Westminster today – live updates: New rules to tackle sexual harassment as leaked report shows one in five parliamentary staff affected


MPs will face tougher sanctions for sexual harassment and bullying as part of a new report that revealed one in five people working in Westminster has experienced inappropriate sexual behaviour.

The cross-party report, which was leaked to The Independent, outlines plans for a new behavioural code and an independent grievance procedure to help root out abuse in the Palace of Westminster.

Theresa May held a second day of crunch talks with her Brexit “war Cabinet”, where different Tory factions will try to agree on what Britain’s future relationship with Europe looks like.

Elsewhere, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has given a speech pledging to help local councils bring public services in house, amid growing concern about serious financial challenges facing local authorities.

See below for live updates.

Live Updates

13 mins ago

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been to Number 10 to present a petition about cutting the 0.7% foreign aid budget. He told Sky News he would not be “so presumptuous” as to to be measuring the Number 10 curtains.

24 mins ago

The George Soros controversy shows what Brexiteers have become: irredeemable conspiracy theorists

32 mins ago

Record pressures in NHS A&E departments last month have meant waiting times in emergency departments have hit their worst ever levels.
Just 77.1 per cent of patients were seen by “Type 1” A&E departments within the four hour target in January 2018.
Story here:

NHS A&E waiting times worse than ever in new record

49 mins ago

Commons Speaker John Bercow has appealed to “successive” chief whips to calm shouting and heckling during Prime Minister’s Questions, he told MPs.

Mr Bercow said he had raised concerns with government and opposition whips but added: “To say that the response has not been receptive would be an understatement.”

Following a statement from Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom on the cross-party working group on an independent complaints and grievance policy, Labour’s Chris Bryant suggested that in order to tackle bullying the “whole culture of the way that we do our business” would have to be changed.

Mr Bercow said: “I deal with the manifestations of disorder at Prime Minister’s Questions and on other occasions to the best of my ability.

“However, in noting what he has just said, I can say to the House that I have raised the concern that he has just articulated with successive chief whips on both sides of the House.”

He went on: “As I say around the country, behaviour at Prime Minister’s Questions will change when the whips on each side want it to change – it is as simple and incontrovertible as that.

“If they want it to change, and they say it must, it will, if they don’t, it won’t.

“I can deal with the manifestations – I do and I will, whoever glares at me, whoever waves at me, I couldn’t care less – I’ll do what is necessary – others must face up to their responsibilities.”

1 hour ago

A retired High Court judge has been appointed to lead the inquiry into the contaminated blood scandal, were thousands of haemophiliacs and other patients were given blood products infected with HIV and hepatitis C during the 1970s and 1980s, leaving around 2,400 people dead.

Mr Justice Langstaff will be the full-time chair of the inquiry from May 1, the Cabinet Office announced.

Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said: “The infected blood scandal of the 1970s and 80s is a tragedy that should never have happened. We must now ensure it can never happen again.”

“It is very important that the Inquiry can identify why and how this tragedy occurred and provide answers for the all victims who have suffered so terribly, and can identify lessons to be learned so that a tragedy of this scale can never happen again.”

He said he wanted the inquiry to be established as quickly as possible.

1 hour ago

More than a million vulnerable elderly people are missing out on help they need because of the dire state of the social care system, the UK’s spending watchdog has said.
The National Audit Office (NAO) called for urgent action as it published a detailed report citing evidence showing the number of people over 65 with unmet care needs jumped by some 200,000 in the last year alone.
More here:

Over a million elderly people missing out on help they need due to dire state of social care system

1 hour ago

A cabinet minister has warned that the Conservatives do not have a proper campaign plan in place, despite facing wipeout in London at the coming local elections.
The frontbencher told The Independent the situation the party faced was “really bad”, confirming the findings of polling released earlier this year.
He also confirmed the party is taking seriously the possibility it will lose the flagship council Wandsworth in the capital, along with Westminster and Barnet.
Story here:

Conservatives are yet to put a proper campaign plan in place despite facing losses, warns Cabinet minister

1 hour ago

Campaign group Best for Britain has set up a crowdfunding campaign in response to media coverage about financier George Soros (see here), who has backed their efforts to overturn Brexit.

2 hours ago

Labour MP Chris Elmore asked about “how she intends to police” the anonymity for the accused, as he said newspaper editors might argue it is in the public interest.
Andrea Leadsom said the two services dealing with bullying and sexual harassment will have “strict procedures” around confidentiality and if that is breached then there would be “severe consequences”. She said everyone involved would be charged with upholding the anonymity rules.
Earlier, she said there was a risk of “vexatious and malicious” attacks against well-known figures like MPs, which merited the element of anonymity.

