UK education department board member resigns over men-only charity dinner scandal

Written by John Ashmore on 24 January 2018 in News

Questions raised about participation of MPs in President's Club dinners in which hostesses have claimed to feel exploited 

Champagne reception - credit Maman

A UK Department for Education board member has resigned his post after reports that women were "groped and harassed" at a men-only charity dinner he organised.

The Financial Times has revealed that women working at a high-end event in central London – attended by senior figures from business and politics including Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi – were left feeling exploited after being told to wear “sexy” outfits and being propositioned by guests.

Education minister Anne Milton told MPs this afternoon that David Meller, who also chairs the Apprenticeship Delivery Board, would be "stepping down" from both roles.

She also defended her colleague Zahawi, who is Undersecretary of State for Children and Families, saying he had left the event early and was "truly shocked" by today's reports.

Responding to an urgent question from Labour MP Jess Phillips, Milton told the House of Commons: "The Government expects board members to adhere to the code of conduct of board members of public bodies. This quite clearly states that they should adhere to the seven principles of public life.

"David Meller is stepping down as non-executive member for the Department of Education and the Apprenticeship Delivery Board and I know my RHF the Secretary of State is absolutely clear that this is the right thing to do."

Meanwhile Theresa May's spokesman said the Prime Minister had been "uncomfortable at the reports that she read this morning".

"I say reports, in part, because this is clearly an event which she would not be invited because she is a woman," he added.

Phillips said the dinner had involved women being "bought as bait for rich men", while Ms Milton agreed that "there is an association between rich, wealthy people and this sort of behaviour".

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner also weighed in, asking her opposite number Damian Hinds to investigate why Mr Zahawi attended the event. 

"I welcome also the fact the David Meller is standing down. And Mr Speaker, he should not have any other roles in education," she said.

"Will the Secretary of State also investigate the attendance of the minister for children – can he confirm reports that he attended previous events and was invited by David Meller this year?

"His department is responsible for safeguarding millions of children, caring for thousands of victims of child sexual exploitation and abuse, for tackling sexual harassment and violence in our schools for colleges, for universities and for educating another generation of bot girls and boys. Isn’t it time Mr Speaker, that they started leading by example?"

Replying for the Government, Ms Milton stressed that her colleague had left the event shortly after he arrived.

"I will lead by example and I know, I have spoken to the Secretary of State this morning and I know he is equally appalled by the reports of this event.

"I have spoken to my Honourable Friend, the fellow minister in the department [Zahawi] – he didn’t stay at the event long and I know he found the event extremely uncomfortable, he left and he was truly shocked by the reports that have emerged." 

Zahawi also tweeted that he would never attend a similar event in the future.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said she had felt "uncomfortable" reading about the dinner, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn branded it "a gross example of sexual harassment".

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