Corbyn: Westminster bullying claims require independent investigation

Comments follow allegations of bullying behaviour towards Commons clerks by MPs

Jeremy Corbyn has called for allegations of systematic bullying at Westminster to be independently investigated, with sanctions imposed against any MP found guilty of ill-treating House of Commons staff.

But the Labour leader said he would not suspend Paul Farrelly, an MP alleged to have bullied Commons clerks, unless any claims against him were investigated and substantiated.

“The culture of bullying is totally wrong in any workplace or any environment,” Corbyn said after a speech at Scottish Labour’s conference in Dundee. “It’s nasty, it’s horrible to the individual victim concerned. It’s an abuse of power by the manager or employer.”

Farrelly was named in a BBC Newsnight investigation as facing allegations that he bullied Commons staff. The Speaker, John Bercow, and the Conservative MP Mark Pritchard were also named. All three have denied any wrongdoing.

Farrelly, the Labour MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme, had a formal complaint made against him in 2012 over his alleged treatment of a clerk. An inquiry found he had abused his power “by constant criticism”, but a panel of MPs chaired by the Speaker could not reach a decision on what to do, Newsnight said.

Pressed on whether he should take action against Farrelly, Corbyn said: “Obviously the investigation must take place first. If there’s proof of bullying then appropriate reprimands have to take place.”

In November, Farrelly was investigated by party whips after claims he confronted fellow Labour members who were queuing to vote after a late-night Commons debate on Brexit.

After the Newsnight allegations, a new complaint system for MPs’ employees could be immediately extended to also include staff who work for parliament, it has emerged.

The independent complaints procedure was announced last month by Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, and could lead to MPs and peers being expelled or recalled if they were found to have harassed or bullied staff.

Initially, it was only to apply to staff working directly for MPs, as extending it to parliamentary employees would require consultation with the trades unions that represent them.

But it is understood that the cross-party group behind the new code will look into whether parliamentary staff could be included from the outset.

Downing Street said there could be “no place for bullying or harassment of any kind at Westminster”.

Asked about the claims against Bercow, Theresa May’s spokesman said: “With regards to the Speaker, I obviously note the allegations are being contested, but I think these are concerning allegations, and there can be no place for bullying and harassment of any kind. If complaints are made, they need to be investigated.”

Newsnight alleged that Kate Emms, who was Bercow’s private secretary from May 2010 to February 2011, developed post-traumatic stress disorder after working for him.

Bercow “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,” said the Speaker’s spokesman.

A spokesman for the Commons said it was a “responsible and supportive employer” and did not tolerate bullying or harassment.

Caroline Lucas, the Green party co-leader, who is part of the cross-party panel examining the issue, said she was “really disappointed” by the response.

“I would have hoped that they would have listened to the numerous people who have come forward, both on the Newsnight programme, but also in the evidence that we took,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Lucas said Commons clerks in particular had no confidence in the current complaints process. “What happens is, if you raise a complaint then you get moved, your career gets undermined, the MP gets away with it,” she said.

The allegations against Bercow are further complicated by his divisive reputation as a Speaker who has helped hold the government to account; he is hugely disliked by some MPs, mainly his former Conservative colleagues.

This is partly because of his migration across the political spectrum from the hard right to almost the centre left, and because – even taking into account the nature of his role – his critics say he can be direct to the point of rudeness.


Severin Carrell and Peter Walker

The GuardianTramp

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