John Bercow was fighting for his political career last night after being accused by MPs of using taxpayers money to suppress allegations that he bullied a former secretary.
The Speaker was personally challenged on the floor of the House of Commons by MPs over his decision to chair an urgent question over a bullying row in which he himself is embroiled.
Confronting Mr Bercow in the chamber, Tory MP James Duddridge questioned whether it was appropriate for him to remain in place as he accused the Speaker of using taxpayers money to “suppress” the claims against him.
Mr Duddridge told MPs: “Is it appropriate for Mr Speaker to remain in his place while there are allegations against him, which he is trying to suppress using taxpayer funded money by sending out letters through Speakers Counsel?”
It comes after Mr Bercow faced calls to resign over his treatment of Kate Emms, his former secretary, who was signed off work sick in 2011 and later moved from the Speaker’s office.
Colleagues of Ms Emms have alleged that that she was "undermined" by Mr Bercow and that he often shouted at her.
She was also allegedly removed from the Speaker’s official portrait in 2011, despite being asked to pose for the artist when it was commissioned.
Mr Bercow is understood to have instructed his in-house legal team, known as the Speaker’s Counsel and funded by the taxpayer, to send a number of letters to news organisations looking into the allegations.
His office has categorically denied the alleagtions over Ms Emms’ treatment, while a spokesman last night said there was no additional cost for seeking advice from the Speaker's Counsel, which is made up of salaried employees.
It followed calls from Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House, to establish an independent inquiry into the allegations, amid concerns that the Respect policy is no longer "sufficient".
Ms Leadsom told MPs that she would be recommending an inquiry which she hoped would be led by an official independent of the House of Commons Commission, which presides over complaints but is chaired by Mr Bercow.
A source close to Ms Leadsom said last night that it was a “matter in which Mr Bercow should not be involved”.
Her comments were echoed by Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, who said that efforts to tackle bullying and harassment risked being undermined because the complaints system is run by a committee of MPs which “effectively hold all the power”.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph last night, Andrew Bridgen MP, who has filed a separate early day motion calling for an investigation into the Speaker, claimed that it was “wrong” of Mr Bercow to chair the debate.
“I was surprised that he was in the chair, given that several of the allegations that prompted the urgent question relate to him,” he continued. “He’s clearly trying to exert every bit of pressure he can.”
Mr Bridgen added that Mr Bercow's decision to instruct the Speaker’s Counsel over the matter was “unjustified”, and could leave him in a “difficult position” if he was to be found to have acted inappropriately towards Ms Emms.
Ms Emms quit Mr Bercow’s office in May 2011 just 12 months after taking up the job, with arrangements made for her to move to a new position which would involve minimal contact with the Speaker.
She was the second secretary to quit the role since Mr Bercow was elected after her predecessor, Angus Sinclair, was awarded a £100,000 pay-off after leaving the role.
Separately, this newspaper also revealed that Mr Bercow reportedly apologised to two members of Parliamentary staff, including a postman, after they complained following angry outbursts on the phone.
It came as separate allegations against Labour’s shadow transport minister, Karl Turner, surfaced yesterday, with the frontbencher facing allegations that he slapped the buttocks of a female party member.
The alleged incident reportedly happened in the Hull East MP’s constituency office in the summer of 2015, according to a report by the Financial Times.
Mr Turner has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
He said in a statement: “I am aware of reports in the media about my alleged inappropriate behaviour. I strongly reject any suggestion that I behaved inappropriately or in a misogynistic manner.”