The policing minister dismissed questions about alleged sexual misconduct within the Conservative Party as “soap opera stuff” as the Tories faced pressure to identify and suspend an MP accused of rape.
Kit Malthouse defended the Tory record on law and order despite the partygate row which has seen 126 fines issued over lockdown-busting events in No 10 and Whitehall and the arrest of a Conservative MP for sexual offences.
The Conservatives faced calls to take tougher action on the MP being investigated by police, while stricter measures are being considered to ensure parliamentarians accused of serious criminal offences could be banned from the Commons.
Asked by the PA news agency if the Conservative administration can still call itself the Government of law and order, in light of incidents including partygate and allegations of sexual misconduct within its ranks, Mr Malthouse said: “Oh, we certainly can.
“I mean, don’t forget, with assistance from the pandemic but because of some great policing and policy decisions, neighbourhood crime is down, violence is down.
“We’re turning the numbers on murder, we’re closing county lines on a daily basis.
“So away from the kind of soap opera stuff, we are making significant progress, and that’s alongside the 13,500 cops that we’ve recruited.
“So I do believe that we can say that, and we’re certainly making progress.”
Aides later said Mr Malthouse’s “soap opera” comment was referring to partygate and that the minister was absolutely unequivocal that any allegation of sexual misconduct or assault is no laughing matter, must be fully investigated and he would never suggest it was trivial.
The Conservatives have told the unnamed MP accused of rape to voluntarily stay away from Parliament while on bail for allegations including sexual assault, abuse of position of trust and misconduct in public office.
But the party was resisting calls to suspend and identify the Tory, who has only been publicly identified as a man in his 50s.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said discussions are ongoing to decide whether parliamentarians could be barred from the estate while under police investigation.
The Prospect union, which represents hundreds of parliamentary staff, has called for access to be suspended for parliamentarians accused of sex offences.
Sir Lindsay said that the MP under investigation should stay away from Westminster in the “best interest of both the member” and parliamentary staff.
But he told Times Radio: “Unless the rules change in the House, a member has the right to come in.”
Asked if the Commons authorities could get the powers to block MPs’ passes under the circumstances, Sir Lindsay said: “What I would say is conversations are going on at the moment.”
While it was unclear who would be granted the power to bar MPs, any proposals would need to be voted on by the House and it was understood to be unlikely the Speaker would be able to act single-handedly.
Mr Malthouse told Times Radio: “We have to take care here.
“Far be it for me to give advice to the Speaker, but we have to take care when overriding the democratic decisions of the British public.
“If anybody is accused of a crime they’re innocent until proven guilty so we just need to be slightly sensitive about that but I’d be interested in seeing what the Speaker concludes.”
The Conservatives have not suspended the whip from the MP, so he remains a member of the parliamentary party.
But the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary has said he would lose the whip if he was charged with an offence – something that would lead to him being identified.
There are legal issues with identifying the suspect, but keeping him anonymous has cast suspicion over other MPs who are not facing any allegations.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, said: “I think as a general rule at the arrest stage people shouldn’t be named. But there are exceptions to that rule and there are exceptions that apply in this situation.”
He told reporters in Leeds: “The Conservative Party should take responsibility for what’s happened in this case. Like so many others, they haven’t acted quickly enough or decisively enough.
“I think that is what is causing the concern across the parliamentary estate.”
On Wednesday, the Metropolitan Police bailed the suspect pending further inquiries until mid-June.
The latest arrest also follows a Conservative MP being arrested on suspicion of rape in 2020. He was never identified and police took no further action after an investigation.