Exclusive FOI data obtained by VICE News reveals that 159 MPs – including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and 14 Cabinet ministers including Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick – have failed to attend the House of Commons’ anti-bullying and anti-sexual harassment training session.
The Valuing Everyone sessions, delivered by training company Challenge Consultancy, is open to everyone working in Parliament. The House of Commons press office explains that it is designed to “ensure everyone can recognise bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct and feels confident taking action to tackle and prevent it”.
Anti-bullying and anti-sexual harassment training was introduced in 2018 as a direct response to the Pestminster scandal as part of a series of recommendations made as a result of Dame Laura Cox’s inquiry into bullying and harassment in Parliament, and was made mandatory for the entire new intake of MPs after the 2019 election.
Pestminster – as it became known – unfolded in Westminster when the #MeToo movement crossed the pond to the UK in 2017. MPs were outed for watching porn on their computers and asking staffers to buy sex toys. Ministers resigned. One politician – Charlie Elphicke, the former Conservative MP for Deal – clung on to his seat even after being charged for sexual assault. (He was convicted of two assaults in July after stepping down in December 2019.)
Little appears to have changed in the three years since the scandal. Ex-Tory MP Andrew Griffiths admitted to sending thousands of sexts to two constituents and former Labour-turned-Independent MP Jared O’Mara admitted to sexual harassing a junior member of staff.
More recently, Labour MP Mike Hill is being investigated by Parliament after accusations of sexual harassment and assault, Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards has apologised and been suspended from his party after being arrested on suspicion of assaulting his wife, Conservative MP Rob Roberts has admitted to inappropriate behaviour towards junior staff and an unnamed Tory MP has been arrested on suspicion of rape – and that’s just in 2020 so far. (Hill has denied these allegations.)
In light of these stories, it would make sense for all MPs to spare, say, three paltry hours thinking about how to stamp out bullying and harassment in their workplace. After all, the 2019 Conservative manifesto did promise to “protect people from physical attack or harassment whether for their sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability”.
However, at the time of publication, 140 Conservative MPs had not taken part in the training – more than a third of the party’s numbers in Parliament. By contrast, only seven out of 202 Labour MPs have yet to attend a session.
Ironically, Dame Cox’s report decried a ‘‘we’re all much too busy’ approach to allocating sufficient time to training” and insisted that “training will be essential if the new [anti-harassment and anti-bullying] scheme is to work, and there has to be a commitment to training at the most senior levels”.
After VICE News approached the Cabinet Office for comment, all Cabinet ministers were promptly booked to attend, including Boris Johnson, who will now do so on 27th August.
The 159 MPs who have not yet attended are made up of:
- 140 Conservatives (including 14 Cabinet ministers and Prime Minister Boris Johnson)
- 7 Labour MPs
- 5 DUP MPs
- 4 SNP MPs
- 2 SDLP MPs
- 1 Independent MP
Now, this doesn’t mean that all the above MPs have never tried to get onto the training. Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary and Women and Equalities Minister, and Gareth Johnson, the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Foreign and Commonwealth office, were booked in but had to pull out due to ministerial commitments.
