Three MPs quit Commons committee led by John Bercow

Resignations come ahead of a meeting responding to damning harassment report

Three Tory MPs have quit a committee chaired by the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, citing a failure to tackle Westminster bullying on the eve of a crucial Commons meeting to respond to an inquiry into harassment.

Bercow has been the subject of a number of bullying claims, including a complaint from his former private secretary, which he vehemently denies.

The House of Commons commission, which oversees the administration of the Commons, will meet on Wednesday to respond to the damning independent report by Dame Laura Cox, which suggested senior management should step aside.

Senior sources said that the Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, would push for the commission to respond robustly to the report, including calling for an end to MPs “marking their own homework” – sitting on committees that govern their own behaviour.

Pressure mounted on Bercow ahead of the meeting as the education minister, Anne Milton, the Tory whip, Mims Davies, and Will Quince, a private secretary in the Ministry of Defence, resigned from a separate committee he chairs on representation and inclusion.

Quince said he could not in good conscience remain a member of the group. “As much as I personally like John, I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that he is not the right person to resolve the numerous and serious issue raised,” he said. Davies said remaining on the committee “did not sit right” after Cox’s report.

A spokesperson for the Speaker’s office said Bercow had accepted their resignations with regret and would consider the group’s future after the commission meets on Wednesday.

Bercow had been due to chair the commission meeting, but his office said he would hand the chairmanship to the independent member Jane McCall, a former NHS Trust chair.

It is understood that Leadsom will push for full adoption of the report’s recommendations at the meeting on Wednesday,and also for all forthcoming decisions to be taken by external members rather than MPs.

McCall is one of two external committee members who currently sit on the body, which also Leadsom, the shadow leader of the house, Valerie Vaz, other MPs and senior Commons managers.

Leadsom is to argue the revised complaints policy should be adjusted to allow for historical complaints and will propose that the six-month review of the procedure should not be undertaken by MPs, but by an independent body.

She will also suggest that the commission itself should be reformed, under the auspices of an external appraisal.

“The whole governance needs to be overhauled, it has to be looked at independently,” a Commons source said. “If these structures remain the same, we come up against the same stumbling blocks and a lack of trust.

“If we can’t remove MPs altogether, we must make the staff representation and decision-taking equal. Whatever we can do to make this process less ‘marking own homework’, then we should do it.”

The trade union that represents many parliamentary staff has urged the committee not to delay implementation of the Cox report’s recommendations any further and warned industrial action could be taken as a last resort.

“Loyalty has been pushed to breaking point and, as a member-led union, we would always support the decision of members where they feel industrial action is necessary,” said Amy Leversidge, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior civil and public servants.

Labour said the party had accepted all of Cox’s recommendations and that its members would make that case at the meeting on Wednesday.

Vaz and Labour’s other committee member, Rosie Winterton, will back calls for an independent process for determining complaints against MPs and opening up the system to historical complaints, the party said.


Jessica Elgot Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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