BBC News flash: Neil Parish resigns

Neil Parish MP: I’m resigning after porn ‘moment of madness’

www.bbc.co.uk

Neil Parish has told the BBC he is resigning as an MP after admitting he watched pornography twice in the House of Commons.

Mr Parish – the MP for Tiverton and Honiton in Devon – said it had been a “moment of madness” and “I was not proud of what I was doing.”

He said the first time was accidental after looking at tractors, but the second time was deliberate.

He was suspended by the Conservative Party on Friday over the allegations.

Two female colleagues claimed they had seen him looking at adult content on his phone while sitting near them.

He previously told the BBC he would co-operate fully with the inquiry.

“Of course it’s embarrassing,” he said on Friday. “And it’s embarrassing for my wife and family, and so that’s my main concern at the moment. I have a very supportive wife and I thank her for that.”

Asked if it was a mistake and he had opened something on his phone in error, he said: “I did, but let the inquiry look at that.

“I will await the findings of the inquiry and then I will consider my position. I will not remain if I am found guilty.”

Media caption,

Tory MP Neil Parish on porn allegations: ‘Of course it’s embarrassing’

In an interview with the Times, Mr Parish’s wife, Sue Parish, said the allegation was “very embarrassing” and described her husband as “quite a normal guy” and “a lovely person”.

“If you were mad with every man who looked at pornography, you would not have many wives in the world,” she said.

She added she did not see the attraction of pornography and understood why the women who had made the allegation were upset.

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Analysis box by Nick Eardley, political correspondent

Neil Parish said last night that he would remain an MP while his conduct was investigated.

But overnight, under significant pressure, he has changed his mind.

It’s expected he will confirm his resignation from Parliament in the next few hours. That will trigger a by-election in what is a safe Tory seat.

But the bigger picture here matters too. Westminster has been rocked by allegations of a sexist culture this week. If Mr Parish had continued as an MP, he would have been plagued by questions over his conduct.

Caroline Nokes questioned this morning whether he would be able to do his job as extensively as required. Others suggested it would be impossible for him to continue to hold his influential position chairing the environment committee.

This story – and others – have damaged Parliament’s reputation. They’ve also damaged the Conservative Party. Both will be hoping that Mr Parish’s resignation will help them start to move on.

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Mr Parish is facing an investigation by Parliament’s standards commissioner. If it is found that he violated the code of conduct for MPs, possible punishments could include apologising to the Commons, or being suspended or expelled.

Other politicians have called for Mr Parish – who also chairs the environment select committee – to stand down as an MP.

And Labour has criticised the wider culture in Parliament, accusing the government of having known about the incident for days but failing to take action.

Senior Tory MP Caroline Nokes also criticised the delay by the Tory whips office to act and suspend him from the Conservative party, saying the whips office was “still too blokey”.

“I fully expected to wake up on the Wednesday morning and find that a member of Parliament had had the whip suspended,” she told the BBC on Saturday.

“And I felt that by leaving it until Friday before we knew that action had been taken by the whips, that felt like unnecessary dither and delay.”

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Who is Neil Parish?

  • The 65-year-old, an MP since 2010, was a Member of the European Parliament for South West England from 1999 to 2009
  • He left school at 16 to manage his family’s farm and, in 2000, was an election monitor during Zimbabwe’s parliamentary election
  • He opposed Brexit in the 2016 referendum and voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage by David Cameron’s government
  • Mr Parish is married and has two children and two grandchildren
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On Wednesday, it emerged that a female minister had reported a male colleague for viewing pornographic material while sitting beside her in the Commons chamber. The female minister said she had also seen the MP watching pornography during a hearing of a select committee, The Times reported.

A second female Tory MP said she had tried but been unable to capture video proof of him doing so.

The allegations were subsequently revealed to have been made about Mr Parish.

The government’s safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean denied that the Conservative Party was institutionally sexist, saying: “I think there is clearly a problem in the House of Commons. And I think it extends to all parties actually.”

