Harassment and bullying complaints against MPs require a new independent systemby Hannah White / September 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
John Bercow has just a few weeks left to address a crucial issue that has over-shadowed his speakership—the bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff by MPs.
There now seems little chance that the multiple bullying allegations against the speaker himself—which he denies—will ever be investigated. The possibility of an investigation by the parliamentary commissioner for standards was ruled out by MPs on the Commons Standards Committee on a technicality, because the allegations dated back some years. Even though those rules have just been changed, the commissioner will no longer have the power to look into the allegations once Bercow ceases to be an MP.
Nonetheless, as Chair of the House of Commons Commission—the body of MPs responsible for running the Commons—the speaker could still use his remaining days to see through wider reforms which would significantly benefit its staff.
After allegations of bullying and harassment by MPs of House staff first emerged in March 2018, following an investigation by Newsnight, the former High Court Judge Laura Cox was asked to investigate. In October 2018 she reported, making three key recommendations to address the culture she had found “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.”
A few days after Cox reported, the House of Commons Commission, chaired by the speaker, endorsed her three recommendations. Yet, nearly a year later, only two of the three have been implemented—the abolition of earlier flawed bullying policies in which staff had no confidence and allowing older allegations to be investigated. Her key recommendation, that a process should be put in place for determining complaints against MPs that is entirely independent of MPs, is yet to be implemented. After a long period of inaction, a small group of staff was recently asked to draw up proposals for how this might work, but there is no sign of the political will to implement them.
We need an independent system because MPs find it impossible to sit in judgment on their peers without allowing politics to get in the way. When allegations were made against the speaker himself, Margaret Beckett responded that Brexit issues “trump bad behaviour.” Even as a…