Tim Farron MP writes… Helena Morrissey report update

The Helena Morrissey report was incredibly difficult reading for our party. Facing up to the reality that the party that I love and joined at 16 had not always lived out its values is painful. But throughout this process my top priorities have always been the people affected, getting to the truth, ensuring justice and making certain that we enact every single recommendation of Helena Morrissey’s report. That’s why I wanted to give you an update on the work we have done to put Helena Morrissey’s recommendations into practice.

Since the report was published, I have made efforts on a range of fronts to see each recommendation implemented across the Party. So far I have formally written to the Chief Whips of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Parties in the House of Commons and House of Lords, the UK Liberal Democrat MEPs, the Liberal Democrat Members of the Welsh Assembly and the Liberal Democrat Members of the Scottish Parliament, as well as the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors and the Liberal Democrat group on the Local Government Association.

I have asked them to lay out what steps they are taking following the Morrissey report to ensure there is openness and transparency about how they deal with complaints of inappropriate behaviour or harassment, as well as asking them to amend their standing orders to include a new section specified by Helena Morrissey in her report which states:

PREVENTING BULLYING AND HARASSMENT

All Standing Orders for Parliamentarians and Codes of Conduct should be modified to incorporate this wording:

‘You must treat others with respect and must not bully, harass or intimidate any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public. Such behaviour will be considered to be bringing the Party into disrepute.’

This wording will be incorporated into the main body of the Standing Orders rather than in an Appendix, to highlight its importance.

Model terms should be written for staff and volunteers in the offices of MPs, MEPs and state, regional and local party Chairs and Council Leaders and Deputy Leaders and elected members incorporating the above wording. In addition, a clear single point of line management and a transparent escalation process (to a named individual, see Recommendation 3) should be specified for each worker, for general day-to-day management and to pursue grievances.

These terms should be simple and widely publicised; including incorporating them into a new section of the Liberal Democrats website entitled ‘Help for Party staff and volunteers’.

They are to be based on the relevant sections, 13, 15 and 16, of the existing Federal Staff Handbook.

I am very pleased to be able to report that the Parliamentary Party in the House of Lords and the English Party have already made significant amendments to their standing orders to reflect the above wording and the Parliamentary Party in the House of Commons are due to follow in September.

Over at LDHQ, Tim Gordon our Chief Executive finalised the person specification and job description of the Pastoral Care Officer, liaising with Helena Morrissey in order to ensure that we met the terms for this post set out in her report. The vacancy has now been advertised, and I would ask you to forward the advert to anyone who you think might be appropriate for the position. Sue Doughty and I have also been working closely with the Federal Executive and the Federal Conference Committee to draft an amendment to the Constitution which will be put before conference in September. Tim Gordon and I have also scheduled time on the Tuesday afternoon at conference for a members’ Q&A specifically on progress made following the publication of the Morrissey report.

In addition, at conference and over the coming months a series of unconscious bias training sessions will be taking place for people working with the Party at all levels and as elected representatives of the Party, I will be working to ensure that MPs, MEPs, Peers, AMs and MSPs cooperate fully with all the recommendations set out in Morrissey’s report.

Last but not least I am currently working closely with the Membership team at HQ to put together a consultation for a draft volunteer’s code of conduct which will lay out for everyone the rights and responsibilities involved with being a Liberal Democrat member. The consultation on the code will be launched at Conference – and dedicated section of our website will be set up to allow people to feed back their views.

I will make sure that as we move forward we keep you up to date with our progress. Making changes to how we operate as an organisation is vital. I want other parties, charities and pressure groups to look at how the Liberal Democrats handle these difficult issues in the future and see us as the gold standard to be emulated. If we can do that, we will have shown that we live out our values in practice and have set the best possible example as we seek to build a fairer society.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Refugees and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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13 Comments

  • I think the appointment of a pastoral care officer is a good decision and a welcome one, however on reading the advertisement I noticed that the post is to be based in the London HQ. Given some of the allegations of bullying etc in the Morrissey report, I wonder whether this is wise – might it not be better for this person to have some distance from HQ, with the option to either be based in a regional or State Party office or even to work from home? This would make any investigation less likely to be influenced unduely.

  • Hopefully Tim will read these comments and hopefully take on board the concerns raised. I will post what I have already said elsewhere.

    I have two concerns with the recommendations. Helena Morrissey talks about creating a safe environment for complaints to be raised. However if people who complain are treated as if they had committed gross misconduct if the complaint is not upheld (rec 2 and 4) they will not feel safe in complaining. However malicious accusations need to be addressed and this should be done with regard to justice: for employees it should be addressed via the disciplinary procedure but not at the nuclear level of gross misconduct; for volunteers it should be added to reasons for revoking membership.

