British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday called for tougher rules governing MPs' 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 two 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 one 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.
Reports of inappropriate behavior in British politics, and in other industries, came in the wake of dozens of allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.
Britain's environment minister Michael Gove apologized on Saturday after he likened being interviewed by a BBC radio presenter to entering Weinstein's bedroom. After the analogy was widely criticized, Gove, a cabinet minister, apologized for what he said was a "clumsy attempt at humor".
The Sun newspaper said on Friday that women working in politics in Westminster had created a WhatsApp instant messaging group to discuss their experiences of harassment and warn others about potential perpetrators.
"The prime minister was very clear when we responded to the reports about Harvey Weinstein in the last few weeks that any unwanted sexual behavior is completely unacceptable, and that is true in any walk of life including politics," May's spokeswoman said on Friday.