FORMER Winchester MP Mark Oaten has slammed a toxic culture of working in Westminster in an interview with Andrew Marr.

Mr Oaten was talking on Tonight with Andrew Marr when he spoke freely about his views of the 'cosy club' culture in Parliament.

He said that he had seen MPs taking drugs, drinking, chatting up members of the public and treating researchers badly.

He even said that the behaviour was so bad, MPs had been known to snort cocaine from their desks.

READ MORE: Former Winchester MP Mark Oaten quits Liberal Democrats

Mr Oaten, 58, said: "I'm afraid drugs are commonplace. I mean, I used to know of MPs who were snorting coke off their office desks, I saw political editors of national newspapers snorting it off toilet seats.

"I saw widespread drug taking, I saw widespread treatment of researchers which was totally unacceptable.

"I saw MPs trying to chat up members of the public as they queue to get into Prime Minister's Question time in return for a free ticket.

"I'm afraid what I saw was pretty awful. And to my shame, I didn't call it out at the time, I would like to speak out about it now much more, because I think that this is just perpetuating and continuing.

"And when we see all of these scandals taking place, it is in part because we're not changing that culture around Westminster."

Mr Oaten won the Winchester seat in the 1997 election. He left Parliament in 2010 after being caught by the News of the World liaising with a male sex worker.

He had been a rising star in the Liberal Democrats, and said he was once touted with bookmakers for a shot at the leadership of the party. The expose by the News of the World happened during the Lib Dem leadership contest in 2006 in which he was a candidate.

SEE ALSO: Former Winchester MP Mark Oaten: 'living his second life'

Mr Oaten's comments come after a series of scandals in Westminster, including one MP Tory MP being arrested on suspicion of rape, another caught watching porn in the chamberand another being found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

Mr Oaten said that there are several reasons why such a toxic environment has been created and he called for better working hours and an end to late night votes to allow MPs to spend more time in their constituencies, as well as the removal of alcohol.

In the interview, he said: "There are several reasons why the drinking takes place.

"I mean, people are lonely. You go away from home. There's a clubbable atmosphere, they're often bored.

"Sometimes they're waiting hours for these votes to take place. And so they go into Strangers' [bar], they’re then mixing with journalists who often have an expenses account. 'Come on, Fred, come on, Jim, have a drink.'

"And of course that feeds gossip and stories, which is great for the newspapers. And you've also got lobbyists, charities, all of these professional organisations.

"Surprise, surprise, what do they do? They hold receptions every single night of the week, they're giving drink to Members of Parliament so they can influence them, influence them with drink, influence them with their particular policies.

"Now, look, I'm not making excuses. But there has to be a better way to function around our democracy. This is a toxic environment, and no one is changing it at the moment."

But he warned it would be "delusional" to think party leaders getting together to make changes would help.

"They don't want to be the ones that go and tell their 200 or so MPs that you've got to be home at six o'clock, you can't drink on the premises," he said.

"And actually, the whips quite like the influence of keeping them there, the threat of having to stay till 10 o'clock on a three line vote.

"And the alcohol also plays a part in how you control those Members of Parliament as well."

To see the interview, go to

Tonight with Andrew Marr is on Global Player every Monday to Thursday from 6pm to 7pm.

Message from the editor Kimberley Barber

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