WESTMINSTER must tighten up its handling of bullying and sexual harassment complaints – and reveal sanctions laid down, a review has found.

An 18-month review into processes at the House of Commons and the House of Lords says authorities should speed up probes and increase the support for complainants.

Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) was introduced in 2018 to tackle forms of harassment. It comprises a helpline, and an independent investigation service for reports against staff of either House, MPs, or MPs’ staff.

More than 50 people who had used the ICGS gave confidential contributions to the review by HR director Alison Stanley, with more than 700 survey responses also received.

Stanley's review found its operation and processes have become "over complex and there is a perception amongst the Parliamentary community that it is a stressful, isolated and lengthy process".

Some groups, Stanley found, "are less likely to use the scheme for confidential support and advice or to make a claim" and many of those involved in investigations were critical about the process.

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From June 2019-July 2020 only 70% of cases were concluded within 120 working days, something that affected the "mental wellbeing" of some of those involved, with stress "often exacerbated by a lack of regular updates from an investigator as to progress and the lack of clarity on the next steps in the process".

This should now be simplified and speeded up, Stanley concluded, with the phrase "case to answer" nolonger used at initial complaints assessments because respondents felt they had been treated as "guilty" from the start.

She said: "There is evidence that completion times of recently opened cases is much improved with the 14 cases opened since April 2020 all being closed within 90 days at an average of 53 working days although this is admittedly a small data set as yet."

And she said there is currently a "perception" amongst some staff "that those who have been found to have bullied or harassed another or sexually assaulted them are not being held to account".

The review said this is partly due to confidentiality constraints.

Kathryn Stone, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, said she is unable to publish information about individual ICGS complaints and changes to this would "have a positive impact on confidence in the Scheme".

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She stated: "I hope that the House will soon be invited to approve a new range of sanctions, which will result in a broader range of responses to misconduct by MPs."

Ed Ollard, clerk of the parliaments, commented: “Bullying and harassment have no place in Parliament."