2 hours ago

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom has said proposals to tackle bullying and abuse in Parliament will “fundamentally change the working culture”.

She said an “ambitious” report by the Cross-Party Working Group on an Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy was a “major step towards a safer and more professional environment” in Parliament.

Delivering a statement in the Commons, said: “It is a right, not a privilege, to be treated with dignity and respect at work and this ambitious report is a major step towards a safer and more professional environment.

“I hope that Honourable and Right Honourable Members across the House will welcome the report, which will, I am confident, ensure that our Parliament is among the best in the world, demonstrating our commitment to equality, justice and fairness.”

She said six months after the start of the new scheme an “appropriate body” will review the operation of the new processes.

Mrs Leadsom also said a motion would be brought before the House and be debated in the first two weeks after the February recess.

Shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz said: “Everyone in Parliament must be able to work together cooperatively, respecting the expertise of the House and balancing our responsibilities as elected representatives in a safe and secure and constructive workplace, so that everyone – our constituents, staff and staff of this House – can benefit from working for the common good in this extraordinary place.”

2 hours ago

More here from today’s lobby briefing.

On Bermuda, the PM’s official spokesman said: “We are seriously disappointed that the Domestic Partnership Bill removes the right for same-sex couples to marry in Bermuda.

“But that Bill has been democratically passed by the Parliament of Bermuda, and our relationship with the overseas territories is based on partnership and respect for their right to democratic self-government.”

In an interesting comment on Brexit, the PM’s spokesman said he was not expecting “significant moments” in Brussels tomorrow. Top Brexit official Olly Robbins was expected to meet EU leaders to report on the UK’s position on the end state.

Theresa May and her Brexit “war Cabinet” have been locked in talks over the future relationship.

But when the spokesman was asked about Mr Robbins, he said: “I’m not aware of his travel plans – I’m not expecting any significant moments in Brussels tomorrow.”

2 hours ago

The Press Association’s Harriet Line has filed this report from the Commons on the Bermuda debate:
Same-sex marriages at sea on some cruise ships are to be banned after Bermuda repealed legislation which allowed gay and lesbian couples to wed, an MP has said.

Labour’s Chris Bryant said Cunard and P&O’s Bermuda-registered ships will no longer be able to hold the ceremonies, amid claims that Britain is being made a “laughing stock in the international human rights field” because of the decision.

The British Overseas Territory had allowed couples of the same gender to marry since May 2017, but now a law has been put into force establishing domestic partnerships.

Mr Bryant, who asked an urgent question on the issue in the Commons, said the move was a “backwards step for human rights in Bermuda and in the overseas territories”.

“Same-sex Bermudian couples who have been married under the ruling of the … Bermudian Supreme Court have now been rendered an anomaly.

“Gay and lesbian Bermudians have been told that they aren’t quite equal to everyone else – they have been told they don’t deserve, this is the word being used, they don’t deserve the full marriage rights that other Bermudians enjoy.

“And Cunard and P&O’s Bermuda-registered ships will be banned from holding same-sex marriages at sea.”

Labour’s Lloyd Russell-Moyle (Brighton, Kemptown) asked: “How do we expect to be leaders of the world on this issue, how do we expect to raise this issue seriously at the Commonwealth, as the minister has suggested, if they will all turn around and say ‘Well, in the territories you sanction it, in Northern Ireland you sanction it?’

“We are making our country a laughing stock in the international human rights field.”

Shadow Foreign Office minister Helen Goodman described the legislation as “shameful”, and said it “turns same-sex couples into second-class citizens”.

Foreign Office Minister Harriett Baldwin said the Government had decided not to intervene and block the legislation.

She told MPs: “After full and careful consideration in regards to Bermuda’s constitutional and international obligations, the Secretary decided that in these circumstances it would not be appropriate to use this power to block legislation, which can only can be used where there is a legal or constitutional basis for doing so, and even then only in exceptional circumstances.”

2 hours ago

Bermuda has become the first country in the world to repeal a law allowing same-sex couples to marry. The island’s governor, John Rankin, approved a bill on Wednesday that reverses a Supreme Court ruling last year authorising gay marriage. 
MPs have been pressing the Government on the issue in the Commons, as Bermuda is a British Overseas Territory, but ministers said they could only intervene in “exceptional circumstances”.

