Harriet Harman wants zero tolerance for sexual harassment by MPs

Image caption, Harriet Harman said women were “exploited and abused”

  • Author, Sima Kotecha
  • Role, Senior British Correspondent

There must be “fierce zero tolerance for sexual harassment and abuse” in Westminster, former MP Harriet Harman has said.

In a BBC News interview, she said women working in parliament are “exploited and abused” and that the general election was an opportunity for a new generation of MPs to make a cultural change. She also called on more men to speak out if they witness abuse.

Her comments come after damning allegations have been made about the behavior of some MPs in recent months, several of whom have been suspended.

A House of Commons spokesperson said: “Sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying have absolutely no place in Parliament.”

‘Get away with it’

Ms Harman – Britain’s longest continuously serving female MP – added that “everyone had the right to be able to do their job and not fall prey to predatory behaviour, especially sexually predatory behaviour”.

She believed that the power dynamics at Westminster were making younger women feel vulnerable.

‘There is no doubt that there are men higher up in the system who think they can get away with it because the woman is in a lower position, and they count on impunity. she will not dare to speak out,” she said.

A former parliamentary assistant told the BBC that a man older than her had recently told her that “your boobs look very perky in that top”.

In response, Ms Harman said: “That is completely unacceptable in any workplace.

‘I want to see in the next Parliament a real expression of male allyship, of men speaking out against men on their own side.

“Because if a man is sitting in the bar of the House of Commons and is groping a woman, and he’s also drinking with a number of other men, then when they see him, I want the man to speak out and report it, and not just let it lie .” for the women,” she said.

Image caption, Harriet Harman was an MP for more than 40 years before resigning last month

She also called for a women’s party, made up of female MPs from across the House, to support alleged victims when they make complaints.

“We need them to come together formally so that when a woman speaks out about a senior man in her own party, she is not left vulnerable, but supported,” she said.

The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) investigates complaints about inappropriate behavior in Westminster.

It investigates allegations of bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct and provides advice to complainants.

It was created in 2018 to give victims a place where they can submit their complaints.

In its latest annual report, the ICGS said 31 investigations had been carried out in the past year, with seven cases upheld.

Ms Harman said: “This is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.”

The 74-year-old resigned in May after more than 40 years as an MP. She was often called the Mother of the House after serving for more than 40 years.

During her time in Parliament, Ms Harman has actively campaigned on women’s issues and plans to continue to do so outside the political world.

“We take any complaint of unacceptable behavior very seriously and remain committed to ensuring that lasting cultural change can be achieved here,” a House of Commons spokesperson said.

“A range of support services are now available in Parliament – ​​established as part of the changes introduced in recent years, aimed at creating an environment where everyone can work without fear of sexual harassment or bullying, and creating of a workplace where everyone feels safe and valued. ”