4.2 pm

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): It is a great privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson). [Interruption.] He may have a safe seat, but it was a great privilege. I listened very carefully to what he said—like him, I do not support recall at all—and I agreed with every word as he set out his reasons for not supporting the Bill or the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith).

I think that this is rather a sad day—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell) is shaking his head, so I am doomed from the start. There again, he used to shake his head at me when he sat on the Government Benches, so perhaps I will just get on with my speech.

It is a sad day when in a place where we are meant to be honourable—the huge majority are honourable—we are navel gazing, as it were, about how we do behave, while all around us the world is in meltdown, with eurozone economies about to go splat again and wars across the world. There are very serious issues, but we are discussing us, which is what our electorate are not so keen about.

Millions of people have died in two world wars and in other wars for our freedom. Several Members have praised and applauded our system of democracy in this country, and I join them in doing so. This is the most extraordinary place that I have ever been in. It is bigger than us, and so it should remain. The day we tame it is

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the day that democracy will really start to die in this country. The general election is the most special day for all of us, as well as for our electorate and the country. It is the day on which many of us lose our jobs, many of us keep our jobs and many candidates earn their jobs. Anything that undermines that extraordinary event has to be considered seriously. It could seriously damage the democracy that so many people have died to protect.

I have no doubt that the motives of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park are entirely honourable. I have a lot of respect for him and all those who will support his amendments, and I have respect for the Government who brought forward the Bill. I hope that I do not disappoint the Government, my hon. Friend and other Members by saying that when the Bill was first mooted some years ago, it was a knee-jerk reaction to events that had spun out of control, as is so often the case in this place. We panicked—I was not here, but in saying “we”, I speak collectively of the political class—and rightly so. Some had been found with their fingers in the till. To the electorate, that was completely unacceptable, and rightly so. The political class panicked and the recall Bill was mooted.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If a Member is caught indulging in corrupt actions, I have no argument with their being deprived of their seat, ultimately. That is what happens at present. I am worried that people might be deprived of their seats because they express independent or difficult views. Therefore, before the Bill becomes law, we must amend it to ensure that the House of Commons cannot expel anybody for expressing an individual view that the House as a whole does not like.

Richard Drax: I concur entirely with my hon. Friend. As always, his words are wise and should be listened to by us all.

I am concerned by some of the comments that colleagues have made. Disparaging remarks have been made about MPs, the system, this place and our democracy itself. Members have said that we have somehow undermined democracy.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman has used the word “democracy” a few times. As I am sure he and everybody else knows, democracy comes from the Greek for the rule of the people. If we believe in democracy, what can be wrong with the recall Bill?

Richard Drax: If the hon. Gentleman will hold on for a few moments, I will hopefully answer his question.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Will my hon. Friend turn his attention to Members of Parliament who are voted for by the electorate for one political party, but who chose to defect mid-term? That happened in Shrewsbury when my predecessor defected from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. It caused a great many problems. Would he support some form of recall mechanism in those circumstances?

Richard Drax: I do not know whether my hon. Friend was here earlier, but I talked about honour, which is sadly lacking in some cases. My view is that if somebody

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changes party mid-term, the honourable thing to do is to submit himself or herself to the people, as the hon. Member for Clacton and his colleague have done. Legislation is a very dangerous tool to use. I have been here for a very short time—just four years—but I think that what the public want to see is some honour and principle back in this place. Those things are here. I am not saying that they are absent. They were a bit absent, but we have learned our lesson—I hope.

Legislation is such a heavy tool. When we introduce a piece of legislation, we seldom ask what the consequences will be. We do not ask, “What if?” If we raise a tax, we do not ask people what effect it will have on their business. Do we ever say that? I suspect that it happens occasionally, but not on the whole. I agree with what my hon. Friend says, but I do not think that we need legislation to achieve what he wants.

The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is not in his seat, said that the leviathan is groaning. I think he was referring to this place and the democratic system as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) said that there is a “chasm” between the electorate and this place, but I argue that that is not the case as far as conduct is concerned. Some Members have misbehaved, but they are in the minority. Where I believe my right hon. Friend is right, however, is that all too often politics and principle have been surrendered for a coalition—to name but one reason—or to “grab the centre ground”. How often do we hear that? People perhaps react to opinion polls, rather than following their gut instinct. I read a comment about Winston Churchill, and when he was shown an opinion poll all he growled was, “Every time I see one of those, I do the opposite.” He followed his gut.

I do not know what my colleagues hear on the doorstep, but I get, “Richard, we want you to follow your principles and what you believe in. That is what we want to hear.” The lack of blue water, red water, yellow water, or whatever water it is, has been diluted over the years—[Interruption.] Yes, perhaps that was an unfortunate phrase; I take the point of the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), but he understands what I mean. There is a lack of clarity and political principle, and in some cases when dealing with huge issues—not least immigration—there appears to the public to be a lack of political will, for all kinds of reasons. That is the view of the public out there, not that we are all tucking into our expenses, going on freebies and having endless affairs, or whatever it is alleged we are up to. If we took 650 people in any other walk of life, I would be interested in what we would find if we opened up that can in a big retailer, a bank, a hospital, or whatever. I guarantee that we are no different to the rest of the population.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): I am a little confused. My hon. Friend keeps saying that there is a big chasm between us and the public, but is not the threat of recall one way of removing that? Recall would require Members of Parliament to be more honest and true to their opinions, and perhaps those of their electorate.

Richard Drax: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention but—dare I say it—I think it is a little simplistic because so many other factors govern an

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MP’s life and the way he or she behaves. There is, for example, party loyalty, although many would call me a rebel so perhaps I am not a good example of that.

Mr Charles Walker: We in this place all search for a silver bullet and an easy solution to our problems. In 2009 it was the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that would resolve all these problems. Has it? I do not think so. We must be realistic. Recall may have a place, but the idea that it will somehow restore faith in this place is pie in the sky.

Richard Drax: I agree entirely. What will restore faith in this place is us—the parties and individuals that make up this great place. It is our duty to do that, and I do not think we need a recall Bill to prove that point.

As I have said, the Bill, sadly, is a knee-jerk reaction. The hon. Member for Clacton asked why it has taken four and a half years to come to this place, and I wonder—no doubt I shall be shot down by the three party leaders and many of my colleagues—whether because it was a knee-jerk reaction, in time people have thought, “Is this actually a sensible Bill?” I think they have come to the conclusion that in the main it is not, although at the time it may have seemed attractive, and to a certain extent it may have appeased the electorate. Will it solve the problem? I do not believe it will.

There is some logic to the Government Bill. Apparently, there are no rules and regulations if we get a custodial sentence under 12 months. If we do receive a custodial sentence—there have been various examples of that—it means there are big questions to be asked, and in a sense the Bill covers that. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras said he was concerned about the figure of 10%, and asked about the other 90%. Again, I entirely concur with that point.

I also agree with every word the right hon. Gentleman said about the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park. I have a lot of respect for my hon. Friend, but I do not agree with any of his amendments for all the reasons I have set out. I shall not repeat them, but I would like to point out what the letter we all received from Cabinet Office Ministers, dated 20 October 2014, says in explaining the intention of the Bill:

“In formulating their proposals the Government has examined international models which allow elected representatives to be recalled on any grounds. The recall model proposed in the Government’s Bill fits with and goes further than Parliamentary democracies similar to ours—Australia, New Zealand and Canada do not have recall in their main legislatures.”

I do not like comparisons with other countries. They are always dangerous. One of the many reasons why the eurozone is such a complete flop is that all the countries are so different and cannot be put in the same straitjacket. The same principle applies here.

I shall move on briefly to another point that counters the Bill. We are all elected by our local associations. Each party has its own system. Were I to commit an offence that constituted serious misconduct, I have no doubt—I am sure colleagues on both sides of the House would have no doubt—that I would be summoned to the local association office to explain myself. That is the local face of our party. The local associations select us and they have the power to deselect us. In that conversation, if my chairman was to say to me, “Richard, up with you

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we shall not put any longer”, I hope that, if my action had been so heinous, I would have already resigned. However, if I had not resigned I would be pushed. If the chairman did not do the job then, along with the party hierarchy, the party should be prepared to say to the sitting MP, “Up with this we will not put.”

That leads to a question. Let us say the polls are against the party and the sitting MP and suddenly there is a potential by-election. Every instinct in the parliamentary party would say, “For heaven’s sake, a by-election is the last thing we need in that seat.” But this is where honour, responsibility and all the things we must show to the public that we have come in; and I believe that we do have those things. The party hierarchy should say, “Tough. We may lose this seat, but the sitting MP has committed such a heinous crime that we have to get rid of him or her and have a by-election.” Those are the sort of people who should be making these decisions. They should not be made by legislation.

Mr MacNeil: If we think back to the expenses scandal, is the hon. Gentleman saying that nothing dishonourable happened among any Member still in this House?

Richard Drax: I am not quite sure I got that, because I am so staggered by the question. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could rephrase it, because it did not make sense.

Mr MacNeil: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that during the expenses scandal nothing dishonourable happened—he has said so much about honour—among any Member who was subsequently re-elected?

Richard Drax: I am not sure I have ever said that. In fact, I have said the opposite. If people have behaved—let us take the expenses scandal—in a dishonourable way, they should go, yes.

Mr MacNeil: Have they all gone?

Richard Drax: Ah. That is another question. I am not going to look back with hindsight. I was not even here. We are where we are, and I do not believe that a recall Bill would have made any difference in this instance. The expenses scandal has unfortunately caused all of us in this place to look backwards. The point has been made to me on many occasions, in spite of the fact that I was not here. Even now, the shadow of that appalling time hangs over this place. We have to shake it off and put it behind us. People have paid and some have gone to jail. We should move on in a way that allows us, as the responsible adults and grown-up politicians we are all meant to be, to please the electorate in the way they want to be pleased: by behaving in an honourable fashion.

Mr Stewart Jackson: It is as well to remember that the expenses scandal in the 2005-10 Parliament was the result not merely of individual foibles but of a collective, institutional failure to embrace openness and transparency —under the previous Government but with the collusion of other parties; it was not solely the result of the malfeasance of individual Members.

Richard Drax: I take my hon. Friend’s point entirely; he is absolutely right.

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I was not here, but I have heard from those who were that the expenses scandal was sparked not least by a lack of clarity about what could be claimed. Nowadays, there are MPs appearing in the newspapers for buying staplers and other perfectly legitimate things for the office, so it has gone from one extreme to the other. We all know if we have behaved dishonourably or done something wrong, and if it is so heinous, we should leave our job; of that I have absolutely no doubt.

