May urges 'culture of respect' after sex scandals

AFP
UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday called for a "culture of respect" in Britain's parliament as she prepared to hold cross-party talks on how to crack down on sexual abuse.
AFP

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday called for a “culture of respect” in Britain’s parliament as she prepared to hold cross-party talks on how to crack down on sexual abuse after a slew of scandals.

About a dozen MPs from May’s Conservative Party and the main opposition Labour Party have been accused of harassment in recent days and the government has admitted serious failures in reporting procedures.

At closed-door talks in the House of Commons on Monday, May met party leaders, including her main rival, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Speaking to the Confederation of British Industry before the meeting, May said she wanted “a new, common, robust and independence grievance procedure for parliament.”

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon resigned last week, and First Secretary of State Damian Green, May’s deputy, is being investigated by the government over the claims, some of which date back several years.

“We need to establish a new culture of respect at the centre of our public life,” May said, adding that the new culture should be “one in which everyone can feel confident that they are working in a safe and secure environment, where complaints can be brought forward without prejudice and victims know that those complaints will be investigated properly.”

But she also said “people’s careers cannot be damaged by unfounded rumours circulated anonymously online” after many claims made via social media.

“Of course, people can be friends with their colleagues and consensual relationships can develop at work. This isn’t about prying into private lives,” May said.

Last Friday, May announced a new code of conduct for the Conservative Party — under which several MPs were referred for investigation this weekend.

Two Labour lawmakers have also been suspended, another is facing an investigation and a fourth has apologized for making women feel “uncomfortable.”

One change that has been mooted is to make MPs’ staff direct employees of parliament rather than of the politicians themselves — an anomaly that has made some harassment victims reluctant to come forward.

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