The Department of Work and Pensions has rejected any changes to its new minimalist regulations to exempt victims of domestic violence -mainly women – from paying the ” bedroom tax ” and helping them to find out how they could qualify to keep more of their benefits.
As I reported ten days ago the release of minutes from the little known Social Security Advisory Committee revealed in July the body chaired by Stephen Brien who worked for Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank had written to the ministry criticising the proposed regulations for being too narrow and the ministry for not running a prominent campaign to let victims know they will now be exempt.
The exemption applies to anybody who wants to stay in their own home and has thrown out an abusive partner and enrols in a sanctuary scheme – which provides extra locks, a fireproof letterbox and in extreme cases a reinforced door to a ” panic room” should the abusive partner return and break into the house.
The problem is that not all women know about this and the exemption only applies to council homes and flats. Also abuse from stalkers or strangers is not covered by the new regulations.
Mr Brien wrote: “Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.”
Ministry rejects plea to change the regulation
But the DWP has told me not only will there be no changes but they had already implemented the regulations which came into force on October 1.
A DWP spokesperson said:
“The Department offers support to victims of domestic abuse, whether in the private rented sector or not. The benefit system acts as a safety net for people who find themselves in need of financial support with living and housing costs for a variety of reasons. A range of Universal Credit measures are designed to support victims of domestic abuse, including special provisions for temporary accommodation, same day advances, easements from work-related requirements and signposting to expert third-party services.”
Now for these regulations to become law they have to be scrutinised by Parliament. So I looked up what had happened.
It turns out the ministry laid the regulations before the House of Commons and the House of Lords on September 9 – a Thursday evening just before MPs and peers went off for the weekend. They were laid under what is known as a negative statutory instrument – which means that unless a peer or a MP objects they automatically can become law three weeks later.
Not one MP or peer spoke up about this
The regulations were laid alongside numerous other regulations including changes to Covid 19 pandemic regulations. Not one MP or peer objected or even spoke about it.
They would not have known about the criticism from the watchdog body because its minutes had not been published then. Nevertheless this shows up the ineffectiveness of MPs and peers – who have more time – in scrutinising what the executive is doing.
Given the high profile issue of violence against women after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer it is pretty deplorable that a ministry can get away with this.
Benefits watchdog keeps mum
I sent the ministry’s response to the watchdog body – which regards scrutinising regulations as its main priority – and it decided not to comment, preferring to keep silent about its advice being ignored .I haven’t had a reply from the House of Lords on why the new regulations were missed.
However I have discovered the ministry has issued new advice six days ago to its housing benefit officers. It is here and victims of domestic abuse should challenge officials about getting an exemption.
For those in England I would suggest contacting Shelter. The charity has a comprehensive guide for victims of domestic abuse here. It includes a list of other charities who can help.
So if the ministry, the social security watchdog and Parliament are so ineffectual, at least this blog can highlight some information so more people know about it.
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With the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer dominating the headlines by coincidence the government’s benefit watchdog this weekend released minutes of a meeting with officials from the Department for Work and Pensions on tackling domestic abuse.
The little known Social Security Advisory Committee was examining new regulations from the ministry due to come into law on payments and help for victims (usually women) of domestic abuse.
You might not think the DWP would have any role in domestic violence but actually it can help by removing benefit penalties and also open the door to money to improve security measures in a victim’s home.
The ministry must have been pretty tardy in doing anything about this as the reason for the new regulations stemmed from a government defeat at the European Court of Human Rights.
At the centre of this case was the much loathed ” bedroom tax ” where 14 per cent of your housing benefit payment can be clawed back if you have more bedrooms than you need.
Women who throw out an abusive partner or grown up member of the family could find themselves liable for this ” tax” if they want to stay in the family home. This regulation exempts them.
No relief from benefit penalties if you are pursued by a stalker
But as the committee found it is a pretty narrow concession. If you are being abused by a stranger or a stalker you can’t escape the penalty. The ministry has decided they are not ” family” even if they are being as violent or frightening as any member of the family.