I ask the Government to think carefully about the Bill. If it becomes law, I fear there will be a gathering momentum, as is often the case with such legislation, to add on bits. Indeed, amendments are already being discussed. I have listened all afternoon—it is important to hear people’s views—and people are already keen to add on bits. The hon. Member for Clacton, who is no longer in his place, was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) about an incinerator plant that 65,000 of his constituents were against; my hon. Friend said that had he voted for the plant, it might have sparked a recall. I think the hon. Gentleman was rather amazed that the point was raised.

To conclude, we are here to represent our constituents for a period of five years—not that I agree with fixed-term Parliaments; incidentally, if I may get in some free advertising, there is a debate about that on Thursday. On the matter in hand, however, will the Government please think carefully about this Bill? It should be a matter of honour, honour, honour, not legislation, legislation, legislation.

4.22 pm

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I struggle to find any part of the remarks of the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) with which I can associate myself, but he has clearly stated his opposition to the Bill and the amendments that we know are to come from the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and others. As one of those in the pick-up band of MPs the hon. Member for Richmond Park put together to sit as a cross-party committee to consider an alternative Bill, obviously I support the general thrust of the amendments, but I also take the point, aired as a trailer for subsequent debates, that some of them need to be tested just as much as some of the clauses in the Bill before us do.

Warning against legislation, the hon. Member for South Dorset said that the Bill addressed an issue that should not be dealt with by legislation, but which should be left to honour and responsibility. He indicated that hon. Members know when we have done something wrong and will take the appropriate course of action, and that we do not need any rules. If we took that argument to its extreme, we would not even have the Standards Committee, because we would simply know automatically that we had done wrong and would make amends; there would be no need for anybody else to come to a judgment—we could be entirely reliant on our own sense of honour and conscience—but clearly that is not the case and would not wash with the public.

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. Does he not think that what lies behind the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park

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(Zac Goldsmith) is a belief that trust in the people is the main thing, and that it is not honour, honour, honour from MPs that we need, but trust, trust, trust in the electorate to do the right thing?

Mark Durkan: Absolutely. I fully take the point. I believe that the bottom line, as regards the democratic principle, should be to trust the judgment of the electorate and to show belief and trust in their decisions by equipping them to deal with such issues. The idea that we must be protected from other judgments goes back to some of the issues that gave rise to some of the problems with the expenses scandal. I do not believe that this Bill is before us at this stage in this Parliament in the same way as the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 was introduced at this stage in the last Parliament; I do not buy the argument that it is comparable panic or anything else.

Long before we had the expenses scandal, there were many warnings that the expenses system was open to a lot of confusion and potential abuse, and that it was ripe to scandalise the public if there was more transparency. Those warnings were not heeded and the Good Ship Lollipop ran aground on what was leaked to The Daily Telegraph.

Sir Edward Leigh: Everyone agrees with the hon. Gentleman about such bad behaviour, but does he agree with us on the following point, if on no other? Under the Bill, when it becomes an Act, the House of Commons should not be allowed to initiate any recall procedure on the basis of the views expressed by a Member, or his votes, or the party he joins, or any political act. The protection is similar to that which we have under the Act of Settlement: we are not held to account outside for what we say here.

Mark Durkan: I certainly believe that hon. Members should be clearly protected when expressing their views properly, honourably and honestly as legislators in this House. I firmly believe that legislators should be properly protected in doing their conscientious duty in this House, but when someone is elected for one party and suddenly flips to join another, a constituency should be able to recall that MP. That is why I support amendments such as those proposed by the hon. Member for Richmond Park.

Mr Stewart Jackson: I am afraid that kind words butter no parsnips. If the hon. Gentleman supports the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), he is essentially allowing a value judgment by a minority of the electorate in each constituency, subject to the recall procedure, to be the determinant factor, so he cannot give that guarantee on, for instance, a moral or conscience issue.

Mark Durkan: I am almost being prompted to speak specifically to some of the amendments. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) asked me about a decision being taken by this House to, in effect, activate the expulsion proceedings—the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) was right to say that this is an expulsion Bill, rather than a recall Bill. The principle of recall is meant to be in the hands of the voters. The voters in a constituency elect an MP and the power of recall is meant to lie with them, but the Bill is

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not about a power of recall that lies with the voters. It is about the power to initiate a recall petition being in the hands of this House or of the court; and, particularly if the process was activated because that Member’s views were not comfortable for others in the House, an election would be called simply on the basis of 10% of the constituents signing a petition. It is wrong that a recall should be triggered, with someone losing their seat and having to go into a by-election, on the basis of 10% of the vote.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I do not know whether my hon. Friend plans to serve on the Bill Committee, but given his knowledge and expertise I think that that would be a great advantage to us. Is not the challenge to try to find something better than the original Government proposals and that addresses the need for the public to feel that they have recall power while protecting people from the political risks of the amendments? Is not the challenge to find something in the middle, perhaps better defining the kinds of offences that would lead to recall—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

Steve McCabe: I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mark Durkan: I fully accept what my hon. Friend says, which is why I have said that just as some of the clauses in the Bill need to be tested, so do some of the amendments to which I have added my name. Their practicality and implications need to be teased out.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mark Durkan: Before I take another intervention, I want to go back to an issue raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg). He said that we as MPs know what our role is, but I do not know where the job description of a Member of Parliament is. I do not know what our terms of office are or what our pledge of office is. I hear people quoting Edmund Burke and see them pointing to “Erskine May” and a variety of other standards, but at no point do we have a pledge of service that clarifies the standards to which we pledge.

My belief is that there should be a pledge of service. I do not believe in the simple affirmation of the oath of allegiance being the only terms on which someone comes to this place to represent their constituents. If we had a different pledge of office—it could include a statement of allegiance for those who wanted it—to affirm and encapsulate the standards of public life and a commitment to proper parliamentary principles, it could provide the basis on which anyone would have to mount a recall challenge. That would give more protection to MPs and would prevent the fear of an “anything goes” situation, with people looking to do “gotcha” petitions against different MPs of different parties in different parts of the country.

Daniel Kawczynski: Before the hon. Gentleman was interrupted, he spoke momentarily about what happens when a Member of Parliament defects from one party to another. I feel extremely strongly about this issue. It caused a huge amount of concern in my own constituency when the previous Labour MP defected to the Liberal

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Democrats. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in future the people must always be able to recall a Member of Parliament when he changes sides? People vote for parties, not for individuals.

Mark Durkan: If people want to recall on that basis, yes, they should be able to do so, which is why I am supporting the amendments. The hon. Gentleman challenges me on something that I have already stated I believe in.

Mr Charles Walker: I agree with my hon. Friend—I refer to him in that way because I like him very much—on most things, but the beauty of being a Member of Parliament is that there is no job description. It is not a job; it is a vocation. We all bring our unique experiences to this place, and I think that anything that undermined that would be to the detriment of the House of Commons.

Mark Durkan: I take the spirit of the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I do not accept it literally. If we are to talk about having a recall power—whether it be in the terms of this Bill or any other—I believe there needs to be a yardstick. If the House of Commons is to adjudicate itself or to ask a select number of us to adjudicate the rest in respect of standards and privileges, there must be some clear standards.

Many of the misgivings people have expressed about the decisions of the Standards and Privileges Committee over recent years have been because there has not been an apparent consistent standard in some of the judgments made and the decisions subsequently transacted. If we as hon. Members have misgivings about how those decisions are made and if we do not always understand them, why should we not expect the public to suspect the same thing? Should we be able to say, “Unlike many other people about whom we legislate, and unlike in many other walks of life where we provide all sorts of detailed schedules, guidelines and regulations, we are to be entirely free agents. We are the purest of democratic angels, moved by whatever spirit or inspiration takes us, and we are to be trusted as such”? We cannot present ourselves in that way.

Let me return to core points about the Bill’s deficiencies. As hon. Members have said, it is essentially an expulsion Bill rather than a recall Bill. Recall is meant to put things in the hands of the voters. Calling this measure the Recall of MPs Bill is a bit like the old joke about the two-hour dry cleaners: “‘Come back next Monday and you’ll get your suit.’ “But it says ‘two-hour dry cleaners’ outside”. ‘No, that’s just the name of the shop.’” Recall of MPs seems to be just the name of the Bill; that capacity is not given to voters. Insofar as a role is given to voters in respect of the recall process, it is simply that if someone triggers either of the two mechanisms, 10% will trigger a by-election. I think that the idea of a by-election being triggered by 10% is wrong, particularly if there has been a lot of speculation and felon setting by the media, which hon. Members fear. Those who fear that sort of scenario should certainly oppose the Bill as it stands.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman is making a very good point about the 10%, but will it not be dealt with by one of the safeguards proposed by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)? We would have

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the 5% step, the 20% step and then a referendum involving a binary choice before a by-election took place. Rather than a minority activity, there would then be a majority activity of choosing to have a recall by-election.

Mark Durkan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. Those of us who were members of the pick-up band that was organised by the hon. Member for Richmond Park wanted to ensure that there could be a trigger other than a parliamentary trigger, or a trigger from the courts, and the idea of putting what could be termed a 5% premise petition in the hands of constituents struck us as reasonable. Having been received, the petition would then have to be tested by a more qualified assessment—the 20% petition—and if that was successful, it would be followed by a referendum which would have to secure a 50% vote before a by-election could take place.

Some Members have expressed the fear that voters will be whipped up into a state of prejudice, and that there will be misrepresentation of people and a disproportionate focus on certain issues. I ask them to consider both the stages and the time scale that are proposed in the amendments that some of us support. It is even possible that the time scale is too long. The amendments would allow more protection and more measured consideration. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) told us earlier that his constituents, who had a very clear view on a very specific issue, were eventually prepared to vote for an MP who held completely the opposite view, because they had reached a more rounded judgment on the nature of the MP’s job, and because they set great store by truth and people being honest about their opinions.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): As the hon. Gentleman well knows, notwithstanding the safeguards that he has described, in Northern Ireland a group with the organisational ability possessed by Sinn Fein could unseat an MP whom it believed to be vulnerable because that MP was already in a marginal seat. Such a well-organised group could surmount all the barriers that he has outlined, and request a recall on spurious grounds.

Mark Durkan: People can organise petitions, and perhaps they can achieve the 5% and perhaps they can then achieve the 20%, but after that there would be the referendum. Even in Northern Ireland, where people have their own views, I have always found them to be fairly tolerant of MPs with different views if they know that those MPs are being honest and diligent.

Many years ago, I had to run the campaign in South Down against Enoch Powell, who represented a minority opinion in the constituency at the time. I remember that even nationalists in that constituency said, “Well, whatever else he is, he is certainly a hard-working and diligent MP.” They did not agree with his views, but they knew his views, and they knew that he did his job. Of course, he also raised his hat to them when he was in the constituency and greeted them, and they seemed to like that as well. Even in the context of Northern Ireland, and speaking as a Member whose seat has been heavily targeted by Sinn Fein, which is investing an awful lot of

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effort and resources, I do not believe that fear of the outcome described by the hon. Gentleman is sufficient reason to oppose a more meaningful recall provision.