Bermuda repeals same-sex marriage in world first

2 hours ago

The Independent’s Rob Merrick has been at a briefing with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman and has sent through these lines.
Asked about financier George Soros backing a campaign for overturning Brexit, the spokesman said: “There are obviously many political and campaign groups in this country – that’s entirely right and as you would expect in a democracy.”

He defended the right for the Best for Britain campaign to exist and be funded, but insisted the UK is leaving regardless.

He said: “That’s what we are going to deliver and there won’t be a second referendum.”
On the sexual harassment report, the PM’s spokesman said anonymity for the accused was “standard in workplace grievance procedures”.
He said: “There is obviously a separate issue if we are talking about a criminal complaint – that’s not what today is about.” It is a “matter for police” whether someone would be identified.

3 hours ago

The Government is considering banning puppy sales by pet shops and other third party dealers.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said a ban will be explored as part of a package to drive up welfare standards alongside enhanced licensing conditions for breeders due to come into force later this year.

The possible ban would mean anyone buying or adopting a dog would deal directly with the breeder or an animal rehousing centre.

Last year, Defra concluded that a ban on third party sales would lead to the creation of an illegal market following evidence from Dogs Trust and Blue Cross.

Mr Gove said: “We need to do everything we can to make sure the nation’s much loved pets get the right start in life.

“From banning the sale of underage puppies to tackling the breeding of dogs with severe genetic disorders, we are cracking down on sellers who have a total disregard for their dogs’ welfare.”

Under new rules to take effect later this year, anyone who breeds or sells dogs must be licensed and will be banned from selling puppies and kittens under eight weeks old.

They must also show puppies alongside their mother before a sale is made, and sales must be completed in the presence of the new owner in order to prevent online sales where prospective buyers have not seen the animal first.


3 hours ago

Westminster has become a safe space for predators

3 hours ago

Specialist FGM prosecutors have been appointed by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) after the number of reported cases hit more than 5,000 last year.

Solicitor General Robert Buckland told MPs about the appointments after concerns raised about the lack of successful prosecutions.

Mr Buckland told the Commons there should be “greater and deeper understanding” of the offence as a result of the appointments and police will be better-equipped to spot “the tell-tale signs of FGM abuse”.

Almost half of FGM victims last year involved women and girls living in London, according to figures released by NHS Digital.

A third were women and girls born in Somalia while 112 cases were UK-born nationals. The practice is illegal in the UK and it is compulsory for family doctors, hospitals and mental health trusts to report any new cases in their patients.

FGM – intentionally altering or injuring the female external genitalia for non-medical reasons – carries a sentence of up to 14 years in jail.

Mr Buckland said: “I’m glad to say with the appointment of lead FGM prosecutors in each CPS area and agreed protocols for local police forces there should be a greater understanding and a deeper understanding by police officers, in particular as to the tell-tale signs of FGM abuse and what to do about them.

“Early investigative advice from the CPS is vital in these cases.”

3 hours ago

The Tories have risen four points ahead of Labour, according to a new poll for The Times.

The YouGov poll shows the Tories on 43 per cent, up 1 point compared with last week, Labour on 39 per cent, down 3 points, and the Lib Dems on 8 per cent, up 2 points.

The Indy’s John Rentoul also picks up another interesting detail, which shows 44 per cent of people think leaving the EU was the wrong decision.

4 hours ago

Today is the final day in Parliament before MPs head off on a 12-day break. On the agenda today, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom will give a statement about the sexual harassment report, and there are UQs on Motability scheme and same-sex marriage in Bermuda.

4 hours ago

Veteran BBC interviewer John Humphrys had the tables turned on him when an MP demanded to know if he had apologised to a colleague over controversial remarks he made over the BBC gender pay gap.

The awkward moment came in the wake of a leaked off-air conversation Mr Humphrys had with the BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel regarding complaints by former China editor Carrie Gracie on wage disparities between men and women at the corporation.

Interviewed on Today, Liberal Democrat deputy leader Jo Swinson said to Mr Humphrys: “While I have got you here John, can I just ask have you apologised to Carrie Gracie for the remarks that you made about her courageous stance on equal pay?”

Mr Humphrys said: “I wrote an email to Carrie Gracie immediately after that exchange, yes I did as a matter of fact, and she replied.

“Quite what this has to do with what we are discussing here I fail to see, but there we are.”

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