Staff call for action on House of Commons bullying

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Houses of Parliament

A letter calling for action to tackle bullying and sexual harassment in the House of Commons has been signed by 80 current and former senior staff.

The signatories all claim to have experienced such behaviour by MPs or seen it first-hand "left unchallenged".

Addressed to the House of Commons Commission, the letter demands recommendations from a report by Dame Laura Cox are implemented immediately.

A spokeswoman for the Commission said the letter would be considered.

Dame Laura's report, published last week, detailed alleged sexual harassment by MPs from women who said they were "inappropriately touched" and "repeatedly propositioned".

It also said that "disturbing" cases had "long been tolerated and concealed".

Speaker John Bercow's office said the claims were "serious" and should be considered "as a matter of urgency".

The Commission is due to meet on Wednesday to discuss the report and "all the other written submissions" it has received - including the letter.

It will be chaired by independent member Jane McCall rather than Mr Bercow, who has himself been accused of bullying - allegations he denies.

The letter said Dame Laura's report had "exposed Westminster's open secret - a minority of parliamentarians have been allowed to get away with this behaviour for years".

The staff backed her recommendations - including allowing historic complaints to be made and investigated, and ensuring politicians play no part in the process of determining complaints against MPs - but wanted to see them put in place quickly.

"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 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."

Dr Hannah White, a former senior clerk who signed the letter, said the significance of it should not be underestimated.

She added: "It's deeply counter-cultural for House staff to speak out in this way - it demonstrates the depth of their frustration with MPs' response to the Cox Report."

Media caption,

Speaker: Commons needs new body to investigate bullying

Another of the signatories, Libby Bradshaw, alleged that Mr Bercow called her a "little girl" when he was a backbencher after being unable to find an envelope he was looking for.

"There has been a haemorrhage of talent from Parliament because of this issue alone and some of the brightest, most capable people I worked with are no longer there because of the treatment they received," she said.

"The Cox Report should be a pivotal moment in Parliament's evolution into a modern workplace and those of us that contributed to the inquiry felt relieved and vindicated that we had finally been believed when we read the report and recommendations.

"But there is already talk that the report could get kicked into the long grass and the tribal warfare surrounding the Speaker, and Brexit, have meant that this issue that has affected so many lives and careers, is in danger of being drowned by politics again."

A spokesperson for the Speaker's Office said he had "absolutely no recollection of this alleged incident".