Wed, Nov 01, 2017 - Page 6 News List

British lawmakers debate ‘disturbing’ sexual harassment

AFP, LONDON

The speaker of Britain’s House of Commons condemned “disturbing” allegations of a culture of sexual harassment in parliament on Monday as he urged political parties to swiftly address the issue.

John Bercow opened an emergency debate sparked by weekend newspaper revelations about the behavior of lawmakers and ministers toward staff, warning there must be “zero tolerance of sexual harassment or bullying.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who sat in on the debate, had earlier written to Bercow calling for tougher rules on lawmakers’ conduct after one of her ministers was accused of asking his secretary to buy sex toys.

May has ordered an investigation into the behavior by British Under-Secretary of State for International Trade Mark Garnier, who is also accused of calling his now former aide “sugar tits.”

However, lawmaker after lawmaker stood up in the chamber to warn that the problem was deeply rooted in the culture of Westminster.

A list of 13 lawmakers accused of harassment has reportedly been circulating in Westminster in recent days, following renewed scrutiny in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in Hollywood.

The Guido Fawkes political blog said it had a list compiled by researchers of 36 lawmakers accused of “inappropriate sexual behavior.”

Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Harriet Harman, an equalities campaigner who called the debate, said it was a “good thing” that it was now being discussed.

“No one should have to work in the toxic atmosphere of sleazy, sexist or homophobic banter,” Harman said. “This is not hysteria — this is something which is long overdue for all the parties in this House to deal with.”

May’s spokesman said she had not seen any list of names, but refused to comment on discussions she might have had about similar behavior with the whips who enforce discipline in her Conservative Party.

The prime minister’s former director of communications, Katie Perrior, said whips often held such information secret as leverage to make lawmakers vote a certain way.

“They use that to make sure that MPs [members of parliament] know that other people within the party know exactly what they’re up to and that behavior either is not acceptable, or indeed it will be used against them,” Perrior told BBC television.

May had urged the speaker to help establish a new compulsory grievance procedure to replace the current voluntary system, as well as a new mediation service to help protect staff working for lawmakers.

One of her ministers, British Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom, warned that perpetrators could be sacked.

“In the case of MPs they could have the whip withdrawn [suspended] and they could be fired from ministerial office,” Leadsom said.

However, while Bercow said he would consider the proposals, “in the first instance I hope that parties will live up to their responsibilities.”

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