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Mon, 6 July 2020

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EXCL Jacob Rees-Mogg says new Speaker must do more to tackle Commons bullying

EXCL Jacob Rees-Mogg says new Speaker must do more to tackle Commons bullying
3 min read

The new House of Commons Speaker must do more than John Bercow to tackle bullying at Westminster, Jacob Rees-Mogg has declared.

In a thinly-veiled swipe at Mr Bercow, the Commons leader said the Speaker "sets the tone" in Parliament and that the election of his successor would provide "a fresh wind" for tackling the problem.

Mr Rees-Mogg said he or she must create an atmosphere where harassment and abuse of colleagues is as socially unaccpetable as drink driving.

His comments, in an interview with The House magazine, came on the first anniversary of the Cox report, which called for a radical overhaul of the way complaints about behaviour by MPs and staff are handled.

Mr Bercow - who has denied allegations of bullying - has been accused of failing to do enough to combat the problem.

Mr Rees-Mogg said: "I think the Speaker elections are important because in the hustings this is an issue they are all focussing on, and my role will be very much to support them in what they are trying to do to ensure that the Cox recommendations are implemented effectively, that the independent complaints and grievance system works effectively. 

“Ultimately, the Speaker sets the tone and culture of the House of Commons. And so, with a new Speaker it will be a real opportunity to develop and evolve the culture.

“It’s like drink driving. The reason people don’t drink drive any more isn’t so much they’re worried that there’s a policeman round the corner with a breathalyser to catch them, it’s because society no longer thinks it is clever, funny or normal. There’s a peer pressure not to drink and drive and we need exactly the same in the House of Commons – a peer pressure to treat people properly."

Asked if he believed Mr Bercow had not done enough to solve the problem, he said: “I don’t want to criticise the Speaker on this, but I think a new Speaker provides an opportunity to do things differently.

"The Speaker has done significant work and the complaints and grievance procedure has come in under his leadership, but things often need a fresh wind."

Mr Rees-Mogg has supported Mr Bercow in the past, but the pair have been at odds over the Speaker's approach to Brexit.

The Commons Leader said: "I think a good assessment of the Speaker will not be come to in the short term because it’s too heated.

"I hope that when his biography is written it will be very balanced on the many things he’s got right and the things he has not got right and does not ignore the former because the latter is more exciting to talk about."

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Rees-Mogg also accused the House of Lords of being "obsessed by Brexit" and called on it to reform itself or face growing calls for radical changes to the way it operates.

In particular, he said he was unhappy at the way peers had rushed through the Benn Act, which is aimed at stopping a no-deal Brexit.

He said: "The House of Lords has become so obsessed by Brexit that it has overturned its normal conventions.

“What does the House of Lords do? It scrutinises and it allows tempers and passions to cool. We’ve always passed emergency legislation with consensus. If the House of Lords legislates urgently for matters which have gone through the House of Commons by one vote, it isn’t fulfilling its role and therefore you have to look at how it can fulfil its role."

He added: "The Lords needs to settle and the question is does that happen naturally or does the pressure for reform become very strong because they simply block any Conservative government because of their anti-Conservative majority?"

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