MPs arrested for sex offences face Parliament ban

The Palace of Westminster
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MPs arrested for serious sexual or violent offences could be banned from attending Parliament under new plans approved on Monday.

It comes despite the government putting forward a motion that recommended MPs are only barred if they are charged.

MPs voted 170 to 169 - a majority of one - for the threshold to be arrest instead.

A union representing workers in Parliament said the move was an "overdue victory for common sense".

However, some MPs had raised concerns it was unconstitutional and would deny constituents the right to representation in Parliament on the basis of the decision of a committee.

Currently, if an MP is accused of sexual wrongdoing, parliamentary authorities have no power to ban them. There have been cases where MPs have stayed away voluntarily pending investigation.

A cross-party group of senior MPs worked on a plan to introduce new rules which initially proposed that a risk assessment would take place, determining whether an MP should be prevented from attending the parliamentary estate if they were arrested on suspicion of committing a violent or sexual offence.

Commons leader Penny Mordaunt instead tabled a plan focusing on those who had been charged - a much higher bar.

The government said the policy had been revised following feedback from MPs, to take into consideration the "detrimental impact that having no voice in Parliament can have on communities".

The risk assessment would be carried out by a panel, appointed by the Commons Speaker, who would decide on appropriate measures, including exclusion from Parliament or from domestic or foreign travel funds.

Any decision would remain confidential and an excluded MP could still apply for a proxy vote, meaning another MP could cast a vote in Parliament on their behalf.

'Long overdue'

Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain, who proposed the amendment to change the threshold to arrest, said this would align Parliament with other workplaces.

"As a former police officer… arrest on suspicion doesn't just take place on basis of an allegation," she told the Commons.

"Yes, some vexatious complaints do occur but what message do we send from this place if we say that our concern for this is actually more important than safeguarding?"

Her proposal was supported by other opposition MPs, as well as eight Conservatives, including former prime minister Theresa May, Laura Farris, the victims and safeguarding minister, and chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee Caroline Nokes.

Former shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips, who also supported the move, said she had spoken to victims of sexual assault by MPs who had told her they wanted the threshold to be arrest.

Reading out remarks from one victim, the Labour MP 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 1% of cases. 'So what's the point?' was essentially what this victim said to me."

Shadow Commons leader Lucy Powell said the policy was "long overdue" and "the bare minimum of what is required in the interests of safeguarding good working practices".

However, other MPs had argued for the threshold to be when an MP is charged with an offence.

Conservative MP Dame Karen Bradley, who chairs the Commons Procedure Committee, pointed out that "charge is a public point, arrest is not public".

She added that excluding the voice of MPs from the Commons was "a very severe punishment for constituents".

Former Conservative minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was "unconstitutional" that a small committee would have the power "to deny constituents representation" in Parliament.

Another former Tory minister David Davis also raised concerns that "the people being penalised by this are our constituents, not us".

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, which represents many workers in Parliament, said the proposals must be implemented as soon as possible.

"This should represent the end of MPs arrested for sexual or violent offences - and those sharing a workplace with them - receiving different treatment from everyone else in the country," he added.