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MPs must act now over sex pest claims, demands leader of House

PUBLISHED: 18:17 30 October 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May listens as Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom responds to an urgent question in the House of Commons about allegations of inappropriate and unwanted sexual behaviour at Westminster.

Prime Minister Theresa May listens as Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom responds to an urgent question in the House of Commons about allegations of inappropriate and unwanted sexual behaviour at Westminster.

PA Wire/PA Images

British politics risks being brought into disrepute unless a tough, new system to protect people working in Westminster is agreed, the leader of the House of Commons has warned.

Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom. Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom.

Addressing the House over a growing scandal about abuses of power by MPs Andrea Leadsom called on leaders to work together to bolster protection for the thousands of people working in the Palace and demanded action was needed “in days rather than weeks”.

Ms Leadsom was speaking in response to an urgent question from Labour MP Harriet Harman following a rash of media reports about alleged misconduct by MPs, including international trade minister Mark Garnier, who is the subject of an internal inquiry by the Cabinet Office.

Ms Leadsom said: “As MPs, our constituents will be rightly appalled at the thought that some representatives in Parliament may have acted in an entirely inappropriate way towards others.

“These reports risk bringing all of our offices into disrepute.”

Speaking after the urgent question Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill said: “I am appalled at the allegations which came to light this weekend and I firmly welcome the measures announced by the leader of the House of Commons, to introduce a new, more rigorous and independent body to protect all staff in their work.

“The nature of work in Westminster does require a flexible employment arrangement. However this cannot and should not be at the expense of staff safety at work.

“All sides of the House have acknowledged the need for immediate change, both procedurally and culturally. MPs and staff are right to expect support as to how we can foster a safe and supportive working environment.

“I hope today’s announcement marks just the beginning in stamping out all forms of behaviour inside and outside Westminster, and I look forward to clear, transparent procedures being introduced from this point onwards.”

Ms Leadsom said it was clear the “current system is inadequate” and set out the proposed reforms.

She told MPs the government’s guiding principles were:

• Everyone in Parliament should “have the right to feel at ease as they go about their work”.

• The existing confidential helpline must be strengthened as a “dedicated support team” with more resources.

• The support team should be able to recommend the onward referral of a case to ensure “appropriate investigation and action”.

• Specialised pastoral support should be available to anyone in distress as a consequence of their treatment in the workplace.

• The support team should “strongly recommend” that any criminal allegations are reported to the police.

She added: “There may be further action which political parties themselves can take to ensure high standards.”

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