I support the principle of right to recall when an MP has done something wrong. Labour has long championed this, and it was in our last manifesto. I think it is one of the ways we can empower the electorate, and help restore public trust in politics.
As you may know, the Bill passed its Second Reading stage in the House of Commons on Tuesday 21 October, and had a day of consideration in committee on Monday 27th.
During committee stage, the Labour frontbench proposed some amendments to strengthen the Bill. These would have reduced the number of days of suspension from the House which would trigger the recall process and would have widened the scope of offences caught by the Bill. The Government indicated they would accept three of these amendments - to include within the scope of the Bill offences committed but not convicted prior to the Bill coming in to force, to lower the suspension threshold and also to trigger recall for all convictions for expenses fraud. This is a welcome step, and we look forward to returning to these amendments at Report Stage.
During the debate, the Labour frontbench also made clear that we want to find a way to support the suggestion from backbencher David Heath and others to provide a third trigger for recall in the case of misconduct that the public can instigate. If we can find a way to make this suggestion work, I think it will be a good way to help ensure the public have faith in a recall process because it will provide a mechanism completely independent of the Houses of Parliament and MPs.
At the conclusion of day one of committee stage, the House voted against Zac Goldsmith’s amendments to the Bill which would have allowed a form of recall that would let an MP be removed from parliament for any reason, not just misconduct. I voted with MPs across all parties against these amendments because I think they would have given too much power to well-funded or extremist interest groups to pressure MPs into supporting their agenda with a constant threat of recall petitions.
I think it is critical that MPs are able to vote with their conscience on the issues of the day and then face the electorate at a General Election. A balance must be drawn between giving the people the opportunity to recall an MP for misconduct and allowing MPs to make difficult decisions that might anger certain organisations or groups.
I spoke in the debate on this point when I highlighted the role of “the British equivalent of the Tea party: the front organisation of the right wing of the Conservative party, the TaxPayers Alliance, which is supporting these proposals”.
Now the House has clearly and decisively rejected the amendments proposed by Zac Goldsmith, we must now focus on improving and strengthening the proposals in the Government’s Bill. I think if we can find a workable way of creating a public trigger for recall when an MP has done something wrong, and we can toughen up the rest of the government’s proposals, then we will hopefully have a system of recall that commands public trust and ensures people don’t have to wait until the general election to get rid of their MP when they have done something seriously wrong.