Neil Parish quits as MP after admitting watching porn in Commons in ‘moment of madness’

Neil Parish has resigned as an MP after admitting watching pornography in the House of Commons in what he described as a “moment of madness”.

Mr Parish – the MP for Tiverton and Honiton in east Devon – said that he had looked at adult material twice, and that the second occasion was deliberate.

Speaking to the BBC, he said that initially he had stumbled across the website while looking for information about tractors, but later returned to it deliberately. And he admitted: “I was not proud of what I was doing.”

The senior backbencher had indicated yesterday that he intended to remain in his Commons seat, and hold on to his position as chair of the Westminster environment committee, until the completion of an investigation by standards commissioner Kathryn Stone.

But in a dramatic change of heart, he decided today that he could no longer remain in post, saying that the row over his position was harming his family and his constituency party.

The 65-year-old former farmer – a long-serving MEP for the west country before entering parliament in 2010 – is thought to have come under intense pressure from a Conservative Party concerned about the impact a drawn-out scandal could have on its prospects in crucial local elections across Britain on Thursday.

He told the BBC’s Politics South West: “I thought that I could explain to the standards committee what happened, and it would be worth explaining what happened.

“But at the end, I could see that, with the furore, the damage I was causing my family and my constituency and association – it just wasn’t worth carrying on.

“The situation was that, funnily enough, it was tractors I was looking at, and I did get into another website that had a sort of very similar name.

“And I watched it for a bit, which I shouldn’t have done.”

Mr Parish said that the first occasion had occurred in the Commons chamber, but he had later deliberately gone back to the same site while in the adjoining voting lobby. But he insisted that he had not done it with the intention that female MPs should see the footage.

“My crime – my biggest crime – is that on another occasion, I went in a second time,” he said. “That was deliberate. That was sitting waiting to vote on the side of the chamber, on the side door as you enter back into the lobbies.”

Asked why he felt it was acceptable to watch adult material in the Commons, he replied: “Nothing … [it was] a moment of madness and also totally wrong.

“But what I do want to put on record is that, for all my rights and wrongs, I was not proud of what I was doing. And the one thing I wasn’t doing – and which I will take to my grave as being true – is I was not actually making sure people could see it. In fact, I was trying to do quite the opposite.”

He described his actions as “madness, total madness”, and accepted that he had lost what he claimed had been “one of the best reputations ever” in the House of Commons.

“I’m not going to defend it,” he said. “What I did was absolutely, totally wrong.

“I think I must have taken complete leave of my senses and my sensibilities and my sense of decency and everything. I’m not defending what I did for one moment, but I thought the best thing I can do – and that’s why I want to put this on record – is absolutely telling the truth.”

Mr Parish’s resignation came amid growing criticism of the Conservative Party’s slow reponse to the scandal.

His name was passed to chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris on Tuesday evening by two female Tory MPs who had witnessed him viewing pornography. But there was no announcement of any action in the case until the afternoon of the following day, when the story reached the press. Mr Heaton-Harris initially referred the case to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which with allegations of harassment and bullying by MPs and parliamentary staff.

It was not until three days after the initial complaint – during which time other MPs found themselves the subject of inaccurate Westminster rumors about the identity of the culprit – that Mr Parish was finally named and referred himself to a standards investigation.

Labor’s shadow leader of the Commons, Thangam Debbonaire, said Mr Parish’s resignation was “the right decision”.

“The people of Tiverton and Honiton deserve better than Neil Parish’s disgusting behaviour,” said Ms Debbonaire. “But it’s shocking that the Conservatives have allowed this debacle to drag out over many days. Time and again the Tories refuse to act, resorting to cover-ups and dragging the reputation of other MPs and the house down with them.

“From the Owen Paterson scandal, voting to keep Rob Roberts in parliament, and their failure to act against their paedophile MP Imran Ahmad Khan, this Conservative government is rotting from the head down. Britain deserves better.”

Liberal Democrat leader Daisy Cooper said: “It is appalling that Neil Parish had to be pushed to resign after those in charge of the Conservative Party spent days dragging their feet.

“This still leaves unanswered questions about Boris Johnson’s leadership and his failure to trust the word of his female MPs.” The Conservative Party must now swiftly call a by-election, so the people of Tiverton and Honiton can finally get the proper representation they deserve.

“From health and crime failures to Partygate and porn scandals, the Conservatives are taking voters for granted. This Thursday is a chance to send a clear message that Boris Johnson’s time is up.”

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.”

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