May draws up code of conduct to tackle harassment and abuse

British PM acts in wake of resignation of one minister, while two others face investigations

 

British prime minister Theresa May has unveiled a new party code of conduct guaranteeing an independent voice in investigations of abuse and harassment, as both the Conservatives and Labour faced pressure over whether they failed victims.

The code was revealed by Ms May in a letter to the speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, about her party’s plans to tackle the issue, following claims that have led to the resignation of one minister, Michael Fallon, and left two others facing investigations.

She said parties had a role to play but it was not right that vulnerable people dealing with serious issues relating to behaviour in parliament were expected to navigate different grievance procedures for different political parties.

“Neither can it be right that such difficult issues themselves are dealt with on a party political basis, or that no support should be provided for those with no political or party affiliation,” she said.

The new Conservative code applies to MPs, peers, MEPs, members of the Scottish, Welsh and London assemblies, police and crime commissioners, elected mayors, councillors and party officials, the letter explains.

The code compels those covered by its rules to “take reasonable steps” to ensure that people who want to complain about harassment, bullying or discrimination are able to do so. There is an email address and phone number to which complaints can be made.

Harassment is defined as “any unwanted physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive situation or environment for them”.

The code states that inquiries should be conducted by a panel of three or more people, at least one of whom should be independent of the Conservatives.

Mr Fallon resigned on Wednesday, in part because he was accused of behaving inappropriately towards his cabinet colleague Andrea Leadsom.

Unified approach

Damian Green, the first secretary of state and Ms May’s deputy, and trade minister Mark Garnier, face inquires as to whether they breached the ministerial code over allegations of inappropriate behaviour. Mr Green vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

Ms May’s spokesman said he could not give “running commentary” on the investigations, but said the prime minister was committed to dealing with the issue.

“We have been clear of the necessity for an environment where people feel they can work in Westminster safely, and also feel that if they suffer harassment that they can make a complaint about that and that the complaint will be treated seriously,” he said.

Ms May is to meet Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Westminster leaders of other parties on Monday to discuss how to respond to the crisis. In her letter to Mr Bercow, she stressed the need for a unified approach.

Mr Corbyn faced pressure to explain why he put Kelvin Hopkins in his shadow cabinet last year, after a young party activist had formally expressed concerns about his behaviour.

Mr Hopkins, the Luton North MP, remains suspended from Labour pending an investigation into claims that he acted inappropriately and sent suggestive texts to a party activist. On Friday night, Mr Hopkins said he “absolutely and categorically’’ denied allegations of inappropriate conduct made by Ava Etemadzadeh (27).

She said she had complained about Mr Hopkins to the Labour whips about three years ago and was deeply disappointed when she learned he had been made shadow culture secretary in July last year, a post he held for three months.

It is understood Ms Etemadzadeh complained about inappropriate text messages and that the then-chief whip Rosie Winterton reprimanded Mr Hopkins and told Mr Corbyn’s office.

‘Disillusioned’

Labour said it suspended Mr Hopkins following new allegations. Ms Etemadzadeh told the Telegraph that he hugged her very tightly and rubbed himself against her at a Labour event in 2013.

Ms Etemadzadeh told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One that her complaint was taken seriously by Ms Winterton, but it was “ignored” by Mr Corbyn’s office.

“I’m very disillusioned because just a few months later I realised that Jeremy Corbyn had promoted Kelvin Hopkins to the shadow cabinet despite the fact that the leader’s office was aware of this.”

Labour’s new code says complaints should be reviewed by a panel appointed by the national executive committee.

Jasmin Beckett, who represents Young Labour on the NEC, has written to Corbyn to complain that the code “makes no attempt to look at the possibility of an independent body to deal with sensitive complaints going forward”.

In a later announcement, Labour said the independent specialist organisation would offer support and support complaints through the party’s procedures, and it had appointed a QC, Karon Monaghan, to investigate its handling of the case of Bex Bailey. The young party activist said she was raped by a senior party member and then discouraged by a Labour official from reporting it. – Guardian