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Recall of MPs bill is a farce

cash envelopeZac Goldsmith MP deserves credit for sponsoring a bill to introduce a mechanism for the recall of MPs and to ensure that it was effective. He won a vote in the Commons in support of the principle of his bill, but the government ignored it, as they have done in about 20 instances in this Parliament since 2010 on the strongly disputed grounds that they are not bound by any vote on a matter which is not business introduced by the government.

The government didn’t like Goldsmith’s bill, and we now see why. The government’s own Recall of MPs bill which has just been unveiled after the Queen’s Speech yesterday is a complete stitch-up. It allows 10% of voters (roughly 8,000 per constituency) to trigger a by-election if an MP has been given a jail sentence (as over the expenses scandal) and has not been automatically expelled, or if Parliament agrees a recall petition is appropriate.

The first condition is hardly necessary: any MP who has been sent to jail for 6 months or more should be automatically disqualified. The second completely removes the whole purpose of recall by making it subject to Parliament’s approval rather than leaving the initial right to prompt recall proceedings with electors. The government bill is pure whitewash.

There are other major deficiencies with the government’s proposed bill. It says that a recall petition could be considered by Parliament if ‘serious wrongdoing’ has taken place, but the bill makes no attempt to define what this might mean in practice.

Even more significantly, inserting the condition that Parliament must first approve the recall proposal is otiose because the House of Commons Committee on Standards, which includes lay members (though they do not have the right to vote, which they should have) already has all the sanctions it needs to deal with MPs who are guilty of misconduct. That includes recommending the ultimate sanction of expulsion in cases of serious wrongdoing, and the House as a whole has always confirmed the recommendations of the Standards and Privileges Committee in the past.

The government bill will enrage voters and could well reduce public confidence in the political process even further – the opposite of what it is meant to do. What really matters are, first, for what actions the public thinks MPs should face recall, and secondly that the process should be initiated by electors themselves.

On the first, a recent survey found that the public believed recall is justified for committing a crime serious enough to receive a prison sentence (91%), taking bribes (91%), being caught claiming expenses they’re not entitled to (87%), being caught lying in Parliament (80%), making racist or offensive comments (70%), not holding surgeries or responding to constituents’ letters (60%), committing a less serious crime that does not receive a prison sentence (56%), switching to a different political party (52%), and breaking a promise made in their election leaflets (50%).

4 Comments

  1. David Pavett says:

    This does indeed sound like a farce. What is the stance of the Labour front bench on this? All I found so far is Miliband’s response to the Queen’s speech in which he says

    “There are measures we support in this Queen’s Speech including tackling modern slavery, an Ombudsman for our Armed Forces and recall.”

    Has Labour given it any more thought than this suggests?

  2. Chris says:

    I don’t think there’s a pressing need for recall of MPs. We’d done OK for centuries without it.

    1. James Martin says:

      Yes, but don’t forget Cromwell came up with quite an effective method of getting rid of useless do-nothing MP’s that involved telling them it was time to go home and showing them a bit of cold steel (and no, they most certainly didn’t like it up ’em!).

  3. Chris Wilson says:

    We already have a recall procedure. It’s called an election.

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