And it only applies if you live a council house or flat – is you live in private rented accommodation you have to apply for a discretionary housing payment – and given it is discretionary you may not get it. And that applies whether it is family or a stalker.
That’s why I think the change is half hearted and half baked -designed to help a minimum number of people.
But the meeting also disclosed much more. To qualify for these payments and removal of penalties you have to enrol in a sanctuary scheme. This is service which can protect you in your home -by installing extra locks, fireproof letterboxes and in some cases a ” panic room” with a reinforced door where you can flee from attack from an abusive partner or intruder and call the police.
But guess what? The onus is on the claimant to find out about the sanctuary scheme – not on the Department to tell them about it. Just like the millions of 50swomen over their pensions and the millions of people opted out of SERPS who have lost out on a guaranteed minimum pension, the ministry is not bothered to ensure they know. Both of these issues led to rulings of ” maladministration” against the ministry by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
Department for Work and Pensions hasn’t a clue
But it is even worse than that. The ministry hasn’t a clue how many people are in sanctuary schemes because there is no central record.
Only next year will local authorities have a duty to collect this information but otherwise it is being left to charities, the police and other bodies to tell claimants. The minutes say: “A number of ways to identify claimants in scope of the measure were attempted – requests were made to local authorities, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office – but the information is not available”
Details of the sanctuary scheme are here – it is aimed at charities.
Such a situation has led the chair of the committee, Stephen Brien, to write to the DWP:
“Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.
” A number of claimants will be unaware “-Stephen Brien
“Given the vulnerable situations within which this group finds itself, there is potential risk of harm should these claimants remain unaware of the support available to them resulting in their leaving a home where additional security has been installed.”
He also said the definition of who could escape the penalty was too narrow and should be extended to stalkers and that there was not enough being done to support people in private rented accommodation.
“The narrow focus adopted by the Department could lead to inconsistent treatment of people at risk of violence because their circumstances fall outside of those defined by the regulations.”
The SSAC has not formally objected to the new regulation but is seeking some improvements.
This seems to be yet another example of the ministry not informing people of their rights and in this case in an area where public concern has been heightened by the issue of male violence makes it doubly important that something is done. Will the DWP do it though?
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The headline in this story is a paraphrase of an extraordinary letter to be sent out to 15,000 people randomly chosen by the Department for Work and Pensions. Some 180 pensioners are being contacted this month.
The ministry has mounted an exercise to check fraud and error in payments for the state pension alongside universal credit, attendance allowance, PIPs, carer’s allowance, pension credit, housing benefit, and the employment and support allowance. It is run by the Performance Measurement Team. The ministry are asking people on other benefits to send them original documents showing their savings, pay slips, rent books and tenancy agreements.
It comes as the ministry faces a potentially damning report from a National Audit Office inquiry into the underpayment of state pensions to tens of thousands of women under the old state pension system replaced in 2016.
The NAO want to know how these mistakes occurred , what is being done to put them right and what lessons have been learnt. The NAO made it clear yesterday it had nothing to do with this exercise mounted by the DWP.
This also comes on top of a finding of “maladministration” by the Parliamentary Ombudsman over the ministry’s failure to inform 3.8 million 50swomen adequately about the rise in the pension age from 60 to 66.
The letter reproduced above is pretty insensitive to say the least – since it will be going to elderly people aged anywhere from 66 to their 80s and 90s.
Onus put on pensioners not the DWP
As you can see it puts the onus on pensioners to answer questions correctly-with the threat of prosecution or fines if they don’t.
” You have a personal responsibility to make sure all the information you give during the call is correct and complete.
If it isn’t and we pay you too much money you may have to pay the money back. You also risk being prosecuted or having to pay a financial penalty.”
But it gets worse. Under the heading What will happen if I do not hear from you it says:
“If you fail to be available for this review and do not contact me, your entitlement to State Pension may be in doubt and your payments may be stopped. ( Bold type my emphasis).
This is “coercive and threatening language”- Rosie Brocklehurst
Rosie Brocklehurst from St Leonards, is one who got the letter and contacted me.
She saId: “There could be 15000 terrified pensioners receiving this letter all of whom are being threatened with having their state pension. stopped if they do not “make themselves available.” This is abusive coercive and threatening language in my lexicon.”
