Gay men working in parliament are the “most vulnerable” to harassment and abuse but are “absolutely terrified of coming forward” because of the taboo which remains around homosexuality, a senior Conservative MP has said.
Former immigration minister Caroline Nokes said women receive “all the column inches in the press” before “this ‘and also’ [approach] when it comes to the young gay men’.”
Speaking to the Gloria Meets show on GB News, hosted by former Labour MP Gloria De Piero, Nokes said: “I’m convinced that sexual harassment is not about sex, it’s about the exploitation of power from one individual over another.
“We absolutely have to redress that imbalance and make sure that young people working in parliament, women working in parliament, young gay men – I sometimes think that they are the most vulnerable – that we give them a mechanism where they know that they’re going to be protected.”
She added: “There have been some cases where I can think of individuals who’ve harassed both male and female members of staff, and the female member of staff has had all the sympathy … I think that that’s a really fascinating insight into to how our psychology still works around homosexuality.”
Last week, it was reported MPs suspected of sexual misconduct could be banned from the parliamentary estate by a panel of their colleagues, under plans considered by officials.
The Commons commission met earlier this week to discuss a new paper on how to exclude MPs facing claims of sexual assault. While politicians have previously suggested exclusion should occur when an MP is charged, they are now being asked to consider exclusion on arrest.
Nokes has called for an urgent review of the way incidents are investigated, as many in Westminster have questioned why it takes a long time for officials to process complaints. An insider said the “complaints system is not functioning at the moment”.
Parliamentary staffers are informally made aware of individuals who are inclined to pursue sexual relations, the Guardian understands.
A former senior staffer told the Guardian that a group of gay staffers joked about having all been groped, and quipped the one who had not “was the least attractive”.
Nokes said: “I was told a while ago that if I thought there was ever going to be an explicit code of conduct of what MPs could and couldn’t do, I was deluded. Actually, I think we need that. If you were to behave like that in Tesco or in a big accountancy firm, a bank, you’d be out on your ear. And what we have in parliament is the inalienable right.”
Labour MP Charlotte Nichols recently claimed there is a “whisper list” of roughly 40 politicians to keep at arm’s length in Westminster – including two former cabinet ministers.
The MP for Warrington North said she was warned about colleagues to never accept a drink from or be alone with. The list, which is not written down, includes people known for “bullying or sexual misconduct”.