Allegations against Commons Speaker should be properly investigated, says PM
A former private secretary to John Bercow claims he was given an £86,000 pay-off to keep quiet over bullying claims.
Theresa May believes that the latest bullying allegations against Commons Speaker John Bercow should be “properly investigated”, Downing Street has said.
Mr Bercow is facing calls to quit following fresh bullying allegations from a former private secretary in his office, which the Speaker strenuously denies.
Angus Sinclair told BBC Two’s Newsnight that Mr Bercow undermined him by mimicking him, swearing and shouting, and once even smashed a mobile phone by throwing it on to the desk in front of him.
He said he was forced into early retirement, with an £86,250 pay-off on condition he did not make any complaints.
The Speaker’s office issued a firm denial of the allegations, which come amid an independent judge-led inquiry into claims of bullying of staff in the Palace of Westminster.
“Suddenly his mobile phone... was flung on the desk in front of me and broke into a lot of bits.”— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) May 1, 2018
John Bercow’s former private secretary has accused the Speaker of bullying - with angry outbursts, obscene language and mimicry. Mr Bercow denies the allegations #newsnight pic.twitter.com/xEBNPfvAYf
Asked how Mrs May viewed the allegations, the PM’s official spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has been very clear from the start that there is no place for bullying or harassment of any kind in the workplace, including Parliament.
“It is a matter for Parliament to decide how to proceed, but the latest allegations are concerning and should be properly investigated.
“It’s important to note that the Speaker denies the claims which have been made against him.”
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, a long-standing critic of the Speaker, said Mr Bercow should “consider his position”.
He pointed out that Mr Bercow had originally said he would serve no more than nine years in the Speaker’s chair after being elected to the post in 2009.
The North West Leicestershire MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think, at a time when we are looking for culture change in the House of Commons with regard to bullying and harassment, I think that’s very difficult if the titular head of that organisation is mired in these allegations.”
Mr Bridgen noted the Speaker’s denial of bullying, but added: “We don’t know whether he has misled the House unless there is a full investigation, but he holds such power in the House of Commons that it is very difficult to have an independent investigation.”
He said there was an “atmosphere of fear and intimidation of staff at the House of Commons”.
His comments were dismissed by Labour MP Barry Sheerman as “total nonsense”.
Mr Sheerman said Mr Bercow had been the “best reforming Speaker for 100 years” but a “small group” of parliamentary officials “hated” his modernising efforts.
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 & modernise House of Commons! @BBCNews— Barry Sheerman (@BarrySheerman) May 2, 2018
An investigation into the working culture at Westminster is being led by Dame Laura Cox following an earlier Newsnight report alleging that clerks and other officials were bullied by MPs including Mr Bercow.
But critics say it risks giving a “clean slate” to perpetrators, because it will examine the working culture in the Commons but will not investigate individual cases or reopen past complaints.
Mr Sinclair was private secretary to Mr Bercow’s predecessor, Michael Martin, and retained the position when the new Speaker took over in 2009.
He told Newsnight that Mr Bercow undermined him in front of other staff, shouted, swore and attempted to physically intimidate him.
The Speaker was prone to “over-the-top anger”, he claimed, adding: “I’m not sure he was completely in control of it. The arms would wave around.”
And he said: “There was one afternoon I was working at my desk and he came in and was absolutely furious about something…
“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.”
Following the 2010 general election, he said the Speaker told him he was no longer needed.
He said he was given “compulsory early retirement”, with an £86,250 pay-off dependent on him signing a non-disclosure agreement barring him from making complaints about his treatment in the House.
Newsnight has previously reported that his successor, Kate Emms, was allegedly bullied by the Speaker – a claim Mr Bercow denies.
Mr Sinclair said he felt that if he had not signed the non-disclosure agreement, but had instead put in a complaint, she might not have been put in that position.
“What I’d done was sign a cover-up and, in a cynical way, I’d been paid to do it, and that’s not a good feeling,” he said.
A spokesman for the Speaker’s office said: “Mr Speaker strenuously denies that there is any substance to any of these allegations.
“Mr Speaker has a superb team of dedicated, effective and long-serving staff – five of whom have worked for him very happily for a combined total of over 40 years.”
Asked about the latest claims about Mr Bercow’s behaviour, a senior Labour spokesman said: “Obviously we can’t comment on them; they are extremely serious allegations, but the details of them need to be investigated.
“We’ve made clear that there needs to be action against bullying and harassment of any kind in the workplace and that includes in the Houses of Parliament.
“That is why Labour has been so keen to set up a genuinely independent process in the Houses of Parliament to deal with these cases and to have trade union participation in that.”