December 9, 2018
Politics

PM demands sex row action as Garnier investigated

Theresa May has called for a binding code of conduct for MPs as one of her ministers is investigated following his admission he asked a former aide to buy sex toys.

The Prime Minister has urged House of Commons Speaker John Bercow to act to ensure the standing of Parliament doesn't sink lower amid a sexual harassment scandal engulfing Westminster.

In a letter copied to the leaders of all other Westminster parties, the Prime Minister told Mr Bercow: "I would be grateful if you would be able to use your office to assist me in doing all we can to to ensure the reputation of Parliament is not damaged further by allegations of impropriety".

Mrs May said the House of Commons "must now go further" than the 24/7 confidential hotline already in place for parliamentary staff.

Image:Westminster has been engulfed by a sexual harassment scandal

The Prime Minister raised the prospect of a code of conduct with "legal standing" as well as "a contractually binding grievance procedure available for all MPs".

Mrs May suggested current disciplinary procedures for MPs' employees do not have the "required teeth" because "contractually an MP does not have to follow the procedure".

She said: "I do not believe that this situation can be tolerated any longer. It is simply not fair on staff, many of whom are young and in their first job post-education."

The Prime Minister added: "It is vital that staff and the public have confidence in Parliament and resolving this employment irregularity on a cross-party basis can play an important role in this."

The Westminster scandal broke following the revelation female staff in Parliament use a WhatsApp group to warn each other about senior figures from across political parties.

Mrs May's actions follow reports she gets weekly updates about indiscretions by her MPs from Conservative Party whips, leading to calls for allegations to be reported to police.

Stephen Crabb
Image:Stephen Crabb said he accepted 'any kind of sexual chatter like this is totally wrong'

Earlier on Sunday, the Prime Minister asked the Cabinet Office to probe whether International Trade minister Mark Garnier breached the Ministerial Code after he confirmed allegations made by his former secretary, including that he called her "sugar t***".

Married father-of-three Mr Garnier told the Mail on Sunday he did not contest the claims against him and conceded it could "look like dinosaur behaviour", but strongly denied sexual harassment.

The former investment banker claimed his reference to ex-aide Caroline Edmondson as "sugar t***" was part of "an amusing conversation" based on TV comedy Gavin & Stacey, which uses the phrase.

He also described asking married Ms Edmondson to buy sex toys as "good-humoured high jinks" after a Christmas lunch, with Mr Garnier claiming he told her he did not think it was a good idea.

Ms Edmondson, who stopped working for the MP shortly after the incidents in 2010, disputed Mr Garnier's version of events, telling the newspaper: "He has lied."

The MP described Ms Edmondson as a "disgruntled" former employee.

Theresa May
Image:Theresa May said current procedures lack 'teeth'

Meanwhile, former Cabinet minister Stephen Crabb admitted to being "foolish" by sending explicit messages to a 19-year-old woman he interviewed for a job in 2013.

The Preseli Pembrokeshire MP, who stood for the Conservative leadership last year, told the Mail on Sunday: "We exchanged messages which talked about sex but none of it was meant seriously.

"We met for coffee and had a glass of wine once at the Commons but nothing more.

"I accept any kind of sexual chatter like this is totally wrong and I am sorry for my actions."

The sexual harassment scandal has also seen allegations made against unnamed figures from other parties.

Downing Street is said to be fearing the row could prompt an emergency Cabinet reshuffle, amid claims it also involves senior ministers.

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