Ferrier faces 30-day Commons suspension for Covid-19 rule breaches
The length of the suspension could trigger a by-election in her seat.
Covid rulebreaker Margaret Ferrier could face a by-election as a Commons standards watchdog recommended she should be suspended from Parliament for 30 days.
The Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP was found to have damaged the reputation of the Commons and put people at risk after taking part in a debate and travelling by train while suffering from Covid-19.
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.
Ms Ferrier now faces losing her seat in a by-election if the proposed suspension is backed by MPs, as anything longer than a 10-sitting day punishment can trigger a recall petition.
If 10% of her constituents back it, a by-election will be called.
Ms Ferrier, then an SNP MP, developed Covid symptoms on September 26, 2020 – a Saturday – and took a test, but still went to church and had lunch with a family member the following day.
On the Monday, while awaiting the result of the test, she travelled by train to London, took part in a Commons debate and ate in the Members’ Tearoom in Parliament.
That evening she received a text telling her the test was positive. But instead of isolating, she travelled back to Scotland by train the following morning.
In September last year, Ms Ferrier was sentenced in court to 270 hours of community service for the Covid rules breach, and was told that was a direct alternative to custody and that she must complete the unpaid work within nine months.
She won the constituency for the SNP in 2019, taking the seat from Labour.
She had the party whip removed in 2020 after the allegations against her emerged and has since sat in the Commons as an independent.
Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Daniel Greenberg said Ms Ferrier had breached the code of conduct for MPs “by placing her own personal interest of not wishing to self-isolate immediately or in London over the public interest of avoiding possible risk of harm to health and life”.
She also breached the code because “her actions commencing from when she first took a Covid-19 test to when she finally begins self-isolation have caused significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, and of its members generally”.
The Commons Standards Committee found she “acted dishonestly” by misleading the SNP’s chief whip, and added: “Ms Ferrier’s actions knowingly and recklessly exposed members of the public and those on the parliamentary estate to the risk of contracting Covid-19 and demonstrated a disregard for the parliamentary and national guidance in place.”
Explaining the recommended sanction, the committee’s report said: “If Ms Ferrier had been a public sector employee in a position of trust or leadership, she could have faced severe disciplinary consequences, potentially including dismissal, for these or similar actions.”
The committee concluded that Margaret Ferrier had breached two parts of the code of conduct, relating to putting the public interest above personal interest and on damaging the reputation of the House.
Ms Ferrier admitted that her actions had breached the rules on the reputation of the House, but denied the other breach, telling Mr Greenberg: “Whilst I made an error in judgment, I do not believe that I placed my personal interest above the public interest during the period in question.
“However, I did make a series of poor decisions that flowed from my original error which compounded the situation.”
She said “there was not a moment where I was consciously aware of a conflict between personal and public interest and made a decision to prioritise my own”.
But the committee found she was in breach of both parts of the code: “By choosing to return home rather than self-isolate in London, as required by national guidance and the House’s guidance, Ms Ferrier acted selfishly in her personal interest and in defiance of the public interest.”
The Standards Committee recommended she should face a 30-day suspension, which MPs will be asked to approve.
Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said there should be a by-election in the seat.
He said: “Margaret Ferrier’s reckless actions put people at risk and rode roughshod over the rules everyone else followed.
“It is right that Parliament has thrown the book at her for this unacceptable behaviour.
“There are still serious questions for the SNP to answer on what they knew and what they did at the time.
“Ferrier should do the right thing and stand down as an MP.
“Even Nicola Sturgeon called for her to resign – now (Scottish First Minister) Humza Yousaf must do the same.
“If Margaret Ferrier doesn’t resign the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West can exercise their right to boot her from office.
“Her constituents deserve better and that means a by-election.”