British politicians who bully or sexually harass staff members could soon face tougher punishments

British politicians who bully or sexually harass staff members could soon face tougher punishments

British politicians who bully or sexually harass staff members could soon face tougher punishments

Updated 9 February 2018, 10:25 AEDT

British politicians who bully or sexually harass staff members could soon face tougher punishments, including suspension.

Key points:

  • 1 in 5 people surveyed said they had seen or experienced sexual harassment over the past year
  • Report included a new independent process for complaints, new code of conduct for MPs
  • And tougher punishments, including suspension in serious cases

The move, designed to combat the sleaze scandal that engulfed UK politics at the end of last year, has been broadly welcomed by those who have accused MPs and ministers of inappropriate behaviour.

People like writer Kate Maltby believe that the culture in the British Parliament's male dominated halls of power is well and truly stuck in the past.

"People dream of becoming members of Parliament so that they can sit on the benches where [Benjamin] Disraeli and [William Ewart] Gladstone sat," Ms Maltby said.

"So when they get there they think they're gods."

Ms Maltby found herself at the centre of a sexual harassment story after accusing former cabinet Minister Damian Green of inappropriate behaviour.

Her complaint was eventually judged to be "plausible" by the Cabinet Office inquiry. But she said speaking out was a hard, lonely experience.

"There is no real sense that becoming a Member of Parliament is like gaining another job, any other modern corporate job with serious responsibilities," she said.

"That means people think you can get away with very, very bad behaviour, because you're entitled."

In response to the growing number of harassment allegations rocking British politics the Government vowed to improve the way cases like Ms Maltby's were handled and set up a cross-party group.

Overnight its chair Andrea Leadsom handed down an eagerly anticipated report recommending a series of changes.

Those included a new independent process for complaints, a new code of conduct for MPs and perhaps crucially tougher punishments, including suspension in the most serious cases.

"It is a right, not a privilege to be treated with dignity and respect at work," Ms Leadsom said.

"This ambitious report is a major step towards a safer and more professional environment."

The report included the findings of a voluntary survey where nearly one in five people who responded to it said they had witnessed or experienced sexual harassment over the past year.

Power dynamic 'at the root of the problem'

Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, who helped with the report, said change was a long way off.

"I'm not going to pretend this is doing it all overnight," she said.

"It is a challenging thing to unpick a culture that has been ingrained for centuries.

"One of deference towards MPs, one that is rooted in men being in control and getting their own way."

Ms Swinson said at the root of much of the sexual harassment and sexual abuse occurring within the workplace was the power dynamic present between politicians and members of staff.

"People need to think very carefully about that and the person who's in the position of greater responsibility has got to take particular care about that, that they're not misinterpreting somebody being helpful as a junior member of staff or anything more than it is."