Westminster bullying: complainants waive anonymity to sign letter

Mattha Busby and Jessica Elgot
The Speaker, John Bercow, has come under fire. Photograph: Alastair Grant/AP

Dozens of current and ex-parliamentary staff who reported bullying and harassment to a Westminster inquiry have waived their right to anonymity to sign an unprecedented open letter calling for urgent change.

The letter, which has also been signed by MPs and journalists, has more than 80 signatories urging the immediate implementation of the proposals of the independent report by Dame Laura Cox.

The report highlighted a widespread culture of bullying and harassment at Westminster and suggested some officials, including the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, should consider standing down.

Cox’s independent inquiry was announced in March after bullying allegations emerged against Bercow, which he has repeatedly denied.

“The signatories of this letter have one thing in common. We have personally experienced, or seen first-hand, bullying or harassment by members of parliament go unchallenged,” said the open letter. “Dame Laura Cox’s report has exposed Westminster’s open secret – a minority of parliamentarians have been allowed to get away with this behaviour for years.”

The letter was coordinated by Emily Commander, deputy principal clerk in the Commons. Staff signatories include the senior clerks Sarah Ioannou and Libby Kurien, the procedure committee clerk Martyn Atkins, the business select committee clerk Chris Shaw and the head of business planning, Jane Hough.

It was also signed by Angus Sinclair, Bercow’s former private secretary, who has told Newsnight he was sworn at and mimicked by the Speaker, as well as former MPs’ researchers Nick Davies, Neil Johnson and Andrew Forth and the former deputy editor of Hansard Vivian Widgery.

MPs who signed the letter include Labour’s Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy, John Mann and Kevin Barron, who chairs the Commons standards committee, and the Conservative Sarah Wollaston.

The letter was also signed by the writer Kate Maltby, whose complaints over the treatment she received from Damian Green partly led to his resignation as first secretary of state, although he denies behaving inappropriately, and Jane Merrick, the journalist who claimed the former defence secretary Michael Fallon lunged at her and attempted to kiss her on the lips.

The House of Commons commission will meet this week to discuss its response to the Cox report. The body is usually chaired by Bercow, but a spokeswoman for the Speaker said he would stand aside from chairing the meeting on Wednesday “in the spirit of independence”.

Instead the meeting will be led by Jane McCall, the most senior independent member of the commission. Others on the commission include the Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, and the shadow Commons leader, Valerie Vaz, who is also alleged to have been subject to bullying complaints, which she has denied.

In the open letter, the signatories called on the House of Commons commission to immediately implement its three key recommendations.

Those recommendations include abandoning the widely criticised “Valuing Others” and revised “Respect” policies b and making changes to the Independent Complaints and Grievance scheme so historical complaints can be made and investigated.

The report also recommended MPs play no part in the process of investigating complaints of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment against themselves or colleagues.

“Our House of Commons is at the core of our democratic system and has been seen as a model around the world,” the letter said. “We want a parliament that we can be proud of. The commission owes a duty of care to the staff it employs. Fulfilling this duty should be a matter of HR not politics.”

On Sunday Amy Leversidge, an assistant general secretary of the FDA, which represents civil servants, said workers had been “pushed to breaking point” and the organisation would support members if they decided to stage a walkout.