British PM calls for cross-party talks over harassment scandal

May told the House of Commons that members of all parties were "deeply concerned" about allegations of abuse that have rocked parliament in recent days, often involving MPs and junior staff members.

Published: 01st November 2017 09:16 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st November 2017 09:16 PM   |  A+A-

British Prime Minister Theresa May | AP


LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday asked other party leaders to meet her to discuss sexual harassment at Westminster, after one of her closest ministerial colleagues was caught up in the scandal.

May told the House of Commons that members of all parties were "deeply concerned" about allegations of abuse that have rocked parliament in recent days, often involving MPs and junior staff members.

"I've written to all party leaders inviting them to a meeting early next week so we can discuss a common, transparent, independent grievance procedure for all those working in parliament," the Conservative leader said.

"We have a duty to ensure that everyone coming here to contribute to public life is treated with respect."

May ordered an investigation late Tuesday into allegations that her de facto deputy Damian Green touched the knee of a female journalist and later sent her a suggestive text message.

Green, a close ally who was at university with May, said it was "absolutely and completely untrue that I've ever made any sexual advances" towards Kate Maltby, a journalist and Conservative activist 30 years his junior.

A Downing Street spokesman said May had asked the head of the civil service, Jeremy Heywood, to "establish the facts and report back as soon as possible".

One senior Conservative MP called for Green to be suspended, but a government spokesman said its focus was on a "speedy and thorough" investigation.

- Price to pay -

Green is one of dozens of Tories listed on a spreadsheet circulated in Westminster, reportedly detailing ordinary relationships, sexual penchants and unspecified and unverified claims of inappropriate behaviour.

Another is junior trade minister Mark Garnier, who is also under investigation for breaches of the ministerial code for asking his then secretary to buy him sex toys in 2010.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon meanwhile has apologised for putting his hand on a journalist's knee in 2002, but will face no investigation as the woman in question has laughed it off.

The prime minister's spokesman repeated on Wednesday that she "has confidence in the work of government and ministers are getting on with the job".

Maltby wrote in The Times newspaper on Wednesday detailing how Green, a contact she met through her parents, put a "fleeting hand against my knee" when they went for a drink in early 2015.

"I had felt a meaningful political relationship was developing -- suddenly, I'd been made aware that there might be a price I was not prepared to pay," she wrote.

She cut off contact but Green sent her a text in May last year after she appeared in a magazine article wearing a corset, saying he had "admired" the picture and asking her if she wanted to meet for a drink.

Green said the text was sent in the spirit of "two friends agreeing to meet up for a regular catch-up".

- 'It might damage me' -

The allegations have not been confined to the Conservatives. 

A prominent activist with the main opposition Labour party claimed on Tuesday that she was raped by a party member as a teenager six years ago -- and was told not to report it.

Bex Bailey, now 25, told the BBC: "I told a senior member of staff, who told me, it was suggested to me that I not report it. 

"I was told that if I did it might damage me."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ordered an immediate inquiry and praised her "enormous courage" in speaking out.

Downing Street has said that any allegations will be properly investigated, but May has come under pressure to explain how much the Conservative party knows about inappropriate behaviour by its MPs.

May's former director of communications, Katie Perrior, said this week that the party's parliamentary enforcers, known as whips, often held incriminating information secret as leverage to make MPs vote a certain way.

After the issue was raised again Wednesday, May said that whips in all parties should "make clear to people that where there are any sexual abuse allegations that could be of a criminal nature, that people should go to the police".


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