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Party leaders agree new safeguards to tackle Westminster sleaze

Westminster has been rocked by a series of harassment allegations against MPs.

Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders have agreed to introduce new safeguards for parliamentary staff as Westminster continues to be plagued by sleaze allegations.

The Prime Minister said party leaders agreed at a meeting in Parliament to introduce a new grievance procedure and upgrade an existing complaints hotline to a face-to-face human resources service.

The latter will be introduced by the end of the month and the new grievance procedure should be in place in next year, Mrs May told reporters.

Speaking after the meeting in her parliamentary office, Mrs May said: “Sadly, over recent days, we have seen a number of allegations about figures from across the political parties and it’s important that those are investigated impartially and some have rightly been referred to the police.

“I think if this hasn’t happened to you it’s difficult to appreciate the impact that being a victim of this sort of behaviour can have, it simply has a lasting impact on people.

“And we need to do more to stop these abuses of power and I’m pleased that having convened this meeting of party leaders today we have agreed a way forward.

“We are going to ensure that there’s an upgrade to the existing phone line for staff so that staff in future will be able to get face-to-face HR support and for that to be in place by the end of the month.

“And we’ve also agreed that we need a completely new grievance procedure for staff working here, for everybody working here, and that that should come into effect in the New Year.

“So I think an important step forward has been taken today, it’s important that we get this right, and I’m sorry that we have seen these abuses of power – too many taking place over too many years.

“And the fact that they have taken place here at our seat of democracy should be a matter of shame for us all.”

Mrs May was also asked to “categorically” state that she knew nothing about any allegations that came to the fore following the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

She replied: “The allegations that have come to the fore in the last week I have been made aware of over that time period because of things that have appeared in the press but also allegations that I’ve been told over the last week in private.

“Action has been taken with a number of Conservative Members of Parliament.

“But figures from across the political parties have had allegations made against them, what is important is that Parliament, we come together here in Parliament, as leaders of parties have done today, to say that we need to bring an end to this abuse of power.

“What is important is that people who have been victims of this behaviour – be it sexual harassment or bullying of any sort – that those victims feel confident in coming forward with their complaints and knowing that there will be an impartial and proper and fair investigation of those complaints.”

Mrs May’s de facto deputy Damian Green was being interviewed on Monday as part of a Cabinet Office investigation which has been expanded to include claims that pornography was found on one of his parliamentary computers in 2008.

The First Secretary of State has strongly denied the claims.

Before the meeting, Mr Corbyn had called for MPs to undergo training after each general election in employment standards and management of their offices.

The Labour leader also called for the creation of an independently-certified authority to provide a “minimum standard of support” for parliamentary staff who suffer mistreatment.

Meanwhile, BBC Radio 4’s PM programme reported that a former female member of staff in Ed Miliband’s office had spoken out about an incident in which a male colleague allegedly closed the door behind her and attempted to kiss her.

The woman, whose identity was concealed and was referred to by the false name Susan, did not inform Mr Miliband or make a complaint at the time.

She told PM: “I thought, ‘Oh God, I’m going to be fired’. I thought he was going to be angry that I rebuffed his advance and there might be consequences for me. I thought the best thing to protect my position was not to say anything.”

The woman said she would have liked to have been able to complain to an independent body, as she believed that if she reported it to the party, “they would close ranks on me as my position was very junior”.

In a statement released by his office to PM, Mr Miliband said he was “deeply concerned to hear about this allegation of totally unacceptable behaviour”.

He added: “I would strongly encourage the individual concerned to use the complaints process of the Labour Party to take her allegation forward. She should receive the support she has a right to expect.”

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