Sal Brinton writes…We must have a politics in which everyone feels able to be involved free from abuse or harassment

Over the last ten days the country has been rocked by the revelations of sexual harassment at Westminster.  Let me be clear that the Liberal Democrats believe harassment and abuse of power are unacceptable in any situation, and especially at Westminster.  Whether the allegations are about groping, inappropriate remarks or texts through to possible criminal offences of sexual assault and rape, any complaint needs to be listened to, taken seriously and investigated. Since these incidents are often about abuses of power, it is crucial people have an independent, confidential route to report incidents when they happen.

This week the Chief Whips in the Commons and the Lords have met with staff twice to hear their views and to ensure everyone is aware of how to make a complaint, and assured they will be taken seriously.  We are also reviewing our procedures in Parliament with a view to broadening the involvement in investigations to include some of those most likely to have a lived experience of this type of behaviour. There have also been meetings with both groups of MPs and peers to review their responsibilities to staff and volunteers.

Vince Cable will be meeting with the other party leaders on Monday to discuss how Parliament and the political parties can work better together to rid Parliament of the scourge of harassment.

In doing so, he will draw on the lessons our own party has learned.  In 2013 the Liberal Democrats commissioned Helena Morrissey to conduct a Review which changed fundamentally the party’s process and attitude towards sexual harassment, bullying and abuse of power. The Federal Executive (now the Federal Board) accepted all her recommendations, and also asked Helena Morrissey to review progress against her recommendations, which the FE also reviewed at the end of 2014.

We re-wrote our Code of Conduct for members  and made it clear what the rights and responsibilities are of members.  There’s a page that has links to specific responsibilities for people with different roles here. We encourage people to report incidents – without a complaint it is very hard to investigate – and put in place arrangements to ensure that complainants feel supported.  Some people have been expelled from the party since strengthening our rules.

We have a professional Pastoral Care Officer, Jeanne Tarrant, who is not a party member.  She is trained to handle complaints fairly and independently, whether they come from inside or outside the party. Complaints come to her via the website  or by emailing her at [email protected].  She will contact the complainant to get more information if necessary and guide them through the process. Where she believes that a crime has been committed, she will also encourage the complainant to go to the police.

Where there is an issue of safeguarding for those under 18 or who are vulnerable, she will also make sure that they are supported and protected appropriately.

We strengthened and continue to constantly review our disciplinary processes. This year the Federal Board has commissioned Lord Ken MacDonald (a former Director of Public Prosecution) to review them again and his report will be published in the next few months. We will publish any proposed changes for consultation and implementation in 2018.

All our candidates for Westminster and other parliamentary office now have to sign a code of conduct that recognises that those in public life must have a high standard of behaviour and probity. As a party, we accept and must live by the 7 Nolan Principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness,  honesty and leadership.

As a party we know there is always room to do better.  We have made serious strides in the past three years, but we also recognise that because of problems in the past for some people making a complaint may be very hard. We are determined to learn and to constantly think about how we can improve these processes.

As Liberals we aspire to create a political system in which everyone is represented, and to do that we must have a politics in which everyone feels able to be involved free from abuse or harassment.  On behalf of all our members, I will work to ensure we are doing our part to make that happen.

* Baroness Sal Brinton is President of the Liberal Democrats. She is a working Lib Dem peer, and was the candidate for Watford at the 2010 and 2005 General Elections.

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  • Ruth Bright 5th Nov '17 - 10:09am

    What is the approach for crimes committed before 2014?

    Sal, almost exactly two years ago (November 4th 2015) I e-mailed you about the leader of the Lib Dem group on East Hants District Council who said on social media that a certain woman in the public eye was not attractive enough to be raped.

    No reply. No action from the local party. He has now left the party so is presumably beyond the reach of our finely tuned disciplinary process.

    Jeanne Tarrant is, I am sure, a person of the highest personal integrity but she is employed by the party and makes references to “our” party – whatever her personal qualities she cannot be deemed fully independent.

  • It would be useful to have a parallel code of conduct for council candidates. Is that under consideration?

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Pere 5th Nov '17 - 12:41pm

    Dear Sisters and Brothers,

    I wish to support what Baroness Brinton our Party President has said, but also to highlight further thoughts.

    There is no place in this or any other Party or any organisation for the continuance of sexual harrassment/abuse and it only still exists because we, the majority, choose not to expose the offenders for their unwelcome, and in sadly too many case, criminal predatory behaviour.

    Until we eradicate Sexism and Misogynism from our Party we will continuing to fail our Sisters within and external of the Party in society and we will never truly be a Party of ‘Equality, Fairness and Justice’.

    As someone with over 35yrs criminal justice experience, I wish to firstly shut down the counter excuses that we hear of mass sexual harrassment/abuse on the part of women themselves, for this is not the case, albeit many detractors and excusers will claim 3rd hand knowledge of such incidents. Males are Victims/Survivors, but not in the same numbers, so let us not water down the experience of our Sisters please.

    Secondly I wish to remind the Victims/Survivors and witnesses to such abhorrent abuse that the Polioce Service will take interest in what you know, but you will need to report the incidents to them.

    It should be remembered that a sexual predator will not merely prey on females in the Party, but will see potential victims anywhere, and as such the Police need to be made aware of all such incidents. People that commit such offences are often serial offenders.

