THE head of the UK Parliament’s complaints watchdog has said she “does not know” if the Palace of Westminster is a safe workplace for women.

Thea Walton joined the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) in March to build trust in the watchdog.

Founded in 2018, the ICGS processes official HR complaints and also assesses complaints made on the parliamentary estate against a number of codes including the palace’s sexual misconduct, bullying and harassment policy.

When asked whether Westminster was a place women can feel safe, Walton told The House magazine: “I don’t know is the honest answer. I wouldn’t say that nobody feels safe, but I have heard lots of things where women don’t from some of the engagement that I’ve done.

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“I think all the time that there is a section of people that are saying they don’t feel safe, then people have to listen and do something about it.”

A number of MPs have lost their party’s whip as a result of allegations of sexual harassment or assault.

The Labour Party suspended Bambos Charalambous after a complaint was made against him, while senior Tory MP Crispin Blunt was arrested on suspicion of rape and drug possession and was suspended by his party.

It’s far from the first time Westminster has faced criticism, with the SNP’s deputy Westminster leader Mhairi Black (below) describing it as a “toxic workplace” when she announced she would be standing down as an MP at the next General Election.

The National: Mhairi Black - House of Commons.

“I think it’s one of the most unhealthy workplaces that you could ever be in,” she said.

Upon taking her role this year, Walton said she hoped to improve the timeliness of investigations, which had been “a priority” for her in the hope of improving the experience for everyone involved although acknowledged “there is clearly more to be done”.

The current average time for a case to be concluded is 184 working days with Walton speaking of a “lack of engagement” from both sides.

“Whether that be through genuine poor health or whether that be a deliberate thing from both sides is our biggest cause of delay.”

Upon his suspension from Labour, Charalambous said: “I am aware that there is an allegation that requires investigation by the Labour party. It is right and proper that process is allowed to take place. I will cooperate fully and play my full part. It is not appropriate to say anything further at this time.”

In a statement, Blunt said: “I remain ready to co-operate fully with the investigation that I am confident will end without charge.”