Commons Speaker grants bullying debate amid increasing calls for him to quit

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Speaker John Bercow has granted an urgent question on bullying in the Commons as calls for him to quit his role intensified in the wake of a damning probe.

Senior Conservative and Labour figures, along with a former top parliamentary official, said it was time for Mr Bercow to step down.

It follows an investigation by a High Court judge that found a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” had allowed the mistreatment of staff in the House of Commons to thrive.

Mr Bercow has also faced claims – strongly denied – that he bullied two former officials.

He granted a request from Labour MP John Mann calling for Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom to make a statement on the findings of the review by Dame Laura Cox QC.

Conservative Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, and the outgoing Standards Committee chairman, Labour’s Sir Kevin Barron, said the Speaker must quit.

But shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry faced criticism after throwing her support behind Mr Bercow.

She told Sky News: “I think this is absolutely not the time to be changing Speaker. We don’t know, for example, with regard to Brexit, as to what is going to happen.

“Whether there is going to be, technically, an amendable motion, or not. Whether it will be the Speaker’s discretion as to whether it is.

“We do need to have all hands to the deck at the moment.

“I don’t work with him on a day-to-day basis, but people who I know and respect do, and they say that he is a fine Speaker.”

The comments prompted a furious response from the general secretary of the FDA, which represents senior civil servants.

Dave Penman said: “Completely disingenuous from @EmilyThornberry. Just last month, you were speaking at the TUC 150th Anniversary dinner about workers’ rights.

“Now you’re happy to ignore Dame Laura Cox’s urgent calls and put party politics before people. Which side are you on?”

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.

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 told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that “the legitimacy of the House of Commons is undermined by having this sort of behaviour and culture prevail”.

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.”

David Leakey, who retired in 2017 after seven years as senior Lords official Black Rod, said Mr Bercow “may not be fit for office and that should be taken very seriously”.

Sir Kevin, writing in The Times, 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.

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