Westminster sex scandal: MPs criticise 'disappointing' response

Greg Heffer, Political Reporter

Party leaders have agreed to implement a series of changes at Parliament amid Westminster's sexual harassment scandal - but the proposals have been branded "utterly disappointing" by some female MPs.

At a meeting at 10 Downing Street on Monday, leaders of the Westminster parties agreed plans for an independent grievance process, to be introduced in the New Year, along with improved human resources support.

This will include upgrading an existing helpline in order to provide face-to-face support for parliamentary staff by the end of this month.

The leaders also established a cross-party working group to implement the changes, with their action coming amid a host of allegations against Government ministers, MPs and officials from across parties.

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But prominent Labour MPs have expressed regret that the reforms do not go far enough to protect staff.

Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy said: "Still much work to do making Parliament safe if this only comes into place in a year and only covers MP staff."

Her party colleague, Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips, added: "Find this utterly disappointing. Great a grievance procedure, the victims will be thrilled. What if they don't work in Parliament?

"What about sanctions, what about specialist support from actual professionals who know what they are talking about on sexual violence/harassment?

"So if you don't work in Parliament and an MP assaults you, or (an) MP's staff does. How will this help?"

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Speaking after the meeting, Theresa May hailed an "important step forward" as she revealed the plans.

"Sadly, over recent days we've seen a number of allegations about figures from across the political parties," the Prime Minister said.

"It's important that those are investigated impartially and some have rightly been referred to the police.

"I think if this hasn't happened to you it's difficult to appreciate the impact this sort of behaviour can have.

"It simply has a lasting impact on people and we need to do more to stop these abuses of power."

The Prime Minister said the allegations centred on Parliament "should be a matter of shame for us all", but denied having prior knowledge of claims against Tory MPs before the scandal broke.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed the "proof of the pudding is going to be in the eating" over the cross-party proposals.

Speaking to Sky News in Parliament after the meeting, he said: "We've agreed to set up this urgent group to represent all staff who work in this building, not just MPs and their staff.

"It's also employees of political parties, it's cleaners, it's catering workers, it's officials, it's agency staff.

"All people who work in this building deserve the knowledge they are in a safe working environment where there will be zero tolerance of bullying or harassment.

"It's a place that's very grand, very important and very exciting, but it's also a place of work."

Mr Corbyn also suggested the party leaders had sent "a message to the whole country" with their response to the scandal.

The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: "Parliament must be able to lead by example, and as politicians, we need to put in place mechanisms that fully support staff."

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