10 November 2014
Article written by Alys Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The Recall of MPs Bill 2014-15 (“the Bill”) received its Second Reading in the House of Commons on 21 October 2014. The Bill has a colourful history having originated as a Draft Bill in December 2011 and undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny by the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. The latter concluded in its Report in June 2012:
‘We do not believe that there is a gap in the House’s disciplinary procedures which needs to be filled by the introduction of recall. The House already has the power to expel Members who are guilty of serious wrongdoing. This should be regarded as an active option; rather than a theoretical possibility.’
The Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech 2014. Its aim is to allow voters to trigger a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing.
The Bill sets out a process by which an MP is to lose his or her seat in the House of Commons as a result of a successful recall petition, which will trigger a by-election. The fact that the MP loses his or her seat does not prevent the MP standing as a candidate in this by-election.
There are to be two alternative conditions for the opening of a recall petition:
- an MP is convicted in the United Kingdom of an offence and receives a custodial sentence less than 12 months (MPs are already disqualified if they are sentenced to more than 12 months).
- the House of Commons orders the suspension of an MP from the service of the House for a period of at least 21 sitting days, or, if the period is not expressed as a specified number of sitting days, for a period of at least 28 days.
The banning of MPs from the Commons is decided by the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, which is mostly made up of MPs. There are concerns that the Government’s plan leaves too much power in the hands of parliamentarians – rather than the public – to decide the fate of MPs.
Where one of the recall conditions has been met, the Speaker of the House of Commons will notify the petition officer for the MP’s constituency of this fact, and the petition officer will then open a recall petition. Eligible parliamentary electors in that constituency will have an opportunity to sign the petition over an eight week period.
A recall petition will be successful where it is signed by at least 10 per cent of registered parliamentary electors in that constituency. A successful petition will result in the MP’s seat becoming vacant and a by-election being held.
During Second Reading,the Minister of State in the Cabinet Office, Greg Clark MP, stated:
‘Some will say that the Bill still gives MPs too great a role in triggering recall, but we want to ensure that it complements the disciplinary procedures that already exist and the work of the independent commissioner and the Standards Committee. It is a long-standing principle of our political system that Parliament has sole jurisdiction over its own affairs and is free to operate without interference from the courts, the Crown or any other individual or body.[…]
[…] The Government do not wish to impose how the House chooses to govern its affairs and have drafted the Bill accordingly. That principle is of great importance to our parliamentary democracy, and it seems to me that we should exhaust all other avenues before casually setting it aside.’
The proposals are for recall of MPs, and would not apply to the Scottish Parliament, National Assembly for Wales or Northern Ireland Assembly. However, Jonathan Edwards MP asked:
Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): What discussions has the Minister had with the devolved Governments about using the Bill to empower the devolved institutions, if they so wish, to introduce their own recall mechanism?
Greg Clark: I think I have made it clear that the Bill is not the last word on recall. It will apply specifically to Members of Parliament and it will govern simply the procedures of the House. It has been difficult enough to establish a consensus in this House, let alone in the devolved Administrations and beyond.
More than 70 MPs from all parties have expressed support for a private bill sponsored by Zac Goldsmith MP which proposes that MPs would face a recall referendum if 5 per cent of voters in a constituency sign a “notice of intent to recall” and 20 per cent then sign a “recall petition”. Mr Goldsmith pointed out that his proposals would exclude the Standards and Privileges Committee from the process and strengthen the power of the public. Amendments laid at Second Reading of the UK Government’s Bill to make these changes were defeated.
Critics of Mr Goldsmith’s proposals argue that it would encourage people to initiate recall for any reason, not just wrong doing and also that it was vulnerable to manipulation by wealthy interests.
The UK Government Bill is currently at Committee Stage in the House of Commons.