MPs call for speaker to quit as report exposes bullying culture at Westminster
SPEAKER John Bercow was told the "fish rots from the head" as MPs lined up to call for him to quit after an independent probe laid bare the bullying culture in the Commons.
Mr Bercow announced that he wants complaints about bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct in the Commons to be investigated by an outside body.
But he is facing intense pressure to stand down over his leadership on the issue, as well as allegations he bullied officials – claims he strongly denies.
Mr Bercow had been widely expected to quit in the summer next year after steering Brexit legislation through the Commons and the BBC reported he has told friends he will stay in post until then.
A spokeswoman for the Speaker's Office said: "The speaker has made no announcement about his leaving date.
"He was elected by the House in 2017 for the course of the parliament. In the event he has anything to say on his future plans, he will make an announcement to the House first."
High Court judge Dame Laura Cox lifted the lid on a toxic environment in Westminster, that included staff having their bottoms and breasts touched in an atmosphere fuelled by ready access to alcohol.
Her report found a culture of "deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence" had allowed the mistreatment of staff in the House of Commons to thrive.
In the report, Dame Laura said it was "difficult to envisage" how the reforms needed could be delivered under the present senior House administration.
During a Commons debate on the report, during which Mr Bercow remained in the chair, MPs said it was time for him to stand down.
Tory former minister Maria Miller, who chairs the women and equalities committee, said: "The report is clear that there needs to be a complete change in leadership at the most senior level, including you Mr Speaker, as chief officer, if we are, in Dame Laura's words, to press the reset button."
Anne Main, Tory MP for St Albans, said: "It's the old adage that the fish rots from the head, and the leadership failings that have been highlighted in this report are extremely worrying.
"The important thing is nobody need fear to be able to call into account those, however senior they are, if they have failings.
"If this report has identified senior leadership failings... no-one should be involved in this process who has been potentially linked to being part of the problem in this process."
Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said: "Given that the current senior management of the House of Commons is so criticised in Dame Laura's report, who can be trusted to take ownership of this important issue and how can those deemed to be the problem themselves ever possibly be part of the solution?"
Tory James Duddridge, a critic of Mr Bercow, mocked the speaker, listing the "unacceptable behaviours" set out in the report before asking "how can we encourage Mr Speaker to stop this behaviour?".
Labour's Jess Phillips, meanwhile, claimed there are 12 people walking around in Westminster abusing people, as she called for a "massive overhaul" of Commons management.
Mr Bercow said he had read Dame Laura's report with "great care" and had been "persuaded" by two of her recommendations.
"I firmly believe that the only possible way to resolve this matter is the establishment of a body, which is both entirely independent of and external to Parliament, to hear and adjudicate upon all allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct, including deciding how far to investigate past misconduct," he said.
Sir Kevin Barron, the outgoing chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards, has also called for Mr Bercow to quit, saying the "culture has to come from the top".
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry earlier faced criticism after throwing her support behind Mr Bercow.
She told Sky News: "I think this is absolutely not the time to be changing speaker. We don't know, for example, with regard to Brexit, as to what is going to happen."
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, which represents senior civil servants, described Ms Thornberry as "completely disingenuous".
He said: "Just last month, you were speaking at the TUC 150th Anniversary dinner about workers' rights.
"Now you're happy to ignore Dame Laura Cox's urgent calls and put party politics before people. Which side are you on?"