Commons approve motion to suspend Delyn MP Rob Roberts over 'repeated sexual advances' towards staff member
The leader of the House of Commons has told MPs that it would be "honourable" for the Welsh MP Rob Roberts to stand down.
The Delyn MP was suspended for six weeks after MPs approved a motion following an independent report which found that he breached sexual misconduct rules by making repeated advances to a member of staff.
The MP also had the Conservative whip removed, which means he sits as an Independent member and not as a member of the Tory group of MPs. Conservative officials are also said to be reviewing his membership of the wider party.
Speaking before MPs backed the suspension, Jacob Rees-Mogg said the UK Government is looking at dealing with a loophole which means that constituents can't force a by-election despite Mr Roberts suspension.
The move was recommended by the Independent Expert Panel, set up to take such serious decisions out of the hands of MPs.
However, if the suspension had been recommended by the cross-party Standards Committee it would have automatically triggered what's known as a recall petition. That is the process by which people living in the constituency of a member who has been censured can show their support for a by-election.
Once a recall petition begins, constituents have six weeks to have their say. If enough signatures are collected a by-election is held.
In 2019, the then Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, Chris Davies, lost his seat in a by-election triggered by a recall petition which followed a conviction over expenses claims.
On Wednesday, the prime minister's official spokesman said "This is fundamentally a decision for the House of Commons but a case of this severity has raised questions around whether changes need to be made in order for a recall to be triggered in the future.
"So the leader of the House of Commons is going to be having conversations across the house over the next few days, urging them to consider what more can be done to improve the system"
Today Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed those conversations, telling MPs: "Following a case of this severity in which it would be honourable for a member to stand down after the withdrawal of the whip, we need to look at whether the process is striking the right balance between the defendants, protecting the confidentiality of the complainants and in ensuring consistent outcomes across different types of conduct case."
"I can therefore confirm to the House that I have asked the chairman of the independent expert panel for his views on whether changes should be made to the current process to enable recall to be triggered."
Labour's Shadow leader of the House of Commons Thangam Debbonaire offered to work with the UK Government to close the loophole.
She said: "I'd like to work with him, to go further and quicker, and I agree that there are non-legislative solutions because in what other job could someone who has carried sexual misconduct not face losing that job?"
She added that any such change could still be applied to the case of Mr Roberts.
"Ideally the member would do the honourable thing and resign forthwith but retrospective rule change is possible, permissible and could apply because this is above party politics, it is about the Government doing the right thing, it's about maintaining safe working for our staff because Parliament should be a beacon of good practice."
Rhondda MP Chris Bryant, who is chair of the Standards Committee, said he too would work to change the rules.
He said: "Following the statement by Jacob Rees-Mogg today, I stand ready to assist in amending Standing Orders to enable the Recall of MPs Act 2015 to be triggered by a ten day or more suspension from the House by the Independent Expert Panel. I agree the Member should stand down."In his response to the panel's ruling, Mr Roberts said that when the alleged incidents happened last year, he had been in a "challenging place personally," having ended his marriage of 15 years and also coming out as gay.He said: "I asked a male member of Parliamentary staff to dinner in the hope of striking up a personal relationship."I recognise that this breach of trust in the MP-Staff relationship was completely improper and should not have happened."I apologised at the time and do so again to the complainant but also to my colleagues, family and most importantly my constituents."He said that he will "continue do his utmost to serve his constituency."