John Bercow says 'there is a need for change' at Westminster over sexual harassment by MPs

Posted On: 
30th October 2017

John Bercow has said “there is a need for change” in parliament as the pressure to tackle sexual harassment by MPs continued to build.

Commons Speaker John Bercow made a hard-hitting statement to MPs today
PA Images

The Commons Speaker told MPs there should be “zero tolerance” of harassment or bullying at Westminster and urged victims to go to the police.

And he made a swipe at the Prime Minister after she appealed to him to help set up a tougher system for addressing claims of abuse.

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It comes after the issue of sexual harassment in parliament exploded in the wake of the allegations about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

The names of almost 40 MPs accused of inappropriate behaviour have  been circulated, and Brexit minister Mark Garnier is under investigation by the Cabinet Office after he called his PA “sugar t*ts” and sent her on an errand to buy sex toys.

Mr Bercow told the Commons today: “In the first instance I hope that parties will live up to their responsibilities, demonstrating both an appetite for change and a practical means of delivering that change without delay.

“Make no mistake, there is a need for change.”

He added: “Let me make it clear: there must be zero tolerance of sexual harassment or bullying here at Westminster or elsewhere: whether that involves members or their staff or parliamentary staff or those working on or visiting the estate.

“If there have been assaults they should be reported to the police here as anywhere else.”

At the weekend the Prime Minister wrote to the Speaker calling for a new cross-party mediation and disciplinary procedure to investigate allegations and bring MPs to book.

Mr Bercow said he would be happy to have such an idea considered, and said it was “important” for constituents to know justice was being served.

But he told Mrs May, after she noted the difficulty the Conservatives have had in setting up an internal process: “It does not require my intervention for the party to adopt an effective grievance scheme.”

PoliticsHome revealed this year there were some 240 calls to a Commons anti-bullying and harassment hotline in 2016 – up from 108 the year before.

Responding to an urgent question by former deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said: "The public rightly expect MPs to display the highest standards. There can be no place for harassment, abuse and misconduct in politics. Your age, gender or job title should have no bearing on the way you are treated in a modern workplace."

She said the current system for handling complaints by parliamentary staff was "inadequate" and that parties should come together to set up a new regime "in days, not weeks".

Ms Harman said: "No woman or man coming to work in this house should be subjected to unwanted sexual advances from people who are in a position of power over them. No one should have to work in the toxic atmosphere of sleazy sexist or homophobic banter. No MP, let alone a minister, should think it is something to make jokes about.

"No one elected any of us to engage in sleazy, oppressive behaviour. It must be stopped and now is the time to do it."