Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to create a “culture of respect” at the heart of the UK’s public life amid a string of allegations of sexual misconduct against several politicians across party lines.
May’s pledge during a business conference speech came just before she is scheduled to meet with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable in an effort to agree on Parliament-wide anti-harassment measures to stem the crisis that has already led to the resignation of her former defence secretary Michael Fallon, among others.
“We need to establish a new culture of respect at the centre of our public life. 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 these complaints will be investigated properly,” she said in her speech at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in London.
“Political parties have not always got this right in the past. But I am determined to get it right for the future,” she added.
She described the revelations of the past few weeks as “deeply troubling” which has led to significant “public unease”.
“Women and men should be able to work free from the threat or fear of harassment, bullying or intimidation. But for too long the powerful have been able to abuse their power, and their victims have not felt able to speak out,” she said.
In his address at the business conference, Corbyn said that everyone, including businesses, “have a duty to act, and act now” over sexual harassment.
“Such abuse, sexism and misogyny is, sadly, very far from being confined to Hollywood and the corridors of power, but is also widespread in our schools and universities, in our businesses and workplaces, in our newspapers and on our TV screens. It is all around us…That must change,” he noted.
He has written to May ahead of their meeting calling for an independent authority to be set up to support parliamentary staff if they make a complaint and with powers to recommend reporting criminal allegations to police.
The opposition leader is also calling for MPs to be given training in employment standards and office management after every general election.
The meeting takes place against the backdrop of a senior UK Cabinet minister, first secretary of state Damian Green, being questioned by the Cabinet Office as part of an investigation into claims of sexual misconduct involving a journalist and also allegations of pornography being discovered on a laptop in his parliamentary office a few years ago.
Green has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and described the allegations as “untrue and deeply hurtful”.
Four Conservative MPs have been referred to the party’s newly-established disciplinary committee over allegations made against them at the weekend.
One of them, Chris Pincher, has referred himself to the police and stepped down from and stood down from the whips office in charge of party discipline.
Labour has suspended two MPs, Kelvin Hopkins and Jared OMara, over allegations of inappropriate behaviour, and the party is believed to be dealing with several other potential cases.