The senior civil servants’ union has urged all party leaders to “put aside the politics” and publicly back an independent inquiry into bullying by MPs of Parliamentary staff.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the First Division Association, told HuffPost that a probe ordered by the House of Commons Commission last week should cover specific allegations of mistreatment as well as the wider culture in Westminster.
The Commission, which oversees management and other internal issues in Parliament, decided last Monday to launch an inquiry into reports by the BBC’s Newnsight that clerks had been bullied.
Among those accused were Speaker John Bercow, Labour MP Paul Farrelly and Tory Mark Pritchard. All strongly deny the claims.
Bercow, who stepped aside from his role as chair of the Commission this week, is alleged to have shouted at and undermined his private secretary Kate Emms. She was later signed off work with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Another clerk, Emily Commander, went public this week about her own complaint, made against Farrelly in 2012 but which was never resolved. She is currently on a “career break” from the Commons.
The new inquiry, instigated by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, has yet to appoint an independent chair, and the non-executive members of the Commons Commission are drafting its terms of reference.
Penman has now written to Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable, Nigel Dodds and Ian Blackford, calling on them to show their support for the inquiry and to ensure it allows meaningful redress for those affected.
The FDA chief said the leaders “need to step up and back Parliamentary staff who say [the inquiry] must consider past and ongoing individual cases if it is to lead to real change”.
He said that the Commons’ ‘Respect’ policy for staff, an HR policy aimed at improving protections, had proved to be inadequate.
“I personally met Clerks in the House of Commons on Tuesday, and it is very clear that House staff simply have no trust or confidence in the failed Respect Policy,” he said.
“There must be redress for staff who have been unwilling or unable to raise complaints because of the failings of the current policy.”
Commander, currently a deputy principal clerk, is a former clerk to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.
She went on Newsnight on Thursday to explain how she felt the previous and current complaints system was unfair and ought to be taken out of the hands of MPs.
“What happened was that one day I started crying in my office... I felt it wasn’t sensible for me to be there with a staff team, with their manager in tears,” she said.
“Before I made my complaint I would have trusted MPs to remedy the situation... But seeing the months that it took with no resolution at the end - no.”
Penman told HuffPost UK: “Anyone watching Newsnight in recent days could not fail to have been moved listening to Commons Clerk Emily Commander’s dignified and brave testimony about her experience.
“We would like the party leaders show the same courage that Clerks like Emily Commander have shown and are urging them to put aside the politics and back an inquiry that will make a difference.
“It is clear that when bullying and harassment cases are not dealt with fairly it has a devastating impact on the individuals involved - but it also influences whether other staff members have the confidence to raise their complaint.
“The FDA is calling for the Respect Policy to be replaced with a new independent process. Whether that new process has the full trust and confidence of staff, however, will depend on how those past cases are dealt with.
“Many bullying cases hinge upon being able to prove a pattern of behaviour - so we cannot have a situation where a new policy simply wipes the slate clean for MPs whose actions have blighted the careers of talented and dedicated public servants.”
Penman’s letter to Theresa May has been passed to HuffPost and we reproduce it here: