UK parliament hears plan to stamp out sexual harassment by politicians

Source: Xinhua| 2017-10-31 04:35:44|Editor: Mu Xuequan
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LONDON, Oct. 30 (Xinhua) -- The Speaker of Britain's House of Commons John Bercow said Monday there must be zero tolerance of sexual harassment by politicians.

Bercow made a statement ahead of a major debate following growing allegations that female staff in the Houses of Parliament had been subjected to unwanted attention.

The Speaker described the recent allegations of a culture of sexual harassment as disturbing.

He told Members of Parliament (MPs): "There must be zero tolerance of sexual harassment or bullying and any allegations of assaults should be reported to the police."

Reports of the conduct of some politicians at Westminster have hit the headlines, with International Trade Secretary Mark Garnier admitting he had sent his female secretary to a sex shop in London's Soho district to buy two sex toys. It has led to other Westminster staff coming forward saying they had been victims of sexual harassment and bullying.

Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom announced a new grievance system is to be introduced covering all politicians, staff and people visiting the parliament estate and spanning both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Prime Minister Theresa May sat next to Leadsom to add her own weight to the moves to introduce rules to protect staff, particularly young female aides and interns, from unwanted behavior by male politicians.

Leadsom said anyone working in Parliament should have access to an external, independent support team, with the power to recommend that serious cases be referred to the police.

She said the current system for dealing with complaints was inadequate and that failure to respond properly risked bringing Westminster into disrepute.

Leadsom said there was a vital need for better support and protection for thousands of people working in the Palace of Westminster, adding action was needed "in days rather than weeks".

Former Labour leader Harriet Harman told MPs: "No-one should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances from those who are in a position of power or work in the toxic atmosphere of sleazy sexist or homophobic banter. No MP, let alone a minister, should think this is something to make jokes about."

Harman said action to stamp out harassment and bullying was long overdue.

MP Maria Miller, who chairs Parliament's women and equalities committee, said the problem of sexual harassment spread further than the Houses of Parliament.

Miller told MPs: "Two thirds of girls in schools, half of university students, and half of women in work face harassment."

Garnier is currently the subject of an internal inquiry by the Cabinet office to determine whether any ministerial codes have been broken. There have been calls from some MPs for him to be fired.