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‘Real sanctions’ to be imposed on MPs under new grievance procedure

Eighteen women and one man claimed to have been victims of sexual harassment.

MPs found to have bullied or abused staff will face “real sanctions” under a new grievance procedure, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom has vowed.

Punishments could include being suspended from Parliament and constituents already have the power to effectively sack their MP in some circumstances using recall powers, she said.

Ms Leadsom was speaking after a survey of Westminster staff found dozens of parliamentary aides have faced bullying at work while four women said they had been victims of sexual assault.

Andrea Leadsom is chair of a cross-party working group examining the procedures in place to protect staff (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Staff working for MPs hit out at the “sexist, laddish, misogynistic” culture in Parliament where there was a “toxic” mixture of alcohol and power.

Eighteen women and one man claimed to have been victims of sexual harassment while working in the Palace of Westminster.

Three women, all in their 20s, and one woman in her 50s said they had been victims of sexual assault.

One claimed she had been assaulted by a former MP, another by a visitor to an MP and a third by a House of Commons employee.

None chose to report the assault, one because she felt she would not be believed and feared for her job and the others because they did not think it was serious enough.

The findings are from a BBC Radio 5 survey carried out following a series of claims about MPs’ behaviour and the culture at Westminster.

Ms Leadsom chairs a cross-party working group looking at how to respond to the allegations that rocked Parliament last year.

She told the broadcaster that the outcome of a complaint under the new grievance procedure would “absolutely not just be an apology”.

“As ever, with something like this, you want to focus on informal resolution, you want to focus on prevention, you want to focus on changing the culture. However there will be real sanctions at the end of this process,” she said.

“If it’s a Member of Parliament, then it would be a referral to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and ultimately to the Commons Committee for Standards, which has the ability to suspend Members of Parliament.

“And there is of course then the Recall of MPs Act 2015, that itself does enable a constituency to decide to get rid of their Member of Parliament.

“So that would be the ultimate sanction.”

Ms Leadsom kept her position in Theresa May’s reshuffle despite reports that the Prime Minister could sack her former leadership rival.

The Commons Leader said she had “quite a short conversation” with Mrs May “and she asked me to continue doing the job”.

The BBC sent 1,500 questionnaires to staff working for MPs and received 166 responses.

Some 39 people said they had experienced bullying at Westminster, including 24 by the MP they worked for, but only a third had complained.

One man in his 30s said: “I felt it would look professionally incompetent and compromise the masculine environment across Westminster.”

Another in his 20s said: “The nature of Parliament means if one complains about their MP’s behaviour your job is gone.”

But other members of staff were more positive about the experience of working at Westminster, describing it as “courteous”, “respectful” and “fascinating”.

“It’s not the den of sexual depravity the media want it to be,” one said.

Another responded that “all the MPs I’ve met have been delightful” and “this sexual harassment witch hunt is ridiculous”.

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