She is 71. She said: “The letter they send out is couched in language that is designed to frighten and certainly frightened me. I am not well and have had a chronic condition for 18 months. I have no other income but state pension and pension is not means tested. I am married and claim nothing else but my pension..”
Two points First you have to claim your pension but the calculations are done by the DWP. So if the figure is wrong it is not your responsibility, it is theirs and there is a history of the ministry getting things wrong.
The second is you are entitled to your pension. There is no way the DWP or anybody else can take it away from you. Whoever drafted that letter should have changed it for pensioners. I suspect that it may be illegal for the government to stop pension payments which they have already calculated. Certainly if the grounds are not agreeing to be interviewed.
I have contacted the DWP press office but they took over two days to reply. This is their reply;
“We urge people not to worry. We would only suspend payments in very specific circumstances such as where a pensioner has died and we are continuing payments.
“These reviews, introduced in 1997, take a sample of claims from across several benefits to help us identify cases where the department has paid the wrong amount.”
“The wording of our letters is kept under constant review.”
However what does it not say is that the state pension was exempt from all reviews since 1997. A decision to include it was taken in February this year. No explanation was given why the ministry suddenly decided to include it.
A potentially ground breaking case bought by whistleblower Alison McDermott, a former consultant to the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield, began a three week hearing at Leeds Employment Tribunal this week.
The case of McDermott versus Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and former Sellafield HR director Heather Roberts has been brought under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 – also known as the Whistleblowers’ Act.
Alison McDermott, an HR professional and diversity specialist, claims that the sudden termination of her freelance contract in October 2018 by Sellafield was linked to her protected disclosures containing evidence of systemic bullying, and racist and sexist incidents at the Sellafield site in Cumbria. The original story was reported in Byline Times
Since the report came out the BBC did an investigation into what it called toxic bullying, homophobia, sexual harassment and racism at the nuclear plant.
At the beginning of hearing Employment judge Philip Lancaster told the tribunal: “This, of course, is not a public inquiry into an alleged toxic culture at Sellafield and it is certainly not a forum to investigate specific allegations of improper behaviour on behalf of named individuals.”
The case has been complicated by one of the organisations fighting her, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, changing its stance and is distancing itself from Sellafield. More will come out later in the case.
Ms McDermott faced aggressive cross questioning of her stance by Deshpal Panesar QC, representing Sellafield and Ms Heather Roberts, the plant’s former human resources director.
” I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here”- HR director
Ms McDermott was paid £1,500 a day – the same sum paid to previous consultants Capita -to monitor equality, diversity and inclusion at the nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site in September 2018.
Mr Panesar pointed out that she had taken no action when she first met Heather Roberts who is said to have told her “”I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here.” He said this was a reference by Ms Roberts because of security at the plant where people had to have photo passes. She said she was horrified by the reference but did not raise it with her because it was their first meeting.
Yet later after she had investigated other complaints she had pressed for a formal inquiry into a series of complaints and allegations about bullying, homophobia and sexual harassment. He accused her of ” weaponising” the issue at the plant.
Ms McDermott denied this,
She said Ms Roberts then asked her to take part in a covert investigation to “flush out” issues raised in the report, but she refused and advised her there needed to be a formal investigation.
Mr Panesar suggested she had agreed to take part in an undercover investigation, using focus groups to question staff.
The case continues next week.
Dr Jocelynne Scutt, President of panel of judges of the CEDAW People’s tribunal , Nazir Afzal Legal Consultant to the tribunal
Two of the leading people talk in advance of the planned People’s Tribunal in London
Later this year there will be a People’s Tribunal in London to evaluate the need for the UN Convention on the elimination of all discrimination against women to be put into domestic law. The convention, signed and ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 has never been put into domestic law though parts of it are in the Equalities Act, 2010.
The tribunal will examine the failure to integrate CEDAW into domestic legislation; decide whether those delays are legitimate or not; and make necessary recommendations as to how the Convention can be given full effect in the UK, advancing women in all aspects of society and recognising historic inequalities.
