Lords watchdog stands by 'fair' probe into peer accused of sexual harassment
The House of Lords watchdog that called for a peer accused of sexual harassment to be hit with Parliament's longest-ever ban has defended its probe into his conduct.
The Privileges and Conduct Committee last week demanded that ex-Lib Dem peer Lord Lester be banned from the upper chamber until 2022 amid claims he had offered a woman a peerage to sleep with him and repeatedly harassed her.
But fellow peers voted to reject the standards watchdog's verdict in a highly-charged Lords debate that saw some female peers walk out in disgust.
Lord Lester has strongly denied the claims, and his allies have argued that the inquiry was unfair because he was not allowed to cross-examine his accuser, campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera.
The Committee met on Tuesday night to discuss its next steps after the Lords debate saw peers back a motion branding its call for a lengthy suspension "unfair".
In statement, committee chairman Lord McFall stood by the original investigation's findings, saying: "The Committee has met today and reconfirmed its view that the process undertaken to investigate Lord Lester’s behaviour accorded with the principles of natural justice and fairness."
He added: "The Commissioner conducted a thorough investigation which was carried out entirely in line with the House of Lords Code of Conduct under which the complainant, Jasvinder Sanghera, made her complaint, and which all Members sign-up to at the start of each Parliament.
“However, we will reflect on the amendment passed in the House last Thursday and the points raised in the debate and we will bring a further report to the House that more fully explains our position as soon as possible."
The move by fellow peers to halt Lord Lester's suspension drew anger from House of Lords staff, with a group of more than 70 writing to the Times earlier this week to make their opposition felt.
The group said: "We were dismayed to see that the result of an investigatory process which has been created and approved by members was so easily disregarded by those same members, none of whom had previously objected to the process and many of whom referred to their friendship with the accused."
In its statement, the Committee also made clear it had received a letter from people working in the upper chamber.
"We have reflected carefully on what they have said and we will seek to ensure that as we consider a future system for investigating bullying and harassment we take the points made by those working here fully into account," Lord McFall added.