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Inquiry into allegations of bullying in Parliament announced

Commons Speaker John Bercow was criticised for chairing the debate despite facing claims about his behaviour.

An independent inquiry into bullying of parliamentary staff will be launched in the wake of allegations about the Commons Speaker.

John Bercow granted a debate on the treatment of workers in the Commons but faced criticism when he then chaired the discussions.

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom said claims of bullying were a “huge concern”.

She told MPs she was recommending a “short, independently led” inquiry to the House Commission when it meets next Monday.

“It is right that everyone working for or with Parliament regardless of position or seniority should have the same rights and protections and should be held to the same high standards.”

Currently the complaints system only covers MPs’ staff and not those – like the clerks – who are directly employed by the House.

Mrs Leadsom said the House’s  Respect Policy “may not be sufficient to protect House staff” and she would “take soundings” about whether workers should have access to a new grievance system.

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas secured the urgent question following claims by BBC Two’s Newsnight about alleged bullying of women officials responsible for running the business of the House.

The Newsnight report included a claim that Mr Bercow shouted at and undermined his former private secretary Kate Emms, eventually leading to her being signed off sick.

Mr Bercow has denied the allegations against him, as have the two other MPs named by the programme, Labour’s Paul Farrelly and Conservative Mark Pritchard.

Ms Lucas said MPs and the public would have been “shocked” by the Newsnight allegations.

“There are now considerable grounds to assert that that same Respect Policy does not have the confidence of the staff it is intended to protect, and that the new independent procedure must be immediately expanded to avoid a two-tier system.”

Ms Lucas added the positive work to tackle abuse and harassment in Westminster “risks being undermined if we continue to allow sanctions to be determined by a committee on which MPs effectively hold all the power”, as she called for an independent body to deal with the whole process, including sanctions.

Conservative James Duddridge questioned whether it was “appropriate” for the Speaker to remain in his seat during the debate “when there are allegations against him, which he is trying to suppress using taxpayer-funded money through sending out letters through Speaker’s Counsel”.

Mr Farrelly told MPs he had been “flayed by selective leaking” and said the Newsnight report had been “one-sided”.

He called for consideration of “the disparity of support of MPs who are complained against”.

The Clerk of the House of Commons has promised to “revisit and renew” the grievance process and called for a “culture free of bullying and harassment” in Parliament.

David Natzler said the Commons’ initial response “got it wrong in giving the impression that we were in denial” about the situation, adding “I wholeheartedly apologise for that”.

“There is no doubt in my mind that there are unresolved issues over bullying and harassment which need to be addressed,” he said.

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