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House of horrors: Staff at risk working for MPs at Westminster

BULLYING of parliamentary staff by MPs is rampant and workers face an ‘unacceptable risk’ of abuse including ‘very serious sexual assault’, a damning report has found.

Politicians have been subjecting their employees to harassment and violence, independent investigator Gemma White QC discovered. MPs have hurled heavy objects — in some cases directly at workers — while in the grip of ‘uncontrollable rage’. Much of the harassment is dismissed as ‘banter’ and staff feel afraid that formally complaining would be ‘career suicide’.

The report comes months after an inquiry by Dame Laura Cox revealed ‘disturbing’ misconduct against Commons workers — including non-political clerical staff — by both MPs and officials. Ms White focused on MPs’ staff — particularly at risk because the politicians employ them directly.

One worker told her: ‘As long as getting political jobs in parliament is dependent on who you know and who you’re related to, sexual harassment will be a necessary evil for ambitious young people like me who will choose our careers over our comfort every time.’

Another said: ‘As things stand now, sexual harassment is just something young working-class people with no connections have to tolerate because networking in parliamentary bars is our only route to a permanent role.’

Ms White said: ‘The behaviour described to me ranged from “jokes” regarded by those making them — and in one case the MP to whom the member of staff complained — as acceptable workplace banter, all the way through to conduct which can only be described as very serious sexual assault.

‘Many of the experiences were of unwelcome sexual advances, often accompanied by attempts at kissing.

‘Many involved unwanted touching — breasts being grabbed, buttocks being slapped, thighs being stroked and crotches being pressed or rubbed against bodies.’

She said workers had told her of MPs screaming in front of others that staff were ‘f***ing useless’ or ‘f***ing idiots’.

The report also raises concerns about aides being sent to run personal errands for MPs or told to look after their children or pets.

One employee said: ‘It’s a bit like [the film] The Devil Wears Prada — you end up just doing personal stuff, no respect for hours, annual leave.’

Another said: ‘When the MP requests that the researcher should vacuum, clean and dust the member’s flat ahead of a private party, a line has been crossed.’

Employer training courses for MPs were introduced last year alongside a new code of conduct. But enrolling is voluntary and Ms White found only 34 out of 650 had signed up so far.

She wants the courses to be made compulsory and has also called for the cut-off point for taking action under the Commons independent complaints and grievance scheme to be scrapped.

Staff can only use the scheme to bring complaints relating to the period since the last General Election in 2017.

It is understood 300 people used it in the three months to June this year — and cases could reach the thousands if historical grievances were included.

Commons speaker John Bercow, who faced calls to quit last October over Dame Laura’s report, said Ms White’s findings were ‘shocking’.

‘Some of the allegations mentioned should be reported to police and action taken,’ he said. He called for the sale of alcohol to be restricted in parliament and said installing CCTV in MPs’ offices should be considered.