House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has come under fresh pressure amid allegations of bullying against him and two other MPs.
Answering an urgent question about claims of a “culture of fear” within Westminster, the Leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom proposed an independent inquiry into “allegations of systemic bullying of parliamentary staff”.
The Cabinet minister revealed she will recommend such an investigation to the House of Commons Commission, a cross-party group responsible for the administration of the House of Commons, which is chaired by Mr Bercow himself.
Mrs Leadsom said: “I am more determined than ever that we banish all kinds of harassment and bullying from this place, because make no mistake, there is a need for change.”
It follows claims broadcast by BBC Newsnight against Mr Bercow, Labour MP Paul Farrelly and Conservative backbencher Mark Pritchard.
Mrs Leadsom pointedly praised the “excellent secretariat” of parliamentary officials who assisted her in drawing up plans for a new behavioural code for all MPs, peers and staff in response to Westminster’s sexual harassment scandal.
The secretariat included Kate Emms, who was reported have left a job as Mr Bercow’s private secretary in 2011, after less than a year, due to his behaviour.
Tory MP Michael Fabricant raised concerns about Mr Bercow’s presence on the House of Commons Commission, suggesting it would “not be an independent judge or jury”.
In response, Mrs Leadsom agreed an inquiry led by the House of Commons Commission “could not be independent”, stressing she will be recommending “an independently led inquiry into allegations of bullying”.
Mr Bercow, who “utterly refutes” the accusations, also came under fire for overseeing the urgent question on the response to bullying allegations himself.
The Speaker’s prominent critic, Conservative MP James Duddridge, suggested Mr Bercow should stand down from his role while the allegations remain.
Mr Duddridge questioned whether the Speaker’s presence was “appropriate”.
He also accused Mr Bercow of “trying to suppress” the claims by sending legal letters through his official taxpayer-funded legal advisers, although Mr Duddridge’s comments were met with a cry of “shame on you” by one MP.
Mr Farrelly used the House of Commons debate to claim he has been “flayed by selective leaking”, as he attacked “a very one-sided, selective BBC broadcast”.
He asked MPs to “give consideration to the disparity of support for MPs who are complained against” when compared to complainants, adding: “May I ask the House to consider why old, historical allegations like this are being selectively recycled now, and by whom, because whatever is at play this is not a game for reputations or families?”
The BBC reported Mr Farrelly was subject to a complaint on behalf of former clerk Emily Commander in 2012, but the Labour MP has highlighted how the allegations were investigated at the time and not upheld.
The other MP named by the BBC, Mr Pritchard, has pointed to how House of Commons officials have no record of any complaints against him.
Labour’s shadow leader of the House of Commons, Valerie Vaz, praised Mr Bercow.
She said: “It is noted, Mr Speaker, that you have granted the urgent question, even though you are one of the people mentioned in media reports.
“No one – critics or otherwise – can deny your commitment to accountability and transparency or your attempts to move the House forward in recognition of diversity and modern customs and practice.”