Dr Jocelynne Scutt, the Australian feminist who is president of the panel of judges CEDAW People’s Tribunal and Nazir Afzal, newly appointed Legal Consultant to the tribunal. have talked about their hopes for a massive legal change.
Jocelynne Scutt is a senior law fellow at the University of Buckingham. She was Tasmania’s first anti discrimination commissioner and is a member of the Labour Party in Cambridge and the Australian Labor Party. She is a former judge in Fiji.
Nazil Afzal, is the former Chief Crown Prosecutor for NW England and formerly Director in London. Most recently, he was Chief Executive of the country’s Police & Crime Commissioners. During 24 year career, has prosecuted many high profile cases and advised on many others and led nationally on Violence against Women & Girls, child sexual abuse, and honour based violence. His prosecutions of the so called Rochdale grooming gang and hundreds of others were groundbreaking and drove the work that has changed the landscape of child protection. He is the new legal consultant to the tribunal.
Jocelynne Scutt believes there are many cases -particularly those involving violence against women and rape cases- where women are still not seen as credible because of prejudice or the way they dress. She points to protests from women groups over rape cases with placards saying ” Wearing a dress does not mean yes” as a good example of the way women are treated by men. She says this is similar to the ” stop and search” policy by the police where just because a black man is driving a posh car it is assumed it is either stolen or he is a drug dealer.
She said one of the big changes CEDAW could bring is to change the law to make people treated as a whole human being instead of being categorised in different legal columns. She cited a discrimination case brought on both sex and gender and racial discrimination.
” The law as it is either treats the case as a sex and gender case with a bit of ethnicity added on or a an ethnicity discrimination case with a bit of gender discrimination. People are not like that.”
The standard in courts is still based on ” Benchmark Man”
She says courts are still dominated by white male values despite the fact we have more women barristers and judges. ” As one of my colleagues says the standard is Benchmark Man- that is still the standard for everything.”
She thinks that middle class women have an advantage over working class women to progress in their careers.
” Middle class women in professional jobs can get through the glass ceiling or at least see it . For working class women – such as cleaners and care workers – they are stopped by a concrete canopy- they can’t even see the glass ceiling let alone break through it” This is something that CEDAW would change.
Both she and Nazil Afzal believe CEDAW will bring about big changes. She is optimistic that support for CEDAW will build and build to become a major issue.
Nazil believes there is no legal impediment to introducing CEDAW only a political one. He also believes that if Scotland and Wales decide to implement CEDAW while England declines to do so – it ” will lead to an even greater postcode lottery in judicial decisions than it is now.
” Probably only one per cent of lawyers understand CEDAW”
He believes that at present the vast majority of lawyers don’t understand CEDAW even though its is recognised by the courts as international law.
” Probably only one per cent of lawyers -unless it is their speciality – don’t understand it and probably among that one per cent only one per cent understand it fully “
He thinks the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill has made the case for putting CEDAW into domestic law and also for the United Kingdom to sign up to the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic abuse.
Some 45 countries have signed up and 34 have ratified the convention. The UK is not one – one of the stumbling blocks for the UK is that it would have to give migrants equal rights.
The controversy over the sale of the Mary Feilding Guild care home in north London to social care entrepreneur and property developer Mitesh Dhanak, continues unabated as he begins to arrange for the residents to leave.
Since his take over the now renamed Highgate Care Home he has brought in two consultants to help him move the residents out, two of them centenarians, so he can demolish the home and apply for planning permission to build a new one.
One of the consultants is Isla Joanne Meek. Her Linked In entry says she is managing director of Isla Meek Consulting, a small business based in Radstock, a town in Somerset. She has a long list of services she provides and she has both a management and nursing qualification. These include helping the management of new homes, safeguarding people, helping homes maximise their occupancy and charge higher fees for services and the occasional work advising homes how to handle Care Quality Commission inspections.
What she doesn’t disclose is that she was once consultant to a failing care care home in Westbury-On-Trym and for a period was struck off the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.
The care home in question ,Holmwood House nursing home, was subjection of a BBC TV investigation in 2014 and stories in a local community paper The Bristolian. The links to the tales are here and here.
