Former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier has lost her appeal against a proposed 30-day suspension from Commons – bringing a by-election in her Rutherglen and Hamilton West constituency a step closer.
The punishment was proposed by MPs on the Commons Standards Committee after a breach of Covid rules by Ms Ferrier saw her speak in the House of Commons and take the train between Scotland and England while positive for the virus.
With a sanction of 10 sitting days or more being enough to potentially force a by-election, Ms Ferrier, who now sits as an independent MP, had appealed against the length of her proposed suspension.
But the Independent Expert Panel, which considers appeals against decisions by the Committee on Standards from MPs, has rejected this.
With regards to Ms Ferrier’s appeal, a sub-panel which considered the matter found that “none of the grounds had substance” and also said that “the sanction imposed was neither unreasonable nor disproportionate”.
270-hour community payback order
Ms Ferrier was elected as an SNP MP in 2019, but was suspended by the party the following year after she breached Covid rules.
She has already been ordered to complete a 270-hour community payback order by a court after admitting culpably and recklessly exposing the public “to the risk of infection, illness and death” as a result of her behaviour.
MPs will now be asked to vote on whether the 30-day sanction, which is being imposed as her behaviour also breached the House of Commons Code of Conduct, should go ahead.
Under Parliament rules, if an MP is suspended for 10 sitting days or more a by-election can be held – but for this to happen 10% of registered voters in the constituency need to sign a recall petition.
There has never been a recall petition in Scotland since the procedure was introduced in 2015.
“Deliberate dishonest intent”
Dismissing Ms Ferrier’s appeal against the proposed 30-day suspension, the Independent Expert Panel said: “She acted with blatant and deliberate dishonest intent.
“She acted with a high degree of recklessness to the public and to colleagues and staff at the House of Commons.
“She acted selfishly, putting her own interests above the public interest. There could therefore be no lesser sanction for this conduct.”
The report stressed that MPs are “expected to be held to a high standard of conduct as well as honesty”.
It added: “When members fall short of that conduct, the trust and confidence in Parliament and its members are undermined.”
Ms Ferrier had argued that the proposed 30-day ban “amounts to double jeopardy, since she has already been penalised by the Sheriff Court”.
But the report from the Independent Expert Panel said: “We do not agree. There is no double jeopardy here.”
It insisted the criminal proceedings against Ms Ferrier and the “workplace disciplinary proceedings” she now faces “are quite different”.
The report went on to describe her as being “dishonest”, pointing out she had not told anyone at the Commons she had tested for Covid, and when his came back positive, she failed to inform the Parliamentary test and trace team and did not tell the SNP chief whip.
The panel stated: “Ms Ferrier’s failure was not a single misjudgement, but a series of deliberate actions over several days.”
The report said the MP’s actions “demonstrated, in particular, a lack of honesty” – adding that this was one of “seven principles of public life”.
At a time when others “both across the country and within the Parliamentary community, made significant sacrifices in order to follow the rules and guidance during the Covid-19 pandemic”, the report said Ms Ferrier “knowingly exposed others to risk”.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said the failure of Ms Ferrier’s appeal meant that “by-election that the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West need has moved one step closer”.
Ms Baillie added: “It is simply disgraceful that this community has been left without proper representation due to the actions of Margaret Ferrier.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat deputy leader Wendy Chamberlain MP said: “At a time when so many Scots were staying home to keep themselves and others safe, Margaret Ferrier acted with real recklessness.
“Today’s news takes us one step closer to a recall petition and a long overdue by-election.”
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