Forty-seven out of the 159 MPs were scheduled to attend by March, but lockdown meant in-person sessions were cancelled. MPs have since been given an opportunity to re-book an online training session, the House of Commons tells VICE News, but these 47 politicians have not yet done this. They comprise:
- 45 Conservatives, including six Cabinet ministers (Alok Sharma, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Brandon Lewis, George Eustice, Grant Shapps and Oliver Dowden)
- 2 SNP MPs (John Nicolson and Pete Wishart)
Another 39 out of the 159 MPs had signed up to attend by 22nd July, when Parliament went into summer recess. These are made up of:
- 25 Conservatives, including one Cabinet minister (Gavin Williamson)
- 7 Labour MPs (Jeremy Corbyn, Ellie Reeves, Ian Mearns, John Spellar, Lucy Powell, Wayne David, Neil Coyle)
- 4 DUP MPs (Carla Lockhart, Jim Shannon, Gavin Robinson, Gregory Campbell)
- 2 SDLP MPs (Colum Eastwood, Claire Hanna)
- 1 SNP MP (Owen Thompson)
Finally, there are 71 MPs who were not booked in March or by 22nd July. They comprise:
- 68 Conservative MPs including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and six Cabinet ministers (Suella Braverman, Dominic Raab, Steve Barclay, Robert Buckland, Robert Jenrick, Ben Wallace)
- 1 SNP MP (Angus Brendan MacNeil)
- 1 DUP MP (Sammy Wilson)
- 1 Independent MP (Dr Julian Lewis)
This is what those 71 MPs had to say when VICE News approached them for comment and asked why they hadn’t signed up. All MPs in this list are Conservative unless otherwise stated.
MPs WHO ARE NOT GOING TO THE TRAINING AT ALL
Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire: “The training needs to be allocated, there needs to be a range of training from beginners to more experienced people and each have refreshers on employment law practices. I don’t think sitting for three hours [learning] about how to value people will make someone who doesn’t value people, value people. I don’t see it as a useful allocation of my time. No-one’s ever left my employment since I’ve been an MP.”
Liam Fox, MP for North Somerset: A staffer informed VICE News that the office was unaware of the training and he has not responded to requests for comment.
Sammy Wilson, DUP MP for East Antrim: “I would ask you to please stop pestering my staff with emails. All the information you require regarding the report you are interested is contained in the FCO [sic] response which you have obtained from the House of Commons.”
Nadhim Zahawi, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and MP for Stratford-on-Avon: “I spent years building businesses outside of politics made up of great people who are motivated and well supported. I pride myself on doing the same with my parliamentary team and I know they would all confirm this."
MPs WHO ARE TOO BUSY TO ATTEND
Robert Goodwill, MP for Scarborough and Whitby: A spokesperson said: “Sorry, no Robert is flat out at the moment with constituent cases and Parliament committees.”
Dr Julian Lewis, Independent MP for New Forest East: “No, he probably hasn’t attended, it’s been rather a turbulent time.”
Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham: “Due to current diary pressures, Mr Loughton has asked me to relay his regrets on this occasion.”
Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton: “We have been super busy with the general election and then COVID (not being in Parliament etc). We will book this in for the autumn when we get back from summer recess.”
MPs WHO WANT TO GO WITH EACH OTHER
Karen Bradley, MP for Staffordshire Moorelands: "The Valuing Everyone initiative is a vital means to bring about and sustain the cultural change which we all want to see in the House of Commons,” Bradley told VICE News in a statement.
As the chair of the Procedure Committee, which works to improve parliamentary processes, she says she was keen to arrange a group training session after a suggestion by the Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
She adds: “I am keen to undertake the training with the Committee as soon as possible. Consistently upholding the principles behind the Valuing Everyone initiative is of course as important as receiving the training: bullying and harassment has no place in Parliament.”
Only two other MPs from Bradley’s 17-strong committee have not attended, including Jack Brereton, MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, who had not replied to comment for this piece, and Sir Christoper Chope, MP for Christchurch, who told VICE News that he was one of the 47 MPs who was bumped off of the list due to the coronavirus lockdown.
MPs WHO BOOKED ONTO THE TRAINING ONLY AFTER VICE APPROACHED THEM FOR COMMENT
Boris Johnson, Prime Minister and MP for Hillingdon and Uxbridge: A cabinet source tells VICE News he’s booked to attend on 27th August. The House of Commons’ FOI team confirms that the Prime Minister was not booked to attend before 22nd July, but has subsequently booked to attend.
Suella Braverman, Attorney General and MP for Fareham: “I am booked in for training later this month.” This session was only made available to MPs in the last week of July, according to the House of Commons.
