Exclusive: Channel 4 News obtains the new code of conduct for Tory MPs following allegations of harassment. But a letter sent alongside the code makes clear they have no obligation to sign up.
A new code of conduct for Tory MPs has been published and endorsed by the prime minister, after a report broadcast on Channel 4 News on Thursday evening.
But in a covering letter sent to MPs alongside the new code, Sir George Young distances the Conservative party from any disputes, telling them that the grievances were “entirely a matter for you to handle”. MPs employ staff directly and that relationship is, according to the chief whip, “something which neither the House nor the Party has any legal locus upon”.
Thursday night’s Channel 4 News revealed widespread harassment in Westminster in interviews with 70 men and women working there. Some 40 per cent of men said they’d experienced unwanted sexual advances from other men.
The chief whip has asked Tory MPs to consider adopting the new code of conduct but makes clear in the covering letter that they’re not obliged to do so (see below).
The code says employees of MPs should be treated with “dignity, respect and courtesy” and should be “free from any form of discrimination, victimisation, harassment or bullying” in an environment “free from unwelcome behaviour and inappropriate language”.
Download the code of conduct here: Conservative Members of Parliament (as employers) and their employees: Code of Conduct
It also declares that MPs should not “use their position to bully, abuse or harass employees or assume a threatening or intimidating style or discriminate against them”.
However there concerns that the new code does not go far enough. And Lucille Harvey, Unite spokeswoman, said that some MPs’ staff have been told “I will ruin you”.
Later, speaking live on Channel 4 News, Ms Harvey said that there was no way of knowing the extent of harassment in the workplace in Westminster, because there no procedure in place to monitor it, but she said: “This isn’t a few rogue MPs – there is a culture here that needs to be challenged.”
Tory MP Margot James told Channel 4 News: “What we’re talking about here is an abuse of power… a bullying mentality”. She said that the code of conduct was a “good start”, but added: “it does depend on MPs taking it up.”
Code of Conduct and Grievance Procedure, 11 April 2014 – introduction from the Chief Whip
You employ your staff directly and the contractual relationship between you and your staff as employer/employee is something which neither the House nor the Party has any legal locus upon. That is a central tenet of how we work here in Parliament.
That said, a grievance may arise in such a relationship. Whilst entirely a matter for you to handle, this is a matter which can give rise to potential harm to the Party’s reputation if not handled properly and with consistency. It can also be a matter which is difficult and sensitive for you to handle as an employer, both in terms of legality, but also in terms of continuing to lead and manage the small team of staff that necessarily constitutes your office.
To that end, please find attached two documents, which I hope are helpful in such circumstances and which I hope you may consider adopting in your office.
As Members, we are already expected to abide by a respect policy in dealing with House staff, and the proposed Code of Conduct (modelled closely on that existing policy) acts as a basic statement of what we the Conservative Party believe should be best practice in the workplace for our Members and their staff.
The Prime Minister fully endorses this Code of Conduct and I hope you are able to also. On a voluntary basis, we would hope in the spirit of consistency and fairness, you will consider adopting it in your office(s) in the House and the constituency, and in your employer/employee relationship(s), as well as making it available to staff and displaying it prominently.
You may be aware that IPSA contracts, whilst containing guidance for how you should deal with issues pertaining to those you employ, contain no formal standardised grievance process for your staff.
Again, whilst recognising that you (and neither the Party nor the House) are the employer, and that any grievance by a member of your staff is largely up to you to resolve, we think it important that a formal procedure is available for staff to use which again protects both parties involved, brings with it consistency and fairness, and in doing so upholds the reputation of the Party and of Parliament. Again, the Prime Minister fully supports this Grievance Procedure being recommended, and like him I hope you think it will provide useful guidance to you as an employer, should you need it.
Both documents are written in a spirit of pragmatism and comply fully with employment law and HR best practice.
If you are willing to adopt the Code of Conduct and the Grievance Procedure, I would be grateful if you could confirm to me by email or in writing:
Letters should be sent to me, c/o the Government Chief Whip’s Office. Emails should be sent to: email@example.com
Thankfully settling grievances is something which as employers we need to do very rarely, but from time to time it does have to happen. Whilst this is a difficult subject which requires careful thought, we have tried to come forward with a solution which respects entirely your role as employer, but which also helps both to safeguard the individuals we employ, as well as protecting the reputation of the Conservative Party.
Please feel free to talk to any of the Whips or to me directly about this if you have any questions or need any further help.
Rt Hon Sir George Young Bt CH MP