Skip to main content

Recall of MPs

Volume 524: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2011

2. What plans he has to introduce a power for electors in a constituency to recall their elected Member of Parliament. (42562)

5. What plans he has to introduce a power for electors in a constituency to recall their elected Member of Parliament. (42566)

7. When he plans to publish his proposals to allow electors in a constituency to recall their elected Member of Parliament. (42568)

The Government are committed to bringing forward legislation to introduce a power to recall Members of Parliament. We are currently considering what would be the fairest, and most appropriate and robust, procedure, and we will make a statement soon setting out our plans to establish a recall mechanism.

Will the Government’s proposals provide a definition of serious wrongdoing, enabling voters to know clearly what could trigger a recall? That is important in providing clarity about what voters can do.

My hon. Friend is exactly right: that is precisely the kind of detail that we need to get right in the Bill. In some cases it is clear: if someone is sentenced to prison for 12 months or more they are automatically disqualified already, under the present rules. There is certainly a case for removing that 12-month cut-off line. If someone is imprisoned for any period, it seems to me that there is a strong case for disqualifying them. The key problem is when wrongdoings do not lead to a prison sentence, and that is exactly why we would want to engage the House authorities, to provide a means by which they could be clearly proven.

In other countries that already have a right of recall, there is a significant annual cost in having departments to administer public petitions. Has the Minister considered making an impact assessment of the annual cost of introducing such a measure?

As my hon. Friend may know, we want the recall mechanism to be based on two simple steps: first, proof that wrongdoing has been committed, as I explained in answer to the previous question; and secondly, a petition by at least 10% of the electors to trigger a by-election in the constituency concerned. That is slightly different from some of the models to which my hon. Friend referred, in California and elsewhere, where there is a much more open-ended process.

Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House whether he still believes that MPs should be recalled for breaking their promises—and if he does, how many Liberal Democrat MPs does he expect would be subject to that system?

The recall mechanism—as supported, I think, in the manifestos of all three parties—is for serious wrongdoing, as I explained in answer to previous questions.

I am not quite sure that that is right, is it? Did not the Liberal Democrat manifesto say that people would be given the right to sack MPs who had broken the rules? The question then is: who gets to decide who has broken the rules? If, as the right hon. Gentleman says, it is the courts, that is a fairly straightforward process. However, if it was left up to voters, might they not think that if someone promised 3,000 more police officers and then cut 10,000, or promised not to raise VAT and then put it up by 2.5%, they had broken the rules?

As I said before, wrongdoing has clearly been committed if someone is given a prison sentence, and I think that any prison sentence of any length should disqualify MPs. Otherwise, we clearly need to establish a mechanism here in the House to prove serious wrongdoing, and only once that has been established would we grant electors the right, following a petition of 10% of the electors, to trigger a by-election—[Interruption.] I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking from a sedentary position whether that mechanism should be without any kind of filtering here in the House. The honest truth is that if we did it like that, and had a sort of free-for-all, there would be a real danger of a lot of vexatious and unjustified claims being made against one Member by others.

Will extreme care be taken in the drafting of the legislation to ensure that in absolutely no circumstances will a recall of a Member of Parliament be possible because of the way in which a Member votes or speaks—however objectionably—or because he changes party, as Winston Churchill did on two occasions?

We certainly would not want a recall mechanism that would have disqualified Winston Churchill. Precisely for the reasons that my hon. Friend has alluded to, we need to ensure that the system contains checks and balances so that it does not impinge on the freedom of Members on both sides of the House to speak out and articulate our views. That will not be the purpose of the recall mechanism. Its purpose will be to bear down on serious wrongdoing and to give people a chance to have their say in their own constituencies without having to wait until the next election for an opportunity to do so.