With European and local elections just days away and thousands of local political party activists making last minute appeals to voters, the End Violence Against Women Coalition today (20 May) published a legal analysis of the three main political parties’ policies on sexual harassment which finds them “hopelessly inadequate”.
The national coalition of women’s organisations requested the policies be disclosed by each party leader when the Liberal Democrats failed to act decisively on the Lord Rennard ‘scandal’ in January this year.
A leading equality lawyer has reviewed the responses sent by Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband and Grant Schapps to the EVAW Coalition and says that as a set the policies are “hopelessly inadequate” and “demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of what the law requires.”
Cover letters and attached party policies in the main:
- Appear not to appreciate that the sexual harassment of party staff or members is unlawful
- Do not state that a person making an allegation will be protected from ‘victimisation’, that is, incurring further discrimination as a result of making an allegation, as the law also requires
- Currently have poor procedures for making an allegation, or have not disclosed these.
The Conservative Party’s ‘Respect’ policy for MPs and their members worryingly opens with the statement that MPs “have the right to expect to carry out their parliamentary business free from unfounded allegations of discrimination, harassment or bullying”.
The Lib Dems will not implement new policy and codes of conduct until the end of 2014.
The Labour Party have disclosed policy for party staff only. It disclosed only a description of what it considers to be harassment and no details of procedures for how it should be dealt with. The party says it is following up recent recommendations on how better to publicise its procedures within the party.
Karon Monaghan QC who wrote the legal analysis said:
“None of the main political parties appear to understand that they are subject to the law against sexual harassment in their dealings with party members. The Equality Act 2010 makes clear that it is unlawful to subject members of a political party to sexual harassment.
“None of the documents produced by the party leaders evidence any understanding of the legal position. Even their policies addressing the harassment of staff indicate a lack of understanding of the legal position. The main political parties simply do not seem to understand their legal obligations and equally importantly what constitutes best practice.”
EVAW Coalition Director Holly Dustin said:
“We are publishing the three main political parties’ disclosed policies on harassment as thousands of party members and workers are working intensively on Euro and local elections campaigns, and as all are beginning their 2015 general election campaign at the grassroots level.
“We are disappointed that these policies are not better. Indeed, we believe that the parties should be aiming for a gold standard when it comes to issues of sexual harassment. How can voters have confidence in their public policies on violence against women if their internal policies are not up to scratch?
“Women’s representation in British politics is still woefully inadequate and the political parties need to seriously think about whether they are welcoming places where women will be treated equally to their male colleagues.
“We are calling on all political parties to work with expert discrimination lawyers to ensure that their policies on sexual harassment set a high standard for others to follow, and that they are implemented properly. We are also calling on the parties to work with women’s groups to make concrete manifesto commitments on violence against women and girls and other equality issues. In the wake of recent scandals about sexual harassment and sleaze at Westminster and in other parts of public life, this is the very least that voters deserve.”
- In January 2014 the Liberal Democrats’ internal party inquiry into Lord Rennard’s sexual harassment of women party activists failed to produce decisive results despite finding the allegations credible; the women involved in the case were disappointed.
- The policies requested and disclosed do not refer to MPs’ staff. These workers are employed directly by MPs in a manner similar to a small, private employer. Employment and equality law still apply absolutely to the terms and conditions of these people’s employment.