John Bercow to face Andrea Leadsom after "stupid woman" row
John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, will face Andrea Leadsom on Monday for the first time since claims he called her “a stupid woman” after angry exchanges during Wednesday’s business in the House and a later exchange in which, it is claimed, he called the leader of the Commons a liar.
Their encounter will come as MPs are set to debate a technical motion on whether the government is obstructing backbench business. Bercow has been a champion of backbench rights, and the government is accused of trying to block them.
It has now emerged that after Leadsom was told of last Wednesday’s remarks, which she did not hear herself, she went to the Speaker to ask him to apologise. She can be seen on a internal House of Commons tape talking to Bercow. He seems to then wave her away. Leadsom’s office claims that he called her a liar during the exchanges. Bercow could not be reached for comment.
There has been no formal complaint to the parliamentary standards commissioner since the episode, which Bercow has not denied. His office put out a statement about the difficult circumstances of the day.
Leadsom is understood not to want to complain herself because she is anxious not to jeopardise the future of her independent complaints and grievance policy. The final proposals, which are due out before the summer recess in July, have to be signed off the House of Commons commission, which is chaired by Bercow.
A spokesperson for Leadsom said: “Andrea is completely focused on ensuring that anyone who is bullied or treated unfairly in Parliament is able to come forward and have their concerns and complaints dealt with in an independent, rigorous and fair manner.
“That is and must be her absolute priority at the moment, which is not to say that any unfair treatment she receives personally will not also be raised in the right way for her.”
The Green party MP Caroline Lucas, who is on the working party refining the proposals, has said that the system is so flawed that it is not worth making complaints.
Individuals can make a complaint directly to the commissioner, Kathryn Stone, but her report is then passed to the parliamentary standards committee, which has complete control over what happens to the report and what sanctions, if any, can be imposed.
Although the committee has lay members, only the MPs on it have a vote. Last Tuesday, they voted to block a move to refer allegations of bullying by Bercow that led to one senior Commons official taking early retirement and a second being signed off sick. The lay members were reported to be unanimously in favour of a referral of the allegations, which related to events several years ago and had been the subject of a Newsnight investigation.
Lucas has argued strongly that MPs will not restore trust unless they lose the power to control the final outcome of an inquiry into their own conduct. The counter-argument is that MPs must be able to preserve their independence and be confident that they will not be made victims of malicious complaints.
When the report of the cross-party working group was published in February, it did include the possibility of reviewing the powers and structure of the parliamentary standards committee. Its chair, the Labour MP Sir Kevin Barron, has made it clear that he thinks the lay members should have a vote as well as a voice on the committee.
Lucas hopes that events since February, which include the allegations against Bercow, might change MPs’ minds: “I pushed hard to make some specific stronger proposals to change the way the committee works.
“I still think there’ll be a struggle to persuade all colleagues that MPs shouldn’t have the final word – but I think the most recent Newsnight stories are persuading more people that we can’t continue with the current system.”