John Bercow has won a significant boost in his battle to survive as Speaker amid calls for him to quit over bullying allegations.
In a setback for Tory MPs who want to remove him, a probe into claims that he bullied members of his staff has been blocked by senior MPs.
In a move immediately condemned by Mr Bercow’s enemies, five MPs on the Commons standards committee voted three to two against allowing Parliament’s watchdog to investigate the claims.
Mr Bercow is under growing pressure to resign over allegations – which he denies – by two former private secretaries, Angus Sinclair and Kate Emms, that he bullied them.
The vote against an investigation came after Tory MP Andrew Bridgen asked Parliament’s Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone to investigate whether Mr Bercow had broken the MPs’ code of conduct.
The commisioner sought the opinion of the standards committee – made up of senior MPs and lay members from outside parliament – about whether an investigation fell within her remit.
The five MPs who voted all agreed she was entitled to investigate a claim under the Code of Conduct. But then a second vote, on whether to go ahead with an investigation, went three to two in Mr Bercow’s favour.
Labour’s Bridget Phillipson and Tory Gary Streeter were the MPs who backed an investigation, while Tories Sir Christopher Chope and John Stevenson and Labour’s Kate Green voted against.
Explaining the committee’s decision, its Labour chairman Sir Kevin Barron, said: “The parliamentary commissioner for standards yesterday brought two requests to the committee in connection with a complaint she has received from a member of the House in relation to the conduct of the speaker.”
He said the first request was for an opinion on whether an investigation was within her remit as a case relating to the MPs’ Code of Conduct which requires them to “conduct themselves in a manner which will strengthen trust in parliament” and not bring the Commons into disrepute.
Her second request was that, if the committee agreed that such an investigation was within her remit, she should initiate it even though the alleged events took place more than seven years ago – something which would only be authorised “in exceptional circumstances”.
Sir Kevin – who would have had a casting vote in the event of a tie – added: “Accordingly, the commissioner has not been authorised to carry out an inquiry into this matter.”
He said under the current rules, lay members of the committee did not have voting rights, but it was his personal view that they should.
Condemning the committee’s vote as “unprecedented”, Mr Bridgen said: “Not only am I not happy, I think the job of Standards is to protect and enhance the reputation of MPs and Parliament and this decision will further diminish our standing in the eyes of the public.
“What you have got is MPs protecting an MP – the Speaker – from an investigation.
“This decision will not remove the accusations that hang over the speaker.”