Three Conservative MPs have had a one-day Commons suspension imposed on them for attempting to influence legal proceedings involving a former party colleague.
The House of Commons endorsed recommendations from the Committee on Standards in connection with Natalie Elphicke (Dover), Sir Roger Gale (North Thanet) and Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet).
It has therefore barred the three MPs from attending the Commons on Friday.
The timing of the suspension means they will only miss consideration of legislation proposed by backbench MPs – with Friday sittings traditionally not well attended – rather than a busy day when any crucial Government business will be debated.
Elphicke, Sir Roger and Villiers were among five Tories who sought to interfere in a decision regarding former MP Charlie Elphicke, who was convicted of sex offences.
They all wrote to senior members of the judiciary raising concerns that a more junior judge was considering publishing character references provided for Charlie Elphicke.
The committee recommended that ex-environment secretary Villiers, Ms Elphicke – the estranged wife of Charlie Elphicke and his successor as Dover MP – and Sir Roger should be suspended from the House for one day.
All five MPs were told to apologise, which they have done.
For Labour, shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said: “Friday is a sitting day, yes, but it is not the same as missing an entire day. We all know this.
“Yes it’s a sitting day, but it’s not a Monday, it’s not a day in which any of these members are going to lose their right to question ministers, table questions.
“It’s a day in which we are having private members’ Bills. I do feel that is a pity. It is a pity that that is the day that the Government has chosen to impose this sentence, and a different type of sitting day is available, it’s called Monday.”
She added: “There is no previous precedent for members to be suspended on a Friday. And given that many members including the members concerned were unlikely to be here anyway, it’s not like it’s an inconvenience.
“I think if the Government believes that to try and unduly influence the judiciary and bring the reputation of Parliament into disrepute, it would have been more fitting for the Government to decide that suspension fall on a normal sitting day.”
But Government deputy chief whip Stuart Andrew said of the Friday suspension: “It is a sitting day.
“The report was published the day before recess and it’s logical that it’s the following day after the motion is laid. And we have tried to get this motion in as quickly as possible and this has been a busy week I have to say. So we are following exactly the recommendations of the committee.”