Ex-culture secretary calls for John Bercow’s peerage to be ‘put on ice’

A former culture secretary has urged the Prime Minister to put ex-speaker John Bercow’s peerage “on ice” following the emergence of fresh bullying allegations.

Traditionally governments have given outgoing House of Commons speakers a place in the upper chamber once they stand down from their role as referee of MPs’ debates.

Boris Johnson’s administration has appeared reluctant to bestow Mr Bercow with the honour of becoming a lord, and Maria Miller, culture secretary under David Cameron between 2012 and 2014, said any peerage should come “secondary” to dealing with complaints surrounding his decade-long tenure.

Mrs Miller told BBC’s Newsnight: “Anybody’s peerage is secondary to the safety and the well-being of thousands of members of staff.

“I think the House of Commons should not only be potentially putting (Mr Bercow’s peerage) on ice but also be looking more proactively at how we make sure that a similar situation can’t happen in the future.”

Mr Bercow used a statement on Thursday to attack the Government for not elevating him to the Lords after his retirement as Commons speaker last year.

It came as he was forced to “categorically” deny he had ever bullied staff, and hit out at Lord Lisvane, the peer who filed a recent complaint to Parliament’s standards watchdog about Mr Bercow’s behaviour.

But Mrs Miller said allegations against him had to be investigated, especially after staff had felt “a little let down” by the lack of action taken following the explosive report by Dame Laura Cox in 2018 that uncovered bullying and harassment in Parliament.

“I think this is why it’s so important we don’t get distracted by talk of peerages when what we should be focused on is dealing with the complaints put forward by Lord Lisvane and dealing with them through the usual procedures through our independent standard commissioner,” the Basingstoke MP said.

Maria Miller
Maria Miller

Mrs Miller, who was chair of the women and equalities committee in the last parliament, said taking action was the way to start rebuilding “a sense of trust within Parliament as an institution”.

Lord Lisvane, Mr Bercow’s one-time most senior official as Clerk of the House, has handed a dossier of allegations to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Though Mr Bercow disputed the claim, it was previously suggested in the Commons that Lord Lisvane may have left his role in 2014 in part because he was told to “f*** off” by the speaker at least once.

Mr Bercow’s first strenuous denial of the latest allegations came on Thursday, as Downing Street said the claims from Lord Lisvane were “very concerning” and should be “investigated thoroughly”.

The controversial former Tory MP dismissed the allegations as having come at a “curious” time as he seeks to become a peer.

Mr Bercow said that it has “become increasingly obvious that the Government has no intention of honouring the centuries-old convention that a departing speaker is promptly elevated to the House of Lords” since his retirement.

John Bercow
John Bercow

“Indeed, it has been suggested to me that the Government actively seeks to block any other attempt to nominate me for membership of the upper House,” he continued in the statement.

Downing Street insiders did little to play down his claim that Boris Johnson’s administration was blocking his elevation to the Lords, pointing out that as speaker Mr Bercow was “not always a fan of convention” – a reference to innovative mechanisms used to thwart the Government during bitter Brexit battles.

A Number 10 spokesman simply said: “Who the Prime Minister chooses to nominate is a matter for the Prime Minister.”

Addressing the bullying allegations, Mr Bercow said: “I have seen in the media that Lord Lisvane is formally complaining that I bullied staff.

“For the record, I categorically deny that I have ever bullied anyone, anywhere at any time.”

Mr Bercow said Lord Lisvane, who he worked with for five years, had “ample opportunity to raise any concerns about such conduct with me” and moreover had “a duty of care to all House staff” to have raised the matter at the time.

Mr Bercow left the speaker’s chair on October 31 and has been replaced by Sir Lindsay Hoyle.