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Saturday 4 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
PA
# UK
Tory Neil Parish admits watching pornography in House of Commons and quits as MP
Parish had initially vowed to continue working as an MP after he was suspended from the party yesterday.

LAST UPDATE | Apr 30th 2022, 3:25 PM

TORY NEIL PARISH is resigning as an MP after admitting to twice watching pornography in the UK House of Commons. 

The 65-year-old select committee chair said he first accidentally viewed porn after looking at tractors online, before then acting deliberately.

Parish, who is a farmer by trade, said the second time was while he was sitting waiting to vote on the side of the Commons chamber, in a “moment of madness”.

He had vowed to continue as the MP for Tiverton and Honiton after it was revealed he was the politician seen watching porn by two Conservative colleagues, but bowed to pressure to resign today.

He said in an interview with BBC South West that he recognised the “furore” and “damage” he was causing his family and his constituency in Devon before deciding “it just wasn’t worth carrying on”.

“The situation was, funnily enough it was tractors I was looking at, so I did get into another website with sort of a very similar name and I watched it for a bit, which I shouldn’t have done,” Parish said.

“My crime, my most biggest crime, is that on another occasion I went in a second time, and that was deliberate. That was sitting waiting to vote on the side of the chamber.”

‘A moment of madness’

He said it was a “moment of madness”, which he accepted was “totally wrong”, as he insisted he was “not making sure people could see it” and was trying to be discreet.

“I was wrong what I was doing, but this idea that I was there watching it, intimidating women, I mean I have 12 years in Parliament and probably got one of the best reputations ever – or did have.”

When pressed on why he chose to view the material in the Commons, he said: “I don’t know, I think I must’ve taken complete leave of my senses and my sensibilities and my sense of decency, everything.”

A spokesperson for Tiverton and Honiton Conservatives said: “We would like to take this opportunity to thank Neil Parish for his service to our communities over the past 12 years. We support his decision to step down as our Member of Parliament.”

Conservative sources had earlier said that Parish was “likely” to quit as the representative for Tiverton and Honiton today, but had stressed that nothing was confirmed. 

One source suggested Parish was bowing to pressure from Westminster while local Tory officers were saddened by the scandal.

Sky News, which first reported the possible development, suggested Parish had been told by allies his position had become untenable.

They are said to have voiced concerns about the way he maintained his silence as rumours swirled about who the culprit was since two Tory MPs aired the accusations on Tuesday.

The backbencher had been pledging to continue his “duties” as the MP for the Devon constituency and as chairman of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

Asked by reporters at his Somerset farmhouse if he opened something in error in the Commons, he said: “I did, but let the inquiry look at that.”

However, there had been suggestions that a Tory minister also witnessed him watching porn on a second occasion, in a committee meeting.

In an interview later on Friday night, Parish told the Telegraph how “it’s almost as if a weight is lifted off me” now the accusation is “out in the open”.

Parish referred himself to UK Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone for investigation, but said on Friday he would only resign if she found him guilty.

Senior Tory Karen Bradley had urged him to stay away from Parliament and Harriet Harman, the longest-standing female MP, called for his immediate resignation.

This morning, safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean backed the 65-year-old farmer’s decision not to immediately stand down, saying: “I genuinely think that’s a matter for him.”

But, speaking to Times Radio, she added: “I want to be clear, he is not continuing his business as normal, he’s under investigation, and I’m confident that the appropriate measures will be put in place to safeguard any of his constituents, particularly women and girls.”

‘Unacceptable’

Maclean, the minister responsible for safeguarding women, said “clearly what he’s done is unacceptable” and that he should resign if found to have watched the material deliberately.

Senior Conservative Caroline Nokes, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, said it would be “difficult” for Parish to spend the required time in Parliament as a select committee chair.

She also accused the Tory whips of “dither and delay” in not suspending the MP from the parliamentary party until Friday, despite colleagues airing the claims in a meeting three days earlier.

Parish referred himself for investigation by the Commons sleaze watchdog after a conversation with Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris on Friday.

Separately, the UK Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), which looks into claims of bullying and sexual harassment, is understood to have begun examining events after at least one witness made a referral.

Parish had said in a statement on his website he “will be cooperating fully with any investigation, and whilst it is ongoing I will continue to perform my duties”.

Labour’s Harman called on Parish to stand down amid a “new low for the House of Commons”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “If this is what he has done, he should stand down from Parliament right away. It is not right for him to go through the investigation processes 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.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to order Parish to “resign immediately”.

Author
Press Association