Labour's procedures over sexual harassment complaints 'insufficient'

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A member of Labour's ruling National Executive Committee has warned Jeremy Corbyn that the party's new procedure for dealing with complaints of sexual harassment is "insufficient".

Under the new process, drawn up in the wake of a wave of allegations and rumours relating to improper behaviour at Westminster, grievances would be reviewed by a specialist panel appointed by the NEC.

But NEC member Jasmin Beckett has now written to the Labour leader urging him to consider setting up a fully independent body to deal with sensitive complaints.

Her warning came as Mr Corbyn was criticised by a prominent Labour backbencher for promoting Kelvin Hopkins to the shadow cabinet last year after a young activist had raised allegations about his behaviour.

The Luton North MP has been suspended from Labour while an investigation into claims that he sent suggestive texts and acted inappropriately is carried out.

Ava Etemadzadeh, 27, initially complained to the whips' office following contact with Mr Hopkins around three years ago, and said she was "very disillusioned" about his subsequent promotion.

Kelvin Hopkins
Kelvin Hopkins has been suspended from Labour while an investigation into the claims is carried out (Chris Radburn/PA)

It is understood that the MP was spoken to about why his behaviour was inappropriate and reprimanded by then chief whip Dame Rosie Winterton when Ms Etemadzadeh made her initial complaint after dealings with Mr Hopkins in 2014 and 2015.

But he was appointed culture spokesman in June 2016 following mass resignations which were part of a botched coup attempt against Mr Corbyn.

Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I am a bit concerned about the fact that Kelvin was then promoted afterwards, that does seem wrong to me... I think that people just didn't take it as seriously as it needed to be taken."

"Stephen Crabb should definitely not still be walking around parliament with the Tory whip"

- Labour MP Jess Phillips #r4todaypic.twitter.com/byc2WlVCIy

-- BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) November 3, 2017

In an email sent to Labour MPs on Wednesday, the party's General Secretary Iain McNicol is understood to have said the NEC had agreed a "code of conduct for sexual harassment and gender discrimination" and appointed a panel to police it.

But Ms Beckett, who represents Young Labour on the NEC, said that experiences of sexual harassment within the party were "not rare" among young members, adding: "I am aware of more members wanting to make complaints but not feeling able to do so."

She called for the appointment of an independent external investigator to look into complaints. And she said: "The new sexual harassment policy is still insufficient and makes no attempt to look at the possibility of an independent body to deal with sensitive complaints going forward.

"In light of the recent complaints, I am now convinced that we need to consider these options to ensure members of our party feel able to speak out."

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for promoting Mr Hopkins to the shadow cabinet last year (David Cheskin/PA)

Ms Etemadzadeh told BBC Radio 4's World at One her complaint was taken seriously by then chief whip Dame Rosie Winterton, but not by the leader's office.

"The chief whip of the Labour Party at the time, she informed the leader's office, and I also have evidence that the regional office in the East of England, they contacted the leader's office about this and it was ignored," she said.

"I'm very disillusioned because just a few months later I realised that Jeremy Corbyn had promoted Kelvin Hopkins to the shadow cabinet despite the fact that the leader's office was aware of this."

She said the decision to suspend Mr Hopkins came just minutes before the Daily Telegraph published an account of her story.

Mr Hopkins is the latest MP to become caught up in a wave of allegations over sleaze in Westminster.

Sir Michael Fallon
Sir Michael Fallon quit as Defence Secretary on Wednesday (Leon Neal/PA)

Sir Michael Fallon, who quit as Defence Secretary on Wednesday after admitting that his behaviour had "fallen below the high standards required" in the role, was reportedly forced out after Cabinet colleague Andrea Leadsom passed a dossier of claims to Number 10.

Sources close to the Tory MP said he "fundamentally denied" claims that he made a crude joke to the Commons Leader, while Mrs Leadsom's team and Number 10 declined to comment.

Mrs May has called a meeting of all party leaders on Monday to agree a new system of dealing with abuse complaints in Parliament.

Labour said it takes complaints "extremely seriously" and has "robust" systems in place to deal with them.