Theresa May is “concerned” over reports of bullying of Commons staff by MPs - including Speaker John Bercow, a Downing Street spokesman said today.
But the PM has “confidence” in Bercow - who has denied any wrongdoing - to continue in his role, despite a BBC Newsnight report which claimed one female clerk suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after working for him.
“The report from Newsnight is concerning,” the spokesman said.
“The prime minister is clear there can be no place for bullying or harassment of any kind in Westminster.
“Everybody should be free to work in an environment that is safe and respectful. Any complaints that are made should be fully investigated.”
Kate Emms was appointed as the Speaker’s private secretary in mid-2010. She was signed off sick in early 2011, before resuming work in a new post elsewhere in Parliament in May 2011. She now works in the Cabinet Office.
Sex harassment and bullying allegations swept through Westminster last year, but Newsnight reported that staff “lack confidence” in Bercow’s record on staffing matters and his ability to oversee the reforms needed to the system, despite his assertion that Parliament’s culture must change.
His spokesperson said: “The Speaker completely and utterly refutes the allegation that he behaved in such a manner, either eight years ago, or at any other time. Any suggestion to the contrary is simply untrue.”
Labour MP Paul Farrelly and Tory MP Mark Pritchard were also among several MPs accused of bullying behaviour towards House of Commons service staff, known as clerks.
A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all allegations of bullying extremely seriously. When complaints are made to the party they are investigated fully in line with our rules and procedures.
“Bullying and harassment has no place in Westminster or any workplace. The cross-party agreement sets out a robust new complaints procedure in Parliament. We are pleased that other parties supported Labour’s call for this procedure to address bullying and all forms of harassment.”
A Labour source told HuffPost UK that the party actively encourages those who have allegations to make complaints and stressed that complainants do not have to be party members in order for its complaints process to be triggered.
Asked if May had confidence in the current Commons complaints procedure, her spokesman said: “The Prime Minister led a drive to secure a cross party agreement on establishing an independent complaints agreement policy, which will explicitly examine complaints of bullying as well as sexual harassment.
“The aim is for further work to be undertaken so that employees of the two houses can be included in these new arrangements.”
Labour’s Jess Phillips and Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said on Friday that more must be done to tackle an inherent bullying culture which would be “unacceptable in any other workplace”.
A House of Commons spokesperson dismissed the suggestion staff were working in a “culture of fear”.
“We take the welfare of our staff extremely seriously, and strongly reject any claims to the contrary,” they said.
The spokesperson added that the Commons’ introduced its revised Respect policy in 2014, specifically designed to combat bullying and harassment of House employees by MPs or their staff.
“In addition, we have implemented a range of measures to complement the respect policy, including training for managers on how to address reports of bullying or harassment and a team of trained bullying and harassment contacts for staff to approach should they have concerns,” they said.
“Since it was revised, each of the 17 complaints raised under the Respect policy have been resolved to the satisfaction of the complainant.
“We are unable to comment on any individual cases but note that the issues raised by BBC Newsnight precede the introduction of these new procedures and processes.”