John Bercow tells MPs he wants independent misconduct inquiry

Speaker answers urgent question amid calls for him to quit after bullying report

John Bercow has called for bullying complaints to be investigated by an independent external body, as multiple MPs said he should resign after a damning report into Westminster’s workplace culture.

The House of Commons Speaker, who has been the subject of bullying allegations, told MPs he wants complaints about misconduct in the house to be investigated by an outside group.

Bercow, who came under intense pressure from MPs on Tuesday, was speaking during an urgent question from Labour’s John Mann. Two committee chairs, the women and equalities chairwoman, Maria Miller, and the departing chairman of the standards committee, Sir Kevin Barron, have said he should resign.

The Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, said she would do everything in her power to “stamp out all forms of bullying and harassment”.

“I would just say to all honourable members, those who attempted to turn a blind eye, or to allow it to go on under their view is, as we all know: for evil to succeed, good men need only do nothing,” she told MPs.

Miller said Dame Laura Cox’s investigation showed “bullying and harassment is coming right from the top”, and it was not right that those who were criticised in the report should be allowed to decide how it was implemented.

However, Labour has suggested it will not back any efforts to remove Bercow. The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, said it was not the moment for a change of Speaker.

A Labour spokesman declined to say whether she was representing the party’s position and said it would not be commenting further on Bercow.

The Speaker has emphatically denied allegations in a Newsnight investigation that he bullied his former private secretaries Angus Sinclair and Kate Emms.

Thornberry’s remarks were immediately criticised by the head of the civil service union. The FDA general secretary, Dave Penman, said she was “putting party politics before people”.

Completely disingenuous from @EmilyThornberry. Just last month, you were speaking at the TUC 150th Anniversary dinner about workers' rights. Now you're happy to ignore Dame Laura Cox's urgent calls and put party politics before people. Which side are you on?

— Dave Penman (@FDAGenSec) October 16, 2018

The Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said that during a febrile period in politics with Brexit, MPs needed to have a Speaker who “stands up for backbenchers, stand[s] up for this house to an overmighty and overbearing executive who is prepared to drive through a Brexit that is intolerable to members of this house”.

Leadsom hit back at Bradshaw’s remarks, saying it was “not in the spirit” of the debate. “I don’t understand why he feels the future of this great nation relies on one individual person, which what he seems to be suggesting,” she said. Bradshaw later tweeted that her comment “reveals her true agenda”.

In her 155-page report, Cox said there was a tradition of “deference and silence” that “actively sought to cover up abusive conduct” and gave no protection to those reporting bullying or sexual harassment.

The former judge was not tasked with responding to individual complaints, but said she had concluded “the levers of change are regarded as part of the change that is needed” and individuals should consider their positions.

“I find it difficult to envisage how the necessary changes can be successfully delivered, and the confidence of the staff restored, under the current senior house administration,” Cox said.

During the debate in the Commons, MPs urged parliamentary officials and ministers to take action, but many stopped short of criticising individuals.

Mann said parties should give full-throated support to reform. “Will the Labour party and every other opposition party guarantee their unequivocal public support today for those three recommendations in order that they can be pushed through speedily and effectively?” he asked.

Miller told the Commons it was “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”.

Several Conservative MPs who have long been critics of the Speaker also spoke in the debate. James Duddridge, who previously called for a vote of no-confidence in Bercow because of his handling of Brexit, said it was “a disturbing report of a number of unacceptable behaviours … How can we encourage Mr Speaker to stop this behaviour?”

His fellow Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who has submitted a formal complaint against the Speaker, said: “How can those deemed to be the problems themselves ever possibly be part of the solution?”

Others criticised MPs for using the report to pursue vendettas. The Green party MP, Caroline Lucas, said it was “not the time for members to indulge in bullying of their own; there should be independent processes, not innuendo”.

The Labour MP Jess Phillips said she was “totally and utterly maddened”, pointing at Duddridge, whom she called “neither right nor honourable”.

“Some of us don’t actually care who is the offender, it is the victims we care about, and we will not use it for political gain,” she said. “And nothing fills the victims with more dread when people play with their feelings. You are speaking only for yourself.

“I think the management of this place needs a massive overhaul, the fact of the matter is that nothing I have heard today fills me with confidence that politics will be taken out of this.”

In a statement read ahead of the debate, Bercow said he backed the creation of an “entirely independent of and external to parliament” body to examine future cases. “Independence and transparency are the best guarantors of a process which will be both be fair and command general confidence,” he added.


Jessica Elgot Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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