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

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 amendment by Lib Dem MP Wendy Chamberlain and Labour MP Jess Phillips to reinstate the original intention of the policy.

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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.

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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 banned from parliament, pending the approval of an independent panel.

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.”

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 form 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.”