Tory MP Rob Roberts has been suspended from the House of Commons for six weeks after he was found to have sexually harassed an employee.
The 41-year-old MP for Delyn in North Wales was found by an independent panel to have made repeated unwanted advances to a male office staffer. He accepts wrongdoing but insists his actions were “romantic” rather than “sexual” – a distinction the panel rejected.
Committee members recommended Roberts be suspended for six weeks in their report – and on Thursday (26 May), parliament agreed.
“Following a case of this severity, in which it would be honourable for a member to stand down after the withdrawal of the whip,” Rees-Mogg said.
However a recall petition – which could then trigger a by-election in an MP’s seat – can only be prompted when a lawmaker is found guilty of wrongdoing by the Commons Standards Committee. This rule was drawn up in the Recall of MPs Act, passed in 2015.
In the case of Roberts, it was the Independent Expert Panel, which assesses misconduct complaints, that concluded he broke the code, rather than the Commons committee.
Chris Bryant, Labour MP and chairman of the commons standards committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today show on Wednesday (26 May): “Our committee does not hear allegations of bullying and sexual harassment. That is only done by the IEP and unfortunately up until now the government has not changed the law so as to include decisions from the IEP for triggering the act.”
Rees-Mogg said in parliament that the government will examine sewing up the loophole that prevents Roberts’ constituents from triggering a recall election.
“We need to look at whether the process is striking the right balance between independence, protecting the confidentiality of complainants, and ensuring consistent outcomes across different types of conduct case,” Rees-Mogg told the House.
He called on the chair of the independent panel to make recommendations.
While Rees-Mogg resisted describing parliament’s rules as shot with loopholes, he said it was “frankly ridiculous” that MPs face more sanctions from misusing envelopes than sexual harassment.
Thangam Debbonaire, Labour’s shadow leader of the House, said: “In what other job could someone who has carried out sexual misconduct not face losing that job?”
“There are workable solutions to what would be a stain on us all if the public sees someone who has carried out sexual misconduct keep their job in this place.”