerned. A number of you from various parts of the House service have in fact raised complaints under this process and have had a response under the informal stages of this policy which you as the complainant regard as satisfactory. So I hope that those of you with grounds for complaint will follow the example of those who have used the Respect procedures, drawing on the support of your managers and colleagues.

The policies agreed in 2014 improved the protections offered to staff. But I have listened to the views expressed over the last few days and I recognise that we must look at our policies to see how we can improve them. We acknowledge, for example, that complaints of sexual harassment demand a separate process. So in consultation with you, the TUS and Members, we will revisit and renew the Respect policy.

I am also conscious that these events have upset those of you whose bad experiences may date back some years but which continue to affect you. None of us is immune to that sickening feeling. The Health and Wellbeing Service is there for you and I urge you to use it. I am in addition taking steps to ensure that the independent face to face service we offered to Members’ staff shortly before Christmas will be similarly available to you.

Let me close on a personal note. The only ultimately acceptable outcome will be a workplace culture free of bullying and harassment. I am conscious that revised procedures and processes are no substitute for cultural change. I believe that we are moving in the right direction. The majority of working relations between Members and you are harmonious, mutually respectful and professional, and Members have a high regard for the House service. I also recognise that where things have gone wrong in the past they have not always been properly dealt with. They must, and will, be properly addressed in future.

David Natzler
Clerk of the House

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