John Bercow has said it was “predictable” that the sexual harassment scandal that has rocked British politics would lead to deaths, as he called for greater protection for the accused.
The Commons Speaker said MPs accused of wrongdoing should not be treated worse than the “way we behave in relation to terrorists” as “we believe in a fair trial”.
Bercow was speaking to students at Queen Mary University’s Mile End Institute in east London on Thursday evening.
Former Welsh Assembly member Carl Sargeant is understood to have taken his own life four days after being sacked from his role as communities and children secretary in the Welsh Government.
He was facing claims of “unwanted attention, inappropriate touching or groping” at the time of his death. And inquest into the death of the 49-year-old will open on Monday.
Asked about Sargeant’s death, Bercow said: “In terms of protection of the frailties of the accused, I think that’s incredibly important in light of what has happened in Wales, but it was predictable.
“Even if people are suspected of wrongdoing, they may well need, and should be given help, understanding and support.
“For example it may be, I am not referring to any particular case, it may be that someone who is suspected of committing, or has committed an offence, or even something that is not an offence or is widely regarded as abuse, such a person might have problems in his or her life and need support in tackling that, or living with it, or managing it. I think that is part of our responsibility.
Bercow added that if an MP was going to be “sacked or denied the Whip” after being accused of sexual harassment then “for god’s sake that member is entitled to know of what he or she is accused”
“That member is entitled to learn of the judgment that has been made about their suspension or dismissal first hand, not first through the media.”
MP Charlie Elphicke was suspended from the Conservative Party after “serious allegations” were made against against him, however he has claimed he does not know what they are.
Speaking on Thursday evening, Bercow said MPs accused of abuse or inappropriate behaviour should not get worse treatment than suspected terrorists.
“It’s a bit like our attitude, if I may say so, it’s not the same issue, but in terms of principle, it’s analogous to the way we behave in relation to terrorists,” he said.
“We have certain standards and, I hope, insist on upholding our standards. The fact a terrorist or would be dictator doesn’t care about human rights and is willing to slaughter innocent people in pursuit of his or her prejudices, doesn’t mean we should operate in the same way.
“We believe in a fair trial. We believe innocent until proven guilty. We believe in due process.
“Ok, on a different scale,” he added. “But the principle is we give people due process. We have an obligation behind it. It’s absolutely unarguable.”
Asked if the sexual harassment scandal, which has already led to the resignation of one cabinet minister, would damage public trust in parliament more than the 2009 expenses scandal, Bercow said “it could”.
However he added he expected the fallout to be less severe as “I don’t think that anything like so many people will be caught up” in the current problem.
“We will get to grips with it by acting speedily and effectively,” he said.
During the Q&A, Bercow also said any suggestion he had moved to the centre ground of politics from the right in order to become Speaker was “bullshit” and also “very low grade bullshit”.
And he took a swipe at former foreign secretary William Hague, who he said was guilty of “malice and incompetence on an industrial scale” for his part in a move by David Cameron’s government to change parliamentary rules in an attempt to to oust him as Speaker in 2015. “Hague made a mess of it on his last day in parliament,” Bercow said. “Sad, sad, sad.”