Changes proposed after two peers in their 70s and 80s were found to have bullied and sexually harassed women
A new report from the House of Lords says all 798 peers must undergo training courses in ” Valuing People” or face sanctions including the withdrawal of services.
And former MPs who become peers will face fresh investigations by the authorities if they face complaints about bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct while they were a Member of Parliament. At present a loophole means if peers are accused of anything while they were an MP they can escape investigation.
These tough new rules from the House of Lords conduct committee come into force next week if the peers vote for the changes. The full report is here. Members have until next April to complete the training. Those who refuse after that date will be referred to the Commissioner of Standards for breaching the code of conduct.
It is against a background of growing number of complaints about the treatment of staff by both MPs and peers. One former Tory MP and minister is under investigation by the Met Police for alleged rape of a staff member at the moment.
In the last year two Labour peers have been investigated by the Lords Commissioner for Standards, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff TWICE for breaching standards.
Lord Lea of Crondall, 82, as David Lea, a former TUC assistant general secretary, had two reports whose findings were upheld. Altogether it was revealed that since 2011 no fewer than 18 complaints were made against him.
The report said: “They included one instance involving a racially offensive remark, 15 complaints involving shouting at staff, being aggressive and
making unreasonable demands, and one occasion where a woman had been made to feel uncomfortable by Lord Lea’s alleged behaviour.”
champagne and silver gilt framed photo
The complaint from the woman followed a time she accompanied him on a Parliamentary delegation. According to the report :
” Lord Lea made her very uncomfortable by his behaviour
towards her, which included inviting her to his room to share a bottle of
champagne that he had been given. “
He followed it up later when she had left Parliament for a new job . Then “she received a package from Lord Lea at her place
of work that contained a silver-framed photograph of her taken on the official visit. It also contained a letter from Lord Lea explaining, amongst other things, that he keeps a copy of the photo on his piano at his home. He also invited me to visit him at home and referred to finishing “that bottle of champagne.’’
Lord Lea told the Commissioner: “I think she is egging the pudding in some
way. I can’t think of any reason why she should, if she didn’t have some
feelings for me or some other reason to be disturbed.”
The commissioner decided his behaviour did not amount to sexual misconduct or bullying but harassment.
He agreed to take up voluntary a bespoke behaviour management course but immediately ran into trouble when he forgot to inform the security staff that his coach was coming to Parliament so they could let the person in. He took it out on his staff leading to a fresh complaint of bullying which was upheld.
Lord Lea was asked to apologise to the member of staff :
He wrote: “I am not known for being a bully: I acknowledge having been very argumentative— highly audibly so—on that fateful day, concerning the predicament I found myself in regarding the apparent disappearance of my newly appointed trainer and you said you had felt ‘belittled’ as a consequence.”
Sexist and transphobic remarks
Lord Stone of Blackheath,78, a former managing director of Marks and Spencer, has also TWICE been found by the Commissioner to have breached the code of conduct. Complaints by four women were upheld only to be followed by a complaint from a fifth woman about being harassed.
In the first case it included allegations of sexist and transphobic remarks as well as unwanted touching.
Among several alleged incidents recorded by the Commissioner, he told a colleague that she was beautiful “to boost her self-esteem” and grabbed her arm.
He also allegedly stroked another staff member’s arm and said to her that he hoped a document on the bill to outlaw upskirting came with photos.
The second case involved two more complaints from women. He met one young woman at a dinner party and offered her a private tour of Parliament. She came with her cousin. He told her she was ” young and beautiful”.
“Lord Stone greeted her in an overfamiliar manner, kissing her on both cheeks near her mouth, and repeatedly touched her arms and her waist during the tour and while having tea in one of the House’s restaurants.”
Lord Stone told the commissioner that: “He was “upset by the inference
that [his] behaviour toward… was anything other than to try and assist”.
He accepted that “her account is factually accurate” but insisted that “the
connotations of inappropriate behaviour that she makes are wholly inaccurate and seem to me be the product of her imagination.”
He was found to have broken the code by harassment and has taken a bespoke course in behaviour management.
Labour Party suspension
Both peers have been suspended from the Labour Party. Half the members of the House of Lords have voluntarily attended the course already. The full list is here.
It is an extraordinary situation that in the times we live that such courses are needed, let alone deemed compulsory. One would have thought that people when they join the House of Lords would know that bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct are out of order. But perhaps not.