Isabel Hardman

The ‘Pestminster’ reforms are faltering

The 'Pestminster' reforms are faltering
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One of the leading figures in setting up parliament's independent complaints process has told Coffee House she is worried it will 'fall into disrepute' and that key measures designed to crack down on harassment and bullying are not being implemented.

Andrea Leadsom was Leader of the House of Commons when the 'Pestminster' scandal broke in 2017 and worked on a cross-party basis to set up the Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme. She is concerned that the reputation of the scheme is already struggling, as complainants find their cases are taking too long to be resolved or are receiving conflicting advice. She said:

It was quite common every day or so for someone to come up to me and say, 'such a brilliant thing you've done,' but when I recently asked someone I know who has made a complaint, they said 'there was just no point'.

Leadsom says that the cross-party group that came up with the scheme had wanted management training for MPs to be compulsory by this stage. Equally, they expected that all members of staff who left parliament would have to take an exit interview where they might be able to raise concerns about an MP's behaviour. There had been an agreement that the next election would be the point at which MPs would be forced to attend the training, but the 2019 election came and went and that hasn't happened. She said: 

The training was set up to change the behaviour, to change the culture, to change the thinking. We spent a long time discussing whether to make it compulsory and decided that this should happen after the next election. So it should have happened by now.

There have been two types of training on offer to MPs. The 'Valuing Everyone' programme tackles bullying and harassment and is mandatory for staff but not members. Unconscious bias training was also piloted for MPs, which caused consternation from some members who felt it was 'Orwellian'. A parliamentary spokesperson told me:

We are committed to creating an inclusive workplace and, following requests from MPs, we have made unconscious bias training available to them on a small pilot basis. These are not mandatory, and the pilot is expected to be completed in the next few weeks. There are currently no plans to roll it out more widely.

An 18-month review of the scheme has just started, and Leadsom hopes it will be an opportunity to salvage its reputation. She explained:

It was a fantastic cross-party piece of work with sign-up from the most extraordinarily diverse group of people, not an easy group. We really did all sit there for flipping hours to try to get the right solution and it would be such a shame for it to fall into disrepute on the grounds of not having worked fast enough for complainants.
Written byIsabel Hardman

Isabel Hardman is assistant editor of The Spectator and author of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians. She also presents Radio 4’s Week in Westminster.

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