Lady Hermon: Will the hon. Gentleman address a very particular situation in Northern Ireland, namely the anonymity of donations to political parties? Fears have been expressed this afternoon about the ability of the very wealthy to buy a recall. How would the hon. Gentleman deal with that? Will he also take the opportunity to correct an earlier intervention, and confirm that voters vote not just for parties but, on occasion, for candidates who present themselves as independents?

Mark Durkan: I entirely take the hon. Lady’s point. People do indeed vote for candidates who present themselves as independents, some of whom have a very distinguished record, as in her case. Voters can make sound judgments not only on the basis of party loyalty or traditional party affinity but on the quality of service they want. The hon. Lady is again a good example. She asked me about donations. Thanks to some rearguard efforts in the Chamber in relation to a Bill that was previously before the House, we are now considering a timeline for introducing donor anonymity, albeit with some qualifications. The proposals for recalls could be an even stronger reason to focus on clarifying issues of anonymity, so that situations could not be abused in one direction or the other.

Many Members appear to be raising concerns about how the process could be abused. Yes, there are all sorts of nefarious forces out there, and various interests that are equipped with money, with ill will and with power motives, but at the end of the day all our protection against that has to reside with the electorate. We come from the electorate and, when we leave this place, we go back to being part of the electorate. We should not try to proof ourselves or protect ourselves against the scrutiny and standards of democracy.

I do not believe that recalls will be used in anything like the number of situations that are being envisaged, but the fact of their existence will add to the standing of Members of Parliament. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras seemed to suggest that recalls could deter Members from sticking to their own views, but I believe that they could encourage them to do so. If a Member were being asked by the Whips to move from their own clear personal position and to adopt the stated party position, a proper recall mechanism would allow that Member to stand on the integrity of their position as an MP elected by their constituents, with whom their first and last loyalty lies.

4.42 pm

Mr Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this interesting debate, and I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). In a sense, he and others who support the alternative approach, as set out by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), are looking for a Bill that would achieve a substantially different end from that of the Government’s Bill. I was surprised, however, that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park appear to argue that we should adopt that alternative approach precisely because they have constructed it in

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such a manner that it would be unlikely to have any effect. I know that accusations have been made, perhaps with some justification, that the Government’s Bill would result in relatively few instances in which a recall would be triggered, because Members would very likely resign instead, as other Members have in the recent past. However, I do not think we should be looking for a system that is so difficult to manipulate and in which recalls are so unlikely to happen that Members would, in practice, be proof against it.

My starting point is that Members would have little to fear from being the subject of a referendum vote of the kind postulated in the Recall of Elected Representatives Bill, as opposed to the Bill we are considering today. I believe in the genius of the masses. The experience of my 17-plus years representing South Cambridgeshire has taught me that, although I might on many occasions have done something that a minority of my constituents disagreed with, I doubt that they would ever have actually turned me out between elections on those grounds. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) made a similar point.

Mr Graham Stuart: My right hon. Friend makes the point that those in favour of these amendments believe, as I think we all do across this argument, that most Members of this House behave honourably and that there will be very few instances in which the public, when they reflect seriously on the issues, seek to throw us out, but that is not a reason for not putting in place a recall—put that power with people and put trust in people to exercise it properly. The fact that it will be rarely used does not mean it is not important.

Mr Lansley: I agree. I have been listening carefully to the debate, and it is interesting to consider under what circumstances the kind of mechanism—the kind of trigger for recall—that is not in the current recall Bill but that is proposed to be put into it in its place would impact on Members. I do not think it would be the prospect that they would be the subject of a referendum vote with 50% voting to have a by-election and the seat vacated. I think that is extremely unlikely. Much more likely, and in my view much more pernicious, is the possibility of large numbers of Members, over the course of a Parliament, being subject to a notice of intent to recall—with all the attendant impact that can have on an MP, not least when deployed by, and in the hands of, the media—for taking steps that may be in line with their manifesto and with the policy of their party or for taking an independent and potentially unpopular line, which, frankly, is even more laudable.

If the hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell) and some others were here, they would say, “That’s simply putting yourself in a position where you have to listen to your constituents and respond to them.” That is fair enough. We could accept that if this was done simply on that basis, but I think it would be more dangerous if it was deployed in other circumstances.

I made a point to my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park about a Member who had not been the subject of due process. Under his Bill, somebody being charged with an indictable offence would stay the process, but we know perfectly well that substantial periods can pass during which people are the subject of very damaging allegations but are not charged with an offence.

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Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I prosecuted nine murder trials and all manner of other things in my previous career, so I can endorse the fact that there will be a huge time gap in these matters. If we adopted the proposal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), the Member involved would simply be hounded out.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has such expertise, for endorsing that point.

It goes even further. Often we are talking about offences that are not indictable. They are what are regarded as offences in the mind of the electorate. They may be genuine or they may not be genuine, but if they are genuine and bear upon conduct in this House and are, on the face of it, a breach of our code of conduct, they should be considered by due process. We are trying to make the process in this House as fair as possible.

I have heard Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden, be very critical of the processes relating to past decisions of the Standards and Privileges Committee. Let us be clear: we have made changes in this Parliament to standards and privileges. We now have a Standards Committee that examines matters not solely at the behest of MPs who are members of the Committee but has three lay members. We should consider this Bill alongside, and I hope with the benefit of, the review that will be conducted by the Standards Committee and its lay members. I am sure that in Committee the Chair of the Standards Committee will be able to add further to that.

When I was Leader of the House I made it clear to the Standards Committee that I saw these two things happening to some extent side by side, because the second trigger in this Bill depends upon the credibility and authority of the Standards Committee and the recommendations it makes. We can improve that. I think it will require more lay members and I think it will require a veto whereby a recommendation from the Standards Committee may not be made without the support of its lay members.

For reasons not least of parliamentary privilege we cannot give lay members a vote. However, as Leader of the House I said—I would be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House confirmed this—that if there was a recommendation arising from a vote in the Committee on Standards relating to the conduct of a Member that did not have the support of the lay members, when the House came to consider that recommendation, I would see it as my responsibility, as I hope that my successors would, to put alongside any motion that was presented by the Chair of the Committee an amendment that would reflect the view of the majority of the lay members of the Committee. Therefore, while it would remain true that the membership of the House as a whole was responsible constitutionally for the regulation of the conduct of Members of this House and for a decision to suspend or expel a Member, it would be transparent whether the House was acting directly in accordance with the majority view of lay members. It would of course be acting with the benefit of the advice of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): My right hon. Friend places a lot of emphasis on the issue of due process, but due process is not necessarily just

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the preserve of this House. There can be due process through a proper and appropriate trigger, threshold and referendum. Ultimately, an election has a due process. We have heard about being concerned about reputational damage from spurious allegations and the rest. If there is a judicial process, the recall could be suspended. We are already besieged by spurious complaints. Surely we should put this to a proper recall mechanism so that the electorate can put up or shut up.

Mr Lansley: I understand my hon. Friend’s point. I am afraid that there are too many risks to be confident that the process of notice of intent to recall leading to the 20% petition could necessarily be regarded as objective and fair. All that is required to be done to damage substantially and perhaps fatally the reputation of a Member of Parliament is for such an allegation to be made, which may or may not lead to any charge for an offence or even relate to an offence and which may be something that is the product of their private and personal life and not of their activities in their professional responsibilities as a Member of Parliament. The fact that that kind of recall can be triggered for whatever reason gives an opportunity for substantial damage to be done without any objective and fair conclusion having been reached, which should be the case if one is going to have one’s livelihood put at risk in that way.

Mr Stewart Jackson: Is my right hon. Friend not drawing the distinction between the Government’ proposals, which, although not perfect, are formalising the fact that the recall process will be around criminal behaviour and misdemeanours rather than the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), which will be focused on conscience and policy issues? That distinction is very dangerous, which is why my hon. Friend’s amendments should fall.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend leads me on to the most important aspect of this, which is that what is being sought here is an opportunity for recall in order to seek to influence the views of Members of Parliament. If that is not the case, why would the public be doing it? I have made the argument about allegations of poor behaviour. The Government’s recall Bill, which I support and was involved in, directs itself towards a perceived gap in the regulatory process relating to Members of Parliament who commit criminal offences or who behave in a manner that seriously breaches the code of conduct.

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It would be wrong to have a power of recall to try to sanction Members of Parliament. This recall Bill puts in place an objective and fair process whereby, if something is proven, members of the public may, by means of a petition, recall a Member of Parliament and subject them to a by-election. However, the amendments that we will consider in due course would put in place a substantially different process by giving people the opportunity to intervene by saying, “You, as my Member of Parliament, are expressing a view with which I do not agree”—for reasons of conscience, policy, party or whatever it might be—“and I want to demonstrate that you are doing something that we do not agree with to try to influence you to take a different approach.”

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Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I agree with everything that the former Leader of the House is saying, and I want to ask him a genuine question because he has tremendous expertise in this matter. Does he think that there might be scope to amend the Bill further on Report so that it is absolutely clear that no procedure may be initiated simply on the basis of a Member’s votes or views? Is there room for improvement?

Mr Lansley: I am happy to think about that, and I am sure that our Front-Bench colleagues will also be willing to do so. My initial view is that the second trigger could be applied only in relation to serious breaches of the code of conduct of MPs so, by definition, views on policy expressed by Members in this Chamber could not in themselves represent such a breach.

Thomas Docherty rose—

Mr Lansley: When I was Leader of the House, I always enjoyed hearing the often highly educated views of the shadow Minister, and I give way to him so that I can do so again.

Thomas Docherty: The right hon. Gentleman says that he was involved in the Bill’s drafting and that it is good to be filling a gap. Will he or the right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who is sitting next to him, explain why although the coalition agreement said that the Government would

“bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall”,

it has taken them four and a half years to bring forward this important Bill?

Mr Lansley: The coalition agreement did say that, but draft legislation was published in 2011, which was reasonably early in a five-year Parliament.

Thomas Docherty: How were you involved?

Mr Lansley: I was involved not least because of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s comments on the draft Bill but, more specifically for my purposes, because the Standards Committee suggested that the second trigger should be recast. The Standards Committee’s reservations are now dealt with in this Bill.

Mr Charles Walker: As important as recall is, what was much more important in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 was fixing this country’s economy, and ensuring that people could pay their mortgages and remain in work. Let us not overestimate the Bill’s importance, because—dare I say?—the Public Gallery is not doing so.

Mr Lansley: I do not suppose that I am overestimating the Bill’s importance, although it was important that we delivered on our manifesto promises and the coalition agreement. Achieving that was at the forefront of our minds as we set out our legislative programme, for which I had responsibility.

