Responding to an Urgent Question from Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, on the treatment of Parliamentary staff, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom today announced she wants a full probe into claims that Commons Speaker John Bercow and others had mistreated the ‘clerks’ who work in Westminster. As Bercow looked on, Ms Leadsome said that the allegations were “of huge concern” and that she would recommend a “short” inquiry, expected to get underway next Monday.
Bercow was accused on BBC’s Newsnight of having allegedly shouted at and undermined Kate Emms, his former private secretary, who quit her post claiming to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Tory MP James Duddridge accusing Bercow of trying to “suppress” allegations against him and questioned whether it was “appropriate” for him to chair the session. He asked; “Is it appropriate for Mr speaker to remain in his place when there are allegations against him which he is trying to suppress using taxpayer’s money through sending out letters through Speaker’s Counsel [warning Newsnight of possible legal action]?′
Ms Leadsom avoided answering the question, stressing that “we must stamp out bullying wherever we see it”, and saying that all staff and MPs should have the same the same protection and be held to the same standards.
Earlier in the day, Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told broadcasters: “The only way to deal with a bully is to stand up to him or her. It is why I am now calling here and now for John Bercow to stand down as Speaker. When he (Bercow) stood for election as Speaker in 2009, he told MPs that he would serve no more than nine years, that means he should hand over to a new Speaker this summer.”
Leadsom added that the new inquiry should hear from “current and former” House staff members about their experiences and whether all Commons staff – not just those who work directly for MPs – should now have access to the same independent complaints system.
Sex harassment and bullying allegations swept through Westminster last year, and allegations against Speaker Bercow come hot on the heels of allegations raised by the LabourToo movement, weighing Westminster and its political parties down with even more allegations of abuse and bullying.
The Speaker’s spokesperson said last week: “The Speaker completely and utterly refutes the allegation that he behaved in such a manner, either eight years ago, or at any other time. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue.”
Earlier threats of a motion of no confidence in the Speaker, a highly unusual proposal, were dropped after a lack of cross-party backing, with several MPs insisting that ‘due process’ and ‘natural justice’ should be afford those accused of bullying, and Labour’s Barry Sheerman warning of the danger of a ‘new kind of political McCarthyism’.
But Leadsom insisted that while it was important to ensure fairness for those complained against, “the [Commons] working group [on harassment and bullying] put the complainant at the heart of the procedure”.