UK Parliament Closes Loophole That Allowed Sex-Pest MP to Keep His Seat
14:24 GMT 19.10.2021 (Updated: 15:24 GMT 28.05.2023)
Delyn MP Rob Roberts was sanctioned by Parliament's independent panel on members' misconduct in May this year for sexually harassing a male member of his staff, but refused to resign. The case was among of a slew of such allegations of members of several parties.
MPs have voted to close loophole in Parliamentary rules that allowed an MP to stay on after his suspension for sexual harassment.
Conservative Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg tabled a motion on Tuesday on changes to the 2015 Recall of MPs act.
In May this year, the Independent Expert Panel
(IEP) found fellow Conservative MP for Delyn Rob Roberts had made "repeated, unwelcome sexual advances" towards a male member of his staff, and suspended him from the House of Commons for six weeks.
Roberts refused to resign as an MP in the wake of his suspension. But constituents were unable to organise an official recall petition to force a by-election in his north Wales seat because the IEP, established
in 2020 five years after the legislation was passed, is not mentioned in the law.
Rees-Mogg's motion seeks to close that loophole — but still not affect Roberts as it would not be applied retrospectively — unless an opposition Labour Party amendment passes.
"Being a member of Parliament is an honour and a privilege", Ress-Mogg said as he introduced the motion. "As members of this house we have all a shared duty to ensure it is a safe environment for those who work here".
He said IEP chairman Sir Stephen Irwin was "seriously concerned" by the Labour proposal since it would jeopardise the independence of the panel and allow the house to either increase or reduce its sanctions against members.
Labour shadow leader of the house Thangam Debbonaire rejected her Tory counterpart's appeal to drop the amendment.
"I can't think of many jobs of public service where someone found to have carried out sexual misconduct would not face losing that job. And yet in the one relevant case in the last year this has not happened", she said.
"I would really rather not table an amendment with retrospective force. It's far from ideal", Debbonaire said. "It cannot be right that simply because of the timings of a complaint... his constituents will not have the opportunity for a recall petition".
Roberts won Delyn from Labour at the 2019 general election with a majority of just 865 votes. A by-election could allow Labour to get revenge for the Tory victory in its once-safe Tyneside seat of Hartlepool earlier this year, where a by-election was triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Mike Hill
in March — also over sexual harassment charges upheld by the IEP and an employment tribunal
Scottish National Party (SNP) commons business spokesman Pete Wishart also called for the rule change to be applied retrospectively.
"It's almost like a sense that somebody's got away with it, that the whole idea of justice has not been served", Wishart said.
SNP MP Patrick Grady resigned as the party's chief whip in March after two members of party staff accused him of groping them
at a Christmas party in London's West End. One of the alleged victims has also accused an un-named female SNP MP of sexually harassing him on another occasion, but that the party buried both complaints
Last year Derek MacKay resigned as finance secretary to the SNP-controlled devolved Scottish administration after revelations he sent flirting messages to a 16-year-old boy. MacKay has since continued to draw his salary as a member of the Scottish Parliament.
The amendment fell by 297 votes to 213, and the motion passed
Rees-Mogg urged Roberts in May to do the "honourable" thing and resign.
gossip column Steerpike suggested Roberts would evade punishment once again.
"A Labour amendment to the motion today on Roberts facing retrospective action is not expected to succeed which means that he won't face a by-election for the allegations made against him – enabling him to carry on his seat until the next election which could be as far away as 2024", Steerpike wrote. "Looks like the honourable member for Delyn has more lives than Larry the Cat".
The 2015 act allows voters in a constituency to recall their MP if they are suspended by Parliament's Committee on Standards for at least 10 sitting days of Parliament or 14 days overall — and if a petition gathers the signatures of 10 percent of registered voters there. Rees-Mogg has previously said the legislation is too limited and should be replaced by a fully-fledged recall mechanism.
Last week Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe, elected as a Labour candidate but now suspended from the party's parliamentary group. was convicted
of harassing another woman. Webbe accused Michelle Merritt of having an affair with her partner, threatening to send nude photos and videos of her to her family and to throw acid on her.
Webbe has not yet been sanctioned by Parliament, but Labour has urged her to resign. Her predecessor Keith Vaz stepped down before the 2019 general election amid allegations he slept with male prostitutes and offered to buy illegal drugs for them. Vaz was also recently criticised in a Parliamentary report for bullying his staff.