Andrea Leadsom – 2019 Speech on Women in Parliament

Andrea Leadsom

Below is the text of the speech made by Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the House of Commons, on 27 February 2019.

Thank you Vicky [Ford] for inviting me to speak about what is such an incredibly important issue – both for this Parliament and for our society as a whole.

When I became Leader of the House of Commons in June 2017, I knew it could be quite a challenge.

I recognised then that what we were doing – legislating to leave the European Union – was vitally important, but also that how we were doing it mattered too. It was predictable that temperatures would run high…

… and so it was important to emphasise the need to conduct our debates in a spirit of tolerance and respect.

But what no one could have predicted was that the issue of how we conduct ourselves would become about far more than just how we treat each other in the chamber.

That we would need to take a long hard look at how the power and influence we wield have shaped behaviour in this institution.

Our democracy needs and deserves a Parliament in which everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

But it took the fall out from the #MeToo scandal to fully highlight how deficient Westminster had become.

The revelations of widespread sexual harassment, bullying and abuse which emerged shocked us all.

Now, I would argue that we have achieved a lot in the 18 months since then. You will draw your own conclusions no doubt.

The Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which has been up and running since July, is underpinned by a Behaviour Code, which was very widely consulted on.

And there is now a system with real teeth that puts complainants at the heart of the process, and importantly respects their very clear need for confidentiality – which is why you have not seen a blow by blow account of everything it has done and said and concluded since it started last July.

I think the test of an independent and confidential system is if it is reported in the press or not, and we are not – which is good news. We should all be pleased with that.

I do think the complaints procedure, together with the further changes that we want to make, has the potential to transform Westminster from being well behind the curve to being a role model. Genuinely my aspiration is that we are admired around the world and I know lots of people here share that aspiration.

And I hope we will be looked to, in part, precisely because of our willingness to accept that this work must be ongoing and it must be continuous.

We cannot pat ourselves on the back and say ‘great job done, we have a complaints procedure, let’s move on to the next thing’.

I have always said that the Independent Complaints Procedure was not the not the end of the process, but only the beginning.

And it’s in that spirit that I want to make three brief points that I hope we can all agree on.

Firstly, the harrowing nature of the stories we have seen about behaviour in Parliament sicken and appal us all, and that remains undiminished. We still have stories coming out now which are utterly unacceptable.

When we hear individual examples of bad behaviour – as in Dame Laura’s report, or when we learn that a significant percentage of people remain very concerned – as in the Fawcett Society’s report, we are reminded that the urgency of further reform is as pressing as it ever was.

It’s the need for ongoing reform that is my second point…

The recognition that, to truly create an environment that we all want to work in, we must acknowledge that achieving culture change will take patience and tenacity. It is not going to be an overnight solution.

That’s why, when the House approved the establishment of the Independent Complaints Producer last summer, we built in reviews of how it would function after six and after 18 months.

The first of these reviews is now underway and will report back within a few months. We will be able to see exactly how we think it is going, what more there is to do, how we can improve on it further and so on.

I’m encouraged that early evidence shows an increasing number of complainants are coming forward, because the culture definitely won’t change in Westminster until enough people have the confidence to think they can come forward and have their problems addressed.

By ensuring confidentiality and inspiring confidence that the perpetrator will be sanctioned appropriately, I do think we have designed a system that people will trust.

That leads me to my third point… That achieving culture change has to mean creating a system that protects everyone in Westminster.

There are teething problems, as you would expect in a new system that is pretty groundbreaking around the world. These things must be tackled head-on.

Parliament is a complex place. It is full of a wide variety of people:

There are many contractors, where some of the difficulties arise.

From tourists and constituents coming to lobby their MPs, to those working for parliamentarians and for the House itself.

And of course to the Members of both Houses.

All of these groups have their own issues and challenges.

I’m very grateful to Dame Laura for her report examining the experiences of House of Commons staff, which is one part of the staff – about ten per cent of the total number of people – who work here.

I am also grateful to Gemma White QC for her ongoing work at the moment into the behaviour of MPs and those they employ. She has just recently finished her inquiry into MP’s staff, current and past, and is now looking at MPs themselves who may have been subject to bullying or harassment, which is an interesting and important point.

But when we talk about changing the culture, we do have to make sure the views of all those in Parliament are taken into account.

Our democracy is fundamentally about ensuring that every hand can be counted and every voice can be heard.

That can only happen in a Parliament where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

So, in conclusion, we have come a long way since the #MeToo scandal first hit our shores.

But we still have a long way to go, make no mistake, and that is why I’m so delighted the APPG has chosen to focus on this issue today.

As Leader of the House of Commons, I will continue to take my role in this very seriously. I will continue to do everything I can to press for change.

And I will stand up for the approach taken in establishing the Independent Complaints Procedure – including the importance of defending the principle of confidentiality, and our actions to shift some of Parliament’s more outdated practices. I think things like Proxy Voting go some way to show we are actually living in the 21st century.

So I’m looking forward to hearing about your discussions as we seek to keep our initial momentum going for many years to come.

And I do urge all of you, whatever you do, whatever your role here in Parliament, to keep up the pressure – do not let me off, do not let anyone off.

Keep coming forward with your ideas, give feedback, keep working towards it so we in Parliament can be proud of where we work. So we in Parliament can be role models for other workplaces around the world.

Thank you very much.