UK lawmakers seek "zero tolerance" for sexual harassment
LONDON (AP) — The leader of Britain's House of Commons said Monday there should be "zero tolerance" for inappropriate behavior in Parliament as lawmakers debated a response to reports that dozens of members may be guilty of sexual harassment.
With Prime Minister Theresa May sitting beside her, Andrea Leadsom told the chamber there was no place for harassment or misconduct in politics as she outlined steps to repair a grievance system that she described as "inadequate."
"Our constituents will be rightly appalled at the thought that some representatives in Parliament may have acted in an entirely inappropriate way towards others," Leadsom said. "These reports risk bringing all of our offices into disrepute."
"These plans will ensure that Parliament takes a zero-tolerance approach," she added.
Britain's political establishment has come under increasing scrutiny as the scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein emboldens people in many industries to speak up about sexual harassment at the hands of powerful individuals who control their future job prospects. In the House of Commons, lawmakers employ their staff, leaving little direct recourse for those who feel aggrieved.
Over the weekend, May asked the Cabinet Office to investigate whether International Trade Minister Mark Garnier breached the ministerial code of conduct by asking his secretary to buy sex toys for him. Environment Secretary Michael Gove also was forced to apologize for attempting to make light of the Weinstein scandal during a radio interview.
The Guido Fawkes political website on Monday claimed that Conservative Party aides had compiled a spreadsheet identifying 36 party lawmakers, including two serving Cabinet members, accused of inappropriate behavior. The website blacked out the names of the accused but listed allegations such as "handsy with women at parties" and "paid a woman to be quiet."
May wrote to House of Commons speaker John Bercow proposing a mediation service and contractually binding grievance procedures for all parliamentary staff, saying the current voluntary system "does not have the required teeth."
Bercow on Monday challenged political parties to "live up to their responsibilities" and called for a Commons-wide mediation service.
"Make no mistake, there is a need for change," he said.
Labour lawmaker Harriet Harman praised Bercow for his comments and said it was a good thing the issue had been exposed.
"No one should have to work in the toxic atmosphere of sleazy, sexist or homophobic banter," she said.