A coalition of charities and trade unions has called on parliament to suspend the Conservative MP accused of rape while he faces investigation, warning that failing to do so is “yet another example of minimising violence against women”.
The unnamed ex-minister was arrested at the weekend after a former parliamentary aide accused him of assaulting her, forcing her to have sex and leaving her so traumatised she had to go to hospital.
The Tories are facing growing calls to withdraw the whip from the MP, who has been released on bail while investigations continue, which would suspend him from the parliamentary party.
On Tuesday, the coalition of 11 charities and trade unions added to that pressure, not only urging the Conservatives to withdraw the whip but also asking Commons authorities to suspend the MP from parliament so he cannot enter the estate.
In a joint statement, they say: “Given the seriousness of the allegations we’re calling on parliament to suspend the MP arrested on suspicion of rape, pending a full investigation. The House of Commons should be no different from any other workplace.
“Safety and the safeguarding of staff must be paramount. Failure to suspend is yet another example of minimising violence against women and girls and failure to believe victims and survivors when they bravely speak out.”
The coalition includes the charities Women’s Aid, Rights of Women, Rape Crisis England & Wales, End Violence Against Women, Centenary Action Group and the Fawcett Society, as well as the TUC and unions representing parliamentary staff, including Unite, Prospect, PCS and FDA.
The woman, who is in her 20s, is understood to have first raised her allegations with Tory chief whip, Mark Spencer, in April but claims he did not take any action. It is understood that Spencer denies the woman made any allegations of a sexual nature in his conversation with the complainant but acknowledges she reported “abusive behaviour and threats”. He is also understood to have advised her to go to the independent complaints and grievance scheme.
A spokesperson on behalf of the Tory Whips’ Office said: “These are serious allegations and it is right that they are investigated fully … The matter is now in the hands of the police and any action taken will be decided once the investigation has been concluded.”
The complainant has contacted the police, alleging rape, violent sexual assault and coercive control by the unnamed MP. She reported four incidents, alleged to have taken place between July 2019 and January 2020, in Westminster, Lambeth and Hackney. The MP was taken into custody in east London early on Saturday and released on bail to a date later this month.
The charities and unions also reference the inquiry by Dame Laura Cox that laid bare the scale of sexual harassment, intimidation and bullying in Westminster. The statement says: “In 2018, a House of Commons report revealed that 19% of Westminster staff had experienced sexual harassment in a single year.
“Dame Laura Cox’s 2018 review into sexual harassment in parliament demonstrated legislative changes and action by all political parties is urgently needed to make parliament a safe workplace for women free from the threat of gender-based violence and harassment.
“It is deeply concerning that more than two years after allegations of sexual harassment and assaults in parliament surfaced that showed there was a culture that allowed bullying, harassment and sexual harassment to thrive, we are still not confident that it is a safe and equal place for women to work.”
Katie Russell, a spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales, said it was standard employment practice to suspend workers undergoing criminal investigation. “Obviously we know that the system is failing victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault, and of course suspending someone does not in any way guarantee criminal justice, but that is perhaps all the more reason why Westminster should do the right thing,” she said.
A Conservative party spokesperson said: “We take any complaint incredibly seriously. We have a code of conduct where people can report complaints in confidence. If a serious allegation is raised, we would immediately advise the individual to contact the police.”
The House of Commons has been contacted for comment.