Miller calls for Bercow to quit as Speaker as pressure grows over bullying probe
The Women and Equalities Committee chairwoman said problems are ‘coming right from the top’ and he should not oversee reform.
Speaker John Bercow should resign in the wake of a damning bullying investigation, the chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee has said.
Maria Miller added to the pressure that is growing on Mr Bercow to step down from the Commons role in the wake of a shock probe by Dame Laura Cox QC which found “urgent and serious problems” in the way abusive behaviour by MPs and staff is dealt with in Parliament.
Former Tory minister Mrs Miller said the report showed that “bullying and harassment is coming right from the top” and it is not right for Mr Bercow to oversee reform.
She has asked the Speaker for an Urgent Question in the Commons on Tuesday, after telling BBC Radio 4’s Today that “the legitimacy of the House of Commons is undermined by having this sort of behaviour and culture prevail”.
I have asked the Speaker for an Urgent Question in House of Commons today on recommendations in Dame Laura Cox Report-inaction risks undermining the legitimacy of the House of Commons & staff deserve to know what action is being taken https://t.co/AGLV61tfWY via @PoliticsHome— Maria_Miller (@MariaMillerUK) October 16, 2018
She said: “The report is incredibly powerful and clear that what is the root problem here is that the bullying and harassment is coming right from the top.
“We have outstanding allegations directly against the Speaker, who will be one of the people who will be considering this report, and it cannot be right that the very people who are being criticised so heavily in an independent report are those who are going to be deciding how it is taken forward.”
Asked if this meant Mr Bercow should resign, she said: “Absolutely.”
Dame Laura, a High Court judge, said a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” had allowed the bullying and harassment of staff in the House of Commons to thrive.
Mr Bercow has faced claims – strongly denied – that he bullied two former officials.
In her report, Dame Laura said it was “difficult to envisage” how the reforms needed could be delivered under the current senior House administration.
She called for the establishment of an “entirely independent process” for dealing with staff complaints against MPs in which MPs themselves play no part.
I did not call for this lightly but I believe the change in culture has to come from the top and I no longer believe that the Speaker can provide that leadership.— Kevin Barron (@KevinJBarron) October 16, 2018
I will continue to work with colleagues from across the house to ensure that we create a workplace to be proud of. https://t.co/Mzc63gk6u7
Sir Kevin Barron, the outgoing chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards, said the Speaker must quit.
Writing in The Times, he said: “The change in culture has to come from the top, and unfortunately I no longer believe that the Speaker, John Bercow, is the correct person to provide that leadership, so he should step down.”
Dame Laura’s report painted a picture of a Commons where MPs enjoyed a “God-like status”, knowing they would never be subject to disciplinary action, and where abusive behaviour was actively covered up.
Complaints ranged from staff being shouted and sworn at and belittled on an “almost daily” basis to the “predatory” behaviour of some male MPs towards female staff.
They included frequent propositioning and “inappropriate touching” – including “trying to kiss them, grabbing their arms or bottoms or stroking their breasts or bottoms” – in an atmosphere fuelled by ready access to alcohol.
Dame Laura said while there was an “expectation of loyalty” among staff towards the institution they worked for, the standing of the House was being diminished by the failure of its senior leadership to deal with the issue.
“That sense of loyalty has been tested to breaking point by a culture, cascading from the top down, of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed,” she said.
“This is not to demonise the entire institution, but unacceptable behaviour by some, whether elected Members or House staff, inflicts damage on everyone and undermines the legitimacy and authority of the House of Commons. Parliament is diminished.”
The calls for Mr Bercow to quit came as a Labour MP who helped block a probe into the bullying allegations against him was announced as the new chairwoman of the Commons Committee on Standards.
Kate Green was one of three MPs on the committee which refused in May to authorise an investigation into the claims.