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Commons approves plans to exclude from parliament MPs arrested on suspicion of serious offence

todayMay 13, 2024 2

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Commons approves plans to exclude from parliament MPs arrested on suspicion of serious offence

MPs who have been arrested on suspicion of a serious offence face being barred from parliament under new plans that were approved in a vote this evening.

It comes despite the government putting forward a motion that recommended MPs only face a ban if they are charged with a violent or sexual offence – a higher bar.

Tonight MPs voted to reverse government moves to water down the measures on “risk-based exclusions” to ensure members can be excluded from parliament at the point of arrest for serious sexual or violent offences, in line with the original recommendation from the House of Commons Commission.

The commission’s initial proposal was later revised by the government to raise the threshold for a potential ban to the point of charge.

But in a surprise move, MPs tonight voted 170 to 169, a majority of one, in favour of an amendment by Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain and Labour MP Jess Phillips to reinstate the original intention of the policy.

MPs were given a free vote on the matter, meaning they were not forced to vote along party lines.

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The division list showed eight Conservative MPs voted in favour of the opposition amendment, including safeguarding minister Laura Farris, former prime minister Theresa May and backbench MP Theresa Villiers.

Ms Villiers was herself recommended for a suspension from the Commons for one day in 2021 after she and several other Conservative MPs breached the code of conduct by trying to influence a judge in the trial of former MP Charlie Elphicke, who was convicted in 2020 of sexually assaulting two women and jailed for two years.

The result this evening means those who have been arrested on suspicion of a violent or sexual offence will be banned from parliament, pending the approval of an independent panel.

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Labour MP Jess Phillips

Mike Clancy, the general secretary of the Prospect trade union, said the outcome was an “important and overdue victory for common-sense and those working on the parliamentary estate”, while FDA general secretary Dave Penman added: “Parliament is a workplace for thousands and these new formal procedures give staff the safe working environment they deserve and would expect in any other workplace.”

Ms Phillips, who advocated for the case for exclusion at the point of arrest, wrote on X: “Shit! We won the vote by one.”

In the debate preceding the vote, she told the Commons: “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.

“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.”

No hiding place for suspected Commons sex pests


Jon Craig - Chief political correspondent

Jon Craig

Chief political correspondent

@joncraig

In a dramatic knife-edge vote, MPs have voted that there should be no hiding place for suspected Commons sex pests.

Former prime minister Theresa May led a small group of eight Conservatives voting with Opposition MPs to defy the Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt.

To the fury of many Opposition MPs, Ms Mordaunt wanted MPs accused of serious sex or violent offences to be barred from parliament only when they’re charged.

It was officially a free vote. But the vast bulk of MPs voting to delay a ban until a charge were Conservatives, including several Cabinet ministers.

That was brave, so close to a general election. Surely those MPs who voted against a ban upon arrest will be attacked by their political opponents at the election for being soft on suspected sex pests?

The timing of the vote was perhaps unfortunate, coming amid renewed controversy earlier this week over sex pest Charlie Elphicke, the former Conservative MP who was jailed for sex offences.

At the weekend his ex-wife Natalie, who defected from the Conservatives to Labour last week, was accused of lobbying a former justice secretary, Sir Robert Buckland, on his behalf, an allegation she dismissed as “nonsense”.

And despite missing the weekly meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party earlier, Ms Elphicke duly voted with her new colleagues for a ban which would have almost certainly penalised her ex-husband had it been in force.

After the vote, leading supporters of the arrest ban were jubilant and stunned by the closeness of the vote. “Incredible!” Labour’s Stella Creasy told Sky News. Mr Rees-Mogg, however, condemned the proposal as a “power grab”.

It’s a historic vote. It doesn’t matter how close it was. Accusers will argue they’re now better protected. And MPs who supported the tougher ban argue that it brings the Commons into line with other workplaces.

Well, up to a point. MPs still have many perks and privileges that other employers and employees don’t. And Parliament still has a long way to go before its working practices and grievance procedures are brought fully up to date.

The exclusion policy was put forward following a number of incidents involving MPs in recent years and concerns about the safety of those working in parliament.

Currently, party whips decide if and when an MP accused of an offence should be prevented from attending the parliamentary estate.

Under the new plans, a risk assessment will take place when the Clerk of the House is informed by the police that an MP has been arrested on suspicion of committing a violent or sexual offence.

The risk assessment will be carried out by a risk assessment panel, appointed by Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

The panel will decide on appropriate measures to mitigate any risk to those on the estate, including banning the MP in question from the parliamentary estate and excluding them from domestic and foreign travel funded in whole or in part by the taxpayer.

Commons leader Penny Mordaunt cited the “large” number of “vexatious” claims lodged against colleagues as a reason to back the higher exclusion threshold.

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“Many members raised the comparison about the profession that we’re in and other professions, particularly the police force, and of course the police themselves may be also subject, not infrequently, to vexatious claims made against them for all kinds of reasons,” she explained.

“But I would say the volume of members of both Houses that have come to see me during this process, who have been victim of vexatious claims, was surprisingly large.”

Former minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg used the debate to describe the exclusion plans as an “extraordinary power grab by standing orders to undermine a fundamental of our constitution” while Sir Michael Ellis, a former attorney general, said: “A person must not suffer imposition before guilt has been proven.”

Written by: Newsroom

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