Keith Vaz accused of bullying House of Commons clerks

Keith Vaz allegedly bullied clerks (Yui Mok/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Labour MP Keith Vaz has been accused of bullying House of Commons clerks and breaking from normal procedure during taxpayer-funded trips.

BBC Newsnight published a string of allegations from staff about mistreatment at the hands of the former chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

Jenny McCullough, who worked as a clerk until 2011, alleged the Leicester MP told her she was incompetent because she was “not a mother”.

Several told the programme that his overseas trips with the Commons’ committee would often deviate from the planned itinerary without explanation.

Mr Vaz “strenuously” denied the allegations, including that he breached any rules of the House or bullied staff.

Ms McCullough spoke of one alleged episode when she joined the MP on a trip to Russia and Ukraine in 2008 and found they were taken to an “opulent” dinner thrown in his honour.

It is unclear who paid for the meal, she claimed, and fell outside of the itinerary which had to be signed off before they left.

Rules of the commons state that hospitality has to be arranged by the committee or appropriately declared.

Mr Vaz responded: “The dinner… was hosted by the chair of the UK-Ukraine group in Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament) or the chair of the Ukrainian equivalent of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

“The dinner was approved by the committee as part of the programme for the visit before the committee departed.”

The former clerk also accused Mr Vaz of making jokes about her Northern Irish background, claiming she was a security threat.

She alleged he launched a “tirade” at her in a hotel lobby when she raised her concerns on the trip, explaining to her manager in an email: “He then demanded to know what age I was.

“He told me that I didn’t know how the House worked and that I didn’t respect the authority of members, his authority in particular as a senior member of many years experience and chairman of the Committee, that I had an attitude problem.”

She further told Newsnight: “He told me that I wasn’t capable of serving the committee because I wasn’t a mother…

“All I knew was it wasn’t normal to be harangued about my fertility status in the reception of a hotel room, at public expense in front of my colleague on the team.”

He subsequently sought to undermine her position, she claimed.

Mr Vaz denied berating Ms McCullough and said he did not “at any time insult her maternal status”.

He added: “I find these allegations insulting and appalling.”

The MP was forced to step down as chairman of the influential committee in 2016 following a after becoming embroiled in a rent boy scandal.

But Ms McCullough said she had alerted Commons’ authorities to her concerns about his behaviour while he still held the role but no action was taken.

She told Newsnight: “It was as though there was something wrong with me, that I was too sensitive, that this was normal.

“I didn’t feel able to complain about Keith Vaz because I was afraid of him. When I was on the home affairs committee I saw that he had friends in the police and friends in the law.

“He said that one of the principal clerks was a friend and by the time I was leaving the house he had a friend in the Speaker. I thought it could only end badly for me.”

This was spelled out in her annual appraisal in 2008, obtained by the programme, which said she had “excellent relations” with officials, “apart from the Chairman, who chose to try to bully her”.

It continued: “Jenny understandably and properly stood her ground, which the Chairman resented.”

Mr Vaz said: “I had always believed Ms McCullough and myself had a good working relationship.

“If she was unhappy on any committee visit (or more generally), neither Ms McCullough nor anyone else made me aware of it, either before, during or in the 10 years since the events are claimed to have taken place.”

Other anonymous clerks made allegations about Mr Vaz’s behaviour on six trips, including sudden changes of plans and mystery over who was footing the bill for certain events.

A House of Commons spokesman: “We are aware that in the past the House has not had a robust process in place to deal with instances of bullying and harassment.

“However, we are confident that our new Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy will mean that allegations can be dealt with effectively and sensitively.”

An independent inquiry into the bullying and harassment of house staff was agreed in March which is now under way and expects to publish a report following the summer recess.

The statement continued: “In addition the House has agreed to set up a new independent inquiry looking into historical allegations of bullying and harassment, which we expect to report in six months’ time.”