Jess Phillips says allegations about MPs should be investigated without formal complaint

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<span>Photograph: Nicola Tree/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Nicola Tree/Getty Images

Sexual misconduct allegations about MPs should be investigated without always needing a victim to formally come forward, Jess Phillips, the Labour MP and victims advocate, has said.

Phillips, a shadow Home Office minister, said it was not right that Boris Johnson used the lack of a formal complaint against Chris Pincher as an “excuse” for the Conservative party not to have looked into widespread rumours about his conduct.

Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip on Thursday after allegations he groped two men. No 10 initially refused to investigate or withdraw the whip because of a lack of a formal complaint to the independent complaints and grievance scheme (ICGS) at that point. It said it was impossible to deny Pincher the job of deputy chief whip on the basis of “unsubstantiated rumour or hearsay”. Pincher has since been reported to the ICGS and had the whip suspended.

Related: Boris Johnson accused of ignoring warnings about Chris Pincher amid new allegations

In the last two days, several more allegations about Pincher’s conduct including groping male Tory MPs have emerged, alongside claims that his behaviour was an open secret in Westminster – all of which he denies.

Phillips said parties should be able to look into alleged bad behaviour by MPs without formal complaints to the watchdog by a specific victim and that third-party witnesses ought to be able to lodge reports with the ICGS so patterns can potentially be identified.

She said: “The ICGS was set up so that parliament have an independent system. But that doesn’t relieve political parties of a moral responsibility and duty to investigate complaints – what if this was a local councillor or a constituent? What would they do under these circumstances?

“The ICGS is not there to give the government an excuse to not listen to concerns when they are raised with them. If whips have concerns brought to them then they should look into them. Expecting victims to go through a year-long process at its briefest, does somewhat suggest that they don’t care.”

She said there needed to be a way for the ICGS to work with political parties so that the whips were told about complaints against MPs.

Phillips said it should “absolutely” be the case that there “should be a third-party system in place if nothing other than evidence gathering for when a case comes to them”.

“There needs to be a mechanism for people other than [the alleged victim] to raise concerns,” she said.

The police are able to look into reports by witnesses or other third parties about potential crimes and even have the ability to prosecute sexual assault or rape cases without the consent of a victim.

Nevertheless, the independent complaints and grievance scheme will only act on a complaint if the person is “directly impacted” by the behaviour of the MP or other target of the complaint.

The latest scandal around Pincher is likely to lead to further calls for reform of parliament’s fragmented standards system. The conduct of MPs is policed by the parliamentary standards commissioner as well as the ICGS on matters of sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying. The ICGS was set up in 2018 after the #MeToo movement and a wave of complaints about MPs.

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