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Four years have passed since British politics was rocked by numerous cases of gross misconduct in the wake of #MeToo. But fresh revelations into sexual misconduct involving Members of Parliament have brought the “Pestminster” scandal back into the spotlight.
At least 56 MPs – thought to be cross-party, including three ministers and two shadow ministers – are under investigation for serious wrongdoing and sexually explicit comments. That is 9 per cent of MPs.
In a separate incident, an unnamed Conservative backbencher has been accused of watching pornography on their phone while in the Chamber, next to a female colleague.
All these incidents have been referred, in confidence, to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), a helpline that aims to tackle bullying and harassment in Parliament.
What happens beyond these initial complaints is up in the air. If a misconduct complaint is upheld against an MP, they will be referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone.
In the most serious of cases, the commissioner will submit a formal report to the Standards Committee, led by Labour’s Chris Bryant, for them to consider a sanction. This can range from suspension to expulsion, which the House would be required to approve. The police may also be informed if there is an assessment of risk of harm.
Yet the process is not renowned for being swift. The 48 misconduct investigations completed by the ICGS between July 2020 and June 2021 took an average of 196 days to conclude. A standards report could also take weeks to complete.
Is there a culture of impunity in Westminster?