Three MPs have quit a committee chaired by Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, following a damning report laying bare a culture of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment in the Houses of Parliament.
Conservative MPs Will Quince, Mims Davies and education minister Anne Milton, chose to leave the Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion. The MPs said they could not be part of the group while John Bercow was its chair.
Bercow has been accused of bullying in the workplace, a charge which he denies. An investigation into the allegations is currently underway.
Inquiry Highlights ‘Disturbing’ Bullying and Sexual Harassment
Image: House of Commons/Wikimedia
An independent inquiry into harassment and bullying in the House of Commons, led by former high court judge Dame Laura Cox DBE, has revealed a widespread and shocking culture of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment by staff and MPs.
bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed.
The report, The Bullying and Harassment of House of Commons Staff, describes “a culture, cascading from the top down, of deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence, in which bullying, harassment and sexual harassment have been able to thrive and have long been tolerated and concealed.”
The report also highlights the lack of official mechanisms to deal with misconduct.
It states, “The nature and extent of the allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment, made against other members of House staff as well as against some Members of Parliament, are disturbing, and the effects of such misconduct have been exacerbated by the inadequate procedures in place to tackle them.”
Examples of harassment include women being subject to “frequent inappropriate touching” and unnecessary physical contact, “for example men patting women’s heads, putting their arms around women, leaving a hand on their knee for an uncomfortably long time, trying to kiss them, grabbing their arms or bottoms or stroking their breasts or bottoms.”
It also describes “women being abused in vulgar, gender-related terms” and “women being repeatedly propositioned.”
Inquiry Raises Serious Issues
The role of Speaker entails much more than shouting “order, order” when there’s an unruly debate in the House of Commons.
The Speaker is the chief officer and highest authority of the House of Commons, and represents the Commons to the monarch and House of Lords.
Because Bercow has been accused of bullying, the MPs who resigned are uncomfortable that he is chairing a group focused on improving the treatment and representation of women and minorities in parliament.
Will Quince MP, said, “I have reluctantly reached the conclusion that he is not the right person to resolve the numerous and serious issue raised.”
It remains to be seen how parliament will respond to Dame Laura Cox DBE’s report and challenge a culture that has enabled bullying and sexual harassment.
There is now an institutional responsibility to act to restore public confidence in the central institution of our representative democracy.
The report raises serious issues about whether MPs and the House of Commons can be trusted to champion equality and tackle harassment, bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace when the rights of so many House of Commons employees have routinely been violated.
Dame Laura Cox DBE’s report acknowledges this and states, “There is now an institutional responsibility to act to restore public confidence in the central institution of our representative democracy.”
The House of Commons Commission is meeting today to consider the independent report.