Constituency staff could remain at risk despite Parliament’s ban on MPs arrested for sexual assault

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Constituency staff could remain at risk despite Parliament's ban on MPs arrested for sexual assault

The Palace of Westminster, pictured in February 2024 (Alamy)

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A union representing staff working for MPs in and outside Parliament has said a new ban on MPs arrested in connection with sexual assault does not go far enough to protect those working in constituency offices.

There are also concerns about the inability to retroactively implement changes supported in the House of Commons, meaning MPs arrested for serious offenses could be banned from Parliament.

Under the proposals approved in a sharp vote on Monday evening, any MP arrested for a violent or sexual offense will be subject to a risk assessment by a panel, which will decide whether he or she should be excluded from the parliamentary estate.

MPs voted by a majority of one – 170 to 169 – in favor of introducing the risk assessment and the place of arrest ban. The government had wanted the threshold to be at the point of payment, but members were given a free vote.

Jenny Symmons, chair of the GMB’s staff group of trade unionists, said PoliticsHome that officials will be “engaged in discussions” in the coming months to ensure the change is “implemented to the best effect” and that the process is “thorough”.

However, she predicted the next “headache” would be implementing a similar process for constituency offices “to protect vulnerable members of the public”.

The rules on exclusion and suspension do not apply to the constituency office, Symmons explained, saying: “That’s a whole other thing to get our heads around because Parliament has no jurisdiction over the constituency offices.”

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“It has taken us years to get to the point where we have agreed to carry out risk assessments for people arrested on suspicion of serious crimes, but it is encouraging to achieve a victory and we will continue,” said she.

“There are many things that need to be changed in Parliament and we will continue to push.”

The amendment was proposed by Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain and received support from most MPs in her party, as well as more than 120 Labor MPs and eight Conservatives.

Chamberlain told PoliticsHome that systems like the Independent Complaints and Grievance Service (ICGS) “simply fall on their heads if we don’t feel that it is a workplace for all and that people are treated proportionately, accordingly and as equally as possible”.

One issue Chamberlain said he would like to look at in the future is the idea of ​​retroactive exclusion given the change in the rules, and whether there would be any room for review.

“That to me is clearly one of the first things we need to look at to make sure that happens,” she said.

The relevant Standing Orders – the written rules that govern the work of both Houses in Parliament – ​​have been updated after Monday’s vote, and PoliticsHome understands that this means the system is now “live”.

Speaking at the Institute for Government on Tuesday, shadow Leader of the House of Commons Lucy Powell said she was “very pleased” that the House of Commons supported the plans, adding that “this is what would happen in most professional workplaces and it is It’s good that we agreed.”

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She said Labor would be “committed to making Parliament a better and safer place to work” and would look at “how we can improve good employment practices and tackle abuse and harassment in Parliament”.

She added that the party would support a recommendation that parties agree that all complaints relating to the conduct of MPs should be directed to the ICGS, and said a Labor government would look at how that process could work.

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