MPs accused of bullying staffers amid claims parliament workers operating in a 'culture of fear'

A BBC investigation explored specific allegations against  Tory MP Mark Pritchard, Labour’s Paul Farrelly and Commons Speaker John Bercow

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Friday 09 March 2018 16:14
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BBC investigation reveals accusations of MPs bullying and harassing staffers in Westminster

MPs have been accused of bullying, swearing and undermining staffers amid claims that workers in Parliament are operating in a “culture of fear”.

The House of Commons on Friday defended itself as a “supportive employer”, but a new investigation has exposed claims against three individual MPs, including Speaker John Bercow.

The probe by BBC’s Newsnight claimed female clerks in particular, faced harassment and suggested that their careers suffered if they complained.

Newsnight conducted dozens of interviews and reviewed parliamentary human resources documents to uncover the allegations, which also centred on Tory MP Mark Pritchard and Labour’s Paul Farrelly.

Further claims on Friday made to the Politico website, saw another staffer claim bullying on the Commons estate is “endemic”.

Mr Bercow was accused of having a reputation as a bully, highlighting Kate Emms’ short-lived tenure as his private secretary from May 2010 to February 2011.

The programme claimed she was undermined by Mr Bercow and he frequently shouted at her.

The Speaker’s spokesperson said: “The Speaker completely and utterly refutes the allegation that he behaved in such a manner, either eight years ago, or at any other time. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue.”

Downing Street said the Prime Minister had full confidence in Mr Bercow, but said any complaints of bullying in Parliament must be “fully investigated”.

A spokesman said that Ms May regarded the allegations as “concerning”, adding: “The Prime Minister is clear that there can be no place for bullying or harassment of any kind at Westminster, and everybody should be free to work in an environment that is safe and respectful.”

He added: “With regard to the Speaker, I note the allegations are being contested, but I think these are concerning allegations and there can be no place for bullying or harassment of any kind. If complaints are made, they need to be investigated.”

Asked whether Ms May had confidence in Mr Bercow as Speaker, the spokesman replied: “Yes.”

Clerks told the programme that Wrekin MP Mr Pritchard was “particularly nasty to those he felt were below him” and was “known for having a dreadful temper”.

He allegedly swore at an official, telling her “you haven’t got a f***ing clue what you’re talking about”.

Mr Pritchard told the programme: “I understand, over the past several years the House authorities have addressed numerous complaints about MPs, but they have also informed me they have no record of any complaints against me, and if they had, I would have been notified.”

Mr Farrelly, a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, was the subject of a formal complaint under the House’s “Respect” policy in 2012 in relation to his treatment of clerk Emily Commander, the programme said.

European Parliament members protest against sexual harassment

The inquiry, conducted by House official Edward Wood, concluded there had been “an abuse of power or position, unfair treatment and undermining a competent worker by constant criticism”, adding “the conduct was offensive and insulting”.

But the House of Commons Commission, a panel of MPs chaired by the Speaker, could not reach a decision on what to do, Newsnight said.

These allegations were investigated and not upheld. Despite this, I apologised if I had inadvertently upset the clerk who had suffered stress

Paul Farrelly MP

Mr Farrelly told Newsnight: “In 2012 allegations were made about me having bullied a clerk to the Committee during the compilation of the phone hacking report.

“These allegations were investigated and not upheld. Despite this, I apologised if I had inadvertently upset the clerk who had suffered stress.

“The policy under which they were investigated was considered to be so unfair to those complained about that it was immediately withdrawn and replaced by another policy.”

Speaking to Politico today, an ex-staffer said about a culture of bullying, that “unequivocally, it’s endemic”.

Dad makes son run to school after being kicked off school bus for bullying

The individual went on: “Literally almost every other person I know in Parliament has direct experience. And the staff union are essentially useless – they are powerless to act, as MPs are their own boss.”

They added: “I’ve been told I’m too fat, told on a daily basis I’m not good enough, I’ve seen people scream at their staff until they cry. So, so many of the MPs who spoke up against sexual harassment have an awful reputation [for bullying].”

A House of Commons spokesman said: “We take the welfare of our staff extremely seriously, and strongly reject any claims to the contrary.

I’ve been told I’m too fat, told on a daily basis I’m not good enough, I’ve seen people scream at their staff until they cry

One former staffer

“It is a grotesque exaggeration to suggest that members of the House of Commons service work in a ‘culture of fear’ in relation to dealing with bullying and harassment by MPs.

“The House of Commons takes pride in being a responsible and supportive employer and does not tolerate bullying or harassment of any kind.

“In 2014 the House of Commons introduced the revised Respect policy, which is specifically designed to combat bullying and harassment of House employees by MPs or their staff.

“In addition, we have implemented a range of measures to complement the Respect policy, including training for managers on how to address reports of bullying or harassment and a team of trained bullying and harassment contacts for staff to approach should they have concerns.

“We are unable to comment on any individual cases but note that the issues raised by BBC Newsnight precede the introduction of these new procedures and processes.”

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