I was slightly amused that the speech made by the hon. Member for Clacton was largely about the importance of delivering on promises made at the previous election. The Bill exactly delivers on the promise in the Conservative party’s general election manifesto, and I think that that was why the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right

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hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), started his speech by reminding us what that manifesto said. For me, as a Conservative, the Bill is directly in line with that promise, and shifting to a process that is substantially different from that under the Bill would involve making a presumption about what the legislation should be without our having a mandate from the electorate. The hon. Members for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and for Clacton showed in their speeches that they would like a different constitutional settlement, of which the power of recall that they want is only one small aspect.

Mr MacNeil rose—

Mr Graham Stuart rose

Mr Lansley: I will give way first to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who is being very persistent, as ever, and then to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart).

Mr MacNeil: I am trying to understand exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Is he saying, for example, that were a future Prime Minister to lie in order to take the country to war, duping Parliament and, by extension, its Committees, the public should have no sanction other than years later at a general election, when many other issues could be at stake?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question, and not a hypothetical one—let us face it: he is referring to a decision of the kind taken in 2003. We have asked today how many people would sign petitions, write to their Member of Parliament or go to one of four designated places in a constituency in order to do something. Well, in my recollection, 2003 was the point when it was most likely that large numbers of the public would have taken some specific action in relation to a Government policy that they had not sanctioned, that certainly was not part of any previous manifesto promise and that they felt was wrong. That raises the following question: what would have happened in 2003 had recall been available?

I say this in a disinterested way, because I did not vote for the invasion of Iraq and so this would not have affected me, but I think there are those who would argue that that is what it is all about—that in those circumstances members of the public would have had an opportunity to say, “Not in our name” by setting up petitions and giving notice of the intention to recall. Throughout the period of the conflict in Iraq there would have been a rebellion among the electorate.

Is that right or wrong? I happen to think that necessarily it is wrong. To return to the constitutional point, we are a representative democracy in which we owe our constituents our collective judgment. We come here not as an independent legislature separate from the decisions of the Government, but to form a Government and sustain them through the legislature. That Government have to make decisions and secure the majority of this House, and we have to stick by that. This proposal would have completely undermined that.

If we are looking for a way to undermine the proposal, let us imagine that it had been possible for the organisers of protests in 2003 to focus on the Prime Minister’s constituency and get 20% of the voters there to sign a petition. They would have done so, even though they

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recognised that there was no way they could get 50% on the subsequent vote, but it would have had such a destabilising impact on the Prime Minister of the day, in circumstances in which he was doing something that was deeply unpopular but that he felt was right—whether or not he was right is not the matter. I cannot see how a responsible Parliament in a representative democracy could go down that path.

Mr Graham Stuart: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for honouring his pledge to give way to me. I think that he has now come to the heart of the matter, certainly as far as the amendments from our hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) are concerned: whether the electorate would seek to use the power of recall to challenge Members on matters of conscience, on how they vote and, fundamentally, on how they do their job in this place. Hon. Friends who represent university towns might have found themselves subject to such proposals when it came to voting on tuition fees. On balance, I do not believe that the electorate would abuse that power, but I recognise that there is a risk. Does my right hon. Friend have any evidence that it would be misused, as we would see it, in that way?

Mr Lansley: This is very difficult, because we are necessarily debating what the circumstances would be, but I have been struck by speeches arguing for amending the Bill on the basis that it will all be all right on the night. Well, legislation is not like that. Legislation is like writing a contract; if we write a contract with somebody—in this case with the electorate—we have to know how it will be used and what will happen when it starts to go wrong. It seems to me that at the moment the defences against those potential problems are not there in the alternative Bill proposed.

John Howell (Henley) (Con): Surely the evidence my right hon. Friend is looking for is in the bit of the Bill that is covered by the amendments. I have not been e-mailed by a single member of the public who is not also a member of 38 Degrees.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will recall that I am not enamoured of 38 Degrees, but it is interesting to make that distinction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park and his colleagues have constructed the proposition that one must physically go to one of four places in a constituency in order to disempower 38 Degrees and those who would try to create petitions on an online basis. If we start down this path, that is where the pressure will come. People will say, “In this modern age we should not be dependent on physically having to go somewhere”, in the same way that they blithely talk about electronic voting and so on. It will rapidly get to the point where it is not about visiting particular physical locations but about generating large numbers of electronic signatures on online petitions. Then we will see a substantial change in the relationship between Members of this House and their constituents.

I have no problem with the idea that I should engage fully with my constituents and listen to them. In practice, we have moved subtly in that direction. Anybody who cares to remember, as I can, the debate in 2003 before the invasion of Iraq and the debate that took place last

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year on the intervention in Syria will recognise that last year more Members were responding in short order to substantial online representations, in larger numbers, from their constituents. In 2003, I got a very large number of letters, but they were actual letters, and overwhelmingly individual, not template, letters. A lot of Members felt burdened by the weight of opinion that was coming to them on the Syria vote.

Mr MacNeil: The right hon. Gentleman has used the phrase “representative democracy” on a number of occasions. If this is indeed a representative democracy, surely he has nothing to fear from a recall Bill. In fact, having this Bill in the voters’ locker as a big stick used lightly might ensure that it was a representative democracy as regards the two examples he has given—tuition fees, given the promises made by one of the coalition parties, and the Iraq war.

Mr Lansley: It is not that Members have something to fear from participation in our democracy—far from it. I believe completely in the wisdom of the masses, but we have to recognise when and how that is properly to be tested in the formal sense. We are a representative democracy, and we increasingly change the character of our democracy anyway. The referendum is a participatory democratic vehicle. We have used it more, and it is likely to be with us for the future, but only in specific circumstances. That illustrates the nature of the constitutional question at the heart of the potential amendment to the Bill.

Shifting to a recall process is not about addressing the individual behaviour of Members—it is much more likely to be used to try to influence the policies of political parties, of Members of Parliament, or of the Government. It would relate to particular individual issues, unlike a general election. As other hon. Members have said very forcefully, a general election is a vital moment in a representative democracy, because people take the whole presentation of party and candidate and consider it in the round. The recall mechanism is designed to enable the public to intervene in and, notwithstanding what the decision in a general election might have been, to impact directly on an individual decision on an individual policy issue.

Zac Goldsmith: My right hon. Friend is describing Parliament as if it were made up of hundreds of free spirits whose decisions might be corrupted by the pressure brought about by recall, but surely he realises—in fact, I know that he knows this—that the pressure applied by party hierarchies through the Whips is on a dramatically different scale from the tiny pressure that might be felt as a consequence of this remote and unlikely threat of a three-line whip that constituents might find themselves holding from time to time. There is no comparison—surely my right hon. Friend understands that. Most Members do exactly what they are told by the Whips for 99.9%—sometimes 100%—of the time.

Mr Lansley: I am quite old fashioned: Members would have to look quite far back to find a point at which I did not vote in accordance with the Whip. I think that the last time I defied the Whip was on the question of same-sex adoption rules.

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I see part of my role as having been elected as a Conservative. A number of Members have said, perfectly reasonably, that we are primarily and overwhelmingly elected—the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has accepted this—on a party rather than an individual basis. I do not see that as meaning that individual Members of Parliament should not have a conscience or be able to exercise their judgment, because they owe that to their constituents. They will have to come to a judgment on great matters of conscience that are relevant to their constituency. That was true on Iraq: I did not vote for the invasion, even though it was my party’s policy to do so. To suggest, however, that we should behave as individuals outside party discipline is nonsense, because the whole system will begin to break down if we go in that direction.

The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park was slightly the other way around. He said that we all behave in the way the Whips tell us, but this has been a more rebellious Parliament—for good or ill—than ever before. I am not sure whether that is a good basis for the argument in favour of recall, because Members clearly feel that they can respond to their conscience and their constituents without the need for a recall mechanism.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) has suggested that if we took the Whips out of the process of deciding whether a Member should be suspended from this House—actually, I do not think that the Whips are part of that process— that would somehow relieve us of the impact of the Whips controlling our behaviour. The recall mechanism proposed as an alternative to this Bill, however, is a greater risk to Members. If a Member were subject to an allegation—a serious allegation, but not a criminal one—that threatened their reputation and position in the constituency, it is clear that they would then be subject to a notice of intent and at risk of a recall petition. The situation would develop rapidly and the question for their party would then be whether it supported them or not.

The hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell) mentioned Ian Gibson, who accused his party of abandoning him. The most dangerous thing for a Member is to be abandoned when they are at risk of having to stand in a by-election in their constituency. If the party takes the Whip away from a Member, they would, in effect, have no chance in a by-election—unless they were in a very strong position—and they would be undermined. The power of the Whips as to whether a Member has the Whip—and, therefore, their power over that Member’s position in an election—would be unchanged by this or any other recall Bill. The power of the Whips is often exaggerated, but in so far as it exists, it would be unchanged by the recall mechanisms, whatever they might be.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): This is also a constitutional issue. We make judgments on behalf of our constituents on issues that are not in our manifestos. We also carry out manifesto commitments, but we are not delegates. I think that is where people tend to get a little confused: there is a big difference between making a judgment on behalf of constituents and being mandated as an individual delegate to represent something.

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Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We are not delegates or ciphers; we are representatives. As Members have rightly said, we owe our constituents our judgment and our conscience and we are here to represent their interests, but we should not necessarily subordinate any of that to their opinions or, still less, to some calculation of what might be their opinions.

It is very difficult to know precisely what one’s constituents’ opinions are. For example, it was often asserted with great confidence that my constituents were against the legislation on same-sex marriage, but that was absolutely untrue. I knew that they were in favour of it. Even those who contacted me were generally in favour of it. I say this advisedly to Government Members, but some Members in the Chamber voted for it and felt that they were right to do so despite their constituents being against it. They could not have taken much comfort from the last Conservative manifesto, because the proposal was not in the manifesto as such, although it was referred to in other documents. Under the recall mechanism, in that sense they would be at risk. That brings us back to the argument made by proponents of the alternative recall mechanism, which is that it would never have come to that. In that case, we have to ask under what circumstances recall would get to such a point, and I mentioned some of those circumstances earlier.

To sum up, first, we are delivering on the promise we made; and, secondly, we are very clear that in past cases of wrongdoing Members—either somebody, a long time ago, who was given a prison sentence or, more commonly, a period of suspension from the House—would not necessarily, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) put it, have done the honourable thing and resigned. Recently, such Members have done so, but, frankly, they were not required to do so.

To return to an earlier point, regulatory processes in the House for managing the conduct of Members should show that we are willing, able and have mechanisms in place so that, as we promised, somebody who commits serious wrongdoing will be subject to a process that may lead to their recall and expulsion from the House at a by-election. We have seen possibilities for doing that in the past, and we would stick to such a system in future.

