Former Care Minister set to be suspended from Commons after bullying constituency worker

A senior Labour MP is set to be suspended from the Commons for two days for bullying a member of staff.

Former cabinet minister Liam Byrne has apologised for his conduct against former staff member David Barker, who worked in his Birmingham Hodge Hill constituency.

Mr Byrne (pictured) was found to have ostracized Mr Barker between March 20 and the end of July 2020, including disabling his parliamentary email account for a period.

The MP said he was “profoundly sorry” and had apologised.

The ostracization followed a dispute between Mr Byrne and Mr Barker at the constituency office which prompted the MP to send the complainant home.

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone upheld a single allegation of bullying against Mr Byrne following a complaint made under Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS).

The independent expert panel that considered the punishment for Mr Byrne said the MP abused his position of power.

The panel said he “sought to present his actions as a reasonable HR strategy” but “we disagree”.

“It was bullying,” the report said.

“He should, as he now accepts, have tackled any misconduct through a proper disciplinary process not by ostracizing the complainant.”

The panel recommended that Mr Byrne should be suspended for two sitting days on condition that he also make a written apology to the complainant, and he should undertake training and take action to address the causes of his behaviour and weaknesses in the management of his office.

Mr Byrne said he was “profoundly sorry” and the situation had been a “valuable lesson for me and one I am determined to learn”.

In a statement he said: “Two years ago at the beginning of lockdown, following a workplace dispute that led me to send the complainant home… I did not resolve the dispute correctly with a proper disciplinary process, and having nevertheless extended the complainant’s contract, thereby failed to fulfil my obligations as an employer and Parliament’s Behaviour Code.

“This constituted an ostracism which was a breach of Parliament’s Behaviour Code which I strongly support, and caused distress for which I am profoundly sorry. I have apologised in full to the individual concerned.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the panel for recognising the genuine remorse I felt about the impact on the individual concerned, the steps I have already taken to ensure this never happens again along with the work still to do, and for concluding that I did not deliberately act to delay the investigation.

“This has been a valuable lesson for me and one I am determined to learn as me and my team seek to offer the best possible service and voice for the residents of Hodge Hill.”

A Labour spokesman said: “The Labour Party fully supports the recommendations of this independent report, including the proposed sanction.”

The GMB union, which represents Mr Barker, called for an overhaul of the way MPs’ staff are employed.

Jenny Symmons, chair of the GMB branch for members’ staff, said: “We resoundingly condemn the despicable behaviour of Liam Byrne MP, who showed David a complete lack of respect or regard while in his employment.

“GMB welcomes the decision to uphold our member’s complaint of serious bullying and harassment.

“However, the sanction of an apology, a recommendation for training and a suspension of just two days is far beneath what is needed to address this kind of abuse.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament.