Calls for compulsory MP training to tackle sexist culture in parliament | House of Commons

Boris Johnson is facing calls to support the introduction of compulsory training for MPs after fresh revelations about sexism and harassment in Westminster.

Following Neil Parish becoming the latest MP to be embroiled in scandal after he admitted to deliberately watching pornography in the House of Commons, political parties and the Commons authorities have been accused of not doing enough to rid parliament of its “pestminster” image.

Although changes were promised in the wake of #MeToo – and with the Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, supporting MPs no longer directly employing staff – a government minister said it was “horrific and alarming” to see so many reports of unacceptable behaviour.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minster, told Sky News that “misogynistic dinosaurs” were in a minority and “do not represent the majority of members of parliament”.

But others felt it was time for mandatory training to be rolled out for all their colleagues, given up to 56 MPs are accused of sexual misconduct.

Chris Bryant told the Guardian that parliament was “no different from any other workplace” and should do more to specifically tackle sexism and harassment.

He said: “It’s time we put in place regular training for all MPs in best practice as an employer and understanding the code of conduct and the rules of the House.”

A Conservative MP also admitted: “It shouldn’t be needed and it really is.”

Abena Oppong-Asare said the Labour Women’s Network she chairs provides “resilience training” so that women standing for public office are “prepared for the unfortunate fact they will face misogyny and sexism”.

She told the Guardian it should not be left to external organisations to provide such training, but added: “Unfortunately, in 2022 we have to do stuff like this to ensure women who come into politics are encouraged to stay in politics.”

The Labour frontbencher also said improving diversity and representation was also key to reducing the amount of sexism and harassment women face in parliament.

After the recent spate of scandals, one MP told the Guardian they had begun telling new staff to be wary around Westminster and warned them to “have their wits about them”. They said: “It’s not a pleasant conversation to have, but I just want them to know how to avoid getting into any sticky situations.”

The government has so far been resistant to support mandatory training specifically to tackle sexism on top of the induction all MPs get when they join the Commons and the “valuing everyone” session that is voluntary.

Mark Spencer, the Commons leader, last week dismissed the idea, saying: “Clearly, different people will be elected with different skillsets, but I think we could all benefit from training, frankly.

“I would welcome and encourage more training of MPs and more opportunity to improve themselves, but whether that is mandatory is a different debate. If you force someone to go on a training course that they really do not want to engage with, they will not engage and they will not get anything out of the training.

“I think you are much better with carrot here than you are with stick.”

The Conservatives have also faced calls to ensure a woman is selected to fight the byelection when Parish vacates his Tiverton and Honiton seat.

Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer and elections expert, said that the party “will be keen to select someone who is first, local, and second, a woman” as that would be “the best way they could survive” a potentially gruelling campaign.

While the Tories secured a 24,000-majority at the last election, opposition parties may seek to use Johnson’s lower popularity as a chance to try to inflict an upset similar to those seen in North Shropshire – after Owen Paterson’s resignation – or Chesham and Amersham – after the death of Cheryl Gillan.

One MP also said the Conservatives should have a clearer sexual harassment policy, so that when the next incident occurs there is a proper process for dealing with them.

Another said that they had never experienced sexual harassment in Westminster and was nervous that the attention being paid to it would “put women off” entering politics.

A House of Commons spokesperson said: “Both houses have made it clear that valuing everyone training is essential for all those working in parliament. It has been attended by over 6,000 passholders, including over 790 peers and over 600 MPs. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far – over 92% of participants indicated that the course was good or very good for increasing their ability to recognise unacceptable behaviour.

“Parliament’s behaviour code makes clear the standards of behaviour expected of everyone in parliament, with both houses offering a range of resources to ensure everyone working in parliament is able to recognise bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct and feels confident taking action to tackle and prevent it.”

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