British PM calls for action after sex toy allegations against minister

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May called for tougher rules governing the conduct of Members of Parliament after a government minister was accused of asking his secretary to buy sex toys.

Expressing her concern in a letter to House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, Mrs May said current disciplinary procedures lack "the required teeth".

"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," she wrote on Sunday.

Mrs May's letter was prompted by allegations against Mr Mark Garnier by his former secretary in The Mail on Sunday.

Ms Caroline Edmondson told the newspaper that the Conservative Party lawmaker gave her money to buy two vibrators from a London sex store in 2010, and that he also described her in lewd terms on one occasion.

The Prime Minister went further, saying the current suggested disciplinary procedure for MPs needed to be overhauled to make it contractually binding for lawmakers.

"I would be grateful if you would be able to use your office to assist me in doing all we can to ensure that the reputation of Parliament is not damaged further by allegations of impropriety," Mrs May said in her letter.

Mr Garnier, a minister for international trade and a married father of three, has admitted the accusations, according to The Mail.

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office, responsible for ensuring effective government, confirmed the investigation into Mr Garnier.

Mr Garnier is the most senior of several British politicians named in media reports at the weekend accused of inappropriate behaviour or sexual harassment. They are in the spotlight following the avalanche of harassment and rape allegations against disgraced Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Meanwhile, nearly 200 women have signed a letter denouncing a culture of rampant sexual misconduct in and around the state government in Sacramento, California, in the United States.

They complain of male lawmakers groping them, of male staff members threatening them and of a human resources system so broken that it is unable to give serious grievances a fair hearing.

In dozens of interviews, women - including legislative aides and lobbyists who said they had endured years of sexual harassment - said the flawed system had left them with few options to stop behaviour that threatened their livelihoods and careers. There is no safe place for them to go for help.

There have been reports of misconduct in state capitals in Illinois, Iowa, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Rhode Island, among others, though the situation in California, the nation's most populous state, appears particularly dire.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2017, with the headline 'British PM calls for action after sex toy allegations against minister'. Print Edition | Subscribe