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Mon, 30 March 2020

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Lords block suspension of peer accused of offering woman a peerage to sleep with him

Lords block suspension of peer accused of offering woman a peerage to sleep with him

Emilio Casalicchio

3 min read

A former Lib Dem peer who was facing a record parliamentary suspension over historical claims of sexual harassment was today spared immediate punishment by his fellow Lords.

Peers voted by 101 to 78 to stall a decision by a Parliamentary watchdog to ban Lord Lester until 2022 over allegations he tried to get a woman to have sex with him in return for getting her into the Upper Chamber.

The move - which means the parliamentary committee which recommended the ban will have to think again - was branded “disgusting” by a Labour MP.

The Lords Privileges and Conduct Committee recommended that Lord Lester be given the mammoth suspension from the Upper Chamber after it found he had offered a woman "corrupt inducements to sleep with him".

Lord Lester has insisted the allegations - made by author and campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera about events said to have taken place 12 years ago - were "completely untrue".

Peers today voted through an amendment tabled by crossbench peer Lord Pannick which argued the investigation into the peer was against “the principles of natural justice and fairness”.

During a four-hour debate Lord Pannick - a close friend of Lord Lester - said he would be “very surprised” if his fellow peer had committed the acts described by Ms Sanghera.

He argued the Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone had failed to cross-examine Ms Sanghera before issuing “a very serious sanction against someone and destroy their hitherto unblemished reputation”.

“Sexual harassment and abuse of power are serious wrongs and nothing that I say is intended to diminish their gravity, but those who are accused of such offences are entitled to have their cases fairly and properly considered,” he told the House.

But Labour MP Jess Phillips told PoliticsHome she was “utterly disgusted” by the news.

“This sends a message that the powerful can do what they like and that the Lords can never be trusted on women's rights,” she said.

The vote means the original suspension decision will go back to the Privileges and Conduct Committee on Tuesday for it to consider the next steps.

Ms Sanghera told the Standards Commissioner she was groped by the then-Lib Dem peer on her journey home from a campaign meeting after he invited her to stay with him and his wife.

She also claimed that he later made a string of "other inappropriate sexual comments" in the House of Lords and told her: "If you sleep with me I will make you a Baroness within a year."

In a statement last week, Lord Lester said: "These allegations are completely untrue.”

He added: "I produced evidence which clearly demonstrated that what I was said to have done 12 years ago did not happen.

"Independent counsel who previously advised the Committee on its procedures provided an advice which concluded that the investigation was flawed.

"I regret the Committee’s conclusions in the light of these materials. There has to be a fair process for investigating sexual harassment claims in Parliament.

"Parliament is supposed to be a bastion of the rule of law but has ignored calls to reform this procedure properly for 20 years. I hope to be judged by my work over decades for gender equality, race relations and free speech.”

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