Bercow embroiled in new Westminster bullying row

Written By: Ian Hernon
Published: March 9, 2018 Last modified: March 9, 2018

A BBC Newsnight probe has uncovered more complaints that MPs bullied, harassed and intimidated House of Commons staff and allegations that complainants were not taken seriously.

Among those accused of bullying was Speaker John Bercow, whose private secretary left her job in 2011. His office strenuously denied the claims.

A Commons spokesperson said it did not tolerate bullying or harassment, but Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson called for a “thorough, independent investigation”.

The Newsnight investigation focused on alleged harassment of female Parliamentary clerks, some of whom claimed they had been pushed against walls, forcibly kissed, groped and slapped by MPs. They said that either their complaints had not been taken seriously, or when complaints are made it is they who are made to move jobs while the MPs are left in place.

Kate Emms – who worked as a private secretary to the Speaker (pictured) from mid-2010 – was, according to unnamed colleagues, publicly shouted at and undermined, leaving her unable to continue working in what was a key Commons post. She was signed off sick in early 2011 and then returned to a new post elsewhere in Parliament. Commons authorities were told that she had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Two other MPs named in the BBC investigation were Labour’s Paul Farrelly and Conservative Mark Pritchard.

Witnesses said that Farrelly’s continued criticism over several years of Emily Commander, a clerk on two committees that the MP sat on, made her job impossible.

Documents obtained by Newsnight show she complained then of a campaign of continual belittling and undermining and that she told her bosses that she had “repeated nightmares about going on Committee visits with Mr Farrelly and being criticised by him for having neglected tiny details”.

Pritchard, MP for the Wrekin, was allegedly notorious for shouting at and berating clerks. One witness told how he “exploded” at a female staff member ahead of a trip to California because he was unhappy with the choice of hotel he had been booked into. He then angrily swore at the same woman on the trip itself.

Both MPs have denied all allegations against them.

About Ian Hernon

Ian Hernon is Deputy Editor of Tribune