Labour calls for ‘zero tolerance’ approach to alleged harassment by MPs

·3-min read

Labour has called for a “zero tolerance” approach to alleged harassment by MPs.

It comes after The Sunday Times reported that three Conservative cabinet ministers and two Labour shadow cabinet ministers are facing allegations of sexual misconduct after being reported to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS).

Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden said: “On the face of it, those look like concerning allegations.

“But I think you would expect that due process should happen and that the investigation should be conducted. I personally know absolutely nothing about it, and you wouldn’t expect me to, that would be a matter for House authorities.”

Asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme if Westminster is a safe place to be a woman, Mr Dowden said: “Yes, I do think it’s a safe place to be a woman.

Sunday Morning
Oliver Dowden arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“I think actually we’ve made big improvements over the past 20 or 30 years. Some of the things that happened, I’m sure, when you were a young reporter and when I started out in Westminster certainly wouldn’t happen now, and I think that’s something that has improved very much for the better.”

Labour’s shadow economic secretary to the Treasury Tulip Siddiq said there needed to be a “zero tolerance” approach to alleged harassment by MPs.

She told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I’m also very upset about these allegations, that there is more stories coming out of MPs abusing their position for sexual favours or to manipulate staff or all the accusations that are coming out.

“I don’t care which party the MPs are from, there has to be an independent review, there has to be an independent panel that looks into this.

“If there are people from my party, there should be a zero tolerance to this. If there are people from Government, there should be a zero tolerance.

“We have to make Westminster more welcoming for female MPs but also staff members as well.”

The Sunday Times reported that the three members of Boris Johnson’s team and two from Sir Keir Starmer’s are facing allegations of sexual misconduct.

They are among 56 MPs who have been referred to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) in relation to about 70 separate complaints, it reported.

The allegations among the 56 range from making sexually inappropriate comments to more serious wrongdoing, the paper said, with at least one complaint believed to involve criminality and an allegation than an MP “bribed a member of staff in return for sexual favours”.

The ICGS was set up as an independent process with cross-party backing in 2018 after the so-called Pestminster scandal, which saw the spotlight shone on sexual harassment in the rooms and corridors of power.

It operates a hotline allowing those who work in Westminster, including the staff of MPs and peers, to ring in to lodge a complaint or seek advice.

According to the body’s 2021 annual report, the service had been used by people stating they were MPs.

It exists to allow workers to report experiences of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. They can also report having been witness to, or aware of, such behaviour.

Allegations made to the ICGS are private and confidential, and political parties are not given information about who has been reported.

A union representing senior civil servants has said more needs to be done to stamp out harassment in Parliament.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said: “Whilst some of the procedures for raising complaints have improved, the fundamental balance of power between MPs and the staff they employ has not. Where that exists it will inevitably be exploited.”

A Government spokesperson said: “We take all allegations of this nature incredibly seriously and would encourage anyone with any allegations to come forward to the relevant authorities.”