COMMONS

Call for evidence: Recall of MPs

15 December 2011

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee is examining the Government’s proposals for the recall of MPs

The Committee wants to hear your views on the Government’s White Paper and draft bill, published on 13 December. All the relevant documentation on the Government’s proposals can be downloaded from the Cabinet Office website

This paper also sets out some of the issues and questions likely to be covered in the Committee’s inquiry. The Committee welcomes responses to any of the questions raised, and any issues you think we have missed.

Background

A recall mechanism would allow voters in a parliamentary constituency to trigger a by-election.  

There is currently no provision for recall in the UK.  However, following the MPs’ expenses crisis in 2009, the three largest parties stated that they would support its introduction. 

The Government made the following undertaking in the Coalition Agreement (11 May 2010):

"We will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election signed by 10% of his or her constituents."

In the White Paper, the Government describes the purpose of the legislation as follows:

"The Government believes this mechanism will go some way to restoring public confidence in MPs and Parliament as a whole."

Mark Harper, the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, has described the proposals as "an important part of the Government’s programme of measures designed to help restore trust in our political system."
 
Recall is used in comparatively few countries around the world, and there in varying ways.  The Government says that it has not sought to mirror the arrangements in other countries but rather to propose a model which is appropriate for the UK’s "unique constitutional framework".   

The Government proposes that a recall petition should be triggered where:

  • An MP is convicted in the United Kingdom of an offence and receives a custodial sentence of 12 months or less; or,
  • The House of Commons resolves that an MP should face recall.

If at least 10% of constituents sign the petition, the MP’s seat would be automatically vacated and a by-election would follow.

It is already the case that where an MP is convicted of an offence and receives a custodial sentence of more than 12 months, their seat is automatically vacated and a by-election is held.

Questions

  1. The Government’s aim in introducing a recall mechanism is to “go some way to restoring public confidence in MPs and Parliament as a whole”.  Are the Government’s proposals likely to achieve this aim?
  2. Are there political risks inherent in the Government’s policy and its specific proposals that we should take into account?
  3. Do the two triggers for a recall petition proposed by the Government adequately capture the kinds of “serious wrongdoing” by MPs that concern voters the most?
  4. Is it appropriate that a custodial sentence of any length of a year or less, whether suspended or not, for any criminal offence, and no sentence of any other kind, should always trigger a recall petition?
  5. Is it appropriate for Members of Parliament to be involved in deciding whether an individual colleague should face a recall petition?
  6. Would the House of Commons need to ensure that its internal procedures had met particular standards when triggering a recall petition? What if anything would need to be done to ensure this?
  7. What are your views on the Government’s proposals for the conduct of the recall petition process?
  8. Are the Government’s proposals appropriate on campaign spending and funding during the recall petition period? 
  9. Are there any technical concerns in the detail of the proposed legislation that you would like to draw to our attention?

How to respond to this paper

In order to inform the legislative process effectively, it would help us to receive your views by Monday 30 January. We appreciate that this is earlier than the deadline set for the Cabinet Office’s own consultation. Please contact us if you are likely to have difficulty in meeting our deadline.

Written responses to the Committee will be treated as evidence to the Committee and may be published. If you object to your response being made public in a volume of evidence, please make this clear when it is submitted.

Responses should be submitted by email in Microsoft Word or rich text format. If you do not have access to email, you may send a paper copy of your response to the Clerk of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, Committee Office, First Floor, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA.

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