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Parliament Accused Of Neglecting Victims By Not Banning MPs Facing Misconduct Allegations From Estate

Parliament Accused Of Neglecting Victims By Not Banning MPs Facing Misconduct Allegations From Estate

(Alamy)

6 min read

Unions, MPs and parliamentary staff have criticised the government and estate authorities for failing to protect alleged victims after an MP accused of sexual misconduct was not banned from the parliamentary estate.

The government Whips office confirmed on Tuesday that a Conservative MP arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual offences had been requested not to attend the parliamentary estate while the investigation was ongoing.

The unnamed MP, however, is not officially banned from attending parliament, and could still undertake other duties such as constituency work.

One female MP told PoliticsHome that failing to impose such a ban was “putting the rights of potential perpetrators over the rights of victims” and thought it created a “corrosive environment” for women working in Westminster.

Last month, five unions representing parliamentary workers — including Prospect, the FDA, the Public and Commercial Services Union and the GMB — called on the Commons procedure committee to hold an inquiry to explore whether MPs accused of serious offences should be barred from parliament while the allegations are investigated.

The committee's chair Karen Bradley has since ruled out such an inquiry, arguing that there would be a “difficulty in maintaining the confidentiality of investigations were such a mechanism to be introduced”.

But many working in parliament remain dissatisfied with this approach. 

“People are really angry that their views aren’t being taken into account. It feels like everything is geared towards the MPs and serving them, as opposed to parliamentary staff,” Jawad Raza, national officer for the FDA civil service union, told PoliticsHome.

“We all get there are constitutional difficulties, but when the ICGS [the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme] and IEP [Independent Expert Panel] were introduced, there were loads of constitutional issues. It was challenging but there was a solution.”

“For the procedures committee not to even look at the issue and to shut it down, I think that's just a huge own goal — a missed opportunity.”

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said voluntary agreements to stay away from the estate “do not work”, arguing that this was “demonstrated by Imran Ahmad Khan’s attendance at Westminster whilst investigations were ongoing”.

The Wakefield MP resigned last month after after the 48-year-old was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old-boy in 2008, triggering a by-election in his Yorkshire constituency.  Khan pleaded not guilty to the charge and has lodged an appeal against his conviction. 

Other recent allegations against MPs include Neil Parish — who resigned as Conservative MP after being caught by two female colleagues watching pornography in the Commons — and David Warburton — who remains suspended from the Tory Party over claims of sexual harassment and drug use. Warburton previously said he had “enormous amounts of defence, but unfortunately the way things work means that doesn’t come out first.”

“What will it take for Parliament to finally take its responsibility to its staff and visitors seriously and suspend access to the estate for parliamentarians under investigation for sexual offences?,” Graham added.

Jenny Symmons, chair of the union’s branch for MP’s staff, said “staff safety must be the absolute priority” in these matters.

“Reports of gross sexual assault and harassment from MPs are starting to seem routine. In spite of the progress on the complaints system, the ability of [some] MPs to abuse their power and exploit often junior staff has not changed. Neither has the culture of masculinity and debauchery,” she continued.

“The removal of the Whip seems like an obvious choice, but that is a political issue. Our immediate concern is that this alleged predator is not permitted entry onto the Parliamentary estate.”

One female Labour MP told PoliticsHome that they felt it was “intolerable” to be potentially working alongside people who had been accused of serious offences.

“For people who are survivors of sexual violence, including myself, it's particularly horrible that they're not banned from the estate while the investigation is ongoing, both for criminal matters and for things that have been reported through the independent grievance scheme,” she said.

“They're putting the rights of potential perpetrators over the rights of victims and everyone else who has to work with them. They're prioritising their needs.”

The MP also dismissed suggestions that removing the whip and banning the accused individual could reveal the identity of their accuser, arguing that “people can quietly be away from their state for all sorts of reasons”.

Several parliamentary staffers backed the calls for an estate ban for accused individuals, with some arguing that doing so would not imply the guilt of the person suspended.

“In any other job, you’d be suspended pending an investigation so that should be the same for Parliament,” one told PoliticsHome.

“This is especially important given it’s likely that the alleged victim may be still trying to go about their work on the estate and be forced to share the same workspace with their alleged rapist."

Another said: “In many ways, it is not a matter of being innocent until proven guilty but a matter of ensuring that vulnerable people feel safe in their place of work and their surroundings.”

Speaking to PoliticsHome’s podcast The Rundown last month, Tory MP and chair of the women and equalities select committee Caroline Nokes argued that a complete rethinking of parliament’s working structure was needed in order to protect staff from harassment.

She suggested that once an MP had recruited a member of staff, the contract and HR function should be overseen by IPSA, to prevent a scenario where “the MP is the line manager of an individual who might be making a complaint against them”.

“I think that that would give it the element of distance that we're all looking for, so you wouldn't ever be in a situation where a relatively junior staffer is perhaps going to make a complaint to their immediate line manager that could be the Member of Parliament's spouse.”

 

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