Holmwood House had eight substantiated allegations of abuse or neglect of residents there between 2012 and 2014,
Admissions had been temporarily suspended twice since June 2012 and, under a voluntary arrangement, no-one with nursing needs was admitted during that time.
The home’s owner Ghassan Al-Jibouri said he had “nothing to hide” and his first concern was the health and welfare of residents.
Isla Meek, then struck off by the NMC, was working there as a consultant and audited controlled drug records for manager Simone Smith which turned out to have had numerous forged signatures.
Since then Isla Meek has been reinstated on the NMC register – the NMC told me people could reapply for reinstatement five years after they had been struck off.
The Highgate Home is not the only work she has done for Mr Dhanak. She also acted as a consultant for Wentworth Court in Cheltenham, a home for people with serious dementia. The home has a good rating but its financing is similar to all Mr Dhanak’s other companies. It is run by First Cheltenham Care Ltd, a £100 company with him a sole director. The financing of the home comes loans and mortgages from Barclays Bank and the property is revalued most recently at £6.3 million.
Isla Meek Consulting is more modest. It has two directors, herself and Tim Meek and is based in a property solely owned by Tim Meek which he paid £170,000 five years ago. The latest accounts up to May 2020 show the business has assets of around £17,000 and capital and reserves of £7300.
I did ask Ms Meek for a comment via Highgate Care Home but none has been received at the moment.
There is also an interesting article in the Ham and High: https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/care-experts-fire-mary-feilding-guild-warning-7896998 This warns about the dangers of severe health impacts on elderly people who are suddenly moved.
The campaign to introduce a comprehensive bill of rights for women by implementing in full the UN Convention for the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) takes a major step forward this weekend.
Five high profile women -one a former judge – have agreed to serve on the panel which will sift evidence to be presented at the CEDAW People’s Tribunal later this year presided over by John Cooper, QC, a human rights lawyer,.
CEDAW is “like motherhood and apple pie” – John Cooper QC
John Cooper said the issue should not be controversial – ” it is like motherhood and apple pie”.
He said the tribunal should have three main goals – independence, transparency and authenticity.
” There are three main areas to investigate: Why CEDAW has never put into UK law; whether there was any good reason for not doing so, and most importantly, to make recommendations on what should happen next.”
The movement to implement comprehensive changes in the law for all women and girls has come from the historic unequal treatment of women and the exposure of poverty and hardship by women born in the 1950s who had to wait an extra six years for their pension. Campaigners pointed out that Margaret Thatcher had signed up to the convention as long ago as 1986 but it had never been properly implemented into UK law -despite Gordon Brown’s government passing the Equality Act in 2010.
Worse the position of the 50s women was just the tip of the iceberg of unequal treatment which covers everything from unequal pay to discrimination in the workplace and women being subject to harassment and sexual abuse and even given poor treatment in jails.
The tribunal will take place as the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales are considering implementing laws to apply the convention – leading to an extraordinary situation where women will have more rights and redress against discrimination and inequality in Scotland and Wales than in England. All this will bring home the issue to the present Tory government whether it wants to do anything about it or not.
The president of the new panel is the Hon. Jocelynne Annette Scutt, an Australian feminist and human rights lawyer and senior law fellow at the University of Buckingham. She has written about money, marriage and property rights and more recently about plastic surgery, women’s bodies and the law. She was Tasmania’s first anti discrimination commissioner and is a member of the Labour Party and the Australian Labor Party. She is a former judge in Fiji.
The other panel members are:
Christine Chinkin, FBA is Emerita Professor of International Law, Professorial Research Fellow and Founding Director of the Centre of Women Peace & Security at LSE.
She is a barrister, a member of Matrix Chambers. Together with H. Charlesworth, she won the American Society of International Law, 2005 Goler T. Butcher Medal ‘for outstanding contributions to the development or effective realization of international human rights law’. She is a William C Cook Global Law Professor at the University of Michigan Law School.
She has held visiting appointments in Australia, the United States, Singapore and the People’s Republic of China. She is currently a member of the Kosovo Human Rights Advisory Panel and was Scientific Advisor to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the drafting of the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.
