ALL MPs should have to sign up to an independent watchdog who can investigate claims against them from their staff, Theresa May said today in the wake of new reports of sexual harassment in Westminster.
Campaigning politicians warned that it is too easy for senior MPs to get away with abusing their power behind closed doors as they slammed the “sickening” claims made about their colleagues.
London News Pictures Theresa May, pictured with husband Philip today, is investigating the allegations
Leading figures spoke out after it was claimed that one Tory minister had sent explicit texts to a teenager and another minister made his assistant buy sex toys in Soho.
And the PM called for a new “contractually binding grievance procedure” for politicians’ aides to have their voice heard.
Westminster has been swamped with reports of sexual abuse and harassment since The Sun revealed the existence of a secret WhatsApp group where women in Parliament name the men who are notorious for groping women.
This morning has seen a string of new developments as:
- Female MPs said they were “exhausted” by the non-stop battle against misogyny in Westminster
- Theresa May said she would write to the Speaker of the Commons to try and crack down on harassment
- A leading campaigner called for an independent watchdog to investigate all allegations of abuse by MPs and their staff
- It emerged the PM is regularly informed about claims of harassment by Tories
- Parliamentary authorities said they don’t keep a record of abuse allegations
- Ex-Cabinet minister Stephen Crabb and current minister Mark Garnier were both accused of misconduct
Rex Features Labour MP Jess Phillips led a chorus of criticism after politicians were accused of harassment
Mr Crabb admitted sending sexual texts to a 19-year-old who applied for a job with him, while Mr Garnier faces an official investigation after it emerged he asked his secretary to buy sex toys for him and called her “sugar t*ts”.
After the allegations came to light, Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “I’m sad that they don’t see how damaging their behaviour is.
“A minister sending sexually explicit stuff to a teenager he was interviewing is horrendous.”
She added: “The Stephen Crabb thing is sickening. If you think that no sexual contact gets you off the hook for gross abuse of your power you don’t get it. Power is the root of all violence against women.
“If these men just get away with it, claim ‘bantz’ and say it’s light hearted humour, we will once again know they can do whatever the hell they like to us.”
The PM announced in a statement today that she will write to John Bercow, Speaker of the Commons, offering to work together to defeat the problem.
A spokesman for Mrs May said: “As the Prime Minister has made clear, any reports of sexual harassment are deeply concerning and any unwanted sexual behaviour is completely unacceptable in any walk of life, including politics.
“The Prime Minister is writing to the Speaker of the House of Commons calling for a new contractually binding grievance procedure to be set up for all MPs and their staff.”
MP Jeremy Hunt calls the culture of sexual harassment is Westminster ‘unacceptable’ on The Andrew Marr Show AFP Ex-minister Stephen Crabb is accused of sexting a teenager
Sarah Champion, the MP for Rotherham who has long campaigned on awareness of child sex abuse, said that if harassment reports are covered up then “a toxic environment can rapidly escalate”.
She suggested that the nature of Parliament, where aides are employed directly by MPs, made it difficult for workers to report sexual misconduct.
Ms Champion wrote in the Sunday Mirror: “Each MP has their own little office. We frequently work late and often our staff are expected to do the same.
“Doors on the offices are usually shut. When they are glass doors, they are frosted. Who would see if there was inappropriate behaviour going on?
“Who would believe a junior staff member’s word against an MP’s? While it is not realistic to change the buildings we work in, we can change the culture.”
Labour’s John Mann, who first exposed allegations of abuse in Westminster a week ago, said Parliament should appoint a watchdog to monitor harassment claims.
MP Diane Abbott discusses the culture of sexual harassment in Westminster on The Andrew Marr Show Barcroft Media Diane Abbott suggested that sexual harassment was even worse in the part
He wrote in the Mail on Sunday: “We need to make it easier for victims to blow the whistle and raise the matter with an independent and expert parliamentary watchdog.
“Anyone working in Westminster needs to be secure in the knowledge that they can approach this watchdog in full confidence and have the right to remain anonymous.”
Diane Abbott told Andrew Marr on BBC1 this morning that sexual harassment was even worse in Westminster when she first became an MP three decades ago.
She said: “There was harassment, there were jokes that weren’t that funny.”
The shadow home secretary said that in the 1980s, male MPs would mock women who spoke in the Commons by miming breasts with their hands.
PA:Press Association Parliament has been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards confirmed last night that she does not keep a database of sexual misconduct claims made against MPs.
But Mrs May reportedly receives a weekly report from the Tory whips detailing all allegations made about the party’s MPs.
The conversation is dubbed “the ins and outs”, according to the Sunday Times – with infidelity and drug-taking treated the same as serious claims of harassing women.
The PM once reportedly expressed exasperation at the misbehaving MPs, saying: “Why can’t they just do their job?”