House of Commons leadership admits failures in tackling bullying and harassment culture

John Bercow (PA Archive/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

The leadership of the House of Commons has acknowledged an “institutional failure” to tackle bullying and harassment in Parliament.

It came as the House of Commons Commission backed the recommendations in a damning report which laid bare how a toxic culture in Parliament allowed bullying and harassment to thrive.

The recommendations in Dame Laura Cox’s report include allowing historic allegations to be probed – potentially opening the door to investigations into claims of bullying against Speaker John Bercow.

Speaking to ITV News, FDA Assistant General Secretary Amy Liversidge said the steps towards an independent review into the Commons culture were "monumental".

"This is a groundbreaking moment for the House and all the staff that work in there," she said. "We've been calling for an independent process for years. To see this happen today is monumental."

In a joint statement, members of the commission, including Mr Bercow, said: “Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons, or in any area of public life.

“The persistence of this problem has rightly called into question the culture and leadership of the House of Commons.

“We acknowledge that we have a proactive role to play in improving the culture of the House Service, and therefore are resolved to ensure that Dame Laura Cox’s report marks the moment where we commit to swift and lasting change.”

Mr Bercow, who has strongly denied the allegations against him, said accepting the recommendations of the Cox report is the “first step on the root and branch reform of the culture of this House”.

The Speaker’s critics called on him to quit following publication of the Cox report, claiming he could not provide the leadership the Commons needed to change its culture.

Mr Bercow has denied allegations that he bullied former private secretaries Angus Sinclair and Kate Emms and a probe into his conduct was rejected by MPs in May because claims dating back more than seven years could only be authorised by the Standards Committee in exceptional circumstances.

Andrea Leadsom, a member of the commission, commented on the Cox report. Credit: PA

The commission, made up of senior MPs, officials and independent external members, said it had “too often failed to honour the responsibility to provide a workplace free from bullying and harassment”.

It said the Cox report “describes an institutional failure to address the problem which has undermined the legitimacy and authority of the House of Commons”.

The commission added: “The scale of the problem and depth of hurt caused is beyond dispute.

“We are determined to take immediate steps to rectify past mistakes where and when we can and are committed to a robust effort to change the culture which has tolerated such abuses.”

The commission members said they “deeply regret” that it has taken so long to recognise the need for change.

Based on the recommendations in the Cox report, the commission agreed measures to scrap existing complaints policies, to allow historic claims to be heard under the new Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, and to strip MPs of a role in deciding cases involving fellow MPs.

It is vital that the recommendations be implemented as quickly as possible

The official report detected a bullying culture in the House of Commons. Credit: PA

It will now be up to the Commons as a whole to decide how to proceed, but the commission said it hopes the measures will be acted on as quickly as possible.

Mr Bercow said: “I’m delighted that every member of the commission has decided to support fully the three main recommendations from Dame Laura Cox’s report, which I believe are an important first step in our root and branch reform of the culture of this House.”

He added he is “very keen to see the establishment of an independent body to hear and adjudicate on all allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct as soon as possible”.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, a member of the commission, said the Cox report “demonstrates how far we have to go to stamp out any form of bullying or harassment in Westminster”.

She said: “It is essential that the external members of the House Commission are given responsibility for their implementation to ensure independence, and I am pleased the commission unanimously agreed to this.”

But she said “the improvements we need cannot take effect without changes to ensure the management of the House of Commons is more democratic, more accountable and inspires the confidence of its staff, members and the public”.

A Labour spokesman said: “The report highlighted a culture and practices that are unacceptable in any workplace. It must be put right as a matter of urgency.

“It is vital that the recommendations be implemented as quickly as possible, working with trade unions and other stakeholders.”