Cabinet Office to probe claims of minister’s inappropriate conduct to secretary
The married international trade minister reportedly described the incidents as “good-humoured high jinks”.
A Government minister faces an official Cabinet Office investigation into claims of inappropriate conduct towards a member of his Commons staff.
Theresa May ordered the inquiry into whether International Trade Minister Mark Garnier breached ministerial rules following allegations he used derogatory language to his secretary and asked her to buy sex toys.
The Prime Minister has also written to Commons Speaker John Bercow, asking for the establishment of a new grievance procedure to deal with complaints of misconduct at Westminster.
The move comes amid intense speculation that other MPs have been involved in inappropriate behaviour towards women in the wake of the allegations about disgraced Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The decision to investigate Mr Garnier was disclosed by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt during a television interview on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“These stories, if they are true, are obviously totally unacceptable,” he said.
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “As the Prime Minister has made clear, any reports of sexual harassment are deeply concerning and any unwanted sexual behaviour is completely unacceptable in any walk of life, including politics.
“The Prime Minister is writing to the Speaker of the House of Commons calling for a new contractually binding grievance procedure to be set up for all MPs and their staff.
“Today, as a result of allegations about a serving minister, the Prime Minister has also asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an immediate investigation to see whether those reported actions break the ministerial code.”
The Mail on Sunday reported that Mr Garnier admitted asking his then secretary, Caroline Edmondson, to buy two vibrators and calling her “sugar tits” in front of witnesses.
“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,” he is quoted as saying.
Ms Edmondson, who has since left to work for another MP, told the paper that he gave her the money to buy the vibrators at a Soho sex shop – one for his wife and one for a woman in his Wyre Forest constituency office.
According to the paper, Mr Garnier described the incident as “high jinks” following a Christmas lunch while he said the “sugar tits” comment was part of an “amusing conversation” referring to the TV comedy Gavin And Stacey,
The Mail said Mr Garnier conceded that, in the current climate, his actions could been seen as “dinosaur behaviour” but insisted: “It absolutely does not constitute harassment.”
In a separate case, the Mail said former cabinet minister Stephen Crabb admitted sending “explicit” messages to a 19-year-old woman he interviewed for a job in 2013, when he was a Welsh minister.
The married MP was quoted by the paper as saying he had been “foolish” but that there had been no sexual contact.
“We exchanged messages which talked about sex but none of it was meant seriously,” he was quoted as saying.
“We met for coffee a few times and had a glass of wine once at the Commons, but nothing more.
“I accept any kind of sexual chatter like this is totally wrong and I am sorry for my actions.”
Mr Crabb resigned last year as Work and Pensions Secretary following reports of a similar incident.