MPs accused of a sexual offence to be barred from Parliament

The parliamentary estate in Westminster
The parliamentary estate in Westminster - Will Strange / Alamy Stock Photo

MPs face being automatically barred from Parliament if they have been arrested on suspicion of a violent or sexual offence for the first time after a change in the rules.

Any MP who is arrested by police for a violent or sexual offence will now immediately face “risk-based exclusion” from the parliamentary estate.

The police will inform the Commons authorities when an MP has been arrested for such an offence, and a panel will then decide if the MP should be excluded.

Until now, there were no formal rules surrounding MPs under suspicion for such crimes and their access to Parliament, and it was left to the individual MP and party whips.

The House of Commons Commission had proposed that the exclusion mechanism be triggered at the point of arrest for a sexual or violent offence, but this later was watered down by Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt, who proposed that it should only come into force if an MP was charged with such an offence.

But the Government was narrowly overruled on the issue of the threshold by MPs, who by a majority of just one voted for a Liberal Democrat amendment to toughen up the rules to revert to the original proposal.

The proposed rule change was put to a free vote, which meant that MPs would not face sanction if they did not vote with their party, but Labour MPs were encouraged to vote on the amendments to harden up the legislation.

Among the eight Tory MPs who voted against the Government and for a stricter version of the rules was former prime minister Theresa May.

Labour MP Jess Phillips who backed the amendment, told the Commons during the debate: “Today, just on this one day, I have spoken to two women who were raped by members of this Parliament; that’s a fairly standard day for me.”

Citing their remarks, she said: “Exclusion at the point of charge sends a clear message to victims that not only will we not investigate unless a victim goes to the police but we won’t act unless they’re charged, which happens in less than one per cent of cases. ‘So what’s the point?’ was essentially what this victim said to me.”

The MP for Birmingham Yardley later added: “We seem to act like we’re some sort of superior beings and the people who currently get excluded are often young women, and I’ve dealt with cases who are young men, who never work in politics again.”

Lucy Powell, the shadow leader of the Commons, said: “Really pleased that the house voted (by one) for the risk-based assessment and exclusion of MPs to be triggered at arrest.

“Sends a signal that parliament is serious about safeguarding and improving our workplace”

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect trade union, said: “This is an important and overdue victory for common sense and those working on the parliamentary estate.

“We have campaigned tirelessly for any MPs arrested for sexual or violent offences to be excluded from the estate at the point of arrest. These proposals must now be implemented as soon as possible.”

Watering down proposals

The Government had previously come under fire from within its own ranks for the watering down of the proposals.

Dame Andrea Leadsom, a health minister, had previously told Politico she was concerned that the proposals were “more than fair to the accused” but “does nothing to protect the alleged victim”.

Ms Leadsom, who did not vote on the amendment, added that when she was leader of the Commons, “we had envisaged a sort of ‘parliamentary ASBO’ that would apply for the duration of the independent investigation.

“This would enable them to serve their constituents in Parliament and keep the alleged victim safe. This was fair for both the accuser and the accused.”

Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat chief whip who put forward the amendment, said: “This is an important step towards making Parliament a safe and modern place to work.

“It is not about the guilt or innocence of any individual MP, but about safeguarding.

“It’s really important that Parliament is just as safe as any other workplace and that everyone is held to account by similar rules.”

Jenny Symmons, chair of the GMB branch for members’ staff, said: “We’re delighted with this result which comes after years of persistent lobbying for the safety of MPs’ staff.

“Too often we’ve had our welfare at the mercy of our bosses voting in the Chamber and we’ve been let down. Tonight changed that tide.”