Conservatives draw up code of conduct amid Westminster harassment claims

Houses of Parliament

The Conservative party has drawn up a new code of conduct for its MPs and others following claims of widespread abuse and harassment at Westminster, including a guarantee that someone independent would help investigate complaints.

The code was revealed by Theresa May in a letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, about her party’s plans to tackle the issue, following claims that have seen one minister, Michael Fallon, resign, and two others face investigations.

May is to meet the Westminster leaders of other parties on Monday to discuss how to respond, and in her letter she stressed the need for a unified approach.

While parties had a role to play, she said, “it cannot be right when dealing with serious issues relating to behaviour in parliament that vulnerable or concerned people are expected to navigate different grievance procedures according to political party”.

May added: “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.”

The new Conservative code, May wrote, “sets out for the first time in one place the procedure which the party uses in dealing with complaints, along with a number of additional measures which we have introduced in light of recent allegations”.

It 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.

While it will not be formally adopted before a meeting of the party board, May wrote, the code has already been published on its website.

The code compels those covered by its rules to “take reasonable steps to ensure that people who wish to raise concerns about bullying, discrimination, harassment and/or victimisation by others feel able to do so, and know how to follow the complaints procedure set out in this code”.

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”.

A single incident can amount to harassment, it adds.

The code gives an email address and phone number to which complaints can be made, promising that these will be responded to “in a timely and confidential manner”.

The investigation would be led “by someone with appropriate experience and no prior involvement in the complaint”. The party chair would appoint a panel of at least three people, including representatives from the voluntary and professional party, as well as “at least one independent person”.

If the person complained about is an MP, the panel must include at least one person nominated by the chair of the 1922 committee, which represents backbench Tory MPs.

Labour has also produced a new code of conduct, through which complaints would be reviewed by a panel appointed by the national executive.

LabourToo, an anti-harassment campaign group set up by women in the party, has argued that the planned process is not sufficiently independent or impartial, and that the party’s existing bullying and harassment policy does not tally with the new system.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Friday 3rd November 2017 17.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010