Expert Panel Says Tory MP Rob Roberts Should Be Suspended For Sexual Misconduct Policy Breach
An independent panel recommends the Conservative MP Rob Roberts should be suspended from the House of Commons for six weeks (Parliament.UK)
The Conservative MP Rob Roberts should be suspended from the House of Commons for six weeks, according to Parliament's Independent Expert Panel.
Recommendations published today state the sanction “reflects our view that the sexual misconduct found proved in this case amounts to a serious breach of the Behaviour Code”.
For the suspension to be imposed on Roberts, who was elected to represent Delyn in North Wales in 2019, it now must be agreed by MPs.
Last month the Tories said they had "strongly rebuked" the MP for his "unacceptable" conduct but he would face no further action, and was allowed to keep the party whip.
But they have now confirmed today he has lost the whip, albeit potentially only temporarily, and will not currently sit as a Conservative, however Labour are saying he should "resign his seat with immediate effect".
A spokesperson on behalf of the governmnet Whips' Office said: “Following the publication of the Independent Expert Panel report into the conduct of Rob Roberts MP, his receipt of the Conservative Party whip has been suspended.”
The case relates to a complaint made by a former member of staff in June 2020, who said the 41-year-old “made repeated and unwanted sexual advances towards him, using his position as his employer to place him under pressure to accede”.
They said he also made “inappropriate comments of a sexual nature and was overly intrusive about his personal life”.
The MP acknowledged during an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone that “aspects of his behaviour…were inappropriate” and offered the man an apology.
But he rejected the categorisation of his conduct as “sexual”, preferring the term “romantic”, and denied making repeated advances.
Roberts told the commissioner his initial “approach” towards the man was clumsy and “therefore required a subsequent meeting so that he could articulate his thoughts and feelings in a more thoughtful and considered manner”.
The investigation found that during the man’s three-week period of employment with Roberts the MP asked “invasive questions about his personal life”, and during a work-related constituency visit, while alone in a car, told the member of staff he found him “attractive” and “alluring”.
The man indicated he did not have similar feelings, but Roberts then invited him to dinner, and after he declined saying he wished to keep their relationship professional the MP asked “to meet with him for drinks on several occasions on consecutive days”.
The report said Roberts argued scheduling a meeting in the man’s work diary for drinks with him amounted to “no more than an attempt to reset their professional working relationship”.
But the commissioner concluded his “abuse of power/authority and his lack of insight in respect to his conduct and his understanding of appropriate boundaries in the workplace were aggravating factors” in the case.
Stone said despite Roberts offering an apology “his overall statements to the independent external investigator show a lack of insight and appreciation of the seriousness of his conduct and that he continues to deny that he may have engaged the [sexual misconduct] policy by repeatedly propositioning the reporter”.
In November she wrote to Roberts informing him she had upheld the complaints against him, saying: “I am satisfied that the allegations against you have been investigated fairly and thoroughly.”
But the MP appealed to the IEP, saying “the procedure was materially flawed” and he was not allowed the chance to properly defend his character.
A sub-panel was convened to look into it and in February this year they dismissed his claims and determined he should face a six-week suspension from the Commons.
Roberts then appealed against that sanction the following month, and a new sub-panel began looking into it in April, but earlier this month following an oral hearing with the MP he was informed this was also not successful.
Sir Stephen Irwin, chair of the IEP has said: “The misconduct demonstrated here was significant. It is evident that Mr Roberts MP was in a very powerful position as an employer in relation to the reporter.
"Our conclusion is that the determination of six weeks suspension from the service of the House was proper and proportionate.”
A Conservative party spokesperson said: “We would like to apologise to the individual concerned for the inappropriate and unwarranted treatment they were subjected to by someone in a position of authority.
“There is no place for the behaviour they were subjected to and we praise their courage in coming forward.
“In light of the outcome of the Standards investigation Rob Roberts MP has had the Conservative Party whip suspended."
Roberts does not currently face the prospect of a by-election however, as the decision will not trigger the process for a petition under the Recall of MPs Act 2015.
That can only be initiated by a sanction imposed by the Committee on Standards, or another Commons committee, which the IEP is not.
In response the Labour party chair Anneliese Dodds said: “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.
“That is why we expect the government to take immediate action – Labour will support efforts to pass emergency legislation or measures to rectify this situation.”
Chairman of the Standards Committee, Labour’s Chris Bryant, said it was a"glaring anomaly" and also called on the government to "immediately close this loophole".
In response the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The government is now considering next steps and will update shortly.
"There might be more from the Leader of the House who is committed to bringing forward motions to implement sanctions recommended by the independent panel."
Roberts later released a statement repeating his apology but pledging to "continue to do my utmost to serve my constituency".
He said: "In the first half of 2020, I was in a particularly challenging place personally and had taken the decision to leave my marriage of 15 years and come out as being gay.
"At around the same time, 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.
I will continue to do my utmost to serve my constituency as I have over the past 18 months since my election, and this judgement will not alter my resolve to ensure that the people of Delyn get the assistance they need with pressing local issues.
"It is the greatest honour of my life to represent the constituency in which I grew up and have lived my whole life, and I will work tirelessly to restore any faith which has been lost by this ruling.
"I have no further comment to make on the situation and will continue to go about my non-Parliamentary work as before, providing as much assistance and representation to my constituents as I can."