May Calls for Changes in Handling UK Sex Harassment Cases
British Prime Minister Theresa May is calling for changes in the way Parliament deals with allegations of inappropriate behavior as she responds to suggestions that dozens of U.K. lawmakers have sexually harassed their employees or other people.
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.”
Conservative Party lawmaker Anna Soubry has asked for the issue to be discussed Monday in Parliament.
“I do not believe that this situation can be tolerated any longer,” May said in her letter. “It is simply not fair on staff, many of whom are young and in their first job.”
Over the weekend, May asked the Cabinet Office to investigate whether an international trade minister 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 Harvey Weinstein scandal during a radio interview.
Britain’s political establishment has come under increasing scrutiny as the scandal surrounding the Hollywood mogul emboldens people in many industries to tell their own stories of sexual harassment at the hands of powerful individuals who control their future job prospects.
The situation in the House of Commons is complicated by the fact that lawmakers directly employ their staff, leaving little direct recourse for those who feel aggrieved.
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.”
Soubry highlighted the lack of protection for parliamentary staff in a blog post, even as she said most lawmakers were “hard working, decent people.”
“As in all organizations, there are some whose behavior is not acceptable,” she said. “But unlike other workplaces, people working in Parliament do not have the protection they need from that small minority.”