John Bercow to stand down as speaker next summer after Commons bullying report

Speaker told ‘the fish rots from the head’ by Tory MPs

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Tuesday 16 October 2018 16:39
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Maria Miller calls for House Speaker John Bercow to resign

John Bercow has signalled he will stand down in the summer amid a row over a damning report into the handling of allegations of harassment and bullying in Westminster.

The Commons speaker reportedly told friends that he would quit his post in June or July, after a decade in office, where he has proved a divisive figure.

Mr Bercow originally promised to leave after nine years in the chair but he said it was his intention to see out the Brexit process and quit in 2019.

The news, reported by the BBC, emerged as the speaker faced demands from MPs to quit after a probe led by former high court judge Dame Laura Cox found an “urgent and serious problem” with abuse in Parliament.

The report said a culture of “deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence” had allowed the mistreatment of staff to persist, and it was “difficult to envisage” that reforms could be delivered under the current administration.

Mr Bercow has also faced personal allegations of bullying, which he strongly denies.

His spokesperson said that Mr Bercow had been elected in 2017 “for the course of the parliament”, adding: “In the event he has anything to say on his future plans, he will make an announcement to the House first.”

Ahead of a parliamentary clash over the report, Mr Bercow said he wanted all complaints about abuse in the Commons to be investigated by an external independent body.

However his comments did little to take the heat out of the debate, where Tory MPs lined up to criticise the speaker.

Equalities committee chair Maria Miller challenged Mr Bercow to his face, saying: “The report is clear that there needs to be a complete change in leadership at the most senior level, including you Mr Speaker, as chief officer, if we are, in Dame Laura’s words, to press the reset button.”

Tory MP Anne Main said: “It’s the old adage that the fish rots from the head, and the leadership failings that have been highlighted in this report are extremely worrying.

“The important thing is nobody need fear to be able to call into account those, however senior they are, if they have failings.

“If this report has identified senior leadership failings ... no one should be involved in this process who has been potentially linked to being part of the problem in this process.”

Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen said: “Given that the current senior management of the House of Commons is so criticised in Dame Laura’s report, who can be trusted to take ownership of this important issue and how can those deemed to be the problem themselves ever possibly be part of the solution?”

Long-term critic, Tory MP James Duddridge, accused Mr Bercow of “unacceptable behaviours” listed in the report, including mimicking, taunting and belittling people.

Labour’s Jess Phillips attacked those who were using the report for political gain. She claimed there are 12 people who were abusing people in Westminster and “getting away with it”.

“I personally think that the management of this place probably needs a massive overhaul – I’m not going to point the finger for the sake of newspaper headlines,” she said.

“But the fact of the matter is that nothing I have heard today fills me with any hope that politics will be taken out of this and that the same 12 people – and we all know exactly who they are and exactly how they are getting away with it – won’t just be walking around for the next 20 years.”

Commons leader Andrea Leadsom urged MPs to “treat each other with dignity and respect”, and told Ms Phillips: “If she knows of 12 people walking around who are abusing people then she should report them.

“There is now somewhere to report them and she should do so.”

Mr Bercow said he had read Dame Laura’s report with “great care”, adding: “I firmly believe that the only possible way to resolve this matter is the establishment of a body which is both entirely independent of and external to Parliament, to hear and adjudicate upon all allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, including deciding how far to investigate past misconduct.”

The speaker has been dogged by allegations by several senior aides, one of whom said staff were “terrified” by his “explosive and intemperate behaviour”.

The Commons standards committee rejected calls for an investigation into allegations that Mr Bercow bullied his private secretaries, Angus Sinclair and Kate Emms, which the speaker denies.

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