British parliament sleaze row 'clearing out' bad behaviour

Britain's Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Oct 3, 2017.
Britain's Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester on Oct 3, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - British interior minister Amber Rudd declared Sunday (Nov 5) that a scandal over sexual harassment rocking the country's political circles was a "watershed moment" that was "clearing out" inappropriate behaviour.

She denied that Prime Minister Theresa May's minority government was at risk, after Michael Fallon quit as defence secretary earlier this week and as two other ministers remain under investigation for misconduct.

Rudd told BBC television that the end result of the claims was "clearing out Westminster of that sort of behaviour".

"And I think that Westminster afterwards, including the government, will be better for it," she said.

Fallon announced his resignation on Wednesday after apologising for touching a journalist's knee in 2002.

Another journalist alleged this weekend that Fallon had "lunged" at her after a lunch in 2003. She said she reported the incident to Downing Street this week, and he resigned hours later.

May's de facto deputy Damian Green meanwhile is being investigated for his own alleged inappropriate behaviour towards a journalist, which he strongly denies.

Rudd confirmed that the probe had been widened to include a newspaper report on Sunday that "extreme" pornographic material had been found on his parliamentary computer in 2008.

Green, an old university friend of May's, has strongly denied the story in the Sunday Times and accused the police source behind it of trying to cause him political damage.

"I know that the Cabinet Office is going to be looking at this tomorrow along with the wider inquiry about Damian, and I do think that we shouldn't rush to allege anything until that inquiry has taken place," Rudd said.

The prime minister is also due to meet with other party leaders on Monday to discuss a new parliamentary complaints system in the wake of a wave of allegations, many involving MPs and junior staff or journalists.

On Friday, she announced a new code of conduct for her own Conservative party - under which three MPs were referred for investigation this weekend.

Another Conservative MP was suspended on Friday, while the opposition Labour party has also suspended one of its lawmakers.

A Scottish minister resigned on Saturday after admitting his behaviour "might have made others uncomfortable", while a Welsh minister was sacked Friday (Nov 3) following allegations about his personal conduct.