Over the past couple of years or so, Ministers have tried to make the Bill as robust as possible, and we have not stopped doing so. However, there is a big gap between where we are now and a recall mechanism that is completely different constitutionally, because it would allow the public the opportunity—on individual decision-making and policy issues—to reach in to the Chamber of the House of Commons in the middle of a Parliament, and pull out a Member on the grounds that they had done something the public did not like between one general election and the next. That would undermine the general election as the critical moment for accountability, and it would undermine Members if it was abused, as inevitably most mechanisms can be abused. Constitutionally, it would take us in the direction of participatory or direct democracy, which is not the direction in which we in this Parliament want to go.

Notwithstanding the fact that many Members will vote for the Bill on the grounds of wanting to change it, I and I hope others will vote for it, although it is

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susceptible to amendment, because we in principle—the Second Reading is about the principle—support the Bill as it is.

5.18 pm

Mike Thornton (Eastleigh) (LD): I have been called earlier than expected, because there seems to be a lack of Opposition Members in the Chamber, which I greatly regret.

Interestingly, Members spoke about those with safe or marginal seats. For Lib Dems, there is of course no such thing as a safe seat. Looking back—I am fairly inexperienced in this Chamber—I must admit that 10 years ago I had absolutely no idea that I would be standing here to talk about recall, but I thought that I had better get up and speak.

A few people have spoken to me about America, although it has not been mentioned much in this debate. Of course, America does not have by-elections. If somebody is removed, a governor or whoever appoints somebody in their place. It therefore does not expose the seat to the sort of manipulation for political purposes that might happen in this country.

The hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) spoke about a job description. We do not have one, but we could certainly live by a code of conduct. We may need to consider that.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) said that we should be honourable. He said that there is no need for the Bill because we have honour, although not among thieves. I think that it was Lord Hewart, when he was Lord Chief Justice, who coined the phrase, “Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done.” Perhaps the problem is that people see Members of this House as not as honourable as we are, not as hard-working as we are, and not as committed to doing what we should be doing for our constituents and the country as we are.

When I came to the House, I was incredibly impressed by how hard everyone works and how committed they are to their constituents. There are probably a few exceptions. [Interruption.] Even the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) is an honourable person who has his constituents at heart. Most of us fight for our principles, but we have to compromise to ensure that what we get done is good for the country. Sometimes we have to say, “I can’t do this, but I can do that.” We have all done that within parties and within the Government.

Unfortunately, the Bill has serious flaws. The main flaw is that, if it goes through unamended, the public will see that we are deciding who should be kicked out and who should not. I agree with what Lord Hewart said. We must not just be honourable; we need a mechanism that allows the public to see that we are honourable. The public must have a way of initiating a recall.

I have read the amendments of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). Not only would they open the process to political abuse, but they are so horrendously long-winded and complicated that the chances of succeeding in getting anyone recalled if they deserved it would be minimal. The process could be dragged out for two years, at which point the MP would be more or less useless and would probably resign anyway. It is just not a good mechanism.

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We need a decent amendment that would allow the public to bring an issue to some sort of independent body of Parliament. I am not clever enough to say at this moment how that could be done. Perhaps a judge or someone else would be able to say, “This person has breached the code of conduct.” It does not have to be anything criminal. Teachers and social workers can lose their jobs for non-criminal activity if they breach a code of conduct. We need to allow the public to point out when someone has breached a code of conduct. If a reasonable case is brought forward—not proven, but reasonable—a recall mechanism should be instituted.

I think—believe it or not—that the 10% threshold is too high if it is demonstrated that somebody has breached the code of conduct. We need to reduce it to provide a reasonable chance that somebody who has done something wrong will be recalled. However, I do not want someone to be recalled just because somebody else feels like it. It is possible that, after my by-election, 20% of my electorate could have said, “We might be able to get rid of him and get someone else in.” I do not think that it would have been fair to have another by-election six months later.

I put it to the House that we need a compromise between the proposals of the hon. Member for Richmond Park and the Bill, which is very weak. I will vote for the Bill, but I will do so in order that a good amendment can be tabled that makes it workable, practical and fair.

5.24 pm

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): The Bill is fundamental to us being a democracy, and I am proud that the Government have introduced it. We treasure democracy, and I believe we will continue to treasure it as the years progress. Being a Member of Parliament is an enormous privilege, and as a first-time MP in 2010 I have come to value that. It is a privilege because it is the only role I can think of that is based on trust—trust between the electorate and the individual. If my constituents do not trust me, or if I do not trust them, it simply does not work, and the Bill seeks to address where that trust breaks down.

I agree that there must be a real cause for recall, but I trust the people to work out whether or not there is that just cause. My problem with the Bill as currently drafted is that the decision is very much in the hands of us as MPs—after amendment of the original Bill, that decision has gone to the Standards Committee. Although the proposed amendments would introduce lay members to the Committee, I am far from convinced that the British people would accept and trust that. However the decision is made, I believe that it cannot be made by Members of Parliament.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) in what he is trying to achieve, and he put it extraordinarily well. However, the issue of the trigger has been a continuing challenge, and the Government’s proposals, with just two triggers, have been challenged by many in the House. We are trying to find a way of giving people a say in the recall of their MPs, and that cannot be as narrow as the Bill sets out.

I entirely understand concerns that there may be abuse, but we must find a way forward. That is why, working with my hon. Friend and his committee, I suggested that one way of trying to ensure that the

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public know exactly what this is about, and are not filibustered by politicians, was to make it an obligation for whoever is requesting the recall to go on the record. That individual must be able and willing to come forward and put their name on the record, and someone who is a political mischief maker and whose name is well known will therefore give a message to the public about exactly what is behind that process of recall. Having somebody on the record whose name is made public is important, and I fought long and hard in the committee, where we discussed a number of amendments, to ensure that that was included.

The second point I fought hard for was the need for a reason. For all the reasons that the triggers are too narrow, there must none the less be something that sets out clearly what lies behind the recall and is known to the public. Not only must those reasons be set out clearly in the document, they must also be present, along with the name of the sponsor, in every polling station, so that anybody voting in the referendum knows who is proposing the recall and the reason for it.

Even that is not enough, however, and to me it is important that the Member of Parliament has a right of reply. That is absent from the Bill. It is mission critical for an MP to have that right of reply, and that that is on the table with the name of the sponsor and the reasons given for the recall so that Members of the public are fully informed about the decision they are making. No system is perfect, but I believe that that system is fairer and more reasonable, and will give confidence to the British people that we are honourable: that we stand by our word, we stand by our reputation and we stand by what we say and do.

Sammy Wilson: The very fact that the hon. Lady has outlined so many safeguards is an indication that she knows the process would be open to abuse, and that people would wish to abuse it. Her first suggestion is for a name to be on the front of the petition or whatever so we know who is sponsoring it, but surely any organisation would get an unknown and innocuous supporter to put their name to it, just as happens with judicial reviews in Northern Ireland on planning applications and so on, where the real person behind them is not known.

Anne Marie Morris: I would love to think that we lived in a world where we were all saints and there were no sinners. Clearly, there will be individuals who might well try to abuse the system. However, there is no system, whether it is the system my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park puts forward or the Government system, that is completely proof from any abuse. I take issue with the challenge from the hon. Gentleman on the name of the sponsor. I do not believe that the British people are sufficiently misguided not to look at the name. When they look at Mr Nobody, which I think is what he is suggesting, they will say, “Hold on a minute. Mr Nobody doesn’t generally get interested in these sorts of things,” and realise there is a stitch-up. I understand his concern, but we live in the real world. We do not live in a world of saints, but fortunately we do our best to deal with the sinners.

As part of the amendments put forward by my hon. Friend, what I propose will provide the comfort that I know a number of MPs want. At the end of the day, however, if we do not accept that we are here because of the trust of our constituents, and if we do not recognise

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that there has to be that mutual trust and respect, we have a problem. Indeed, we know we have a problem because right now people remember us for the expenses scandal. It really does not matter whether we were here at the time, we still have that black mark. We have to win that trust back and this is a very powerful way of doing it.

Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): If we want to deal with an abuse of democracy and win trust back, does the hon. Lady realise that it does not help when this House pays hundreds of thousands of pounds each year to a political party in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein, for not coming here to represent their constituents?

Anne Marie Morris: The hon. Gentleman has the advantage of me. That is something close to his heart and he understands its ramifications. This is a matter of where angels fear to tread. I do not think that this is an issue I am brave enough to comment on. Indeed, I think I would be wise not to, but I thank him for his comments.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I wonder whether one might suggest that the lack of a job description is one of the things that confuses the electorate, because it is not entirely clear what MPs do. I accept that MPs interpret their job in a particular way, but if one had some way of recalling MPs for what might be described as a gross dereliction of duty that would at least give some faith to the public. The public and those who might engage in a by-election process should be able to judge that. That, at least, could be deemed as a correct or incorrect charge.

Anne Marie Morris: The hon. Lady makes a very interesting point, but it is not quite as simple as giving us a job description. There is something peculiar and special about being a Member of Parliament. We are not employers, we are not employees and we are not self-employed. We do not fall within the framework of almost any piece of standard legislation. She is right that a job description might be a good plan, but that is very much the first point. There is so much more that would have to be changed. The challenge would be, as she rightly says, that we all do the job in a number of different ways. It would be very difficult, and perhaps constrain us from doing a good job, to say that the job had to be done in this way or that way.

Tessa Munt: I am not suggesting there should be a job description, but in a representative democracy, people should understand exactly what they expect of their MPs. We all have to deal with the post, hold our surgeries and do various other things that have come to be expected of MPs. For instance, it might well be that constituents have a reasonable expectation that MPs should at least turn up in this place.

Anne Marie Morris: The hon. Lady makes another good point about the challenge, which the Government have faced, of trying to define triggers, rather than relying on the people to look at why and by whom an individual is being recalled. She identifies the problem, but I am not convinced her solution would be better, safer or less liable to abuse than mine: the name of the sponsor, a clear statement of the reason for a recall and the opportunity for the Member to respond.

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We have debated whether the percentage is too high or too low. It is extraordinarily hard to know what the correct figure should be. It will depend partly on whether we adopt the truly democratic approach proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, which I support, or the—in my view—more restrained democratic approach proposed by the Government. I think that my hon. Friend is right to opt for a higher percentage. I hear the argument about it being too high, but on reflection I am confident it is the right figure. We are concerned in this House, this goldfish bowl, about how the British people see us, and some are worried that others with adverse views might endeavour to misuse the Bill. I am the first to agree that every country is different—we are very different from the US—but why is it that in countries with a truly democratic recall process there have not been the catastrophic events feared by some in the House?

To return to where I started, this is a matter of trust. We spend a lot of time with our constituents. Every year, I deal with 6,000 new cases—not simply complaints, but real issues of housing, benefits, health and so on—and in dealing with so many people, one gets under the skin of a community and people come to understand and trust their MP. It is something we have to earn—it is not a right—but if we can earn it, the sort of recall process suggested by my hon. Friend can work.

