An investigation by the Financial Times into the Presidents Club Charity Dinner, held at London's Dorchester Hotel in Mayfair on 18 January, claims that some of the 130 specially hired female hostesses, who were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels, were sexually harassed.
BBC Newsnight has reported that children's minister Nadhim Zahawi, who was appointed under-secretary of state at the Department for Education earlier this month, following a government reshuffle, was among the 360 all-male attendees at the event, but left early.
It said that Zahawi felt it was a "bizarre" and "uncomfortable" event, adding that he had attended the event previously, before becoming an MP in 2010, when he felt it was a "completely different to the event he attended last week".
Our political editor @nicholaswatt understands that @nadhimzahawi left the controversial event early because he regarded it as "bizarre" and "uncomfortable" but that he attended it prior to becoming an MP and felt it was completely different then #newsnight pic.twitter.com/9zTitrBIFw— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) January 23, 2018
Newsnight reported that Zahawi was invited to the event by David Meller, a non-executive director at the Department for Education, who is chair of the charitable trust that runs the event, and was also present.
There is no suggestion that either Zahawi or Meller behaved improperly at the event.
Labour's shadow children's minister Emma Lewell-Buck said she is "appalled" that he attended the event.
I'm absolutely appalled that new Minister for Children and Families, Nadhim Zahawi attended this shameful event last week and also reports he has attended this event previously. What sort of message does he think that sends out? https://t.co/HrYKZKjM9U— Emma Lewell-Buck MP (@EmmaLewellBuck) January 24, 2018
And shadow childcare minister Tracey Brabin has said the Department for Education "have questions to answer".
A DfE spokeswoman said: "This charity event was attended in a personal capacity. It was not official departmental business and as such we are unable to comment further."
Zahawi later tweeted that the reports of harrassment were "shocking" and that he condemned the alleged behaviour at the event.
I do unequivocally condemn this behaviour. The report is truly shocking. I will never attend a men only function ever.— Nadhim Zahawi (@nadhimzahawi) January 24, 2018
Speaking in parliament today in response to an urgent question by Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, Jess Phillips, further education minister Anne Milton revealed that Meller has been asked to step down.
"It is quite extraordinary to me that in the 21st century, allegations of this kind are still emerging," Milton said
"Women have the right to feel safe wherever they work, and allegations of this type of behaviour are completely unacceptable."
"David Meller is stepping down as non-executive member for the Department for Education and the apprenticeship delivery board, and I know that the secretary of state is absolutely clear that this is the right thing to do."
"This event was absolutely nothing to do with the Department for Education."