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Main reason MPs should be recalled for by-election is doing a poor or bad job

commons bench by UK Parliament, file at http://www.flickr.com/photos/uk_parliament/2700549765/sizes/s/in/photostream/The government’s Recall of MPs bill which was debated in the Commons on Tuesday, a flawed version of Zac Goldsmith’s private member’s bill, states that 10% of constituency members (about 8,000 persons) can trigger a ballot for a by-election if an MP has been given a jail sentence or if Parliament agrees a recall petition is appropriate on grounds of ‘serious wrongdoing’ – though what constitutes that is not spelt out. This is unacceptable for two reasons.

First, the decision shouldn’t lie with Parliament, but with the electors. The government position is like saying ‘You can only make a complaint against the police if the police agree to accept it’; if that were the rule, there would be public outrage. Second, the Commons debate dodged the question of the main reason why in the worst cases MPs should be subject to recall. That is where MPs are patently failing to hold the government of the day to account, which is their raison d’etre for being elected there in the first place.

There are abundant examples where Parliament, and the MPs within it, are manifestly failing to hold the government to account in any effective way. In terms of its own bills, the main business of Parliament, the government has the committee stage, report stage and Lords’ Amendments stage more or less stitched up, by virtue of its majority, if it is determined to take a hard line and reject amendments. At report stage no explanatory statements on detailed amendments are offered, so that many MPs don’t know what they’re voting for and simply follow their Whips. Lords’ Amendments, which are often very sensible and reasonable, are too often brushed aside in legislative ‘ping-pong’ between Lords and Commons instead of being referred to a Joint Committee to try to reach a compromise.

Non-government business, such as motions chosen by the Back-Bench Business Committee which are often of passionate concern to many electors, are simply disregarded by the government – without any agreed authority whatsoever – even where it has lost the vote on the floor of the Commons. Select Committee reports, which are arguably the most important work of Parliament and offer trenchant analysis of government failures, are simply shelved instead of being debated and voted on in the Commons, say half a dozen a year, and if won on the vote, sent to the Lords for ratification and then implementation.

Private members’ bills are also often of great concern to electors, but are at present procedurally marginalised by the Whips and almost never given a serious chance of reaching the statute book unless cravenly subjected to government whim. Setting up committees of inquiry when great matters of state arise, now exclusively vested in the PM, should also be the prerogative of Parliament. An all chairs of senior public sector organisations should be subject to ratification (and later, if necessary, to recall) by the appropriate Select Committee, as already happens in the US Congress.

MPs should be judged by how far they strip away these obstacles to democracy to open up the channels for the popular will to be reflected throughout the parliamentary process. Parliament needs to get up off its knees: that’s how MPs should be judged and if necessary recalled.

One Comment

  1. swatantra says:

    … that and also for amoral deviancy.
    And claiming to be something which they are so blatantly not. That all boild down to ‘Misrepresentation’.

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