An inquiry into allegations that the Speaker of the House of Commons bullied members of staff has been blocked by MPs. The Commons standards committee voted three to two against allowing parliament’s watchdog to investigate the claims against John Bercow.
Bercow has emphatically denied allegations that he bullied his former private secretaries Angus Sinclair and Kate Emms.
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen asked Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, to investigate whether Bercow had broken the MPs’ code of conduct. Stone sought the opinion of the standards committee whether an investigation fell within her remit.
The five MPs who voted all agreed that Stone was entitled to investigate a claim under the code of conduct, which calls for MPs to “conduct themselves in a manner” that will strengthen trust in parliament and avoid bringing it into disrepute. But the guide to the rules says that the committee can authorise inquiries dating back more than seven years “only in exceptional circumstances”.
The voting MPs on the committee split three-two to reject the investigation, with Labour’s Bridget Phillipson and Tory Gary Streeter backing the probe and Tories Sir Christopher Chope and John Stevenson and Labour’s Kate Green refusing to authorise Ms Stone to conduct the investigation.
The committee’s Labour chairman Sir Kevin Barron – whose casting vote is only used in the event of a tie – said: “Accordingly, the commissioner has not been authorised to carry out an inquiry into this matter.”
Bridgen condemned the decision, telling the Press Association it was an “unprecedented” move. “Not only am I not happy; I think the job of Standards is to protect and enhance the reputation of MPs and parliament, and this decision will further diminish our standing in the eyes of the public,” he said. “What you have got is MPs protecting an MP – the Speaker – from an investigation.”
Sinclair was private secretary to Bercow’s predecessor, Michael Martin, and retained the position when the new Speaker took over in 2009. He told BBC’s Newsnight that Bercow had undermined him in front of other staff, shouted, swore and attempted to physically intimidate him.
Sinclair’s successor, Emms, served as Bercow’s private secretary from May 2010 to February 2011. Newsnight claimed Bercow undermined her and appeared to frequently shout at her, and she was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.