Mr Stewart Jackson: On the distinction between a legitimate issue of criminal misbehaviour and sincere, well-meaning beliefs, my hon. Friend still has not convinced me that people such as Sydney Silverman, Leo Abse, who campaigned on homosexual law reform, and others would not have been subject to recall and lost those ballots.

Anne Marie Morris: We can speculate about what might have happened, but it is not as simple as whether something is a criminal offence. So many things, situations and reasons could serve as a basis for recall that if we tried to over-categorise them, we could get into a legislative nightmare trying to provide for every single event. I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I do not think that even he could provide a perfect definition giving the complete protection he would like, and that brings me back to trust. Trust is something very special. Married couples need it: there are no rules or regulations for marriage; it works if there is trust and if both people want to see it through. For that reason, I think this can work.

I commend the Government for having the courage to introduce the Bill. It is very important, but I will work with my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park to try to amend it to include some of the proposals I have made, which I hope Members will accept.

5.40 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I welcome the fact that the Government have introduced the Bill and I congratulate them. It has been a long time coming, but it is welcome that we shall at last have a Bill on the statute book that brings about recall in some shape or form.

We need to recognise that the cornerstone of the democratic process is that power resides with the people—the electorate—but it is far too easy to ignore how

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disillusioned they are. We have heard Members say that this will pass, but it will not do so without more positive action, and a recall Bill modelled on the proposals made by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) will go some way towards providing that.

The challenge, of course, is how we achieve the balance between the very real demands of the electorate and the need to protect Members from vexatious attempts to undermine and remove them. We must not underestimate how disillusioned the public are with politicians and the whole political process.

Earlier in the debate, concerns were raised about Members who support unfashionable causes. Change is painfully slow in this country; we can all sympathise with that, as we all have our pet schemes and find it incredibly frustrating that we cannot put them into action. Despite those frustrations, we must recognise that one of the great strengths of our country is stability—change certainly does not come quickly.

If we are to restore public confidence, the first thing we must do is genuinely recognise the level of public distrust of and cynicism about we politicians. We must do more than pay lip service to dealing with it; we need to show by our actions that we will do something about it. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) drew attention to some uncomfortable home truths, talking about safe seats and how the low level of party membership can result in the selection process in such seats being limited to 100 people or fewer who, in effect, elect the Member of Parliament. That could of course be simply resolved by thousands of people queuing up to join the political parties that are most in tune with their views, but we have all had very limited success in increasing our party membership and it will not happen in the near future.

The message should go out that democracy is a two-way process. Those of us who put ourselves forward for election are not the norm. Most of us try very hard to engage with those we represent, and it is because so many are so disenchanted with the whole process that they simply refuse to become involved. I recognise that the opportunity to give a sitting Member a kicking might tempt some to join in, but although the thresholds being proposed might be sufficient, I would probably err on the side of slightly upping the thresholds proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park to offer additional protection.

I mentioned unfashionable causes, and mention has been made of abortion, capital punishment and the like. Of course, unpopular policy decisions are taken: the closure of a local hospital, for example, is always going to be contentious, but what if I or any other Member thought that the proposals were in the best interests of those we represent? Should we be on the side of the health trust, which has vast resources and an army of lawyers and accountants to look after it, or should we be there to articulate the genuine concerns of those we represent, by engaging meaningfully and trying to put forward a balanced view?

Chris Bryant: Members have campaigned on issues such as abortion or ending the criminalisation of homosexuality, but is it not an irony that those causes

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were advanced in previous eras in private Members’ Bills? They were given time by the whole House, and I think the public valued that private Members’ process, when no party Whip was exercised, which is completely different from today.

Martin Vickers: I cannot disagree; private Members’ Bills have indeed played a very important role over the years.

On the subject of articulating the concerns of the local community, I recall that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)—I served as his constituency agent for many years—always used to speak of his role as being “a megaphone” for the local community. We should take that seriously; it applies to many issues.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park highlighted Members’ failures: failure to engage with constituents, long absences from Westminster and switching parties without by-elections, to which I might mischievously add, voting in support of handing the sovereignty of this place to a foreign institution. Having an in-House solution, as is being proposed, is no longer acceptable to the public. Whatever the outcome of the Bill’s legislative journey, a recall Bill will reach the statute book, which is progress.

Let me explain the difference between the recall process and waiting for the next general election in order to get rid of a Member. As a previous speaker mentioned, general elections tend to focus on whom we want to govern the country, while the recall process and subsequent by-election would be much more focused on the individual and his failings or, indeed, his strengths.

I shall support most of the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park. Whatever the outcome, we shall at least be able to go back to our constituencies and rightly proclaim that we have made some progress on recall, even though more progress is needed.

5.47 pm

Sir George Young (North West Hampshire) (Con): I want to make a brief intervention in this debate, because so far no one who has sat on the Standards and Privileges Committee has spoken. During the course of the debate, a number of assertions have been made about how that Committee operates. We heard from one hon. Member that there was risk of a tabloid campaign leading to the upholding of a complaint against a Member who would then find himself confronted with a 10% petition in his constituency. Another Member asserted exactly the opposite—that the Standards and Privileges Committee was a cosy clique that protected other Members from justice. Let me therefore explain the Committee’s role, the environment in which it operates and the very real constraints on what its members can do.

First, there is an independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. That commissioner, who is independent of Members, investigates the complaint and produces a report saying whether or not the complaint should be upheld. Members of Parliament and members of the Committee have no role whatever in the production of that report, which is always published. Members are then free, if they so wish, to go against the finding of the independent commissioner, but they of course need

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very good reasons so to do. They are going to have to stand up in public; they cannot simply say that they do not uphold the complaint, as reasons have to be produced.

One quite recent change is the introduction of lay members on that Committee. It is true that the lay members do not have a vote, but they have something much more effective—a veto. If they disagree with the elected members of the Standards and Privileges Committee, that disagreement is put into the public domain. Any attempt by Members of Parliament to shield a colleague from a wholly justified complaint would be shot to bits by the lay members publishing a report in disagreement. Further changes are that the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee cannot come from the Government Benches. When I chaired the Committee, there was no Government majority on it. The notion that the members of this Committee, in the words of one Member, “chase the Whips’ bauble” is a gross injustice to the independently minded MPs who serve on the Committee. I think they would deeply resent some of the allegations made against them.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): As a former Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee and a former Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend is uniquely positioned to confirm whether, should a Member challenge the findings of the Committee, the Government would whip the party against that Member.

Sir George Young: The debates about Standards and Privileges Committee reports that take place on the Floor of the House are unwhipped business, and the Whips have no role to play in them. Indeed, I have been in the House when it has overturned one of the Committee’s recommendations. That is another safeguard that has been overlooked. The Standards and Privileges Committee does not have the last word; its recommendations go to the Floor of the House. The notion that Members of this House would validate a kangaroo court of Members upstairs is an injustice to them, for they would not tolerate it.

Having said that, I should add that I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the points that have been made today. For example, we could consider increasing the role of the Committee’s lay members, and consider whether it would be procedurally possible, in certain cases, to ask them to conduct the adjudication and publish the report. They could be the only voice in such cases if that found favour.

I think that one dilemma was put well by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), who asked “Is it cause, or is it conduct?” In other words, are we going to hold people to account for their conduct, or for their cause? Our manifesto made it absolutely clear that recall would be linked to misconduct.

I see all sorts of risks in going down the path advocated by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), although I commend the way in which he opened the Back-Bench debate. For example, in this country MPs are also Ministers. Some unpopular decisions are being made at the moment: HS2, for instance, is controversial, although it has been validated by the House. Some Transport Ministers are in marginal seats, and the HS2 campaign is, I believe, fairly well resourced. It would not be impossible to achieve the 5% trigger in the constituency of a Transport Minister and to destabilise

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that Minister, who would be doing the work of the House. Other Ministers may be involved in such issues as fracking, planning or tuition fees. I envisage a real risk that Ministers who are doing the business of their party and the business of the Government will be destabilised by this mechanism.

I think that what the House ought to do on this occasion is honour the commitments that the three main parties made in their manifestos, and link recall to misconduct. By all means let Members develop the debate and consider the options that have been ventilated by those who support the amendments, but those are, perhaps, for another Parliament. I do not think that we should divert from the commitments that nearly all of us made at the last election. I think that we should get the Bill on the statute book and then, at a later date, explore some of the other amendments that have been proposed.

Mr David Ward (Bradford East) (LD): Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that we are in danger of becoming obsessed with the process leading to a conviction without first determining the nature of the crime involved?

Sir George Young: I think that the process should be linked, if not to a conviction, to serious misconduct. As my hon. Friend knows, there are two triggers in the Bill. One is a custodial sentence of less than a year, and the other is a finding by the Standards and Privileges Committee that a serious misdemeanour has been committed. That must be validated by the House, and I think that it ought to be supported by the lay members. However, I am clear in my own mind that there is a distinction between cause and conduct. We heard from the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) about the case of Lena Jeger, and there are others who would have been caught if the Bill had been extended in the way that some have suggested.

I think that, on this occasion, we should stick to our commitment, and get the Bill on to the statute book.

5.53 pm

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Let me declare an interest at the outset, as an adjunct associate professor of British politics at Richmond university. If my comments are somewhat ponderous, that will probably be the reason.

On 17 October 1834, crowds gathered on the south bank of the Thames to cheer on the conflagration that consumed the Palace of Westminster. They were cheering at the prospect of several MPs dying in the hideous blaze that had begun when the tally sticks were burnt in the oven below the House of Lords as a result of the less than diligent way in which the men were performing their duties. They had gone off to dinner, and to the pub. The point is that there have never been any halcyon days in which Members of Parliament enjoyed great popularity. They have never lived in the land of milk and honey, and to suggest otherwise would be quite wrong.

My concern about the Bill and the amendments being put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is that they are predicated on myths. As my right hon. Friends the Members for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) and for North

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West Hampshire (Sir George Young) have said, the merit of the Government’s proposals is that they make a clear distinction between malfeasance, criminal conduct and misbehaviour and they address the legitimate concerns that have been expressed about scapegoating people with deeply unpopular or unfashionable views. Examples could include Willie Hamilton, an ardent republican, or Sydney Silverman, with his long-standing commitment to the abolition of capital punishment, or Leo Abse, who was in favour of homosexual law reform. They were all decent, honourable Members of this House, but they might have fallen foul of a recall process instigated by powerful vested interests in their constituencies and across the country.