    Without wishing to place responsibility on the shoulders of those who have ben abused, I wish to kindly remind the Victims/Survivors and witnesses to sexual harrassment/abuse, that the abusers would have rarely chosen them, or the person that they are aware of, as thier first victim, and there could well be a list of others who remain silently suffering, and further list of unwitting Victims/Survivors in the future.

    My Sisters and Brothers in the Liberal Democrat Party, please let us work together to truly build a Party that reflects the tenets of ‘Equality, Fairness and Justice’ and is not a home for those who seek to prey on and otherwise abuse others.

    Yours with respect,


    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Chair – Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats

  • Lester Holloway 5th Nov '17 - 1:14pm

    Men need to do more to encourage a climate of zero tolerance towards any kind of sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour to women, not just when confronted with an example – although that is crucial – but also when it is not happening. We can all play our part in being proactive in preventing these situations occurring in the first place.

    Hopefully the procedures will also be updated in respect of race when Lord Alderdice’s report is eventually published (apparently a draft has been in internal circulation for a while).

  • One of the things that concerns me about this is the way it is being thought about. Firstly there has to be a separation between matters that are criminal and matters that are inappropriate in professional situations. Law enforcement should be immediately involved in any accusation of a criminal nature, any additional processes involved risk polluting the situation and delaying gathering of evidence.

    Secondly the assumption seems to be the Whips should be involved in some way die to their role in “discipline” that is completely inappropriate, political discipline and personal discipline should be kept totally separate or you will quickly find times when they are conflicted in their responsibilities with either bad decisions being made or the impression of bad decisions.

    Interestingly the LibDems approach of having a staff member who is not a party member to deal with these things should be the type of model that should look to be expanded. Parliament should have much better process for support of parliamentarians and should have an office for confidentially investigating inappropriate (non-criminal) behaviour. The other parties should also have a non-party member staff member who looks after the issue with regards their membership. But I suspect that we will just have some kind of tacked on thing to the existing way of working.

  • Ruwan Uduwerage-Pere

    Could you clarify the paragraph starting:
    “As someone with over 35yrs criminal justice experience”
    I didn’t understand the point you were making.

    I was a bit concerned about your comment about:
    “Males are Victims/Survivors, but not in the same numbers, so let us not water down the experience of our Sisters please.”

    I haven’t seen claims about women doing the abusing/men being abused in parliament (but I haven’t been following it closely). However if there are any cases of either/both(?) these are additional cases not cancelling cases, there is no way to ‘undo’ abuse of one person by abusing someone else.

    If there are more examples of people being able to abuse others, that greater number of cases may help indicate how the system is failing and how to fix it. I suspect (based upon an uninformed guess) these cases will not add many (if any) to the total population, but it is better to work with a total population than to trim it before you have started analysing.

  • OnceALibDem 5th Nov '17 - 5:41pm

    “All our candidates for Westminster and other parliamentary office now have to sign a code of conduct that recognises that those in public life must have a high standard of behaviour and probity. ”

    Where is there a copy of this as I’ve seen a recent instance of a former candidate being less than exemplary in regard to this.

  • I hope that any prominent Lib Dem who is the subject of a complaint is treated better than Charlie Elphicke and Kelvin Hopkins seem to have been treated by their parties

  • John Barrett 6th Nov '17 - 8:13am

    The whips offices should have nothing to do with the process required to sort out this sorry mess at this stage, as it is becoming clear that some of those in the parties whips offices are at the heart of the problem.

    If, at any time, any evidence held by any whips office, was then used in order to have some sort of control over MPs and their voting intentions, and that such evidence was then kept confidential rather than taking action or passing such evidence on to the correct authorities, this would be an outrage and should be investigated immediately.

  • @John Barrett – I thought that had been going on for years? Michael Dobbs made reference to it frequently in “House of Cards”

  • As Liberals, I hope we remember a system based on due process more than anything.

    We’ve just seen a suicide because of the twitter mob. I hope that gives us cause for thought.

  • John Barrett 7th Nov '17 - 11:59pm

    Keith – I suspect you (and Michael Dobbs) are both right.

    Having never been a whip, I have no idea what information our whips, or any other party’s whips held on MPs, but what I am sure of is that whips, from all parties, including ours, liked to make MPs think they held information that would give them power, or influence over MPs.

    We can do nothing about what the other parties do, but I would like to think that we will no longer tolerate such behaviour in our own party, in the whips office, or anywhere else.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Nov '17 - 12:21pm

    Ruth Bright: Experience in the Lifer division of Prison Service HQ is that there is no such criterion.

  • OnceALibDem 9th Nov '17 - 9:27pm

    The views of a long standing, talented and at one time ambitous and committed Lib Dem. Now (like a number of others) pretty much lost for good.

  • “Due process more than anything“? More even than justice?

    Bureaucratic processes are supposed to be the servants of justice, not its masters. When they result in the powerful manipulating those processes to their own advantage, or allowing prejudice to prevail over evidence, then the “due process” fails to do due justice, and ought to be amended. Just because a particular process resulted in a particular outcome does not mean that that outcome was a just one; rather, the utility of the process should be evaluated in light of the justice of the outcome.

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