Mike Graham has responded to reports that Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow blocked the BBC from obtaining information about Keith Vaz MP by asking if he should “shove off”.
The BBC reported on Tuesday that it had requested documents pertaining to business trips taken by Mr Vaz, during which he was alleged to have flouted rules. Newsnight’s policy editor Chris Cook wanted to ascertain whether any complaints had been made.
Mr Vaz has also been accused of bullying clerks, one of whom, Jenny McCulloch, told the BBC in August that she left her job as the bullying she allegedly endured by Mr Vaz was not dealt with.
But Mr Bercow issued a certificate under Section 34(3) of the Freedom of Information Act, blocking the release of the documents to the BBC.
His involvement also means the broadcaster can’t appeal, because the courts cannot override parliament.
'I'm not a great fan of the Speaker'
“Is it time for this rather odious character to shove off?” asked Graham, as Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, joined him on the show.
“I completely agree. I’m not a great fan of the Speaker,” he said.
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“The Dame Laura Cox excellent report into bullying and harassment, the conclusions were damning, but will come as no surprise to anyone who’s spent any time in the Palace of Westminster.
“There is a culture of ‘keep your mouth shut’, and basically if the staff think if you were to whistleblow at a senior official at the House of Commons or a senior MP. then you’d probably be writing your own resignation letter out, and that’s an unhealthy situation.”
On the situation with Mr Vaz, he added: “What we have now is a speaker of the House of Commons who’s facing allegations of bullying and harassment himself which he denies, protecting a very close friend of his, Keith Vaz, who’s a senior MP facing allegations of bullying and harassment which he denies.”
Mr Bercow and Mr Vaz deny bullying.
Keith Vaz. Image: Getty
The allegations against Keith Vaz were, that on a foreign trip he was very rude and belittled the clerk,” Mr Bridgen continued.
“It was an official trip at the time he was the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and that there were meetings with people - the civil servants need to know who you’re meeting so it’s all above board.
“Apparently there were a lot of grey areas about who was paying for dinners Mr Vaz was attending, and it was the background to that trip and the notes around it that the Speaker didn’t wish newsnight or the public to see. One has to ask the question, what could possibly be in there that was so damning that he didn’t want it to come out?
“He’s used some arcane 17th century parliamentary procedure that’s not been used for some time to block the freedom of information.
“They are very close friends, and I think that’s unhealthy.”
'Could put his peerage in jeopardy'
Mr Bridgen said he thought Mr Bercow may stand down in 2019.
“I’m going to be cynical now, but I think the Speaker is going to stand down next summer,” he said.
“I think he’s desperate to keep a lid on all of this [bullying allegations] until after the Brexit vote and after he’s gone, because he needs to be in the House of Lords.
“By convention, any retiring speaker goes to the House of Lords, and if it were to be found that these accusations are upheld and true, that would put his peerage in jeopardy.”