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British PM May calls for action after lawmaker sex toys allegations

[LONDON] 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 - Mrs 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.

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The paper also reported that Ms Edmondson, who now works for another lawmaker, said Mr 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 Mr Garnier's behaviour violated ministerial codes of conduct, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday.

"These stories, if they are true, are obviously totally unacceptable," Mr Hunt told a BBC political programme.

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," Mrs May said in her letter.

Mr Garnier, a minister for international trade, could not be reached by AFP for comment on Sunday but has admitted the accusations, according to the paper, calling the sex toys purchase "high jinks".

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman confirmed the investigation into Garnier - a married father of three - but declined to comment further.

Mr Garnier is the most senior of several British politicians named in media reports at the weekend accused of inappropriate behaviour or sexual harassment.

They are in the spotlight following the avalanche of harassment and rape allegations against disgraced Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Former Conservative party cabinet minister Stephen Crabb, a devout Christian, apologised on Saturday after a newspaper investigation found he had sent sexually explicit messages to a young female job applicant.

On Friday Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, called for an end to the "warped and degrading culture" at Westminster.

"The problem doesn't stop with those who make unwanted advances on women, it extends to a culture that has tolerated abuse for far too long," he said.

AFP

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