Westminster harassment claims have ‘exposed gaps’ claims Tory MP

The Palace of Westminster

A Conservative whip has suggested his party could have done more in the past to make members aware of procedures for reporting sexual harassment, amid fresh revelations of misconduct by MPs.

The Pudsey MP Stuart Andrew said recent allegations had “highlighted some areas” where the party “needed to improve”, but stressed all complaints of harassment are being taken “seriously” and victims should be encouraged to come forward.

His comments follow reports that the Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom accused the former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon of a string of inappropriate remarks when they were both members of a select committee.

It also came as a member of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) warned Jeremy Corbyn that the party’s new system for dealing with complaints of harassment is “insufficient”.

Today the Welsh Assembly member Carl Sargeant became the second Labour politician to be suspended this week over allegations about his “personal conduct”.

The Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins was suspended on Thursday while the party looks into claims that he sent suggestive texts and acted inappropriately.

Labour has stated that it takes complaints “extremely seriously” and has “robust” systems in place to deal with them. Under the party’s new procedure, such cases will be reviewed by a specialist panel appointed by the NEC.

However, committee member Jasmin Beckett has written to Mr Corbyn to urge him to go further in improving Labour’s safeguarding procedures. Her proposals included setting up a fully independent body to deal with “sensitive complaints”.

“In the past week I have been increasingly concerned with regards to the number of members coming forward to talk about their experiences with sexual harassment in the party. Most of whom are young members which makes the situation even more worrying,” Ms Beckett wrote.

“The new sexual harassment policy is still insufficient... In light of the recent complaints I am now convinced that we need to consider these options to ensure members of our party feel able to speak out.”

The Conservative Party is currently investigating two ministers over allegations of inappropriate behaviour – the First Secretary Damian Green and the International Trade Minister Mark Garnier – but has not issued any suspensions.

Last week also saw the former pensions secretary Stephen Crabb admit to sending sexually explicit messages to a 19-year-old, while on Wednesday Michael Fallon took the step of resigning as Defence Secretary after it emerged he had once touched the leg of a female journalist at a Conservative party event.

Earlier this week Theresa May invited the leaders of Parliament’s other major political parties to meet with her to discuss the creation of an independent grievance procedure for all Parliamentary staff. Today she announced that the party has drawn up a new code of conduct, including a new complaints procedure and a more detailed process for investigation by a panel.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Andrew, who was made an Assistant Whip in June, said the events of the last week had “exposed a gap” in the way that political parties and Parliament deals with allegations of harassment and abuse. Asked about his own party’s approach, he suggested more could have been done to make members and staff aware of the procedures in place to deal with complaints, adding that recent reports have “highlighted some areas where we needed to improve”.

However, he said the party takes all allegations “very seriously”, and people should be given the “confidence to come forward”. “One thing I’ve really picked up, speaking to colleagues from across the political spectrum, is there is an absolute willingness to get this right,” he said.

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