Labour refused to investigate the shadow cabinet minister leading its response to the Westminster bullying scandal despite receiving a second complaint.
The New Statesman revealed yesterday that Valerie Vaz, shadow leader of the House of Commons, was spoken to by the party leadership after a former member of her parliamentary staff alleged they had been subjected to workplace bullying by the MP in 2012.
Vaz vigorously denies both allegations, which the NS understands were also made to retired high court judge Laura Cox’s report into bullying and harassment in Westminster.
In a letter to the first complainant in August, Labour said it would not pursue any formal investigation or disciplinary action against Vaz – the party’s primary spokesperson on allegations of bullying and harassment in parliament – on the grounds that its historical nature meant it would be too difficult to judge fairly.
Labour’s head of complaints nonetheless told the accuser that Vaz had been “reminded of her requirements as an employer under the Labour Party Code of Conduct” by Jeremy Corbyn’s office and that of Nick Brown, the opposition chief whip.
The NS has since learned that a second member of Vaz’s staff lodged a bullying complaint with the Labour Party earlier this year. They were also told that their complaint, which also relates to alleged bullying by Vaz in 2012, would not be investigated because “the passage of time means it will be difficult to conclude a case fairly”.
The second complainant also reported their concerns to Laura Cox’s inquiry, which Vaz has led Labour’s response to.
In a letter from Labour’s Head of Complaints, also sent in August, they were told: “The Labour Party has not codified a strict time limit on historic investigations but we have considered your case and believe the passage of time means it will be difficult to conclude a case fairly.
“Therefore we will not be taking formal disciplinary action. Valerie Vaz has been met by Leader’s Office and the Chief Whip’s Office following your complaint, to be reminded of her requirements as an employer under the Labour Party Code of Conduct.
“It has been decided in this case there will not be an investigation into the complaint and no further action taken. The option of complaint via the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards remains an option to you.”
The response from Labour was identical to that given to the first complainant. Both were told: “I regret that you have felt undermined as an employee of a Labour MP. The Labour Party has no formal authority to direct or oversee the employment practises of individual Labour MPs, but we do take steps to make staff aware of the actions they can take to hold employers to account.”
The revelation means Labour kept Vaz in a post whose responsibilities included responding to proposals for dealing with historical bullying allegations despite the party receiving multiple complaints about her own behaviour towards staff.
Laura Cox’s report recommended that Westminster’s new independent complaints and grievances procedure, introduced in the wake of the harassment scandal and drawn up by a cross-party group that Vaz left early in January 2018, be reformed to allow historical allegations to be investigated. If taken up, it would allow those against Vaz to be investigated. Unlike the Standards Commissioner route cited by Labour in its response to the complainants, the new process is not overseen by MPs.
A spokesperson for Vaz said: “Valerie vigorously denies these allegations, which are vindictive and defamatory, and is committed to tackling bullying and harassment in Westminster, which has gone unchallenged for too long.”
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints of bullying extremely seriously, and we insisted that new complaints processes in Parliament fully cover bullying as well as harassment and sexual misconduct.
“We are pleased these processes are now in place and we will continue to bring forward proposals to ensure they as robust as possible. The Labour Party’s complaints procedures are confidential so we cannot comment on individual complaints.”