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A Government minister has rejected calls for an all-women Tory shortlist for the by-election to replace disgraced MP Neil Parish amid concerns about a culture of sexism and misogyny at Westminster.
Some Conservatives – including Caroline Nokes, the chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee – want the party to ensure its candidate in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election is a woman.
But universities minister Michelle Donelan said she was opposed to all-women shortlists and quotas for female MPs as she believed they were “demeaning”.
Mr Parish quit as MP for the Devon constituency on Saturday after admitting that he had watched pornography in the Commons chamber.
The disclosure earlier in the week that two female Tory MPs had seen a male colleague viewing adult material on his mobile phone triggered renewed concerns about unacceptable behaviour in Parliament – particularly towards women.
Ms Donelan said that while she had not been subjected to such treatment herself during seven years as an MP, it was “horrific and alarming” to see so many reports.
“This is not the majority of Members of Parliament, this is a minority. These are misogynistic dinosaurs. They do not represent the majority of Members of Parliament,” she told Sky News.
At the weekend, party chairman Oliver Dowden said he wanted the Conservatives to ensure more women MPs were elected so that the party in Parliament “reflects the wider country”.
However, Ms Donelan said the best way to do that was by encouragement and breaking down barriers rather than imposing all-women shortlists.
“We don’t do it by putting in quotas, which I find quite demeaning to women. Women can get there on merit,” she said.
“We have seen that in the past in my own party – the first two female prime ministers when Labour haven’t even come close.
“We have got the Home Secretary who is a female, we have got the Foreign Secretary who is a female: those individuals got there on merit.”
Over the weekend, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle called for a “radical” reform of working practices at the Palace of Westminster.
Are we literally saying that people can't go and have a drink and then behave themselves? Because that is a damning indictment
Michelle Donelan MP
He suggested staff should no longer be employed by the parliamentarians they work for to address a series of “serious allegations” of bullying and misconduct.
He said he was considering the creation of an outside body to employ MPs’ aides as he moved to establish a “Speaker’s conference” bringing MPs together to discuss an overhaul.
Others have called for action to tackle a drinking culture in Parliament, where alcohol is widely available at its numerous bars and restaurants.
Ms Donelan, however, said this should not be considered an “excuse” for unacceptable behaviour.
“Are we literally saying that people can’t go and have a drink and then behave themselves? Because that is a damning indictment,” she told Times Radio.
“There are many workplaces where after work, people will go with their colleagues for a drink, and that doesn’t then excuse them to sexually harass or sexually abuse or bully, somebody afterwards.
“That’s just not acceptable, and using bars as an excuse doesn’t wash for me.