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Sat, 15 August 2020

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Commons standards chief urges John Bercow to resign over bullying inquiry

Commons standards chief urges John Bercow to resign over bullying inquiry
3 min read

The outgoing head of the Commons standards committee has urged speaker John Bercow to "step down" after a searing report on bullying and harassment in Parliament.

Sir Kevin Barron, who is stepping down after eight years at the helm of the committee, said a "change of culture" was needed as the House of Commons responds to the highly-critical independent report by Dame Laura Cox.

His intervention came as a fellow Commons committee chair, Maria Miller, called for a "management change" in Parliament.

Dame Laura's inquiry found that bullying and sexual harassment had been “tolerated and concealed” in the House and said the “necessary changes” might be impossible “under the current senior House administration”.

Writing in the Times, Sir Kevin said: "The change in culture has to come from the top and I no longer believe that the Speaker, John Bercow, is the correct person to provide that leadership, so he should step down."

Mr Bercow has himself faced claims - vehemently denied by his office - that he bullied two of his former aides.

Former Black Rod David Leakey has also accused him of “explosive and intemperate behaviour”.

Pointing to the allegations facing Mr Bercow, veteran Labour MP Sir Kevin said: "The Speaker has introduced many welcome procedural changes during his tenure but questions about his own behaviour towards staff still linger.

"There is a feeling among staff that if allegations against the Speaker can be ignored then the chance of any other complaint progressing is slim."

Sir Kevin's intervention came as Labour MP Kate Green - who voted against a probe into the Speaker's behaviour - was elected unopposed as the new head of the standards committee.

The committee, which oversees the work of the the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, voted by three-to-two not to hold an investigation into Mr Bercow's conduct earlier this year, citing the age of the allegations.

But Maria Miller, chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, has heaped fresh pressure on the Speaker to consider his position.

Speaking to the Today programme on Tuesday, she said: "What is clear is that the bullying and harassment is coming right from the top.

“We have outstanding allegations directly against the Speaker - who will be one of the first people who will be considering this report."

The former culture secretary added: “It cannot be right that the very people who are being criticised so heavily in an independent report are those who are going to be deciding how it is taken forward.”

A spokesperson for the Speaker’s Office said: "This is a serious report into a serious subject which deserves a serious response.

"The House of Commons Commission will meet as a matter of urgency in the coming days to consider the report and our response to it.”

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