The Delyn MP will not face a by-election over sexual misconduct claims, after Tory MPs blocked a retrospective crackdown on members who’ve been sanctioned by an independent panel
Tory MPs today blocked a move that would have allowed voters to boot disgraced MP Rob Roberts out of Parliament.
MPs finally closed a loophole that stopped a possible by-election being triggered when the Delyn MP was suspended over sexual misconduct claims.
But in a 297-213 vote, Tories crushed a Labour bid to make the change retrospective – which means Mr Roberts will not face an automatic by-election.
A new-style Independent Expert Panel (IEP) ruled in May that Mr Roberts had breached Parliament’s sexual misconduct policy and abused his position.
But a loophole in Commons rules meant he did not face an automatic “recall” vote, which would have allowed his constituents to trigger a by-election.
That was because the IEP, rather than the Commons Standards Committee, recommended the six-week suspension.
Shadow Commons Leader Thangam Debbonaire said making the change retrospective would “send a clear message that this behaviour will never be tolerated”.
She added: “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.”
But Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said Labour’s bid would be a “political decision” to change the outcome of a case that harmed the IEP’s independence.
“The amendment would offend against the principle that a sanction properly determined by the IEP should be final,” he told MPs.
“It would offend against the principle that there should be no retrospective imposition of a sanction which was not available at the time when a given case was determined by the IEP.
From coronavirus to Brexit, our daily politics newsletter is there to guide you these turbulent times.
The newsletter is sent out twice daily with the latest UK & world politics news, along with leading opinion and analysis.
You can sign up here.
“Expulsion was an option available to the IEP at the time which it chose not to take.”
Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said closing the loophole was a “huge win” and “shown no one is above the law”.
But she added: “It says everything that with their last gasp the government has let one of their own MPs, Rob Roberts, off the hook.
“That is exactly why we campaigned for accountability to lie with voters instead of politicians, who have shown time and again that they will protect their own. This is the last time they will get away with it.”
In Mr Roberts’ case, a staff member told investigators they were subjected to “persistent sexual harassment” by the MP – who remains suspended from the Tory whip, but is due to have his Conservative Party membership reinstated on November 1.
In the IEP’s report, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards rejected Mr Roberts’ claims that his advances had been “romantic”.
Instead, she said “a person’s actions can be considered sexual harassment even if the alleged harasser did not intend them to be. And as such, [Mr Roberts’] conduct could reasonably be viewed as a series of sexual advances.”
After the ruling, Mr Roberts apologised, saying the “breach of trust” was “completely improper and should not have happened.”
He had denied claims he made “repeated and unwanted sexual advances” to a staff member.
However, he admitted: “I asked a male member of Parliamentary staff to dinner in the hope of striking up a personal relationship. I recognise that this breach of trust in the MP-staff relationship was completely improper and should not have happened.”
It came as the SNP ’s Pete Wishart said MPs accused of “serious” offences against staff should be banned from accessing Parliament while they are under investigation.
Mr Wishart said a limit on access to the parliamentary estate would be likely proposed for MPs accused of the “most serious of transgressions”.
A voluntary agreement for an MP to stay away from Parliament has been known to exist when serious allegations have been levelled, but there is currently no formal requirement.