Politics

Harman wants zero tolerance of sexual harassment by MPs


By Sima KotechaSenior UK Correspondent

BBC Harriet Harman speaking to Sima KotechaBBC

Harriet Harman said women “were being exploited and abused”

There must be “a fierce zero tolerance for sexual harassment and abuse” in Westminster, former MP Harriet Harman has said.

In a BBC News interview, she said women working in Parliament were being “exploited and abused” and the general election was an opportunity for a new generation of MPs to make a cultural change. She also called on more men to speak out if they witness abuse.

Her comments come after damning allegations have been made about the behaviour of some MPs in recent months, with several suspended.

A House of Commons spokesperson said: “Sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying have absolutely no place in Parliament.”

‘Get away with it’

Ms Harman – who was the UK’s longest continuously serving female MP – added that “everyone was entitled to just be able to do their work and not be prey to predatory behaviour, especially sexual predatory behaviour”.

She was adamant power dynamics in Westminster were making younger women feel vulnerable.

“There’s no doubt about it, that there are men who are higher up in the system, who believe they can get away with it because the woman’s in a junior position, and they are counting on the fact that they’ve got impunity, because she will not dare speak out,” she said.

One former parliamentary aide told the BBC she was recently told by a man who was more senior to her that “your boobs look very perky in that top”.

In response to that, Ms Harman said: “That is totally unacceptable in any workplace.

“I want to see in the next Parliament a real expression of male allyship, of men speaking out against men on their own side.

“Because if a man is in the bar in the House of Commons and he’s groping a woman, and he’s also drinking with a number of other men, if they see him I want the man to speak out and report it, not just leave it to the women,” she said.

Harriet Harman

Harriet Harman was an MP for over 40 years before stepping down last month

She also called for a women’s caucus made up of female MPs from across the House to support alleged victims when they make complaints.

“We need them to formally come together so when a woman speaks out about a senior man in her own party she is not left vulnerable, but backed up,” she said.

The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) investigates complaints about inappropriate behaviour in Westminster.

It looks into allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, and provides advice to complainants.

It was created in 2018 to give victims somewhere to take their complaints.

In its last annual report, the ICGS said there had been 31 investigations over the previous year – with seven cases upheld.

Ms Harman said: “Those will probably be just the tip of the iceberg.”

The 74-year-old stepped down in May after more than 40 years as an MP. She was often referred to as the Mother of the House, after serving for more than 40 years.

Throughout her time in Parliament, Ms Harman actively campaigned for women’s issues and is planning to continue to do so outside the political world.

“We take any complaint of unacceptable behaviour extremely seriously and remain committed to ensuring that lasting cultural change can be achieved here,” a House of Commons spokesperson said.

“There are a range of support services now available in Parliament – established as part of changes made in recent years aimed at creating an environment where everyone can work without fear of sexual harassment or bullying, and delivering a workplace where everyone feels safe and valued.”



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