Jane Gordon MA (Oxon) LLM (Distinction) is a human rights lawyer with over 20 years’ experience working in human rights legal practice and policy at domestic, regional and international levels. Jane co-founded Sisters For Change with her sister, SFC Executive Director, in 2014. Jane was Human Rights Advisor to the Northern Ireland Policing Board (2003-2008) where she co-devised the first ever framework for monitoring the human rights compliance of the police.
In 2009-2010, she was appointed Human Rights Advisor to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s national policing protest review. Jane has litigated cases of serious human rights violations against Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine before the European Court of Human Rights, and advised national human rights institutions, public authorities and oversight mechanisms in Jamaica, India, Malawi, Iraq, Ireland and across the UK. Between 2008-2017,
Jane was a Senior Fellow at LSE’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights and LSE’s Centre for Women, Peace and Security where she delivered LSE’s practitioner short course on Women’s Human Rights. In 2013-2014, Jane served as gender advisor/SGBV investigator with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Jane is additionally a member of the Foreign Secretary’s Human Rights Advisory Group.
Professor Aisha K. Gill, Ph.D. (University of Essex) CBE is Professor of Criminology at University of Roehampton. Her main areas of interest focus on health and criminal justice responses to violence against Black, minority ethnic and refugee (BMER) women in the UK, Georgia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Libya, India, Pakistan and Yemen. Professor Gill is often in the news as a commentator on early/child/forced marriage, violence predicated on ‘honour’, and sexual violence in South Asian communities.
Professor Gill has been involved in addressing the problem of violence against women and girls (VAWG) at the grassroots level for the past 21 years. She is invited adviser to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) strategic support group on investigations and complaints involving gendered forms of violence against women in the UK (including domestic violence); member of Liberty’s Project Advisory Group; member of Kurdish Women’s Rights Watch; Imkaan and Chair of Newham Asian Women’s Project (2004-2009). In October 2019, she was invited to join the Victims’ Commissioner’s Advisory Panel, chaired by Dame Vera Baird, QC.
Professor Fareda Banda, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University.
She joined SOAS in 1996. She has convened and taught English Family law, Human rights of women and Law and Society since then. She has also contributed to various courses including Alternative Dispute Resolution, Law and Development, Law and Development in Africa and Legal Systems of Asia and Africa. She has supervised PhD theses on topics including children’s rights, sexual violence against women, post-conflict reconstruction and gender. She writes on women’s rights, family law, and, more recently, religion. Fareda has been an active member of the School’s Equality Committee, first in her capacity as the union equality officer and more recently as the representative of the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences.
The new panel members are delighted and honoured to be appointed. Dr Davina Lloyd, Chair of the CPT Steering Committee, said:” The well being of future generations is in excellent hands”.
Expect more of this on my blog as the campaign gains momentum throughout the rest of this year.
Peers homophobic remarks lead to his suspension
Peers accepted last week a highly critical report from the House of Lords Conduct Committee, chaired by Lord Mance, a former Supreme Court judge, that the peer was guilty of ” bullying” and” harassment” of a security guard and of ” homophobic ” attacks on two gay MPs.
The peer believes he is the subject of persecution by Stonewall because he opposes same sex marriage and even accused Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the Lords Commissioner for Standards, as biased against him because she supported Out4Marriage a charity that supports gay marriage. She has made it clear that this did not influence her judgement one jot.
Lord Maginnis of Drumglass , a former Ulster Unionist MP who sat as an Independent, had a row with a security guard, Christian Bombolo, when he forgot his security pass and demanded to be let into Parliament without one. The exchange became so toxic that an MP who witnessed the incident, Hannah Bardell, SNP MP for Livingston, intervened only to be attacked by the peer using homophobic language.
The second incident happened at a meeting of the Armed Forces All Party Parliamentary Group which was chaired by Luke Pollard, Labour MP for Plymouth, Sutton. The dinner meeting broke up before Lord Maginnis could ask his question and he blamed Luke Pollard for this.
