- Hannah Mckay/Reuters
- Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has been identified as the minister who inappropriately touched a female journalist more than a decade ago. Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom pledged to tackle the Westminster harassment scandal. Speaker John Bercow said: “Make no mistake, there is a need for change.”
LONDON – Michael Fallon has admitted to inappropriate behaviour towards a female journalist more than a decade ago as the harassment scandal in Westminster grows.
The defence secretary was the first cabinet minister to be identified in the scandal which has engulfed British politics, with allegations levelled at almost 40 Conservative MPs and ministers.
Fallon was named by The Sun on Tuesday as the serving cabinet minister who repeatedly touched journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee at a dinner in 2002, but Hartley-Brewer said: “No one was remotely upset or distressed by it.”
She claimed Fallon “repeatedly put his hand on my knee” during a dinner at Conservative conference and she “calmly and politely explained to him that, if he did it again, I would ‘punch him in the face’.”
A close ally of the defence secretary told The Guardian: “Julia is a good friend of Michael’s. He overstepped the mark when he put his hand on her knee. She made it clear it was unwelcome and he rightly apologised 15 years ago.”
It was also reported on Tuesday that 21 of the Tory MPs on the list of allegations are serving or former ministers, and includes international trade minister Mark Garnier, who admitted to asking his assistant to buy sex toys.
The leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom told MPs on Monday afternoon that she would make sure reports of sexual harassment were fully investigated and that perpetrators would not go unpunished.
Leadsom pledged that the government would take action “in days, not weeks” to combat sexual harassment in Westminster and that it would beef up the support team and helpline available to victims.
She said that all options would be reserved for perpetrators: “In the case of staff, they could forfeit their jobs; in the case of members of parliament, they could have the whip withdrawn and they could be fired from ministerial office.”
Harriet Harman responded to the leader of the house, saying: “No woman, or man for that matter, coming to work in this house should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances from those who are in a position of power over them.
“No one should have to work in a toxic atmosphere of sleazy, sexist or homophobic banter. No MP, let alone a minister, should think it is something to make jokes about.”
Speaker John Bercow called on parties to “live up to their responsibilities” amid “disturbing” allegations about a “culture of sexual harassment in parliament.”
He said: “I hope that parties will live up to their responsibilities, demonstrating both an appetite for change and a practical means of delivering that change without delay. Make no mistake, there is a need for change.”
John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, has told all MPs there is a "need for change" in Westminster amid harassment rumours pic.twitter.com/tKkW4Qpq68
— Press Association (@PA) October 31, 2017
Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts told MPs that a member of staff working in parliament had told her that an incident of sexual assault against her had not been properly investigated.
Saville Roberts said: “A worker employed as staff of a member in this House told me today that she reported being sexually assaulted to the proper authorities earlier this year, who did nothing.
“She is deeply disappointed and distrustful, and she tells me that distrust is endemic.”
Leadsom said she would meet with the woman to discuss the allegations and the lack of a proper investigation, and pledged to tackle all allegations.