Decision on Commons suspension for MP Margaret Ferrier delayed

The motion to approve the ban was not moved by the Government on Thursday.

Richard Wheeler
Thursday 25 May 2023 19:55 BST
Margaret Ferrier breached Covid restrictions in 2020 (House of Commons/PA)
Margaret Ferrier breached Covid restrictions in 2020 (House of Commons/PA) (PA Media)

Margaret Ferrier’s proposed 30-day suspension from the House of Commons for breaching coronavirus rules has been delayed.

A motion was listed on Thursday’s order paper which, if approved, would have confirmed Ms Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) was suspended from Friday.

But Conservative whip Ruth Edwards replied “not moved” when asked by Deputy Speaker Sir Roger Gale to move the motion.

The House of Commons is in recess from the close of business on Thursday, which means the earliest the motion can reappear on the order paper is Monday June 5.

Such motions on proposed suspensions for MPs are usually approved on the nod and without the need for a formal vote, although they can be contested.

It is understood the motion will be rescheduled amid suggestions there were not enough MPs present to conduct a vote.

Erskine May, the guide to parliamentary procedure, states the House is quorate if 35 MPs vote in a division.

A Labour source said the Government had “bottled it” and pulled the vote amid fears it could have been defeated.

Ms Ferrier, a former SNP MP who now sits as an independent, could face a by-election after she breached Covid rules in 2020 by travelling by train from Scotland to England while positive for the virus.

She appealed against the punishment recommended by the Commons Standards Committee, however the Independent Expert Panel confirmed her challenge had been rejected.

The SNP has been calling for a by-election since Ms Ferrier's Covid breach first came to light in 2020. The UK Government must table the motion at the earliest opportunity

David Linden, SNP by-election campaign co-ordinator

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who chairs the Standards Committee, wrote on Twitter: “I’m angry that the Government pulled the motion to approve the Standards Committee report on Margaret Ferrier.

“I don’t know what the rationale was but we should have had the motion on Tuesday or Wednesday. Yet again the govt proves itself incompetent on upholding standards.

“I gather some Tory MPs intended to vote against the motion. Despite the fact that Ferrier appealed to the independent expert panel (chaired by a former high court judge) which rejected the appeal. It feels sometimes that Parliament is determined to bring itself into disrepute.”

An MP who misses 10 sitting days due to suspension is at risk of a by-election – but 10% of voters in their constituency must sign a recall petition.

There has never been a recall petition in Scotland since the procedure was introduced in 2015.

Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: “That the motion against Margaret Ferrier was pulled today is a deeply disappointing development for the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West and shows total and utter Tory Government incompetence.

“A grubby backroom deal between Ferrier, nationalists and some Tories, who don’t want Boris Johnson to suffer the same fate, has prevented the democratic process from taking place. The Tory Government can’t even get their own business through.

“This is an unholy alliance and total incompetence designed to defer democracy and give the Tories and the SNP a stay of execution at the ballot box while Ferrier draws a salary from the taxpayer.”

The SNP called on the Government to table the motion “at the earliest opportunity”.

The party’s by-election campaign co-ordinator David Linden said: “The SNP has been calling for a by-election since Ms Ferrier’s Covid breach first came to light in 2020. The UK Government must table the motion at the earliest opportunity.

“People in Rutherglen and Hamilton West are paying an unacceptable price for the damaging policies of the Tories and pro-Brexit Labour Party, as the cost of living soars.

The SNP MP said that the party would “work hard for every vote to ensure the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West can elect a strong SNP MP to stand up for them”.

Three Conservative MPs who will have a say over former prime minister Mr Johnson’s political fate had tried to reduce the suspension of Ms Ferrier to nine sitting days to avoid a potential by-election.

Mr Johnson is waiting to find out whether he will face sanctions that could trigger a by-election.

He accepts he misled MPs with his denials of Covid rule-breaking parties in Downing Street while he was prime minister but denies doing so “recklessly”.

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