The Conservative MP Rob Roberts faces a six-week suspension from the House of Commons for breaching parliament’s sexual harassment policy – but can continue to sit as an MP.
According to a report published on Tuesday by parliament’s independent expert panel (IEP), Roberts made repeated and unwanted sexual advances towards a former member of staff, as well as inappropriate comments of a sexual nature.
The IEP judged that a six-week suspension was the appropriate sanction. This will only come into effect if MPs support it, by voting for a motion in the House of Commons.
Sir Stephen Irwin, the chair of the IEP, ha dicho: “The misconduct demonstrated here was significant. It is evident that Mr Roberts MP was in a very powerful position as an employer … Our conclusion is that the determination of six weeks suspension from the service of the House was proper and proportionate.”
Suspension from parliament for 10 days or more would usually trigger a recall petition, allowing a byelection to be triggered if 10% of the MP’s constituents sign a petition.
But because Roberts appealed a finding against him by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, causing his case to be referred to the IEP, the formal process under the Recall of MPs Act of 2015 will not be triggered.
Irwin explained: “For a recall to be initiated, the sanction must be imposed on the recommendation of the committee on standards, or another committee of the House of Commons concerned with standards of conduct. The independent expert panel is not a committee of the House of Commons.”
The report found that Roberts had accepted that “aspects of his behaviour” towards the male staff member were “inappropriate,” and had offered to apologise – but “rejected the categorisation of his conduct as ‘sexual’, preferring the term ‘romantic’”.
Subsequent attempts to persuade the staff member to go for a drink with him, “amounted to no more than an attempt to reset their professional working relationship”, the MP claimed.
Labour said the findings were serious enough to mean that Roberts should step down. La silla de fiesta, Anneliese Dodds, dicho: “The report fully upholds the sexual harassment allegations made against Rob Roberts MP. He should therefore resign his seat with immediate effect.
“That such serious and proven abuse doesn’t automatically result in the recall of a sitting member of parliament is both absurd and unjust. The Conservative government cannot dance around gaps in legislation if it is serious about upholding standards in public life.”
Chris Bryant, the chair of parliament’s standards committee, dicho: “We must close this loophole immediately, and the only people who can do that are the government, by tabling legislation.”
A Conservative party investigation into the case resulted in Roberts being “rebuked” for his behaviour, but Boris Johnson did not remove the whip from the MP for Delyn, en el norte de Gales, who only won his seat in 2019.
A party spokesperson said in April: “Rob Roberts’ conduct was found to be unacceptable under the party’s code of conduct and he has been strongly rebuked. Mr Roberts has apologised for his behaviour and was instructed to undertake safeguarding and social media protection training.”