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Sun, 29 March 2020

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John Bercow condemned after he blocks BBC probe into Keith Vaz bullying claims

John Bercow condemned after he blocks BBC probe into Keith Vaz bullying claims

Emilio Casalicchio

2 min read

Commons speaker John Bercow has been criticised after he used ancient parliamentary rules to block a BBC investigation into bullying claims about Labour MP Keith Vaz.

Mr Bercow said documents relating to official MP trips broad should come under the same privilege as rules that allow MPs and peers to speak freely in Parliament.

It means journalists from the BBC have been blocked from obtaining papers under Freedom of Information rules about a trip Mr Vaz took while he was chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

The Leicester East MP was accused of having bullied a former Commons clerk who believed he was breaching rules during the trip. He denies the claims.

Mr Bercow, a friend of Mr Vaz, used a personal power he holds to prevent any judge from overturning his decision to block disclosure of the documents.

The Speaker himself has faced claims he bullied former staff members - leading one to be signed off work with stress. He also denies the claims.

It comes as Parliament grapples to deal with the fallout of the Westminster bullying and harassment scandal that was uncovered last year.

Amy Leversidge - assistant general secretary of the FDA union, which represents civil servants - said Mr Bercow's actions were "shameful".

She told PoliticsHome: "This story won’t do anything to help rebuild the trust and confidence of House staff.

"Parliamentary privilege is supposed to be used to aid transparency and allow parliamentarians to bring issues into the open that would otherwise be kept secret.

"It is quite shameful that this important power is being used to prevent information being made public."

Dr Hannah White - research director at think tank the Institute for Government - also took aim at Mr Bercow on Twitter.

A fresh inquiry announced this week will quiz staff working directly for MPs about any abuse they have experienced.

It comes after a previous probe into staff working directly for parliament found there was a "disturbing" and "pervasive" culture of bullying and harassment in Westminster

Commenting on the Keith Vaz row, a Commons spokeswoman said: "The information requested relates to the private business of select committees and is covered by parliamentary privilege."

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