Home Politics Peers block suspension of Lord Lester after sexual harassment claims

Peers block suspension of Lord Lester after sexual harassment claims

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The House of Lords has voted against a record suspension for a peer accused of having offered to make a woman a baroness if she slept with him.

A parliamentary watchdog had recommended Lord Lester of Herne Hill be barred from parliament’s upper chamber until 3 June 2022 following the allegations of sexual harassment.

But, in a vote on Thursday, peers voted by 101 to 78 to send the case back to the House of Lords’ committee for privileges and conduct to look at again.

A number of peers raised concerns over the disciplinary procedure used in Lord Lester’s case, arguing it was “manifestly unfair”.

The 82-year-old – who denies the allegations against him – had been facing the longest suspension for a member of the House of Lords or House of Commons since at least the end of the Second World War.

The complaint had been made by women’s rights campaigner Jasvinder Sanghera, who waived her anonymity in an interview with The Times.

Ms Sanghera, a campaigner against forced marriage, had been working with Lord Lester on the passage of a parliamentary bill when the alleged incident occurred in 2006.

She finally lodged a complaint in November 2017 after the rise of the #MeToo movement.

Ms Sanghera said the peer had told her that if she slept with him he would make her a baroness “within a year”, but if she refused he would ensure she never gained a seat in the Lords.

Following the peers’ decision to overrule his suspension, Ms Sanghera said she believed sexual harassment victims would be deterred from coming forward to the House of Lords.

She told the Evening Standard: “I have to say that if the Lords really believe that the outcome of today isn’t going to deter victims, then I don’t know what world they are living in.”

The failure of the House of Lords to back the immediate suspension of Lord Lester was also attacked by a string of MPs.

Labour MP Jess Phillips said she was “heartbroken from the message this sends”.

“The powerful can do whatever they like, gaming lives and liberties for their own ends,” she tweeted, adding: “I could cry.”

Fellow Labour MP Sarah Champion said: “What a despicable perversion of justice.

“Lords overrule two independent processes to protect Lord Lester from suspension for sexual harassment.

“I can’t express how angry and disgusted I am with this living, breathing example of the old boys network.”

On Monday, the committee for privileges and conduct endorsed the conclusions of a report by the House of Lords commissioner for standards.

She found Lord Lester breached peers’ code of conduct by “failing to act on his personal honour by sexually harassing the complainant and offering her corrupt inducements to sleep with him”.

Lord McFall, senior deputy speaker in the House of Lords, described himself as “deeply disappointed” by peers’ vote on Thursday.

He said: “The committee will meet next week to consider options in response to today’s vote.

“Members raised concerns with the process of the investigation that the committee will consider.

“I fully support the commissioner for standards and the work she has undertaken for many months.

“Every step of the way she followed the processes as agreed by the House and that have not been questioned before today.

“I would also like to express my sympathy to the complainant at what must be a very difficult time for her.”

Lord Lester denies all the allegations against him, branding them “completely untrue” and the investigation into the claims as “flawed”.

He stood down as the Liberal Democrat spokesman on human rights in February and withdrew himself from the party whip as the complaint was investigated.

(c) Sky News 2018: Peers block suspension of Lord Lester after sexual harassment claims