Ex-Labour MP Keith Vaz has been formally reprimanded for “sustained and unpleasant bullying” of a Commons official.
A Parliamentary watchdog said the former minister should be “ashamed of his behaviour” towards Jenny McCullough, a Commons clerk who suffered a “real and enduring psychological impact” from his conduct.
Ms McCullough publicly accused Mr Vaz of bullying in 2018 and said it forced her out of her job in Parliament.
The Independent Expert Panel (IEP), which was set up in the wake of the Westminster harassment scandal, said he deserved a formal reprimand for his conduct, which was “hostile, sustained, harmful and unworthy of a Member of Parliament”.
In a report, published today, the panel also said he should never be allowed a parliamentary pass granted to former MPs.
IEP Chair Sir Stephen Irwin said Mr Vaz’s conduct was “hostile, sustained, harmful and unworthy of a Member of Parliament”.
Mr Vaz, who was in the Commons for more than 30 years, did not engage personally with the investigation for medical reasons.
The ex-Leicester East MP stood down in 2019, after being handed a six-month suspension for offering to buy Class A drugs for sex workers.
The scandal was exposed by the Sunday Mirror in 2016.
The panel was asked to recommend sanctions following a referral from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone.
The Commissioner found Mr Vaz had “on several occasions breached the bullying and harassment policy in his interactions with the Complainant” between July 2007 and August 2008.
Mr Vaz was chairman of the Home Affairs Committee between 2007 and 2016, where Ms McCullough acted as second clerk from April 2007 to October 2008.
The report said Ms McCullough left House of Commons in 2011 and in October 2019, she raised complaints of bullying and harassment against Mr Vaz “relating to incidents between the autumn of 2007 and the winter of 2010”.
Her complaint described how Mr Vaz’s behaviour served to “undermine the Complainant and rob her of confidence in her judgment and abilities, so that ultimately she felt compelled to leave her work in the House of Commons in 2011”.
She told investigators it had a “far-reaching and ongoing impact” on her mental and physical health, as well as her personal and professional life, the report said.
The report set out a string of inappropriate behaviours towards Ms McCullough, including anger, loud and aggressive speech and foul language.
It also listed “inappropriate instructions” such as requiring her to perform like a “tour guide” in front of the visiting party in a bus in Washington, to attend breakfast with him on trips and demands she take photographs of landmarks for him.
In one incident on a trip to Washington in 2007, which breached Parliament’s bullying code, Mr Vaz assumed Ms McCullough was Catholic due to her Northern Irish heritage and said another MP would have her “locked up”, the report said.
Another breach occurred when Mr Vaz took a member of his own staff on a trip to Russia in 2008, despite being advised not to, and told Ms McCullough it was because she was “not competent.
On the same trip Mr Vaz threatened to take pictures of her drinking alcohol to show to her manager and there is evidence that he did, the report found.
He also told her that she did not know how to support the committee because she “wasn’t a mother”.
After she left her role, Mr Vaz told her “in relation to a meeting he had had with some prostitutes, they ‘had reminded him of’ the Complainant”, the report said.
Sir Stephen said: “The sub-panel found that the Respondent’s misconduct represented sustained and unpleasant bullying, with a real and enduring psychological impact; and that it led to the Complainant leaving her career in the House of Commons.
“It concluded that if he currently held a pass to the House of Commons as a former Member it would have been appropriate to remove it. His eligibility to hold a former Member’s pass should never be restored.
“The Respondent’s conduct deserves a clear and formal reprimand. The Respondent’s conduct to the complainant was hostile, sustained, harmful and unworthy of a Member of Parliament.
“He should be ashamed of his behaviour.”
Dave Penman, FDA General Secretary, whose union represents parliamentary staff, praised Ms McCullough for her courage in bringing forward a complaint against a senior MP.
“The report could not paint a clearer picture of sustained, inappropriate conduct that not only caused harm to a committed public servant, but caused her to leave the service,” he said.
“This conduct would have been visible to fellow MPs, whips and senior managers in Parliament.
“The unwillingness of Parliament to address these issues before now should weigh heavy on all who had the opportunity and power to address them at the time.”
Mr Vaz denied any bullying when Ms McCullough’s allegations were first raised by Newsnight in 2018.
He did not engage with the panel during the probe but there was “significant communication” from his medical adviser and his sister, who is legally qualified.
The panel said it understood that both wanted the proceedings to be abandoned due to Mr Vaz’s ill health.
However it discovered that Mr Vaz had regularly presented a radio programme from early 2020 until at least July 2021, engaged in some party political activity and did some broadcasting work until at least May 2021.
The panel said in its report: “We do not doubt that the Respondent has health problems, but we do conclude, on all the material available to us, that there is no good basis for concluding those health problems preclude him from engagement with the referral for sanction, if only in writing.”