Commons speaker John Bercow needs to quit in order for widespread bullying and harassment in parliament to be properly dealt with, a damning report has suggested.
An investigation into working life in parliament found bullying and sexual harassment has been allowed to “thrive” thanks to a culture of tolerance and concealment “cascading from the top down”.
The report, carried out by Dame Laura Cox QC, was triggered after Bercow was accused of bullying by former staff earlier this year.
Although the speaker is not named, Dame Laura said: "I find it difficult to envisage how the necessary changes can be successfully delivered, and the confidence of the staff restored, under the current senior House administration."
That group is defined as the Speaker’s Office, the clerk of the house, the director general, the executive board, and the House of Commons Commission.
More than 200 workers gave evidence for the report, with women making up more than two-thirds of those who came forward.
Dame Laura revealed the “overwhelming majority of contributions” painted a picture of “bullying, harassment and sexual harassment of members of staff, both by other members of staff and by some MPs” being “known about and tolerated for far too long.”
Allegations of sexual harassment included:
- inappropriate touching, with men putting their hands on women’s arms, legs, or bottoms during meetings or social functions, or putting their arms around their shoulders or waists or pulling them into corners for close personal contact;
- frequent comments about women’s appearance, suggestions that they should wear sexier clothing or more make up; and
- derogatory or lewd comments about women’s anatomies or about women generally, often made in front of other people in the team and in such a way as to deliberately offend and humiliate.
Some male MPs were described as "predatory", while other reports involved "groups of male MPs becoming increasingly boorish on occasions when they were together, of frequent sexual innuendos, lewd comments or sexual gestures, or women repeatedly being asked questions about their sex lives, or about their personal lives generally, which they found offensive and humiliating."
The report found the culture is so toxic that younger male staff members also feel comfortable making comments and gestures towards female workers.
“Young women graduates in their first job have been particularly shocked and upset by such treatment when “running the gauntlet” in this way,” says the report.
The phrase “you’re f***ing useless” was reported as being hurled at staff members on numerous occasions, and the easy access to alcohol on the parliamentary estate was flagged up as playing a role in some incidents.
A spokeswoman for the Speaker's Office said: "This is a serious report into a serious subject which deserves a serious response.
"The House of Commons Commission will meet as a matter of urgency in the coming days to consider the report and our response to it."
A House of Commons spokesperson said: “We thank Dame Laura Cox for this report which we are seeing today for the first time. Bullying and harassment have no place in the House of Commons, and the wellbeing of our people will always be our top priority.
"Staff must be confident that unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with seriously, independently and with effective sanctions. Urgent work has already been undertaken to improve internal processes – including the introduction of new confidential support services and helplines run by external, independent specialist providers and a clear pathway for the investigation of allegations.
"The findings of this inquiry will be taken into careful account".