Commons chief apologises for giving impression parliament was 'in denial' over bullying claims

Posted On: 
12th March 2018

A senior House of Commons official has apologised for the way parliament responded to allegations of bullying of members of staff by MPs.

Commons clerks have complained of bullying and harassment
PA Images

David Natzler, the Clerk of the House, said he was sorry if officials had given the impression that they were "in denial" about the extent of the problem.

In a letter to Commons staff, he also admitted there are "unresolved issues" around the treatment of employees that need to be addressed.

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An investigation by BBC Newsnight found MPs including Speaker John Bercow, Conservative Mark Pritchard and Labour's Paul Farrelly have been accused of bullying Commons staff.

In response to claims that committee clerks were working under a "culture of fear" through harassment from MPs, their complaints were described by the House as a “grotesque exaggeration”.

But in his letter, Mr Natzler said “there is no doubt” that there are problems that need investigated and acknowledged the “dismay” of staff at the initial statement.

"Some of you have expressed to me and to others your dismay at the tone of our statement to Newsnight and the subsequent email we sent to you on Friday morning,” he wrote in the letter, which has been seen by the BBC.

"I acknowledge we got it wrong in giving the impression we were in denial."

He also softened the Commons’ initial defence, which cited the 2014 revised Respect Policy as evidence that they take “the welfare of our staff extremely seriously, and strongly reject any claims to the contrary”.

He added: "The policies agreed in 2014 improved the protections offered to staff. But I have listened to the views expressed over the last few days and I recognise that we must look at our policies to see how we can improve them."

The letter comes as MPs prepare to discuss the accusations this afternoon in the Commons, through an urgent question from Green MP Caroline Lucas.

“People working in parliament should be able to work without fear of intimidation or bullying – and today I’m calling for every member of staff to be given the best possible protection,” she said.

Read the full letter from Mr Natzler below:

Responding to the claims on Friday, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “The report from Newsnight is concerning.

“The Prime Minister is clear there can be no place for bullying or harassment of any kind in Westminster.