Closing parliament’s bars in a bid to tackle a culture of sexual misconduct on the estate would be “excessively puritanical”, Kwasi Kwarteng has said.
Speaking on Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme, the business secretary said that despite concerns regarding excessive drinking taking place on the parliamentary estate, the bars should not be closed.
“No, they shouldn’t all be shut, I don’t think we should have an excessively puritanical severe regime in that regard,” he said.
MP watched pornography twice in parliament
It comes after an MP said he will resign after admitting to watching pornography in the House of Commons.
Neil Parish said he watched adult material twice in parliament, claiming the first time was accidental after looking at tractors online but that the second was “a moment of madness”.
The 65-year-old farmer had initially vowed to continue as MP for Tiverton and Honiton but said he would quit after recognising the “furore” and “damage” he was causing his family and constituency.
The former MEP had referred himself to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, days after two female Tory MPs said they witnessed him watching pornography on his mobile phone on two separate occasions.
A spokesperson for Tiverton and Honiton Conservatives said: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank Neil Parish for his service to our communities over the past 12 years.
“We support his decision to step down as our member of parliament.”
Kwarteng rejects reports of culture of misogyny at Westminster
The scandal comes amid accusations of misogyny and sexual misconduct at Westminster.
Asked on Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme whether there is a culture of misogyny at Westminster, Mr Kwarteng rejected the suggestion.
He said: “I think the problem we have is that people are working in a really intense environment, there are long hours, and I think generally most people know their limits, they know how to act respectfully.
“But there are some instances where people don’t frankly act according to the highest standards.
“With Neil (Parish), I think he did the right thing. He did something which in most other professions you would be sacked for doing and he voluntarily resigned and I think his position was very difficult.”
Starmer urges ‘political leadership’ over issue
But Sir Keir Starmer called for behavioural and cultural change to tackle sleaze and sexual misconduct in Westminster.
Also speaking on Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme, the Labour leader said: “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.”
He also called for “political leadership”, alleging that when a Conservative colleague gets into trouble, ministers’ “first instinct is to push it off into the long grass, hide what’s happening, and that’s a political problem because the fish rots from the head”.
When pressed on why he chose to view the material in the Commons, Mr Parish told the BBC: “I don’t know, I think I must’ve taken complete leave of my senses and my sensibilities and my sense of decency, everything.”
Mr Parish said he was “not defending what I did for one moment” arguing he thought the best thing he could do was to “tell the truth”.
Commons Speaker calls for ‘radical action’
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has called for “radical” reform to working practices in parliament following a series of bullying and sexual misconduct claims against MPs.
In his appeal for changes to be made, Sir Lindsay suggested that individual MPs should no longer be the employers of their staff, adding that “some serious allegations have been made”.
He also said he was considering moving to an outside body employing aides as parliament’s reputation is feared to have fallen to a new low.
“In my opinion, it is time to consider radical action, and review structures and processes that could make a difference,” Sir Lindsay told The Observer newspaper.
Meanwhile, The Sunday Times has suggested that former business secretary Andrea Leadsom may be working with the Speaker.
The newspaper quoted her as saying: “Things haven’t changed and that’s because there aren’t enough cases coming through and it’s taking too long for investigations to come to an end.
“It’s only when you see people getting done for being blind drunk and subject to the appropriate sanctions that people will start to think twice about their behaviour.”
Total of 56 MPs reportedly facing sexual misconduct claims
Elsewhere, the Conservative’s chairman Oliver Dowden has reportedly told The Sunday Telegraph that half of the party’s MPs returned at the next election will be women as it aims to make changes to tackle Westminster sleaze.
In recent weeks, a number of damning allegations have plagued the Commons, with 56 MPs reportedly facing claims of sexual misconduct.
At least three Cabinet ministers are thought to be among the parliamentarians that have been referred to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme over the allegations.
Earlier this week, Labour MP Liam Byrne was found to have “ostracised” a former assistant after an office dispute and is now set to be suspended from the Commons for two days.