Senior British MPs have called on parliament to strengthen its human resources practices following the latest wave of harassment and conduct allegations in Westminster.
Neil Parish, a Conservative MP and chair of the environment, food and rural affairs select committee, was forced to quit parliament after admitting that he had watched pornography twice in the House of Commons chamber.
A series of separate revelations by women MPs over the past week of sexual harassment by colleagues has prompted renewed calls for a cultural change at Westminster.
UK international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said in an interview with LBC radio that she had been “pinned up against a wall by a male MP” and that all women in parliament had been subjected to “wandering hands”.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Commons speaker, supported calls for “radical action” to reform parliament’s working practices. One suggestion by Hoyle is for MPs’ staff to be employed directly by parliament.
Dame Andrea Leadsom, a former leader of the Commons, said parliament should have a formal human resources department, arguing that the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which last year investigated 15 MPs for bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct, was not strong enough.
“The problem has been that the ICGS has not been able to employ enough specialist investigators and this has meant that a lot of the investigations have taken too long,” she told The Sunday Times.
“This means only a small number of cases have gone through the system but I firmly believe that once that number increases and MPs see that there are serious consequences for their behaviour then the culture will change.”
Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has supported Hoyle’s suggestion for looking at whether MPs’s staff should be directly employed by parliament.
But Kwasi Kwarteng, business secretary, said on Sunday that the houses of parliament were not dangerous places to work but acknowledged there were some “bad apples” among MPs.
“It’s very similar to when people say, ‘Oh well, there are a number of racist people in this country, so that means the whole country is racist’. That doesn’t follow,” he told the BBC. “There are some bad apples. There are people who’ve acted very badly and they should be held to account.”
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, claimed that the Conservative party had to lead the cultural change. He told Sky News that whenever faced with issues, “their first instinct is to push it off into the long grass”.
Starmer added: “That is a political problem, because a fish rots from the head, and there needs to be political leadership on this as well. And we haven’t seen that yet from the Conservative party.’
Oliver Dowden, chair of the Tory party, has pledged that half of its MPs will be female after the next election. He told the Sunday Telegraph that the candidates list would be updated to ensure it “reflects the fact that half the population are women”.
Meanwhile, the Tories are braced for a difficult by-election in the Devon constituency of Tiverton and Honiton to replace Parish. Although the seat has a 24,239 majority and has only ever returned Conservative MPs, some party officials are concerned that the Liberal Democrats could pose a threat.
One Conservative party official said: “We have a big majority, but the Lib Dems have been traditionally strong in that part of the world. Given the circumstances, it could be tricky.”