UK minister investigated 'for asking secretary to buy sex toys'


Posted at Oct 30 2017 09:04 AM

Prime Minister Theresa May is seeking advice on how to change the culture at Westminster after reports of several British politicians being accused of inappropriate behavior or sexual harassment . Niklas Halle'n, AFP

LONDON - British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday called for tougher rules governing members of parliaments' conduct after a government minister was accused of asking his secretary to buy sex toys.

Expressing her concern in a letter to the House of Commons speaker -- a lawmaker who acts as its impartial chief officer -- May said current disciplinary procedures lack "the required teeth".

"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," she wrote.

The premier's letter was prompted by allegations against Mark Garnier by his former secretary in The Mail on Sunday. Caroline Edmondson told the newspaper that the Conservative party lawmaker gave her money to buy 2 vibrators from a London sex store in 2010.

The paper also reported that Edmondson, who now works for another lawmaker, said Garnier also described her in lewd terms on 1 occasion, in front of witnesses.

The Cabinet Office -- responsible for ensuring effective government -- will investigate if Garnier's behavior violated ministerial codes of conduct, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday.

"These stories, if they are true, are obviously totally unacceptable," Hunt told a BBC political program.

The prime minister went further, saying the current suggested disciplinary procedure for MPs needed to be overhauled to make it contractually binding for lawmakers.

"I would be grateful if you would be able to use your office to assist me in doing all we can to ensure that the reputation of Parliament is not damaged further by allegations of impropriety," May said in her letter.

Garnier, a minister for international trade, could not be reached by AFP for comment on Sunday but has admitted the accusations, according to the paper, calling the sex toys purchase "high jinks".

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman confirmed the investigation into Garnier -- a married father of 3 -- but declined to comment further.

Garnier is the most senior of several British politicians named in media reports at the weekend accused of inappropriate behavior or sexual harassment.

They are in the spotlight following the avalanche of harassment and rape allegations against disgraced Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Former Conservative party cabinet minister Stephen Crabb, a devout Christian, apologized on Saturday after a newspaper investigation found he had sent sexually explicit messages to a young female job applicant.

On Friday Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, called for an end to the "warped and degrading culture" at Westminster.

"The problem doesn't stop with those who make unwanted advances on women, it extends to a culture that has tolerated abuse for far too long," he said.