- Three MPs named in Newsnight investigation into Westminster harassment and bullying.
- One is Commons speaker John Bercow, who allegedly bullied a female clerk out of her job.
- Labour’s Paul Farrelly and Conservative Mark Pritchard are also accused of aggressive and degrading behaviour towards female staff.
- Jo Swinson, Lib Dem deputy leader, calls for an independent investigation into all three MPs.
LONDON – House of Commons Speaker John Bercow is one of three MPs named in a new BBC Newsnight investigation into the bullying and harassment of women working at Westminster.
Newsnight spoke to dozens of female staff about the aggressive and degrading treatment they had allegedly received from male MPs during their time in Westminster, in a programme broadcast on Thursday night.
Kate Emms, who began working as Bercow’s private secretary in mid-2010, quit the role in 2011.
Colleagues of Emms told Newsnight that Bercow had shouted at her in front of other staff and made her feel undermined. Emms was signed off in 2011 and given a new job in Parliament. Commons authorities were late informed that she had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the Newsnight report added.
The programme, aired on International Women’s Day, shed more light on the culture of harassment, bullying and sexual misconduct towards female staff in Westminster that has been a talking point over recent months.
One woman told Newsnight that she had been pushed against a wall, forcibly kissed, slapped and groped by male MPs during her time working in Parliament.
Jo Swinson, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, called for an independent investigation into Bercow, Farrelly and Pritchard. She said Parliament “doesn’t have modern and professional standards… [and] many MPs see themselves as above other members of staff.”
On the allegations against Bercow, a Commons spokesperson said: “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.”
On Newsnight’s findings as a whole, they added:
“We take the welfare of our staff extremely seriously, and strongly reject any claims to the contrary. 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.
“Since it was revised in 2014, each of the 17 complaints raised under the Respect Policy have been resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant.”
The other MPs named in the investigation were Labour’s Paul Farrelly and Conservative Mark Pritchard.
One witness, who was anonymous, described Farrelly as a “complete and utter bully” whose behaviour over several years towards committee clerk, Emily Commander, made her job impossible to do.
Describing a science committee trip to Italy in 2004, the witness said: “He [Farrelly] wound her [Commander] up like a screw and reduced her to tears.The more he upset her, the more he enjoyed it, the more he kept turning the screw. He was very aggressive. It felt like no one had the ability or authority to intervene.
“Everybody knew it was wrong.”
Commander worked with Farrelly again in 2010 while on the culture, media and sport committee. It was around this time that she lodged an official complaint, in which she said she had “repeated nightmares about going on Committee visits with Mr Farrelly and being criticised by him for having neglected tiny details.”
Farrelly, who has been MP for Newcastle-under-Lyme since 2001, denies any wrongdoing.
Tory MP Pritchard was accused by several Westminster staff for being aggressive towards clerks.
One witness told Newsnight that Pritchard “exploded” at a female staff member over the hotel she had booked him into for a trip to California.
The MP for The Wrekin denied all allegations.
“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,” he said.