Parliament 'risks failing in its duty of care' to staff if Tory MP accused of rape returns to Westminster, Speaker warned

Former minister believed to have agreed to stay away from Commons voluntarily until police investigation concludes

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Saturday 29 August 2020 08:37

Parliament risks failing in its duty of care to staff if a Tory MP accused of rape is allowed to return to Westminster after the summer break ends on Tuesday, a union has warned Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

Representatives of Prospect, which represents parliamentary staff, met with Sir Lindsay to discuss the issue and said the failure to exclude the unnamed former minister sent “entirely the wrong message”.

The MP, in his 50s, was arrested and interviewed by police earlier this month over allegations of rape and sexual assault made by a female former parliamentary aide. He has been released on bail until November, and is understood to have agreed not to return to the Palace of Westminster to work while the police investigation is ongoing.

His alleged victim is reported to be urging MPs and peers to use parliamentary privilege to put his name into the public domain, despite fears that this could result in her identification. She has reported four incidents alleged to have taken place between July 2019 and January 2020 in Westminster, Lambeth and Hackney including an assault which left her so traumatised that she had to go to hospital.

In a letter sent to the Speaker ahead of the meeting, Prospect’s Ken Gall said reports that the MP had voluntarily agreed not to attend Parliament were "wholly unsatisfactory" and that taking no further action would be "allowing Parliament to avoid taking responsibility for its own duty towards its employees".

The letter, seen by The House magazine, said that suspending the MP would be a "neutral act" to "protect" staff rather than a punishment or indication of guilt.

Exclusion from parliament during the investigation would be "the most appropriate means of minimising risk" to staff, said the letter, adding: "In any other employment context, the employer would have the option of suspending an employee in these circumstances.”

A spokesperson for Sir Lindsay said: "The Speaker cannot comment on individual cases or allegations. Sexual harassment has no place in the House of Commons. We take the safety of our staff seriously and are ensuring that any necessary measures are taken in respect of our employees.

"Members of Parliament are elected to represent constituencies. They are office holders, not employees of the House Service, and are elected by the citizens in their constituency.

“The Speaker and the House of Commons Commission have no power to suspend an MP. A member can only be suspended via a resolution of the House, which is voted on in the chamber by MPs. It is not within the Speaker's power to prevent an MP from attending parliament when the House is sitting."

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy told the Daily Telegraph: "The agreement that the MP shouldn't come into Westminster is no replacement for a policy. The unions definitely think that the House needs to set an example in this. We need a policy.

“A failure to have a policy that at least permits the exclusion of an MP facing sexual misconduct charges is a failure in their responsibilities to all staff, and it sends entirely the wrong message outside."

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