David Davis says Nigel Evans should not resign or stand down as Deputy Speaker


As reported in The Guardian;

“Nigel Evans is to stand aside on a temporary basis as deputy speaker of the House of Commons as he fights “completely false” allegations that he raped one man and sexually assaulted another.

Amid signs that the Commons Speaker John Bercow feared that he could inadvertently overshadow the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, when the government’s legislative programme is unveiled, it was agreed that the deputy speaker would be excused his duties on a temporary basis.

But Evans, who vehemently denies the allegations, still plans to travel to the House of Commons, where he is a popular figure on all sides of the chamber.

Friends rallied round Evans and called publicly for him to be allowed to continue as deputy speaker, with the former shadow home secretary David Davis warning that politicians could be open to “blackmail” if they have to resign on the basis of allegation.

Davis said: “Nigel Evans should not resign or stand down as deputy speaker. He has not yet even been charged, let alone tried and convicted. If we allow the habit to develop that senior people in public life have to stand down on the basis of allegations, it is scope for all sorts of pressures, or even blackmail. That would be unhealthy. I find it impossible to believe the allegations.”

Evans was interviewed in 2009 by Patrick McLoughlin, the then Tory chief whip, over claims that he made an unwanted advance towards a man with whom he had been drinking. Neither the man who made the complaint nor McLoughlin, who is now transport secretary, referred the matter to the police.

Evans is understood to have said at the time that there had been a misunderstanding. The unnamed man and Evans continued to meet after the alleged incident.

A Conservative spokesman said: “We cannot comment while there is a police investigation.”

Evans initially let it be known that he would like to report for duty as deputy speaker for the Queen’s speech. But it was later reported that Bercow had agreed to a request that he should be excused his duties during the Queen’s speech debates, which will continue for some days, as a result of the “inevitable added time pressure” on him.

It is understood that Bercow suggested that Evans should be given the chance to offer to take time out. Parliament is due to rise again for the Whitsun recess on 21 May and will not return until 3 June.

Evans, 55, who was first elected as Tory MP for Ribble Valley in 1992, emphatically denied the allegations. Speaking to reporters in the garden of the village pub beside his home in Pendleton, near Clitheroe, Lancashire, he said: “Yesterday I was interviewed by the police concerning two complaints, one of which dates back four years, made by two people who are well known to each other and who until yesterday I regarded as friends.

“The allegations are completely false and I can’t understand why they have been made, especially as I have continued to socialise with one as recently as last week. I appreciate the way the police have handled this in such a sensitive manner, and I’d like to thank my colleagues, friends and members of the public who have expressed their support and – like me – a sense of incredulity at these events.”

The MP initially decided to say no more. But he spoke again after lunch at the Swan with Two Necks pub, where he is a regular, having been overwhelmed by supporters who came up to him in the pub and by cards from wellwishers.

Evans said it had been – notwithstanding the “very recent loss” of his brother – “the worst 24 hours of my life”. But he thanked his friends and supporters for their support. He also paid tribute to his “wonderful” village and expressed gratitude for all the messages of support he had received on Facebook.

He added: “I am so grateful and it’s that support that is really helping me get through this. I would just like to thank, from the bottom of my heart, everyone who has sent me a message. Thank you very much.”

Lancashire police arrested Evans on Saturday over allegations that he raped one man and sexually assaulted another man between July 2009 and March this year. He has been released on bail until 19 June.

A statement on the Ribble Valley Conservative Association website said it expected Evans to continue with his duties in the constituency as normal. It said: “Nigel Evans MP has represented the Ribble Valley constituency with distinction for 21 years. He is widely liked and respected by his constituents, for whom he has worked tirelessly.

“The officers and members of the Ribble Valley Conservative Association have got to know and respect him and are shocked about his arrest. We are believers in the rule of law and are aware that these are merely allegations.

“The police and CPS have yet to decide if they are going to press charges. Nigel has now made a statement that the allegations are ‘completely false and he cannot understand why they have been brought’.

“In our democracy, everyone accused is innocent until proven guilty, and therefore, unless Nigel chooses himself to cease to be our MP or the electorate vote him out or justice system intervenes, we expect him to continue as normal to fulfil his duties in representing the people of the Ribble Valley.”

Evans announced in December 2010 that he was gay a few months after he topped the poll of Tory MPs for the party’s nominee for deputy speaker. He told the Mail on Sunday he was tired of living a lie and spoke of struggling with his sexuality in South Wales, where he grew up.

“With my background in south Wales, it was hard enough being a Tory, let alone being gay,” he said. “It wasn’t so much ‘the only gay in the village’ as ‘the only Tory in Swansea’.”

Brian Binley, the traditionally-minded Tory MP for Northampton South, who is his flatmate, said: “Nigel is a good human being. He is seen as a good person on all sides. We make good flatmates. We don’t bother each other very much. We get on very well together. We are good friends.”

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, said he was “very shocked” by the allegations, but suggested that it would be difficult for Evans to continue in the “sensitive and high-profile role” as deputy speaker while he fights the allegations.

Asked on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 what he had thought when he heard the allegations, Hammond said: “Very shocked. I know Nigel very well. I have known him for years. I am as shocked as everyone else by the revelations in this morning’s papers.”

William Hague told Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News: “It’s right to point out, and for me as a long-standing friend of his, to point out that he is a very popular and well-respected member of parliament and deputy speaker – I think that is true across the House of Commons actually, for MPs of all parties, so we will all be very sorry to see this situation.”

A Lancashire police spokeswoman said: “We take all allegations of a sexual nature extremely seriously and understand how difficult it can be for victims to have the confidence to come forward. As a constabulary, we are committed to investigating sexual offences sensitively but robustly recognising the impact that these types of crimes have on victims.

“We would encourage anyone who has experienced sexual abuse, or who has information about it, to have the confidence to report it to us knowing that we will take it seriously, deal with it sensitively and investigate it thoroughly.”