The MP on course to become the first female deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats has insisted peer Lord Rennard should not retake his seat on the party’s benches unless he first apologises to the women who claim he sexually harassed them.
Solihull MP Lorely Burt backed party leader Nick Clegg as he faced a major challenge to his authority.
Lord Rennard, the party’s former Chief Executive, was planning to take up his place alongside Liberal Democrat peers in the Lords - despite Mr Clegg’s insistence that he should first issue an apology.
The peer resigned the party whip last year following claims he made unwanted sexual advances to several women.
An inquiry by senior barrister Alistair Webster QC found that the women’s claims were credible but could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
And the peer, who denies the allegations, is threatening legal action against the party if the whip is not reinstated, his legal adviser Lord Carlile has warned.
Ms Burt, who said she knew Lord Rennard well, said the peer had been badly advised.
She said: “It has become clear from the comments of the QC [Alistair Webster] that Chris Rennard has caused distress and upset. And so I would agree with Nick Clegg and with the leadership of the party that he should apologise.
“I know that in normal circumstances, if he learned that he had caused upset or distress to anyone then he would be the first to apologise.
“But I think he has been ill advised by legal people who are looking at the legal ramifications instead of what’s the right thing to do.
“And I think the right thing to do is to apologise.”
Asked if he should take his seat alongside Lib Dem peers if he failed to apologise, she said: “No, I don’t think he should.”
Under the party’s rules, Mr Clegg is unable to prevent the whip being restored if Lib Dem peers choose to ignore his concerns.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Lord Newby and the party’s leader in the Upper House, Lord Wallace, can decide to withhold the whip from Lord Rennard.
If they do then he would almost certainly appeal, triggering a vote of the party’s peers whether to readmit him to the Lib Dem group in the Lords.
Ms Burt hopes to become the party’s first female Deputy Leader when a ballot of MPs is held on January 28. She will replace Simon Hughes, the outgoing deputy leader. who has taken ajob as a justice minister.
Other candidates include Burnley MP Gordon Birtwistle, while there have been reports that Gordon MP Sir Malcolm Bruce, who is retiring from the Commons at the 2015 election, may also stand.