Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Speaker John Bercow calls for external body to investigate bullying amid calls for his resignation

Speaker John Bercow has called for an independent and external body to judge upon allegations of bullying and harassment in the wake of a report, which found “urgent and serious problems” in the way abusive behaviour by MPs and staff is dealt with.

Mr Bercow has faced claims – strongly denied – that he bullied two former officials.

At the start of an urgent question granted by Mr Bercow, he said: “I firmly believe that the only possible way to resolve this matter is the establishment of a body which is both entirely independent of and external to parliament to hear and adjudicate upon all allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, including deciding how far to investigate past misconduct.

But Maria Miller, chairwoman of the women and equalities committee, told the Speaker he should step down.

She said: “The report is clear that there needs to be a complete change in leadership at the most senior level, including you Mr Speaker, as chief officer, if we are, in Dame Laura's words, to press the reset button.”

In a fiery intervention Ms Phillips said: “I just feel totally and utterly maddened by this: I'm not here to defend anybody, including you Mr Speaker.

”I have spoken to hundreds of the people involved in this throughout the process - I notice that the neither Right nor Honourable in my opinion, he probably isn't either anyway, Member for Rochford (James Duddridge) has probably spoken to none of them.

“And some of us don't actually care who it is, who is the offender, it is the victims that we care about and we will not use it for political gain.

”And nothing fills the victims with more dread than when people play with their feelings - so don't do it. Don't do it in here, don't do it for them: you are speaking only for yourself.

“I personally think that the management of this place probably needs a massive overhaul - I'm not going to point the finger for the sake of newspaper headlines.

In her report, Dame Laura Cox QC, a High Court judge, said a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” had allowed the bullying and harassment of staff in the House of Commons to thrive.

In her report, Dame Laura said it was “difficult to envisage” how the reforms needed could be delivered under the current senior House administration.

She called for the establishment of an “entirely independent process” for dealing with staff complaints against MPs in which MPs themselves play no part.

A report says there is a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” allowed bad behaviour to thrive in Westminster. Credit: PA

Sir Kevin Barron, the outgoing chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards, said the Speaker must quit.

Writing in The Times, he said: “The change in culture has to come from the top, and unfortunately I no longer believe that the Speaker, John Bercow, is the correct person to provide that leadership, so he should step down.”

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen also called on Mr Bercow to consider resigning, saying: "I believe that for the reputation and well-being of Parliament and those who work here, he and others in senior positions of responsibility should consider their positions."

Dame Laura’s report painted a picture of a Commons where MPs enjoyed a “God-like status”, knowing they would never be subject to disciplinary action, and where abusive behaviour was actively covered up.

Complaints ranged from staff being shouted and sworn at and belittled on an “almost daily” basis to the “predatory” behaviour of some male MPs towards female staff.

They included frequent propositioning and “inappropriate touching” – including “trying to kiss them, grabbing their arms or bottoms or stroking their breasts or bottoms” – in an atmosphere fuelled by ready access to alcohol.

The Speaker's office declined to comment on calls for Mr Bercow to quit.