LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s lower house of parliament has allowed a culture of bullying and sexual harassment to thrive, and its top officials may need to be replaced to restore confidence, an investigation published on Monday said.
A report, commissioned by the British legislature in March after a string of harassment allegations, said it found institutional failings in the way the House of Commons responded to complaints against lawmakers and staff.
It described a “culture, cascading from the top down, of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed.”
Laura Cox, a former British judge who wrote the report, said fundamental and permanent change would need genuine commitment on the part of the leadership of the House of Commons.
“I find it difficult to envisage how the necessary changes can be successfully delivered, and the confidence of the staff restored, under the current senior House administration.”
In May, a committee of members of parliament voted against launching an investigation into allegations of bullying by the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. His office rejected the claims.
In her report, Cox named no individuals.
She said that lawmakers should play no part in hearing allegations of harassment involving members of parliament and that the process should be completely independent of them.
“This is not to demonise the entire institution, but unacceptable behaviour by some, whether elected members or House staff, inflicts damage on everyone and undermines the legitimacy and authority of the House of Commons,” she said. “Parliament is diminished.”
The House of Commons issued a statement, saying the wellbeing of staff was its top priority and improvements to its complaints system were under way.
“Urgent work has already been undertaken to improve internal processes – including the introduction of new confidential support services and helplines run by external, independent specialist providers and a clear pathway for the investigation of allegations,” it said.
Writing by William Schomberg