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Saturday, Feb 04, 2023

UK parliament urged to bar arrested MPs from Westminster estate

UK parliament urged to bar arrested MPs from Westminster estate

Staff, trade unions and victims’ campaigners have long called for toughening of informal system for keeping arrested MPs away from the Commons.
A panel of MPs could be given the power to exclude their colleagues from Westminster, under plans to break a deadlock over how to deal with lawmakers suspected of serious misconduct.

The U.K.’s parliamentary authorities are expected to receive a paper on Monday drawn up by senior House of Commons advisers setting out options for barring MPs accused of sexual assault from the parliamentary estate.

Parliamentary staff, trade unions and victims’ rights campaigners have long been calling for the introduction of a formal bar, but attempts to set one up have so far run aground.

At present MPs facing claims of sexual assault usually reach an informal agreement with the whips and Commons Speaker to keep away from parliament, but there is no means of enforcing it.

A Conservative MP in his 50s has been under arrest since May on suspicion of rape, sexual assault, indecent assault, abuse of a position of trust and misconduct in a public office.

Separately, Imran Ahmad Khan, a former Tory MP jailed earlier this year for sexually assaulting a child, showed up in parliament while awaiting trial despite undertaking to keep away from the premises.

The House of Commons Commission, the Commons’ managing body, will now be asked to choose between maintaining the status quo and finding a way to enforce the current convention.

One option being considered is a sub-panel of the commission or a committee of MPs which could review risk assessments on a case-by-case basis and determine whether an MP ought to be excluded, according to two officials familiar with discussions.

MPs have previously suggested that the bar for exclusion ought to be when a parliamentarian is charged with an offense, but they are now being urged to look at triggering exclusion from the point of arrest.

In April, a cross-party group of MPs on the House of Commons procedure committee ruled out an inquiry into the matter, citing the difficulty of finding a suitable mechanism and the danger of breaking the confidentiality of investigations.

John Benger, parliament’s most senior clerk, argued in written evidence to the committee that it was “a fundamental constitutional right” for MPs to represent their constituents in parliament, highlighting just how complex it would be to curtail attendance.

Procedural experts believe the move to introduce a bar would have to be approved by MPs but that it would not require legislation.

“We’re presented with lots of reasons why it can’t happen,” said one senior parliamentary official, “but it’s about formalizing something that already exists. We’ve already recognized the basic principle that having an alleged rapist in the workplace isn’t acceptable.”

Prospect and the FDA — two unions representing parliamentary workers and civil servants — will be writing to the Commission ahead of the meeting on Monday.

“We will be again seeking to raise the issue of how parliament can make sure it is like all other workplaces and puts in place effective measures to safeguard staff while allegations against MPs are being investigated,” said a spokesman for Prospect.

A House of Commons spokesperson said: “Bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct have absolutely no place in the House of Commons and we acknowledge that there is still work to be done to ensure that everyone is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”
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