Commons speaker John Bercow should quit as part of bullying and harassment overhaul in Westminster - inquiry

Posted On: 
15th October 2018

Commons speaker John Bercow should step down along with other parliamentary bosses to help sweep away the harassment culture that has dogged the Palace of Westminster, a damning report said today.

Former Black Rod David Leakey said Speaker John Bercow displayed “explosive and intemperate behaviour”
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An inquiry set up after the scandal exploded last year found bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in parliament had been “tolerated and concealed”.

And it said the “necessary changes” might be impossible “under the current senior House administration” - including the office of the Speaker and the Clerk of the House Sir David Natzler.

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The parliamentary bullying and harassment scandal emerged in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations that dominated public debate in late in 2017.

Allegations against a number of MPs saw two Cabinet resignations and led to a handful of party suspensions - some of which are still in place.

Mr Bercow faced claims that he bullied two of his former parliamentary private secretaries, while former Black Rod David Leakey said “explosive and intemperate behaviour” from the Speaker was “legendary”.

The inquiry, led by Dame Louise Cox, said a culture had developed in parliament that allowed abuse to continue and “actively sought to cover it up” without offering support or protection for victims.

She described a "culture, cascading from the top down, of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed".

She added: “I find it difficult to envisage how the necessary changes can be successfully delivered, and the confidence of the staff restored, under the current senior House administration.”

And she said that included the Clerk of the House, the director general, the executive board, the House of Commons Commission and the Speaker’s office.

Former secretary to the speaker Angus Sinclair claimed he was subjected to a string of angry outbursts, swearing and mimicry while working for him, and was paid £86,250 when he quit in 2010 in a deal that required him to promise not to speak about his experiences.

Mr Bercow was also alleged to have shouted at and undermined Mr Sinclair's successor as his private secretary, Kate Emms, eventually leading to her being signed off sick.not to speak about his experiences.

A spokesman for the Speaker has vehemently denied the accusation by both former staffers.

They said today: "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."

A House of Commons spokesman said: “Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons, and the wellbeing of our people will always be our top priority.

“Staff must be confident that unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with seriously, independently and with effective sanctions. Urgent work has already been undertaken to improve internal processes – including the introduction of new confidential support services and helplines run by external, independent specialist providers and a clear pathway for the investigation of allegations.

“The findings of this inquiry will be taken into careful account.”

APOLOGISE

In a statement, the House of Commons Executive Board said: "Dame Laura Cox’s report makes difficult reading for all of us. Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons and the Parliamentary Digital Service.

"We fully accept the need for change and, as a leadership team, are determined to learn lessons from the report. We apologise for past failings and are committed to changing our culture for the better.

"As Dame Laura recognises, this will not be achieved overnight. We have already begun the process. There was an additional meeting of the Commons Executive Board earlier today and the House of Commons Commission will meet on Monday 22 October specifically to consider the report’s findings and identify next steps. 

"We are grateful to Dame Laura and to everyone who contributed to the Inquiry. This report will help ensure that positive change takes place."