A series of allegations of sexual harassment have been made against MPs in recent days, with more predicted to emerge and even resignations anticipated. The prime minister is now calling for tougher action to tackle sexual misconduct in Parliament and protect Westminster staff.
In the last week, several allegations have been made about the behaviour of MPs, including serving ministers, who predominantly belong to the Tory party. A spreadsheet has emerged containing the names of 36 Tory MPs known for their inappropriate behaviour and sexual misconduct towards colleagues.
The list, revealed by Guido Fawkes, includes two current Cabinet ministers accused of inappropriate behaviour towards women and 18 serving ministers named as having engaged in inappropriate sexual behaviour. One minister is accused of being "handsy with women at parties", another is named as “perpetually intoxicated and very inappropriate with women”, while another allegedly “paid a woman to be quiet”.
The list is thought to have been compiled by aides and staff working for the Tory party and follows reports on Friday that women working in Westminster had a secret WhatsApp group to share allegations of inappropriate behaviour by high-profile political figures.
One minister was denounced as "Not Safe In Taxis"; other allegations included groping at a drinks party and one MP – since named as Tory minister Mark Garnier – calling his secretary "sugar tits" and asking her to buy him sex toys. Garnier is now being investigated by the Cabinet Office to see whether his actions breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct, the BBC reported.
In comments that only serve to highlight the extent of the problem, Garnier described the two instances as “good-humoured high jinks” and “amusing conversation”, the Mail on Sunday reported. "Not at all. It absolutely does not constitute harassment," he insisted.
It also came to light that another Tory MP, Stephen Crabb, admitted to sending explicit messages to a 19-year-old woman he interviewed for a job while he was Welsh minister in 2013, reported the Mail on Sunday. This happened before a separate scandal last year in which he sent sexual messages to another young woman during the EU referendum campaign. He subsequently resigned from the Cabinet.
Theresa May said a stronger disciplinary regime was needed to clamp down on sexual harassment in Westminster. In a letter to the Commons Speaker John Bercow, the prime minister called for a new mediation service and a contractually binding complaints procedure to be set up for MPs' staff, reported the BBC.
"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," May wrote.
There is currently a 24-hour confidential helpline that staff can use to report abuse and an HR department for MPs and their staff. However, anyone who works for an MP is employed by that person's office and so cannot access the same grievance procedures as other staff in Parliament, a system that has been criticised.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said any MPs engaging in such behaviour "must be held to account," adding that: "There must be robust procedures inside as well as outside Parliament for dealing with abuse and harassment." The Labour MP Jared O’Mara was suspended from the party last week over a series of misogynistic and homophobic remarks on social media, which included the phrase “sexy little slags”.