‘More than a dozen’ new parliament sleaze claims emerge as Westminster faces calls for overhaul

·4-min read
House of Commons and Palace of Westminster next to Thames river in London.
A catalogue of sexist behaviour and harassment by men of women in Westminster has emerged. (Stock image: Getty)

A raft of accusations of sexist behaviour, including harassment and bullying, has emerged in the wake of the resignation of MP Neil Parish for watching pornography in the Commons.

The claims include one minister allegedly having "noisy sex" in his parliamentary office, another reportedly being warned repeatedly for using prostitutes, while one MP allegedly sent a photo of his genitals to a female colleague.

In a report by The Sunday Times, the accusations were recounted in a meeting of the 2022 Committee, described as a "revamp of the Conservative Women in Parliament group", during which more than a dozen women recounted their experiences of misogyny, sexual harassment and bullying.

The meeting was reportedly called following claims by an unnamed Tory MP that Labour's Angela Rayner had routinely crossed and uncrossed her legs in the Commons to distract Boris Johnson, sparking a backlash against misogynistic attitudes in parliament.

Watch: Speaker urges 'radical' reform to working practices in parliament

It was during the meeting that two female MPs claimed they had seen a male MP watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.

That MP was later found to be Neil Parish - who stood down on Saturday after being suspended by the Conservative Party the previous day.

Read more: Female MP says she was 'pinned against wall' by male colleague with 'wandering hands'

But the allegation concerning Parish was just one of a catalogue of claims of inappropriate behaviour by men in parliament.

According to The Sunday Times, one female MP said a minister had referred to her for a number of years by a nickname which implied that she was sexually promiscuous, while another said she was given a payroll job in government only because she "had tits".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer next to the deputy leader Angela Rayner during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London.Picture date: Wednesday April 27, 2022. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner was accused by an unnamed Tory MP of repeatedly crossing and uncrossing her legs to distract Boris Johnson. (Getty)

A third was asked by a male colleague what she “did for her day job” when she wore a calf-length leather skirt, which she interpreted to be a suggestion that she was dressed like a prostitute.

The revelations come a week after the newspaper reported that 56 MPs were facing allegations of sexual misconduct, including three cabinet ministers and two shadow cabinet ministers.

On Friday, MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan described how she was pinned to a wall by a male colleague who had "wandering hands" and had been "at the sharp end of misogyny" on numerous occasions.

Other claims include allegations that a senior MP has been accused of repeatedly licking the faces of male researchers in parliamentary bars, while last week one MP claimed that a shadow cabinet member had described her as a "secret weapon" because women wanted to be her friend and men wanted to sleep with her, The Sunday Times reported.

The latest revelations around sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour in parliament have sparked calls for an overhaul of the employment system for MPs staff, taking power of employment away from MPs themselves.

Others have suggested a clampdown on the drinking culture in parliament, including shutting down bars in Westminster - a move dismissed by business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng as "excessively puritanical".

Kwarteng insisted on Sunday that parliament is a safe place for women to work, telling the BBC’s Sunday Morning show: "I think we’ve got to distinguish between some bad apples, people who behave badly, and the general environment.

"There are some bad apples, there are people who have acted very badly, and they should be held to account."

Watch: Kwasi Kwarteng says closing parliament's bars would be 'excessively puritanical'

Earlier, Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle had called for a review of working practices in Westminster.

He told The Sunday Times: "I believe it is time we reviewed our working practices, and particularly whether it is right that individual MPs are the employers of their staff. Should someone else — or an outside body — employ the staff, as long as the MP has the right to choose them?

"This would mean that all new staff would be employed on standard terms and conditions. In addition, if a staff member wanted to report a serious breach of employment practice against an MP, they would not have to go to that very same MP to make that report; and less serious complaints and grievances could be resolved more quickly."

He said it was time "to consider radical action and review structures and processes that could make a difference".

On Sunday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for behavioural and cultural change to tackle sleaze in Westminster, suggesting Boris Johnson must set a better example for his MPs.

He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: "We need to listen to women and I’ve spoken to a number of women in the last few days and they’re very clear that whilst there does need to be culture change, those who are engaged in this sort of activity, whether it’s comments about Angela Rayner or whether it’s watching porn in the House of Commons, have to take responsibility."

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