Andrea Leadsom says government will act on sexual misconduct allegations in "days, rather than weeks" as investigation into MP Mark Garnier continues

Catherine Neilan
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Trade minister Mark Garnier is being investigated (Source: Getty)

Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom has committed to tackling sexual harassment in "days, rather than weeks", as the party whips continue to investigate claims against Brexit minister Mark Garnier.

Leadsom said Westminster needs an independent support team able to deal with allegations of sexual harassment or abuse, admitting the current system for dealing with complaints is “inadequate".

In response to a series of questions from MPs urging the government to deal with the escalating scandal, Leadsom also stated there was "absolutely no covering up going on". She told the House that she would be "setting the barrier" lower than criminal investigations, and anyone found culpable could lose their job.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who yesterday wrote to Speaker John Bercow, sat alongside her colleague during the update, but did not speak.

It comes as the party conducts an investigation into Mark Garnier, junior trade minister who has been instrumental in setting the foundations for the government's post-Brexit trade talks, over allegations that he asked his secretary to buy sex toys and called her "sugar t**s".

Garnier has so far said the comment was in reference to a "an amusing conversation" about TV series Gavin and Stacey while buying sex toys was "good-humoured high jinks". He said it did not constitute harassment.

A Downing Street spokesman repeatedly dodged questions about whether the Prime Minister had full confidence in Garnier, saying he would not "pre-empt" the findings of the investigation. The work is being carried out by party whips and is expected to conclude "as quickly as possible", the spokesman said.

He also claimed allegations that Theresa May is regularly shown a "dossier" of her parliamentary colleagues' sexual antics, saying "there is no dossier, therefore the Prime Minister hasn't seen one". He would not comment on whether she was informed of misbehaviour in conversation with her whips, or when she had first heard of the allegations.

But he stressed that she took the matter very seriously and had acted as soon as the allegations were "made public".

"Any form of unwanted sexual behaviour... is inappropriate, and if proven, appropriate action will be taken," the spokesman said.

However, there is currently no investigation taking place into allegations against former minister Stephen Crabb, who has admitted sending explicit messages to a 19-year-old he had interviewed for a job. Crabb, who had run for party leader after last summer's referendum, said there had been no sexual contact and that he had been foolish.

"We exchanged messages which talked about sex but none of it was meant seriously," he said.

On top of this, Guido Fawkes has published a spreadsheet compiled by Tory aides that lists 36 serving sex pest MPs - although the names have been redacted. Guido claims the list contains two serving cabinet members and 18 serving ministers.

The spokesman said this morning he was "not aware" of any other investigation and declined to comment on lists.

Labour MP Dawn Butler has published an open letter to the Prime Minister, calling for her to investigate both Garnier and Crabb and have the whip suspended while investigations into their conduct take place.

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