John Bercow: fresh bullying allegations are concerning, says May

PM calls for allegations that Commons Speaker is prone to ‘over-the-top anger’ to be formally investigated

The House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, has come under mounting pressure after the prime minister called for new claims of bullying against him to be formally investigated.

Bercow’s former private secretary alleged in a TV interview that the Speaker was prone to angry outbursts and obscene language.

May’s spokesman told journalists: “The prime minister has been very clear from the start that there is no place for bullying or harassment in the workplace including parliament. It’s a matter for parliament to decide how to proceed, but the latest allegations are concerning and should be properly investigated.”

The former private secretary, Angus Sinclair, told Newsnight on Tuesday that Bercow was prone to “over-the-top anger” and that he was “not sure he was completely in control of it”. He claimed Bercow had undermined him in front of other staff and once smashed a mobile phone over his desk.

“There was a tirade of how I’d let him down and it was the worst thing ... There was a lot of bad language and suddenly his mobile phone, which he’d been holding, was flung on the desk in front of me and broke into a lot of bits,” he said.

Sinclair also claimed the Speaker had told him he was no longer needed after the 2010 general election and that he was given compulsory early retirement with an £86,250 payoff conditional on a non-disclosure agreement. His successor, Kate Emms, has also alleged that Bercow had bullied her.

After the prime minister intervened in the row, the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, suggested the ongoing inquiry into the treatment of parliamentary staff, being carried out by Dame Laura Cox, could be expanded to consider the new allegations.

Leadsom said: “It is for Dame Laura Cox QC to consider whether the terms of reference of her independent inquiry need to be expanded, to allow for individual investigations to take place. I’m sure she will be looking very carefully at how best to respond to these latest developments.”

She added: “We must call out unacceptable behaviour and stand by the House staff who do so much for us.”

That call was echoed by the top civil servants’ union, the FDA, which represents dozens of parliamentary staff who claim to have been mistreated by MPs.

Its general secretary, Dave Penman, said: “If justice is to be served, then all of those who have been denied it need access to an independent complaints process, not only those who may make a complaint against the Speaker.

“All staff in the House need a consistent and fair approach to the investigation of both past and current cases. There can be no clean slate for past perpetrators of bullying and harassment.

“The prime minister now has the opportunity to demonstrate to the staff who support the vital work of parliament that she is interested in their welfare, not just the pursuit of a narrow political agenda,” he said.

Maria Miller, the Conservative chair of the women and equalities committee, directly challenged Bercow about the allegations in the Commons, asking him: “What steps will you be taking to staff both current and former that they can speak out about wrongdoing experienced whilst working in this place?”

She also called on him to make a personal statement about the latest claims “given your involvement in these allegations, and that they are further allegations which potentially have the effect of undermining the reputation of this House”.

The Speaker insisted he had no personal involvement in drawing up the “compromise agreements” signed by departing staff, which he said did not prevent staff making complaints. But he refused to comment on the specific allegations, saying: “I have made a public statement, to which I have nothing to add.”

Bercow then irritated some MPs by accepting a supportive intervention from the Conservative MP Julian Lewis, who asked him to confirm that most of his staff were long-serving. “I have a superb team,” he said. “I am also happy to confirm that the great majority of people who have left my service have done so on perfectly amicable terms.”

Bercow was defended by other MPs, some of whom regard him as a moderniser who has ruffled feathers in shaking up the way parliament works.

Labour MP Barry Sheerman tweeted: “I have known John Bercow since he came into parliament. He is not a bully but a small group of House officials hated his determination to shake up and modernise the House of Commons.”

A spokesman for the Speaker’s office said Bercow “strenuously denies that there is any substance to any of these allegations”.

Leadsom published a report this year on plans to toughen up protection for Commons staff. Complaints would spark a confidential inquiry by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, with harsher sanctions for those found to have behaved inappropriately.


Heather Stewart, Jessica Elgot and Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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