Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

U.K. Lawmakers Urged to Act ‘in Days’ on Sex-Harassment Claims

  • Government proposes mediation service, code of conduct
  • Minister investigated after asking aide to buy sex toys

The U.K. Parliament must take a “zero-tolerance approach” to sexual harassment and act quickly to protect staff, Theresa May’s government said on Monday as the prime minister sought to limit the fallout from a growing abuse scandal.

May proposed a set of rules to protect staff of lawmakers on Sunday amid allegations of inappropriate activity and ordered an inquiry into the behavior of Trade Minister Mark Garnier. In an illustration of how deep the problem may go, more than three dozen Tory lawmakers, including senior cabinet ministers, were named on a list being circulated at Westminster detailing the claims.

Theresa May

Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

“Parliament must take action in days, not weeks,” the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, told lawmakers on Monday. “There can be no place for harassment, abuse or misconduct in politics. Your age, gender or job title should have no bearing on the way you are treated in the modern workplace.”

May, who sat next to Leadsom in Parliament, is trying to seize the initiative to stop the furor over the claims of sexual harassment from destabilizing her government. On Sunday, she wrote to the speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, demanding a new disciplinary regime to deal with unwanted sexual or sexist behavior by lawmakers toward aides and colleagues.

“There must be zero tolerance of sexual harassment or bullying here at Westminster or elsewhere; whether that involves members or their staff or parliamentary staff or those working on or visiting the estate,” Bercow told lawmakers in a statement.

Leadsom said the legislature should “establish a house-wide mediation service complemented by a code of conduct and contractually binding grievance procedure” to ensure that staff who feel they have been harassed have “pastoral support.”

Mark Garnier

Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

All the main parties were united in their condemnation of sexual harassment. “No one elected any of us to engage in sleazy, oppressive behavior,” Harriet Harman, the former deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, told lawmakers. “It has to be stopped and now is the time to do it.”

Garnier admitted on Sunday that he’d asked an assistant to buy sex toys for him and spoke to her using a sexist term, according to the Mail newspaper. May’s spokesman, James Slack, confirmed the investigation into Garnier to reporters on Monday and said there are no investigations at present into anyone else.

May is “deeply concerned at the recent media reports regarding the alleged mistreatment of staff by some members of parliament,” Slack said. “She’s clear that any unwanted sexual behavior is completely unacceptable in any walk of life and she strongly believes that those who work in Parliament are treated properly and fairly as would be expected in any modern workplace.”

— With assistance by Thomas Penny, and Kitty Donaldson

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