A Conservative minister who has reportedly admitted calling his secretary "sugar tits" in a bar and sent her to buy two vibrators in a Soho sex shop is to be investigated.
Mark Garnier's conduct will be assessed by the Cabinet Office to determine whether it represents a breach of the ministerial code, health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the BBC on Sunday.
Garnier, an international trade minister, did not deny the claims of his former secretary Caroline Edmondson when contacted by the Mail on Sunday (MoS).
"I'm not going to deny it, because I'm not going to be dishonest. I'm going to have to take it on the chin," the MP for Wyre Forest reportedly told the MoS.
But he reportedly added that his behaviour "absolutely does not constitute harassment".
Edmondson, who now works for another MP, told the MoS that Garnier had said to her in a bar with many other people present, “You are going nowhere, sugar tits”, and on a separate occasion waited outside a sex shop in central London while she bought two vibrators – for his wife and a constituent.
BuzzFeed News has contacted Garnier for further comment.
On Sunday evening, Downing Street released the text of a letter prime minister Theresa May has written to Commons speaker John Bercow about setting up an independent body to which MPs could refer reports of sexual misconduct.
"The Conservative party is determined to protect those staff who work for MPs, but in order to do so effectively I believe that we must establish a House-wide mediation service complemented by a contractually binding grievance procedure available for all MPs irrespective of their party banner," she wrote.
"It is vital that staff and the public have confidence in Parliament and resolving this employment irregularity on a cross-party basis can play an important role in this."
Appearing on BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show earlier on Sunday, Hunt said the claims were "totally unacceptable if true", and that May had asked the Cabinet Office to investigate.
"There are mums and dads who have daughters who are politics students hoping to get a job in Westminster, and they must be able to be confident that if they get that job, their daughter will not be subject to some of these behaviours that we’ve been seeing," Hunt said.
Following on from the Harvey Weinstein Hollywood abuse allegations, the focus has turned on to Westminster in recent days, with both May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling on victims to come forward.
On Saturday, environment secretary Michael Gove apologised after jokingly comparing being interviewed on the Today programme to going into Weinstein's bedroom.
The full text of the prime minister's letter to the speaker:
Dear Mr Speaker,
I am sure that you will share my concern at recent media reports regarding the alleged mistreatment of staff by some Members of Parliament. I believe it is important that those who work in the House of Commons are treated properly and fairly, as would be expected in any modern workplace.
Much has already been done including a 24/7 external confidential phone line as well as an online portal and an HR Advice Service for MPs. However, I believe that we must now go further.
As you know, there is a suggested disciplinary procedure provided by IPSA as part of the standard contract. However, it does not have the required teeth as contractually an MP does not have to follow the procedure. 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.
I know that Government Chief Whips Gavin Williamson, Mark Harper and Sir George Young (now Lord Young of Cookham), have been at the forefront of efforts to bring clarity to this area. In 2014 the Conservative Party offered MPs a code of conduct on a voluntary basis. However, this does not have legal standing and is therefore not fit for its intended purpose.
The Conservative Party is determined to protect those staff who work for MPs, but in order to do so effectively I believe that we must establish a House-wide mediation service complemented by a contractually binding grievance procedure available for all MPs irrespective of their party banner. It is vital that staff and the public have confidence in Parliament and resolving this employment irregularity on a cross-party basis can play an important role in this.
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 the reputation of Parliament is not damaged further by allegations of impropriety. To that end, I am of course happy to discuss this matter with you at your earliest convenience, and I am copying this letter to the leaders of the other political parties.
Matthew Champion is a weekend editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Matthew Champion at email@example.com.
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