The report says: “Later in the evening Lord Maginnis sent an email to James Gray MP (the Chair of the APPG), copied to a number of other parliamentarians and to my office, with the subject heading “Discrimination by Homos”.
“Mr Gray replied saying the Mr Gray replied describing Lord Maginnis’s conduct at the meeting and the content of his email as “completely and utterly unacceptable”.
He requested that Lord Maginnis withdraw his remarks and apologise, without which he would not be welcome at any future APPG events.
Lord Maginnis replied that Mr Pollard was “obviously part of the ongoing campaign against me because of MY views on the matter relating to the Cameron initiative [same-sex marriage]” and that he was “getting somewhat irked by being discriminated against so, as for any apology, forget it!”
But Lord Maginnis attended the next meeting which led to another complaint being lodged by Toby Perkins, Labour MP for Chesterfield, who was also a member of the group.
“Unapologetically homophobic and aggressive “
The report says: “Before the meeting began, he saw Lord Maginnis in conversation with James Gray MP. He later understood that Mr Gray had told Lord Maginnis he could not attend the event due to his previous conduct towards Luke Pollard.
“According to Mr Perkins, Lord Maginnis “quickly responded aggressively refusing to leave and implying that the Chair would have to physically remove him”. He overheard Lord Maginnis saying “I am not going to be bullied by queers.”
Mr Perkins said that Lord Maginnis’s “entire tone was unapologetically homophobic, aggressive and disrespectful”.
“It made me feel that it was not a safe environment for—I mean, particularly for people who were gay, but I think there is a sense to which we are all conditioned and harassed by the sense that we’re not all free to be at an event like that. So both the sort of the tone of the remarks and the content of them, I think, was upsetting.”
Maginnis refused to accept finding
Lord Maginnis refused to accept he had done anything wrong but said part of his behaviour was because he was a type 2 diabetic with arthritis and often in pain and had difficulty with his hearing.
This is yet another peer who seems to think that bullying and harassment and his case homophobic views are quite acceptable. While I am sure that most peers do know how to behave, it looks as though a small minority are still clinging on to outdated views and remarkably aggressive behaviour.
As Luke Pollard says in the report that he was “shocked and surprised that this type of behaviour would happen within Westminster”.
“While he did not consider Lord Maginnis’s behaviour during the dinner to be acceptable, it was his remarks in the later email chain he had found most offensive. He said those emails made him feel like a “victim of abuse”.
The House of Lords approved without a vote new rules which will mean that all 798 peers will have to attend behaviour training course or face being reported to the Lords Commissioner for Standards for breaching their code of conduct.
two public dissenters
The scheme had only two public dissenters – both Conservative peers – who claimed it was unnecessary. The move followed a couple of cases in the last year where two former Labour peers were found to have bullied and harassed Parliamentary staff. See my last blog here.
Lord Cormack, a former Tory MP who had a junior job in the Thatcher government said; “Speaking as one who has served in Parliament for over 50 years now, it is a very sad day when I am told that I have to be trained on how to behave. That is extremely unfortunate, and I believe that it is unnecessary. “
… “I regret and deplore it. After all, it is right that people accused of any offence should be appropriately dealt with, but I do not suppose that it would be thought appropriate for your Lordships to be given a course in how not to burgle.”
Lord Balfe, who as Richard Balfe was a former London Labour councillor and a Labour MEP until he switched to the Tories in 2002, called for the House of Lords Conduct committee to reconsider the move.
“I regret the compulsion attached to this training. I have done the training. It was largely irrelevant; most of it was about the House of Commons, or appeared to be.”
Lord Mance, a former judge and deputy president of the Supreme Court, chairs the Lords conduct committee which proposed the compulsory training, received support from a number of other peers who welcomed the move.
He said: “There is, unfortunately, a clear problem, even in this House. People sometimes behave in ways that one may not conceive of oneself, but that are recorded in great detail in the press and in the reports issued by the commissioner. Unconscious attitudes, and lack of consciousness of a problem, are real issues that the Valuing Everyone training is designed to address.”
All peers will have to either have attended or booked a training course by next April. Half of them have already attended one.
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.