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Clegg urged to expel peer over 'harassment'

NICK Clegg is facing calls to expel a Liberal Democrat peer who has apologised to four women he is accused of sexually harassing.

NICK CLEGG: Is under pressure to expel the Liberal Democrat peer.
NICK CLEGG: Is under pressure to expel the Liberal Democrat peer.

In a statement, former party chief executive Lord Rennard also appeared to admit that he may have caused the women "distress".

His comments follow a 15-month public battle against the allegations.

The calls for his expulsion come at the end of a dreadful week for Mr Clegg, following disastrous European and local election results and a failed plot to oust him as leader.

He is now under ­pressure to kick out Lord Rennard, one of the party's most senior peers, who has previously threatened legal action if he is forced to leave the party.

Four women, including former Aberdeen councillor Alison Smith, last year accused Lord Rennard of sexually harassing them.

One of those who lodged complaints, Alison Goldsworthy, the vice-chairwoman of the Liberal Democrats' Federal Executive, last night said: "Chris Rennard has now accepted that his behaviour was untoward ... and he should now be kicked out."

Another, Susan Gaszczak, a LibDem parliamentary candidate, said: "Now it is time (for him) to go". She said she would resign in protest if the suspended peer was allowed back into the party.

In the wake of the claims, Mr Clegg said it was clear a number of female party members were subject to behaviour which caused them distress and repeatedly called on Lord Rennard to apologise.

The party also ordered an ­investigation into the handling of complaints against Lord Rennard, which was critical of Mr Clegg as well as LibDem ministers Jo Swinson and Danny Alexander.

A statement on Lord Rennard's behalf said he "expressed his ­apologies" to the four women concerned. It added he "may well have encroached upon 'personal space'" and that he wished to make it clear that "it was never his intention to cause distress or concern to them by anything that he ever said or did".

Last night the party said it could not comment further as an appeal process was ongoing. Three of the original complainants have appealed over the outcome of the probe while a separate appeal has been submitted by Lord Rennard against the disciplinary process.

The calls over Lord Rennard's position came just 24 hours after another LibDem peer, Lord Oakeshott, resigned in the wake of a failed coup. Yesterday, police were urged to probe Lord Oakeshott's potentially explosive "cash for peerages" claims against the party.

In his resignation statement, the party's former Treasury spokesman in the Lords, said: "My efforts to expose and end cash for peerages in all parties, including our own, and help get the Lords elected have failed."

Labour MP Graham Allen, the chairman of the Commons political and constitutional reform committee, said: "If an accusation has been made to that degree of seriousness, then there should be a proper investigation."

The LibDem Business Secretary Vince Cable also faced claims of "treachery" as the fallout from his political ally's plot continued.

LibDem Treasury Secretary Mr Alexander gave his backing to Mr Cable, after questions over what he knew and when. But the Highland MP was also forced to reject the findings of a secret Lord Oakeshott-commissioned poll into his own constituency. It suggested Mr Alexander would lose his seat at the next election.

He accused his former colleague of being a "malicious peer trying to damage the Liberal Democrats".

He added: "I think I will get very strong support at the next general election, and look forward very much to serving in parliament and I hope in government too."

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