POLITICS
01/08/2018 19:35 BST | Updated 02/08/2018 09:10 BST

Keith Vaz Accused Of Bullying Westminster Staff After Questions Over Taxpayer-Funded Trips

Labour MP allegedly suggested one clerk was bad at her job as she was ‘not a mother’.

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 Labour MP Keith Vaz

A Labour MP has been accused of bullying House of Commons clerks and breaking from normal procedure during taxpayer-funded trips.

BBC Newsnight published a string of allegations from staff about mistreatment at the hands of Keith Vaz, the former chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

He is alleged to have told Jenny McCullough, a Commons clerk, she was bad at her job because she was “not a mother”.

McCullough alleges Vaz repeatedly bullied and undermined her in the Commons as she sought to uphold rules and process.

Allegations include Vaz inviting 10 curry restaurant owners on a committee-chartered aircraft during a trip to India and Bangladesh, and inviting an unknown guest called “Ivan” to select committee dinners in Kiev.

McCullough also claims the Leicester East MP made jokes about McCullough being a security threat because of her Northern Irish background and accent.

The House management knew about the bullying but no-one in the Commons intervened to protect her, the report claims.

Other clerks have told the BBC that the actions were part of a pattern of behaviour.

Vaz denied the allegations, according to the BBC, including that he breached any rules of the House or bullied staff.

The investigation cites the relationship with McCullough breaking down rapidly on an official committee trip to Russia and Ukraine in 2008.

McCullough, who served as a clerk in the House of Commons from 2002 to 2011, raised concerns over the hospitality being provided and whether they breached Commons rules.

Emails seen by the broadcaster indicate McCullough was worried about who would be attending and paying for an “opulent” dinner.

McCullough says that Vaz took offence to her fears and “demanded to know what age I was”.

She said: “He told me that I didn’t know how the House worked and that I didn’t respect the authority of members - that I had an attitude problem.”

She further told Newsnight: “He told me that I wasn’t capable of serving the committee because I wasn’t a mother…

“All I knew was it wasn’t normal to be harangued about my fertility status in the reception of a hotel room, at public expense in front of my colleague on the team.”

Representatives for Vaz told the programme he denied berating McCullough and did not “at any time insult her maternal status”.

The MP was forced to step down as chairman of the influential committee in 2016 following a after becoming embroiled in a rent boy scandal.

But McCullough said she had alerted Commons’ authorities to her concerns about his behaviour while he still held the role but no action was taken.

She told Newsnight: “It was as though there was something wrong with me, that I was too sensitive, that this was normal.

“I didn’t feel able to complain about Keith Vaz because I was afraid of him. When I was on the home affairs committee I saw that he had friends in the police and friends in the law.

“He said that one of the principal clerks was a friend and by the time I was leaving the house he had a friend in the Speaker. I thought it could only end badly for me.”

This was spelled out in her annual appraisal in 2008, obtained by the programme, which said she had “excellent relations” with officials, “apart from the Chairman, who chose to try to bully her”.

It continued: “Jenny understandably and properly stood her ground, which the Chairman resented.”

A representative for Mr Vaz told Newsnight: “No complaint or allegation of this nature has ever been brought to his attention.

“Our client had considered that he and Ms McCullough had previously had a good working relationship, and had always considered her to be very effective as a clerk.”

Other anonymous clerks made allegations about Mr Vaz’s behaviour on six trips, including sudden changes of plans and mystery over who was footing the bill for certain events.

A House of Commons spokesman: “We are aware that in the past the House has not had a robust process in place to deal with instances of bullying and harassment.

“However, we are confident that our new Independent Complaints and Grievance Policy will mean that allegations can be dealt with effectively and sensitively.”

An independent inquiry into the bullying and harassment of house staff was agreed in March which is now under way and expects to publish a report following the summer recess.

The statement continued: “In addition the House has agreed to set up a new independent inquiry looking into historical allegations of bullying and harassment, which we expect to report in six months’ time.”