And asked about the delay to Mr Parish being suspended, she said: “There clearly needed to be some time to establish the veracity of what was said, the facts of the case. Where we’ve got to now is the right place we need to be, which is there is the investigation happening, the chief whip has taken the action he’s taken.”

 

South West suffers from ‘profound’ social inequality, study finds

People in the south west of England face some of the “most profound social and educational divides in the country”, according to a report.

BBC News www.bbc.co.uk 

Researchers at the University of Exeter discovered the region suffered from poor exam grades, low wages and limited opportunities.

It said a “lack of impetus for change amongst some leaders” was “harming” the lives of residents.

The government said it was taking “action” to create “well-paid jobs”.

The report looked at data from Cornwall, Devon and Somerset, and was the result of a year-long review.

Prof Lee Elliot Major said he hoped the report served as a “wake-up call”

Prof Lee Elliot Major, who specialises in social mobility and worked on the report, said: “Our evidence demonstrates to central government that levelling up efforts must prioritise the South West.

“Improving social mobility is about ensuring that all people fulfil their potential and lead full lives in the communities they come from.”

Prof Major, based at the University of Exeter, added: “We hope that this will be a wake-up call for a region which faces some of the most profound social and educational divides in the country.”

Prof Sir Steve Smith, an education champion for the government, said the report was “damning and shocking”.

“It lays bare the huge challenges facing the peninsula and makes a compelling case for improving the prospects of future generations,” he said.

Researchers discovered that just 40% of disadvantaged pupils attained a standard pass in GCSE English and Maths in 2019 compared with almost 60% in inner London.

And just 17% of disadvantaged students went on to university in 2018/19 compared with 45% in London.

  • Low earnings and poor pay are common in many parts of the region with four of Devon’s eight districts among the UK’s top 25 low wage “hotspots”
  • Poor mental health outcomes for both children and adults
  • Teacher recruitment, retention and training are challenges for isolated schools
  • Schools have on average lower levels of funding than elsewhere
  • The area has long travel times to pursue further education or work which has been linked to higher drop out rates
  • Fewer professional jobs are available in most areas, which has contributed to a youth exodus

The report made some suggestions to address the challenges:

  • A university-led tutoring scheme targeted to disadvantaged pupils in need of extra literacy and numeracy help
  • School-centred community hubs to provide support for people aged up to 21. These hubs would be coordinated by schools and tailored to specific community needs
  • Flexible post-16 learning, combined with a free 16-19 travel pass, to reduce the cost and risk of pursuing further study and training
  • A greater focus on disadvantage, to close the gap in schools. It includes regional schools commissioners leading a regional drive to instil best practice in schools and academy trusts; and a concerted effort to improve parental engagement

The government said: “We want to fire up the South West’s economic engine and are taking decisive action to spread opportunity and investment, creating well-paid jobs across the region.

“Our landmark Levelling Up White Paper includes targeted investment and support in education and plans to provide more power to local leaders across the south west.

“This is on top of more than £490m for levelling up projects in towns and cities like Bournemouth, Plymouth and Glastonbury, as well as new quality jobs created by the Lithium Recovery Plant in Cornwall.”

House price bidding wars are rising fastest in Bath

The southwest of England dominates the nation’s property hotspots. Asking prices in Truro, Cornwall, have risen by 14.6 per cent since this time last year to £323,200, while Plymouth and Gloucester have seen rises of 12 per cent or more.

Tom Howard www.thetimes.co.uk

Asking prices for houses in Bath are rising more quickly than in any other city in Britain as would-be buyers battle each other to snap up the few homes to come onto the market.

The average asking price for a home in the largest city in Somerset has jumped by 15 per cent over the past year, Rightmove, the online property portal, said. The average asking price there has risen to £558,000 — almost £75,000 more than the figure sellers were looking for this time a year ago.

The southwest of England dominates the nation’s property hotspots. Asking prices in Truro, Cornwall, have risen by 14.6 per cent since this time last year to £323,200, while Plymouth and Gloucester have seen rises of 12 per cent or more.

The only location outside of the southwest to break into the five fastest-rising cities is Southend-on-Sea in Essex, where asking prices are up 13.4 per cent year-on-year to £343,000.

