Nick Clegg has insisted he took immediate action after learning of “appalling” sexual allegations against backbench MP Mike Hancock.
The Liberal Democrat leader defended his handling of the situation amid claims that nothing was done for three years after the party was notified of the complaints.
The Portsmouth South MP was suspended from the party this week after the leaking of a QC’s report into allegations – which he denies – of inappropriate behaviour towards a constituent with mental health problems.
Mr Hancock had already resigned the parliamentary party whip last year, but was still sitting as a Lib Dem local councillor.
Mr Clegg, who is also facing criticism over the handling of separate sexual harassment allegations against Lord Rennard, said he had acted last year as soon as he heard that a civil case was being brought against his MP.
“When I was given the specific allegations at the beginning of last year I immediately asked our chief whip to investigate,” he said. “As a result Mike Hancock ceased to be a Lib Dem MP.
“When those allegations were then supported by the QC’s report that has come to light this week again we acted immediately and Mike Hancock has been suspended from the Lib Dems altogether.”
The Deputy Prime Minister added: “The first time I was given specific allegations was when there was a notification of legal proceedings, which I was informed of at the beginning of last year.
“You can only react to things that are put to you. That is when I acted. I acted immediately because I was as appalled as anyone by the seriousness of these allegations.”
After Hampshire police concluded there was no case to answer, Portsmouth City Council launched an inquiry into whether Mr Hancock had breached the council’s code of conduct, but that has now been put on hold pending the outcome of the civil action.
The report, carried out by Nigel Pascoe QC for the council, found “compelling” evidence of “serious and unwelcome sexual behaviour” towards a vulnerable woman constituent.