Dominic Raab, Foreign Secretary and MP for Esher and Walton: His special advisor says he is now booked to attend on 27th August, the same day as Boris Johnson. The House of Commons’ FOI team confirms that Raab was not booked to attend before 22nd July, but has subsequently booked to attend.
The following Cabinet ministers did not provide comment but are, the Cabinet Office assures VICE News, now booked to attend:
- Steve Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and MP for North East Cambridgeshire
- Robert Buckland, Justice Secretary and MP for South Swindon
- Robert Jenrick, Housing and Communities Secretary and MP for Newark
- Ben Wallace, Defence Secretary and MP for Wyre and Preston North
These MPs are also now booked to attend a Valuing Everyone session after VICE News approached them for comment:
- Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe
- Angus Brendan MacNeil, SNP MP for MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar
- Paul Scully, MP for Sutton & Cheam
- David Warburton, MP for Somerton and Frome
MPs WHO DID NOT WANT TO COMMENT
Gordon Henderson, MP for Sittingbourne and Sheppey: A spokesperson said: “Mr Henderson does not respond to national media. Please stop chasing him.”
Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire: “I’m afraid Jesse will not be making any comment regarding this.”
THE MPs WITH OTHER REASONS FOR NOT ATTENDING
Julia Lopez, MP for Hornchurch and Upminster: “I have not completed the training as I have only recently returned from maternity leave and the pre-recess slots had gone. I'll look out for the publication of autumn dates.”
Jo Churchill, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and MP for Bury St Edmunds: VICE News tried multiple times to contact her but was unable to put this to her.
AND ALL THE REST
According to the House of Commons’ FOI data, the following 46 MPs were neither bumped off of the training due to coronavirus – nor had they signed up by the last day of the summer term in Parliament. None responded to requests for comment.
- Kemi Badenoch, MP for Saffron Walden
- Jake Berry, MP for Rossendale and Darwen
- Steve Brine, MP for Winchester
- Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton
- James Cartlidge, MP for South Suffolk
- Sir Bill Cash, MP for Stone
- James Cleverly, MP for Braintree
- Nadine Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire
- Stephen Double, MP for St Austell and Newquay
- Richard Drax, MP for South Dorset
- Iain Duncan-Smith, MP for Chingford and Wood Green
- Michael Fabricant, MP for Lichfield
- Kevin Foster, MP for Torbay
- George Freeman, MP for Mid Norfolk
- Nick Gibb, MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton
- Sir John Hayes, MP for South Holland and the Deepings
- Sir Oliver Heald, MP for North East Hertfordshire
- Chris Heaton-Harris, MP for Daventry
- James Heappey, MP for Wells
- Simon Hoare, MP for North Dorset
- Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham
- Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey
- Sajid Javid, MP for Bromsgrove
- Sir Greg Knight, MP for East Yorkshire
- Pauline Latham, MP for Mid Derbyshire
- Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough
- Andrew Lewer, MP for Northampton South
- Jack Lopresti, MP for Filton and Bradley Stoke
- Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet
- Rachel Maclean, MP for Redditch
- Kit Malthouse, MP for North West Hampshire
- Johnny Mercer, MP for Plymouth South
- David Morris, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale
- Neil O’Brien, MP for Harborough
- Chris Philp, MP for Croydon South
- John Redwood, MP for Wokingham
- Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde
- Alec Shelbrooke, MP for Elmet and Rothwell
- Chris Skidmore, MP for Kingswood
- Julian Smith, MP for Skipton and Ripton
- Bob Stewart, MP for Beckenham
- Sir Robert Syms, MP for Poole
- Graham Stuart, MP for Beverley and Holderness
- Sir Desmond Swayne, MP for New Forest West
- Kelly Tolhurst, MP for Rochester
- Martin Vickers, MP for Cleethorpes
Update: An earlier version of this article reported that Health Secretary Matt Hancock had not attended the training. A spokesperson has confirmed that he did attend training since 22nd July and the piece has been updated to reflect this.