Shutting Westminster bars not needed as MP scandals ‘bigger than hospitality arrangements’

Politics

Bar closures in Parliament are not needed to prevent MP scandals, senior politicians agree, as it was argued the cause is “bigger than the hospitality arrangements”.

Frontbenchers from both main parties pointed out few of the recent misconduct controversies had actually happened in hostelries at Westminster.

Chris Pincher, MP for Tamworth in Staffordshire, quit as Tory deputy chief whip – responsible for party discipline – after he was accused of drunkenly groping two men at the members-only Carlton Club.

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Boris Johnson bowed to demands to withdraw the whip from Mr Pincher, meaning he will now sit in the Commons as an independent, after an official investigation was launched.

There are several bars on the parliamentary estate, including the Woolsack and Strangers’ Bar.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “I think, in terms of Parliament’s bars, we have a particular sort of working hours and a lot of these situations you’re referring to I don’t think happened in the bars.

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“That’s a matter, I guess, for discussion in Parliament but we’ve already reduced the number of drinking and eating outlets in Parliament.

“What does matter in terms of culture is actually being a government and a Parliament that gets on and delivers the priorities of the people and that’s what we will continue to do.”

Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds also told Ridge he did not believe the parliamentary bars are the issue.

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PM ‘not aware of specific claims’ against Pincher

He said: “I don’t think Parliament has the kind of modern workplace culture that it should have, I think there’s further to go on that.

“But I would just say, if you look at these particular incidents, actually few of them are in Parliament itself, so for me it comes down to something bigger than the hospitality arrangements.

“It’s about power, it’s about accountability, it’s about the standards that are set by the leader of each political party, and I cannot see Boris Johnson as being the kind of person to somehow improve the culture of the Conservative Party.”

Pointing out there is “only one major bar for members of Parliament, there’s one for staff as well”, Mr Reynolds added: “I don’t think that is the issue.

“You can shut every bar in Westminster but if you have got a Conservative party that does not take these issues seriously, that gives people a get out of jail free card.

Pressed over whether a drinking culture was fostered due to the bars, the Labour MP said: “I wouldn’t say it’s encouraged.

“Most people are doing an incredibly professional job and there is a bar for staff members and that is to be honest absolutely fine.

“What I am trying to say to you is, this is not the core of the issue, particular the Chris Pincher case was at the Conservative Party’s private members’ club, the Carlton Club.

“We have got to address the core of this which is the whole behaviour which is being set from the top.”

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