David Meller, who attended the Presidents Club charitable trust fundraiser at the centre of allegations of sexual harassment, has been sacked from his government position.
The businessman was asked to step down from his role as non-executive director on the board of the Department of Education after allegations of unacceptable behaviour at the event were revealed in the Financial Times, minister Anne Milton told the Commons on Wednesday.
Politicians from all political parties have condemned organisers of the event at the luxurious Dorchester hotel, after the paper claimed female agency workers were repeatedly victims of groping and propositioning.
Two undercover reporters posing as hostesses spent six hours at the “most un-PC event of the year” - for which they were instructed to wear skimpy black outfits and matching underwear.
An urgent question was tabled in the Commons by Labour’s Jess Phillips, who said women had been “bought as bait by rich men”, and asked if it was acceptable for Meller to remain in his role.
Milton, flanked on the frontbench by education secretary Damian Hinds, said: “The government expects board members to adhere to the code of conduct for members of public bodies. This code clearly states that they should adhere to the seven principles of public life.
“David Meller is stepping down as non-executive member and I know that the secretary of state [for education] is absolutely clear that is the right thing to do.”
Labour MPs including Angela Eagle and Yvette Cooper called for a thorough investigation of the Presidents Club’s activities to be carried out to establish whether any laws had been broken.
Conservative Rachel Maclean said businesses who participated in the event needed to be “hit in the pocket to send a clear message that this kind of culture in unacceptable”.
Chris Matheson, Labour MP for Chester, was the only man to speak on the issue, but several male members sat in the Commons chamber to listen to the debate.
Speaker John Bercow said he had granted Phillips’ request for urgent question because he felt the issue was “a matter of the utmost importance”.
Lunch with Boris Johnson was among the prizes up for grabs at the event’s fundraising auction and newly-appointed children’s minister Nadhim Zahawi was a guest - prompting calls for his resignation - but insisted he left early.
Milton said: “I know he [Zahawi] found it deeply uncomfortable. And you will have to believe me that clearly, from his demeanour this morning, he was truly shocked.”
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said Zahawi should give MPs “a full and clear account of his actions”.
“The Department for Education is responsible for protecting children from exploitation and tackling sexual harassment in our schools, yet in the last fortnight alone we have seen two ministerial appointments forced to resign after falling far short of the standards we should expect,” she said.
“It is about time they started leading by example.”
A Downing Street spokesman said Theresa May had “full confidence” in Zahawi, but when asked if any other ministers had attended such events, added: “I’m not going to get into private conversations that may or may not have taken place.”
Afternoon tea with Bank of England governor Mark Carney was also one of the auction lots up for grabs - but the prize was revoked by Carney himself, who said he was “deeply dismayed” that the event took place and said his inclusion was “unauthorised”.
Great Ormond Street Hospital, which was set to benefit from the funds raised at the “most un-PC event of the year”, said it would not accept the Presidents Club donation. The organisation denies knowledge of any wrongdoing.
Milton promised a full investigation would take place and anyone who had broken the law would face the consequences.
“Do I look like somebody who is not angry? Do I look like somebody who is in any way excusing this sort of behaviour? I am not,” she said.
“I feel as appalled as all the members opposite.”
The minister added: “Let’s hope that this debate today draws a line in the sand and makes honourable members think twice about attending this kind of event ever again.”