On average, prices in the ten fastest-rising cities have climbed 12.6 per cent over the past 12 months. That compares with national asking price growth of 9.9 per cent over the same period.

Buyers, Rightmove said, are trying to balance the desire for more space while remaining close to workplaces and city amenities. “In the first stages of the pandemic we saw the popularity of some major cities, like London, temporarily drop as people looked for more space,” Tim Bannister, the website’s director of property data, said.

“However, for other cities, such as Bath or Plymouth, which perhaps have easier access to the coast and countryside, we saw demand really soar when the market reopened in 2020.”

House prices in the UK more generally have been fuelled by the desire of many to move into bigger properties that offer more potential home-office and garden space, sparked by the pandemic. It has been described as a once in a lifetime re-evaluation of how and where we live, and property market analysts expect that the trend will last for a little while yet.

House prices in Britain are at their highest ever, having risen, on average, by more than a fifth since the onset of Covid. While part of that record rise is down to booming demand, estate agents have for months been complaining that they do not have much housing stock left to sell. That is leading to bidding wars between determined buyers, further inflating prices.

The Rightmove data shows that in those cities where prices are rising fastest, there is a pronounced shortage of houses for sale. In the southwest, the number of houses available for sale has fallen by 39 per cent over the past year, Rightmove estimates.

“[At the start of the pandemic], the supply of homes available kept up with some of this surge in demand, steadying asking prices,” said Bannister.

“Now we’re still seeing really high buyer demand for cities like Bath, Plymouth and Truro, but the number of new homes coming onto the market hasn’t been able to keep up with the buyers enquiring.”

Glasgow is the most competitive city in Britain in which to buy a home, measured by the number of enquiries estate agents are receiving for houses.

“We are seeing 50-plus viewers and offers being made within days for every property coming on the market,” John O’Malley, chief executive at Pacitti Jones estate agents in Glasgow, said.

Go now, Tories urge MP in Commons porn row

Today’s Headline in the Times

One local party chairwoman said: “How do we explain this on the doorstep? I couldn’t get people to go out with all the party stuff, and now this.”

But for the moment “our” Neil looks like he is hanging in “due process and all that” (following his leader?)

On returning to his home in Somerset yesterday he told his wife, Sue: “I’m sorry you’ve married a f***ing idiot.” 

Conservative MP Neil Parish suspended after accusations of watching porn in Commons

Ashley Cowburn www.independent.co.uk 

Tory MP Neil Parish is facing calls to resign after being named as the individual accused by female colleagues of watching pornography in the House of Commons chamber.

The 65-year-old backbencher has been suspended from the Conservative parliamentary party and is set for investigation after referring himself to parliament’s standards commissioner.

He offered an apology “for the situation”, but vowed to continue serving as MP for Tiverton and Honiton while the inquiry takes place, promising he would quit parliament if found guilty.

Speaking to reporters outside his Devon home, Mr Parish suggested that he had opened the offensive material by error in the Commons chamber. But he declined to confirm suggestions that he plans to say in his defence that it was sent to his phone by someone else.

“I will await the findings of the inquiry and then I will consider my position,” he said. “I will not remain if I am found guilty.”

His suspension comes after politicians of all stripes reacted with outrage at the claims first made privately by two female Tory MPs during a meeting with party officials on Tuesday evening.

Ending days of rife speculation over the identity of the individual alleged to have watched porn, Mr Parish – who also chairs the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – had the whip suspended on Friday.

Asked if he recognised the offence caused to female colleagues, he said: “Of course I can understand why they are concerned and I can only apologise for the situation, but I will maintain my duties as MP.”

He revealed that he only informed his wife this afternoon i- some time after it became public knowledge – that he was the MP at the heart of the pornography storm which has raged in Westminster over the past two days.

“Of course it’s embarrassing, and it’s embarrassing for my wife and family,” he said. “I have a very supportive wife and I thank her for that.”

Mr Parish’s wife Sue told The Times her husbnnd was “quite a normal guy, really, a lovely person”, adding: “It’s just so stupid.”