Many myths have been flying around, one of which is that turnout has been falling. It has not. Over the past two general elections, it has gone up to 65% from the low point of 59% in 2001. I was corrected by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) when I mentioned Garry Allingham, an obscure Labour MP who was, I think, a journalist for the Daily Mirror. He was as obscure then as he is now. He was expelled from the House of Commons in 1947 for saying that MPs were unable to vote properly because they were drunk. He was called to the Bar of the House and expelled. So disciplinary procedures were in place then, and a precedent was set, but not on the basis of criminal activity. The bar was set much lower, and he was expelled on the ground that he had upset the sensibilities of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I have grave concerns about the efficacy of introducing primary legislation at the end of this Parliament, because to do so fails to take on board the fact that there has been a significant amount of incremental reform, both administrative and legislative, in this Parliament. For example, we now elect the Chairmen of Select Committees and, from within party caucuses, Select Committee members. The power of the Whips is now much less acute than it was even five years ago. And of course we elect the Speaker.

The idea put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park that 100% of MPs vote 100% of the time is palpable nonsense. I am a walking, talking example of that fact, and the reason I behave in that way is that I was never consulted over the coalition agreement. I was elected as a Member of Parliament on the basis of the Conservative manifesto. When my principles coincide with those expressed in the coalition agreement, I will vote with the Government; otherwise, I will not. We now have something akin to a Regency Parliament, in that we have collections of different interests, and Members voting as they see fit. The idea that we are all ciphers and automata who toe the party line is complete nonsense. We have also made reforms to the Standards and Privileges Committee.

I believe that this legislation would undermine parliamentary sovereignty. It would undermine the sacred bond of faith and trust that exists at election time between Members of Parliament and their electors, and it is nonsense to suggest that that would not be a problem. I simply think that we are looking through the wrong end of the telescope. The reason that people feel disempowered and alienated from politics is that they do not feel that politics matters to their lives, because

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decisions are taken by supranational bodies such as the European Union, by obscure far-away bodies including quangos such as the Highways Agency and the Environment Agency, and by big local government, which is seen as a self-perpetuating elitist cartel. That is the reason; it is not because they think all MPs are liars, cheats and thieves, although a lot of them do. Actually, that is not even as simple as one might think, because they think everyone else’s MP is a liar and a cheat and a thief, but theirs is a charming young man who came and opened their summer fete last year, and who is trustworthy, decent and a great person.

Nick de Bois: Not that young.

Mr Jackson: Yes, not that young in some cases.

I also take issue with the comments of the hon. Member for Rhondda—who is not in his place at the moment but who is a gifted historian whose book on the history of Parliament I have read—that a party caucus chooses a Member of Parliament, not the electorate. That is a very arrogant and disdainful attitude. An election is like a jigsaw puzzle, and every single piece is a part of that puzzle, and when it all comes together that is the beauty of democracy. That is not for party caucuses.

Bad’uns have always existed in politics, whether it is Sir Charles Dilke, Horatio Bottomley or many other Members of Parliament. Bad’uns get elected as well as get thrown out. We only have to think of someone such as Oswald Mosley in the 1930s. Essentially, I believe in the wisdom of crowds. I believe in the sanctity of that bond between the electors at the general election. That is the recall process: an election where there is perfect competition and perfect knowledge by the voters to understand the record, vision, policies and principles of a prospective Member of Parliament.

Mr Burrowes: I recognise my hon. Friend’s wisdom and understanding of political history, but, on history, may I take him back to February 2008, when he joined me and 26 other hon. Friends, part of the 2010 intake, in a letter to The Daily Telegraph? The letter stated that recall

“would increase MPs’ accountability, address some of the frustration felt by a disenchanted public and help restore trust in our democratic institutions.”

If that was right in 2008 and right in our 2010 manifesto, why is it not right now?

Mr Jackson: My hon. Friend is such a decent and generous gentleman that he did give me notice yesterday that he would ambush me in this way, and I thank him and have an enormous amount of respect for him, but I have changed my mind, as I have changed my mind on many things over the years. I have changed my mind on House of Lords reform, for instance. I think it ludicrous that we have an upper Chamber that is the largest unelected body outside the people’s congress of China, and believe that should be reformed, even though I am a Conservative, of course. So I have changed my mind on that.

I have looked at the details of the Government’s Bill and I accept that it does make that distinction between moral conscience issues and policy issues and real issues of misdemeanours and criminal conduct.

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Mr Graham Stuart: I suppose the worst case scenario with the Government’s Bill is when somebody does something that the public regard as pretty serious, yet which neither leads to a custodial sentence, as many noxious things do not, nor to a suspension of a sufficient number of days, and we are left with the public feeling cheated by a recall Bill that did not deliver what they would have expected.

Mr Jackson: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, but I come back to a central issue that was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) about the split between the Executive and the legislature. I believe one of the lessons of the expenses disaster was the failure of the Executive properly to embrace the Freedom of Information Act, openness and transparency at an early stage across all parties, and what we see here is the sins of the Executive being visited on the legislature and Back Benchers.

The concept of the Executive facing up to their own responsibility is long past, with Peter Carrington’s resignation as a result of the Falklands invasion and, for those who can remember their constitutional history, Crichel Down in 1954, when the Minister of Agriculture, who I believe was Sir Thomas Dugdale, resigned as a result of a piece of land, the sale of which was mishandled by his Department. Ministerial responsibility for the Executive is much less in fashion than it ever used to be. What we are being asked to do today, particularly with the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), is take to the nth degree the accountability of the individual Back Bencher, and therefore I do think there is an asymmetrical approach. The merit of the Government’s Bill is that at least it adequately formalises the sanctions around criminal misbehaviour and malfeasance, taking into account the reforms, openness and transparency that have been in place since the expenses crisis.

Nick de Bois: Is my hon. Friend not highlighting the case for the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)? He referred to Ministers being accountable for their actions in the past. The amendments introduce accountability to the people, whereas the Bill talks about accountability to the Houses of Parliament.

Mr Jackson: Again, I have enormous respect for my hon. Friend, but my big concern about the amendments is mission creep. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) made the point that it seems peculiar to establish in legislation, by the incorporation of those amendments, a system that we expressly do not want to be enacted. It is like saying, “We are just putting it in place just in case circumstances arise where we have to use”—

Zac Goldsmith: I think that everyone here who believes in the recall of MPs would like to see a system that is not used a great deal. None of us wants to see MPs slung out of this place on a daily basis. The idea is that the threshold is low enough that it is possible to achieve in extreme circumstances but high enough that it cannot be abused in the way that many Members in this House fear it might be.

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Mr Jackson: I understand. Let me put it on the record that my hon. Friend is a decent, diligent and caring Member of Parliament who wants to see this House improved and its reputation enhanced. I have never resiled from taking that view and his motives are not ignoble. None the less, we may have mission creep, whereby powerful groups, elites and well-funded individuals and organisations may use those particular mechanisms to oust Members with whom they bitterly disagree. Again, I will call on examples from the past. I ask the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) whether his illustrious predecessor, John Hume, the Member for Londonderry, would have taken the same very brave and principled decisions against people in his own community and the other community in Northern Ireland were he subject to the vagaries and the vicissitudes of a recall process? That is an open question.

Mark Durkan: I worked for John Hume as his Westminster assistant for many years, and the truth is that he would have taken the same decisions. Nothing would have dissuaded him from his course. He came under great pressure not from his constituency but from the media and all sorts of establishments, and he stuck that course with the support of the people of Derry come what may.

Mr Jackson: I defer to the hon. Gentleman’s knowledge. Of course John Hume was greatly liked and respected in this House, but that does not mean that vexatious, pernicious and dangerous elements would not have sought to remove him using a recall process. None of us knows the answer.

In conclusion, the Government’s Bill is not perfect, but something that most people could possibly support. I will argue passionately and cogently against the amendments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, although I accept his bona fides in wanting to improve this Bill. We are pushing at an open door here. There is the danger that we will open a Pandora’s box. American congressmen can never really look at the big picture, because as soon as they are elected they are fundraising every two years. They can never really look at the strategic overview for their country, district, county or state. I suspect that something like that might happen with the recall process here in that we will be constantly looking over our shoulders at the mad, bad and dangerous to know, the pernicious and vexatious, which is why I will abstain on Second Reading and argue vigorously against the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park.

6.9 pm

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): It is a pleasure to be participating in the latter stages of this important debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson). We are distinguished members of a small group of resigned Parliamentary Private Secretaries to the former Northern Ireland Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson). My hon. Friend might find that some of his views are echoed in my speech.

It was a pleasure to listen to the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the former Chief Whip and Patronage

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Secretary. His knowledgeable contribution showed how much he will be missed from the House after the general election.

Today is Parliament talking about Parliament. As I look up towards those who look down on us—literally and metaphorically—I am conscious that I do not see many of them. My hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris), who has just left the Chamber, referred to our being in a goldfish bowl, but not many people are looking into this particular goldfish bowl. When we vote on bombing Syria or gassing badgers, this place is surrounded by members of the public wishing to tell us their views. We find that our inboxes are full of e-mails and our correspondence rates go up, but that has not happened in the build-up to today’s debate.

I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell) back in his place below the Gangway on the Opposition Benches. He reminded us of the case of Winchester in 1997, which is probably one of the only times we have seen what a recall looks like. I declare an interest in that case—you may well remember it, Mr Speaker—because the Conservative candidate in that Winchester by-election, who had been the Member for Winchester until the 1997 general election, was one Gerry Malone, who once held the very high office of deputy chairman of the Conservative party responsible for youth. It was Mr Malone who showed his commitment to democracy by overturning the results of the Conservative student elections in which I was elected as national chairman and by appointing my successor. It was ironic that he called that a consultation exercise, as he went on to find out what being on the wrong end of a consultation exercise felt like some years later in Winchester.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is not in the Chamber. He made an eloquent but characteristically depressing speech. A young man from the sixth form of my old school, St Columba’s in St Albans, is doing some work experience in my office this week. He told me with great pride that he had spotted an error in the hon. Gentleman’s speech, because there had been a reference to the Great Reform Act of 1830, when it was, of course, of 1832. I am pleased that the standards of my old history teacher, Mr Byrne, are alive and well in St Columba’s today.

Several hon. Members have talked about trust, which goes to the heart of this matter, and the expenses scandal. I viewed that scandal as a member of the public. Like many Members who were first elected at the 2010 general election, I looked on in despair at what happened during the expenses scandal. I understand that many in the House who lived through that experience are so scarred by it that they do not feel able to stand up and say that it was a small minority of people who did wrong and that those people were rightly punished. When a new regime is in place, it is wrong that this House continues to sit back and take the flak for something from the past. Members on both sides of the House who were first elected in 2010 believe that we have a mandate to restore the bond of trust between this place and the electorate, and we have tried to achieve that through everything that we have done and said in our constituencies.

