Oliver Dowden said Westminster is a “safe place to be a woman” despite reports in The Sunday Times that three Conservative cabinet ministers and two Labour shadow cabinet ministers are facing allegations of sexual misconduct after being reported to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS).
Asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme how concerned he is about the allegations and what it says about the culture in Westminster, he said: “On the face of it, those look like concerning allegations.
“But I think you would expect that due process should happen and that the investigation should be conducted. I personally know absolutely nothing about it, and you wouldn’t expect me to, that would be a matter for House authorities.”
Asked if Westminster is a safe place to be a woman, he said: “Yes, I do think it’s a safe place to be a woman.
“I think actually we’ve made big improvements over the past 20 or 30 years. And some of the things that happened I’m sure when you were a young reporter and when I started out in Westminster certainly wouldn’t happen now, and I think that’s something that has improved very much for the better.”
His comments came as opposition MPs and Nicola Sturgeon attacked a “misogynistic” story in the Mail on Sunday in which anonymous Conservative figures accused the Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, of distracting Boris Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs during Prime Minister’s Questions.
The Sunday Times reported that 56 MPs are subject to sexual misconduct allegations, with at least once complaint believed to involve criminality and concerns an MP bribed a member of staff in return for sexual favours.
Dave Penman, the general secretary of the civil service union the FDA, said: “While some of the procedures for raising complaints have improved, the fundamental balance of power between MPs and the staff they employ has not.
“Where that exists it will inevitably be exploited, either by those who do not have the skills to manage staff effectively, or those with more malevolent intent. It can come as no surprise, therefore, that if the circumstances that allowed bullying and harassment to flourish have not changed fundamentally.
“Parliamentary authorities need to address the fundamental causes of bullying and harassment, rather than simply rely on an enforcement mechanism that only protects those who feel able to raise complaints.”