Valerie responds to Urgent Question

As Shadow Leader of the House, on Monday 12 March 2018, I responded to an Urgent Question on the treatment of House of Commons staff.

Below is my speech in full:

It is noted, Mr Speaker, that you have granted the urgent question, even though you are one of the people mentioned in media reports. No one—critics or otherwise—can deny your commitment to accountability and transparency or your attempts to move the House forward in recognition of diversity and modern customs and practice.

The Opposition take all allegations seriously. We want a workplace that accommodates and supports everyone. I do not want to comment on individual cases—it is a matter for the House authorities—but is the Leader of the House aware of any formal complaints that have been instigated on the basis of those cases that have been reported and, if so, when? I note that she has suggested an inquiry. I am very pleased that we can have this discussion on the Commission and we look forward to that.

Some cases predate the Respect policy, and I know that, as a result of the work streams following the report of the working group into sexual harassment and bullying, that, too, is being amended and there will be a new behaviour code and procedure that covers everyone working on the estate and in our constituencies. It is imperative that all staff working here feel that they can raise any complaints and grievances immediately. Can the Leader of the House confirm that she will agree to the president of the staff side attending the steering group, which I have previously requested and support?

The working group published its report on 8 February 2018. The steering group is monitoring the work that will be carried out. I am pleased that there is now a permanent secretariat and that the further work set out in the report that needs to be done is being progressed to ensure that the complaints and grievance policy that will be put into place is fair and robust. Only when that is tested will we know if they work. There will be a continual process to refine them so that they are effective and everyone has confidence in them. Can the Leader of the House say—she mentioned three months, but we need to balance speed with making sure there is an effective process—whether this work will be completed by the three months, or at least by the summer, before the House rises?

The Labour Opposition take all complaints about sexual harassment and abuse, and discrimination, extremely seriously. We want anyone with a complaint to come forward so that all allegations can be fully investigated, and any appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with the party’s procedures.

We all have the utmost respect for the House Clerks. Any of us who has had dealings with them on the various Select Committees, as I have, knows that they are experts in their field and offer vital assistance and advice to everyone. I know that everyone who works here, in whatever capacity, knows that they play a vital role in ensuring that our Parliament and our democracy thrive.