House of Commons criticises John Bercow book for naming staff

Identification of people in ex-Speaker’s autobiography condemned as ‘unacceptable’

The House of Commons has severely criticised John Bercow after he named staff members without their prior knowledge in his autobiography.

A spokesman for the house said it was “unacceptable” for the former Speaker to identify current and former members of staff for “the purpose of financial gain or commercial success”.

Bercow’s book entitled Unspeakable was officially launched on Wednesday night. Excerpts were serialised in the Guardian.

The criticisms come as Bercow waits to discover whether he will be given a peerage. Labour has nominated him, but senior Conservative sources have made clear they would like to block it.

In one section of his book, Bercow writes about allegations made by a named staff member who, he says, accused him of bullying between 2010 and 2011 and was allegedly suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“At no time during our work together did she complain to me. Neither did her line manager indicate that she wished to complain and I have been advised by the then clerk of the House, David Natzler, that no such complaint has been made,” he said.

A House of Commons spokesperson said: “House of Commons staff work incredibly hard to enable the effective functioning of our democracy and have a right to expect that their privacy be respected. It is unacceptable to publicly name current or former staff without their prior knowledge or authority, especially for the purpose of financial gain or commercial success.

“A crucial element of the work of House of Commons staff is to provide confidential, impartial advice to MPs. Breaking this confidentiality undermines this important principle and also places staff in a position from which they are unable to respond.

“We strongly encourage anyone who has experienced bullying or harassment in parliament to submit a complaint.”

Bercow is currently facing fresh allegations of bullying by the former clerk of the House, Lord Lisvane, and the former black rod – the senior official in the House of Lords – Lt Gen David Leakey. Bercow has strongly denied the allegations against him.

Common’s sources denied that the criticism was an attempt to scupper Bercow’s peerage.

A spokesman for Bercow defended his decision to name members of staff without their permission in his autobiography.

The spokesman said: “Given there is a small but highly vocal group of people consistently seeking to blacken his name, it would be odd if Mr Bercow did not comment on their unfounded allegations and the reasons behind them.

“He was advised by Speaker’s counsel not to do so in detail while he was in office. He is therefore doing so now. If the book had not addressed these issues, he would rightly have been accused of serious omission.

“Critics are entitled to air their views. What they are not entitled to do is to make unfounded allegations and expect Mr Bercow to say nothing in return.”


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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