She said that the female MPs who complained about Mr Parish were “quite right” to be upset”, adding: “He would never just sit there with people looking. He would never just do that knowing [people were looking]”.

Mrs Parish said she did not understand the attraction of pornography. “I’m a woman,” she said. “Hence why the women were so cross. It’s degrading. It’s demeaning.”

Standards commissioner Kathryn Stone may launch a probe if she believes Mr Parish caused “significant damage to the reputation and integrity” of the House of Commons.

A second investigation by the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) — established in the wake of the MeToo scandal — was launched after the allegations surfaced.

But the senior Labour MP Harriet Harman insisted Mr Parish should resign “right away” if the allegations are true, saying the incident was a “new low” for the House of Commons.

Ms Harman, the mother of the house – the longest serving female MP – told BBC Radio 4: “If this is what he has done, he should stand down from parliament right away.

“It’s not right for him to go through the investigation process if that is what he has done. Clearly he is not fit to be in parliament. He should accept that and not drag the processes out”.

After his suspension, it emerged Mr Parish was asked about the allegation that an MP had watched porn in the Commons chamber in a TV interview days before being named as the suspect, and told GB News the incident should be treated “seriously”.

In the interview Mr Paris also denied there was a cultural problem of misogyny in parliament – but said some MPs might “step over the line”.

“I think the whip’s office will do a thorough investigation and we will wait and see that result and I think from that, then the decision will have to be made what action should be taken,” he said.

Asked if there was a culture of misogyny in parliament, Mr Parish replied: “When you’ve got 650 members of parliament in what is a very intense area, you are going to get people that step over the line.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily a huge culture here but I think it does have to be dealt with and dealt with seriously and I think that’s what the whips will do.”

The move on Friday by chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris followed accusations that the Conservatives were failing to act on complaints from two of their own female MPs, with demands for action from opposition parties and some Tories.

Labour’s shadow leader of the Commons, Thangam Debbonaire MP, said: “The Conservatives knew for days about the disgusting behaviour of one of their MPs and tried to cover it up … this is a government rotting from the head down. Britain deserves better.”

Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, added: “If Boris Johnson had any shred of decency left, he would tell Neil Parish to resign immediately.

“In any other workplace this would count as gross misconduct and the person responsible would lose their job. Parliament should be no different.

“We don’t need to insult the women MPs who witnessed this with a lengthy investigation. All his bosses need to do is ask for his devices and look at his viewing history, this isn’t rocket science.”

Former Conservative leader William Hague suggested thatMr Heaton-Harris should have moved more quickly to suspend the MP from the parliamentary party.

“It would have been better to make sure everybody knew who it was involved and take this action a few days ago,” Lord Hague told Times Radio.

The former Tory leader said it was right to wait for the outcome of Ms Stone’s inquiry but said it should be “resolved quickly” to avoid “terrible shame on [parliament’s] reputation”.

The pornography claims come amid renewed focus on misconduct and misogyny in parliament and reports at the weekend that 56 MPs – including three cabinet ministers – are facing sexual misconduct claims that have been referred to the ICGS.

Lord Hague said: “Clearly these things are completely unacceptable, utterly depressing. And I think we will end up with MPs having to vacate their seats. You know, there are going to be resignations from parliament over this and the political parties really have to clamp down on it.”

Women’s charities have warned that Westminster’s working culture is “in the gutter”. The CEO of charity refugee told The Independent the last seven days had been a “difficult week for women”.

Some female MPs have also detailed the sexual harassment they have experienced, including cabinet minister Anne Marie-Trevelyan, who told LBC on Friday that a male MP once pinned her against a wall and told her she “wants him”.

The international trade secretary said female MPs were still subjected to “wandering hands”, later adding: “It’s never okay anywhere. It’s not okay in Westminster either. If you’re a bloke – keep your hands in your pockets”.

Suella Braverman, the attorney general, added that a minority of men in politics “behave like animals” and were bringing parliament into disrepute with unacceptable behaviour.

Before Mr Parish was identified and had the whip suspended for allegedly watching porn in the Commons chamber she said she was “ashamed this person is carrying the Conservative rosette”.