MPs must not hide behind excuses about long hours and work pressure as an explanation for misogyny and misbehaviour in Westminster, Keir Starmer has said.
The Labour leader welcomed the resignation of Tory MP Neil Parish, who quit on Saturday after being spotted watching pornography on his phone in the Commons chamber.
But he said that parliament needed a “culture change… led from and modelled from the top.”
Sir Keir was speaking amid fresh allegations of misbehaviour in the Commons, with reports of incidents such as MPs licking researchers’ faces. More than 50 MPs are said to be under investigation by parliament’s complaints procedure over sexual harassment.
The Labour leader told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “There’s a cultural issue we have to get to grips with and culture change has to be led from and modelled from the top.”
The government had shown repeatedly that, when a Tory colleague gets into trouble, ministers’ “first instinct is to push it off into the long grass, hide what’s happening,” said Sir Keir.
And he added: “That’s a political problem because the fish rots from the head…
“I’ve dealt with cultural change before – I had to do this within the Crown Prosecution Service. I learned that it has to be led from a model from the top.
“You look to the political leadership, see what approach they’re taking. And without that, I think it’s very difficult to bring about change.”
Conservative cabinet minister Kwasi Kwarteng denied there was a general culture of sexism in Westminster, but said that the pressures of the job drove some MPs to step over the line.
“I don’t think there’s a culture of misogyny,” Mr Kwarteng told Sophy Ridge.
“I think the problem we have is that people are working in a really intense environment. There are long hours. I think, generally, most people know their limits. They know how to act respectfully, but there are some instances where people don’t frankly act according to the highest standards.”
But Sir Keir said that this view was challenged by female MPs with whom he had discussed the issue over the past few days.
“We can’t run this argument about this `high pressure culture place’,” he said. “Take responsibility.
“Neil Parish chose to watch porn in Parliament. Tory MPs chose to make disparaging comments about Angela Rayner. They’ve got to take responsibility.”