EXCL Trade unions call on Commons Speaker hopefuls to end 'inaction' on Westminster bullying scandal

Posted On: 
17th October 2019

Candidates hoping to replace John Bercow as Commons Speaker are coming under pressure to end the "inaction" on Westminster's bullying scandal.

The nine candidates to be Speaker have all been urged to sign up to the Dame Laura Cox report.

Trade unions representing staff working in Parliament have written to the nine hopefuls urging them to commit to fully implementing the recommendations of a hard-hitting report on bullying and harassment.

The report, which was drawn up for Commons authorities by high court judge Dame Laura Cox last year, found a "disturbing" and "pervasive" culture in Westminster, and warned that a tradition of "deference and silence" had prevented victims from speaking out.

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It warned that a small number of MPs were engaged in "predatory" conduct that was too often dismissed as "harmful banter" - with staff subjected to "frequent sexual innuendos, lewd comments or sexual gestures".

In the wake of the report, Commons bosses agreed to ditch their current 'Respect' human resources policy - and open up historic cases to scrutiny.

But they have so far stopped short of setting up a complaints system "entirely independent" of MPs to assess claims made against them.

In a letter to each of the candidates and seen by PoliticsHome, the FDA and Prospect unions demand that the next Speaker commits "to the wellbeing of the staff of the House" by publicly signing up to the Cox report's recommendations.

"As trade union leaders representing hundreds of parliamentary staff, we have consistently called for the full implementation of the recommendations made by Dame Laura Cox in her report into bullying and harassment in parliament which is now exactly a year old," general secretaries Dave Penman and Garry Graham write.

And they warn: "The failure to do so has been inexplicable and has damaged trust in parliament among the public, and crucially amongst staff.

"If you are successful in the contest to become the next Speaker then you will have a central role in restoring this trust, not least by ensuring parliament has working practices and a working culture in keeping with its prominence as the heart of our democracy."

The letter asks all nine candidates to commit to "urgently implementing the full set of recommendations made by Dame Laura Cox" and to "publish a plan to do so as a priority upon election".

It also demands that each of those running for the job to guarantee that unions will not be shut out of the process, calling for "ongoing engagement with parliamentary staff and their trade unions to assess the effectiveness of these reforms".

The unions add: "This is an issue of great importance to our members in parliament and to the wider public and as such we will be making the contents of this letter, and your reply, publically available ahead of the election."

Mr Bercow's own stint as Speaker has been marked by accusations that he bullied staff, claims he has strongly denied. 

Prospect's deputy general secretary Garry Graham told PoliticsHome: "One year on from the Cox report, the excuses for inaction must end.

"The next Speaker must be someone committed to fully implementing the Cox recommendations and making parliament a modern, professional workplace for all staff.

"It is right that all candidates make a commitment to staff that they will pursue this agenda if elected next month."

Those hoping to occupy the Speaker's chair when Mr Bercow steps down at the end of October include Labour MPs Harriet Harman, Chris Bryant, Meg Hillier, Lindsay Hoyle, and Rosie Winterton.

Meanwhile Conservatives Edward Leigh, Henry Bellingham, Shailesh Vara and Eleanor Laing have all put their names forward.