    Secondly that bully, harassment or intimidation should not be considered as bringing the party into disrepute. I assume Helena suggested doing so, so the constitution would not need amending but Tim and I agree that the constitution does need amending, but not on the how. Bullying, harassment and intimidation can happened in private and if kept private will not bring the party into disrepute. To state that such action will be considered so is one way of including such behaviour in article 3.7, however I think it would be better to just add a new sub-clause c

    “conduct of bullying, harassing or intimidating any Party member, member of Party staff, member of Parliamentary staff, Party volunteer or member of the public;”

    If my suggestion above was taken on board another sub-clause could also be added

    “making malicious accusations against party members;”.

  • I am glad you took it so seriously, and I am sure Alison Suttie is also glad.

  • Martin Caffrey 9th Aug '13 - 1:21am
  • The first two comments make excellent points. Certainly I would have no confidence in a system that could lose me the roof over my head if I use it and the decision goes against me, particularly given the track record of the party on this issue. And when I read the advert and saw it was to be based in LDHQ I rolled my eyes. Whoever it is well get totally embedded in great George Street culture in short order and it’ll be very hard for anyone suffering outside of London to have meaningful contact with them.

    The best option would be someone computer literate and with a driving license working from home who can then contact and travel to anyone in the country, from lands end to John O Groats, but who won’t become enmeshed in the Westminster bubble culture that pervades LDHQ. Of course LDHQ don’t necessarily WANT this person to be independent of their culture…

  • lloyd harris 9th Aug '13 - 10:07am

    I support the actions of the party shown above but what about regional parties, local parties and council groups? The changes above don’t appear to include them at all and just concentrate on the Westminster Bubble.

  • Excellent and welcome news, thanks Tim.

    Is there a contact or email address that people can send complaints to? I’m guessing it will be the new officer, but is there any mechanism or process in place in the meantime?

  • Seeing Jennie’s relatively critical posting – with which I fully agree – reminds me, that my posting of yesterday – also critical, appears to have been withdrawn after moderation.

    On a topic like this, Peter Tyzack, I think you are being less than tolerant of people who may have issues and stories to tell which means they would not want everyone to know precisely who they are. I have thought a few times of just posting under my full name – many people here know who I am anyway, and I have never purposely hidden my identity, or posted under multiple names, As for photos, what’s the point? Could lead to stereotyping by readers. Not a good idea for a Liberal, Peter? What do we learn from your photo?

  • @ Lev Eakins

    It is my understanding that Helena did not propose changing the decentralised complaints procedure. The Pastoral Care Officer’s role is to explain the process and ensure complaints are made to the right body and support both the complainant and those dealing with complaints. If you have a complaint about someone who might or is bringing the party into disrepute you could make it to your local party, your regional party or your state party (the English Party used to have a practice of not dealing with complaints brought to their attention but just referring them back to the regional party, hopefully following this report they will deal with future complaints directly).

  • @Lev – there is an email address which was announced at the time, but I don’t have it to hand.

    @Amalric – bullying done in private will bring the party into disrepute if it subsequently becomes public – and even if it doesn’t, it will if we are seen to tolerate it. Almost all bullying is done this way so I’m afraid I don’t really understand what you’re saying?

    Still have the concerns about the location of the post, though….

  • @ Keith Legg

    With regard to becoming public there is an argument which is why we have likely to bring the party into disrepute and well as bringing the party into disrepute another reason why the constitutional amend is problematic.

    If in an organisation there is a bad apple does this mean that that organisation is held in disrepute? I would say no. However if that organisation does not deal with the bad apple then the answer is yes. Therefore it is not the action of the bad apple that brings the organisation into disrepute but the failure of the organisation to deal with it. It could be said that if an organisation had someone who was bullying people and it dealt with it that organisation would not be held in disrepute. However if that organisation was always having to deal with lots of individuals who bullied then it is likely that organisation would be held in disrepute. I hope this makes clear what I was saying.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Aug '13 - 8:02pm

    @lloyd harris:

    “I support the actions of the party shown above but what about regional parties, local parties and council groups? The changes above don’t appear to include them at all and just concentrate on the Westminster Bubble.”

    I am not at all sure that the appointment of a specific officer is the right way to go. (If there is to be such, I agree with Jennie above on the ‘way forward’). The widespread dissemination of model rules should be appropriate and sufficient provided that the Party President’s office has an open door to all serious allegations together with an ability to monitor what is going on with regard to investigation and appropriate action. It would be nice to think that such clear systems were in place for dealing with non-sexist bullying as well.

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