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We hear that we are all the same and that the political class is useless, but all hon. Members must be visited in their surgeries almost every week by people in abject despair, and because of the two letters after our names, we are able to escalate their problems into the hands of people who can sort them out. If we lose faith in this place, we will deserve to fall into public contempt. I assert that it is time for this Chamber to stand up again and bravely say to the British people, “This is the cockpit of parliamentary democracy in Britain. This is where we resolve issues by debate and argument. This is a place that is populated by people who are motivated by generous, good and decent instincts to do their best for their country and their constituency.”

However, I assert that one of the reasons people have disengaged from politics is that, as the late Tony Benn once said, this place has swapped power for status. Members of Parliament are asked to go on television, but they are afraid to exercise the powers vested in them by their constituents in the Lobby and to stand up powerfully to the Executive. We have shuffled power off to the European Union and to unelected quangos, to people we do not elect and cannot remove. It is vital that in the years ahead this House confidently starts to bring some of those powers back to this place and to exercise them in the name of our constituents who sent us here.

I thought that the comment that the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) made about Enoch Powell having a good majority in his South Down seat because he tipped his hat to the local electorate was a novel one. I am not sure that rushing out, buying trilbies and tipping them to our local electorates is the full solution to the problem we find ourselves in. The hon. Gentleman also referred to Edmund Burke, and I am delighted that the statue of that great conservative philosopher has now been liberated from behind the bookshop in St Stephen’s Hall, so that it can be seen as an inspiration to us all. It was Burke who said, in his famous speech to his electors in Bristol, that we as Members of Parliament owe our constituents our judgment above all else, and that we betray them and do not serve them if we sacrifice our judgment to their opinion. It is absolutely right that during the course of a Parliament we in this place will vote for unpopular measures. I remember a few years ago—I have told this story before—telling Lady Thatcher that the Conservative party was 9% behind in the polls. She asked when the next election was, and I said that it was three and a half years away. She said, “That’s not far enough behind at this stage.”

It is up to us as politicians to take decisions, confident in our judgments and confident that over time they will be shown to be right. I will use the recent example of same-sex marriage. I agonised over how to vote on that, as a practising Catholic and as an openly gay man. If I had listened to those in my constituency whose voice was loudest, whose e-mail send button was pushed the most often, I would have gone into the Lobby to vote against that legislation, but I decided that I owed them my judgment. Although I might not have earned their support on that, I am certain from their reaction afterwards and from the line I took with them that I have earned their respect. That, to me, is a much more important aspiration than to be liked.

Zac Goldsmith: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is making a powerful speech. On his point about gay marriage, would he have made a different

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decision, or felt obliged to vote differently, had there been in place a recall regime of the sort that I and colleagues are proposing?

Conor Burns: That is a very good question. Some hon. Ladies and Gentlemen in this Chamber have known me for more than 20 years, yourself included, Mr Speaker, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Clacton, and they know that I have consistently put my principles ahead of promotion. I would not have sacrificed the national chairmanship of the Conservative students to oppose Maastricht in 1993, and I certainly would not go through the Lobby in this place for something I fundamentally did not believe in—it is a liberating experience when one decides that.

Zac Goldsmith: I would be interested to know why my hon. Friend thinks that others might do that as a consequence of recall. What is it about this House that makes him feel that the existence of recall would enfeeble Parliament, as opposed to strengthening it in the way he has just demonstrated?

Conor Burns: My hon. Friend has given me an excellent introduction to how I want to end my speech. I will support the Government’s Bill, which was ably introduced today by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark)—not Angry of Tunbridge Wells, but moderate and very sensible of Tunbridge Wells. I look forward to the amendments from my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) in Committee, because I think that they need to be probed.

When I resigned from my role as PPS in order to vote against a Bill which I fundamentally opposed and believed would damage Parliament, I did so in the knowledge that that would lead to a sacrifice. As a friend of mine said at the time, “You’re a genius: you’ve established yourself as a person of principle over an issue that nobody really cares about.” I suppose that there was an element of truth in that. What I want to know—my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire made this point absolutely brilliantly—is how the amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park would enable the separation of sanction on personal probity issues from people taking policy positions. In this House a Member must be able to take a policy decision, a difference of philosophical understanding on an issue, and be confident that they will be judged on that over time at the next general election. Issues of personal conduct are completely separate. If my hon. Friend can convince me and others that we can separate policy and probity, we will be open-minded in how we vote.

6.20 pm

Mr Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow so many powerful speeches, none more so than that just given by my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns).

I have supported the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) in bringing forward a vision of a recall controlled by the public, not controlled, as it might be perceived, by Whips or by the Standards Committee, however well constituted. The speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) was telling. The question

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is this: is it possible to allow the public to trigger recall for wrongdoing without that being abused so that it strays into matters of conscience or towards constraining the public from deciding what is or is not wrongdoing? The Bill sets the offence at a level that leads to a custodial sentence or, in the context of this House, to a very long and severe sanction by the Standards Committee. Earlier, I posed the question of whether the public would feel cheated when somebody did something that they felt was dreadful but that, in the view of the Committee and the processes of this House, did not lead to a suspension of sufficient time to allow them to express themselves on the subject. That is at the heart of the matter, and that is what we are agonising over.

We have heard excellent speeches from, for instance, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who set the issue in the Northern Ireland context. That is a good context in which to question how communities that are sometimes severely divided might seek to use the recall mechanism. Could it be misused in a way that undermines people in doing what they should do, which is to act in line with their conscience? It is worth noting that the hon. Gentleman, for his part, felt that he could trust the public, and felt that his predecessor would have been able to rely on his public even as he was doing things that they would not have agreed with, because they respected how and why he was doing them.

Sammy Wilson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that all the conditions that have been attached to the recall mechanism as regards the thresholds that have to be met mean, to some extent, that those who are supporting the amendments do not trust the public because they believe that they need to put in a lot of safeguards to ensure that the public do not abuse the system?

Mr Stuart: That is a fair point. However, the public are not one thing, are they? The public are made up of a lot of individuals, and therefore one has to allow a certain collection of them to come together before starting to suggest that a recall reflects a wider public opinion. Otherwise we stand the chance of very small numbers of people being able to trigger it.

Mark Durkan: The thresholds that the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) talks about would be in the hands of the public. The 5% premise petition, the 20% test petition, and then the referendum are all in the hands of the public.

Mr Stuart: The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why, although I will reflect on what I have heard today—I am less sure than I was about supporting the amendments —my opinion is still that we should trust the public. We want the public to trust us, and we need to trust them. However, we need to ensure that we do not allow a tiny minority of the public to use recall in a way that most people, even in the area concerned, regard as untoward and unreasonable, simply because it is there and they feel they can use it. If that small minority are feeling powerless and think that their voice is not being heard, they will pick up whatever instrument is to hand and seek to use it to propagate their case, which they no doubt feel strongly about. That balance is what we are agonising about today.

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I try to look at this from the perspective of the public outside. They will wonder why we are putting so many barriers in the way of their deciding to exercise a right of recall and remove people from this place. As Chair of the Education Committee, I am reminded that so many teachers, or certainly the teaching unions, appear to go to such lengths to protect the worst-performing teachers in the system even though, in every case, the teacher who is idle, has low standards or fails their pupils undermines morale in the staff room and all the hard work of most teachers in the school, and those elsewhere who do so much to prioritise teachers. However, standing here in this Chamber, I guess I can recognise the sense of, “If they come for one, they may come for all.” A certain paranoia runs through us.

Mr Stewart Jackson: My hon. Friend is making a strong speech. I think that the answer to his reasonable question as to why some of us are challenging the received wisdom is that, to the best of my knowledge, we have not heard an example of a Member—someone who makes laws in this House—who is a criminal who has not been subject either to disciplinary proceedings or to a criminal sanction in the past 10 to 20 years. I have not heard any such example.

Mr Stuart: My hon. Friend made a powerful speech. At the heart of the issue is whether the public, with no prior wrongdoing having been proved, can be trusted to use this power without it being abused in order to challenge Members on matters of conscience. I do not often speak up for the Liberal Democrats, but in this Parliament our coalition partners took an unpopular decision on tuition fees as part of a coalition agreement that they thought was in the national interest. Members representing university towns may have taken that decision even though they stood on that manifesto pledge. Following this debate, I am going to have to wrestle with the idea of whether I am confident that the proposed process would not have been used to turf out those MPs for doing what they thought was right. It would be terrible if the fear of recall were to influence not how Members treat their constituents or work on their behalf, but how they vote. That goes to the heart of the debate.

Zac Goldsmith: None of the Lib Dem Members with whom I have spoken believe they would have been recalled on the back of the tuition fee debacle. If recall had been possible, it is more likely that they would have thought twice about pledging such unrealistic and undeliverable things before an election. Under such a regime, Members would have to think much more carefully about the promises they make.

Mr Stuart: My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a subtle and important point, which takes me back to the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) about US Congressmen always looking over their shoulders because they are elected to serve only two-year terms. It is not entirely a bad thing, however, that MPs are always looking over our shoulders to ensure that we communicate to our constituents why we are doing what we are doing and why we have made certain promises and voted in certain ways.

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I do not know whether this has already been mentioned, but I accept that we are taking a risk. If we give the public the right of recall without any prior wrongdoing having been proved, we do not know how it will be used or what the pressures—political or otherwise—that may occur in coming years will do. I suggest, therefore, that this process is a perfect candidate for a sunset clause, whereby it would be trialled for a five-year Parliament. It might be said that after giving the public the right of recall, there is no way this House would ever have the courage to take it back from them. I suggest, however, that if that right ends up being used not for wrongdoing, but to challenge Members on how they vote, this House should then have the courage to do something about it.

It is not just proven wrongdoing that is of a criminal character or that is so severe that a Member is suspended for 21 days that upsets the public. If Members look at the data that WriteToThem, which is part of the TheyWorkForYou stable of internet tools, used to produce its league table, they will see that an awful lot of colleagues from all parties appeared not to respond to constituents: they did not write back to or take care of them. It is up to the electorate to decide whether they are being properly served by a Member of Parliament. That is at the heart of the issue for those of us who wish to give the public that right, and we hope, albeit in the spirit of optimism, that it will be used in the right way.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): I support the Bill. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this is not about whether we trust the public, but about the fact that for the past 50 years brave Members of Parliament have had to take positions that were in advance of public opinion on social issues such as homosexuality, hanging and race relations, for which they were later vindicated?

Mr Stuart: I take that point on board. For the entire period during which I have been involved with the Conservative party, I have for ever been hearing how old, out of touch and ludicrously right wing many of its members are. It was said that they would never select anyone to stand for Parliament who did not accord with their views. It turns out that whatever their views—in times past, if they had very strong views on capital punishment, they may have said in advance that they would only choose a candidate who believed in capital punishment—they eventually selected someone completely different, because they respected that person and wanted to back them. I put it to the hon. Lady that I am not sure that the many people who have been mentioned today would be disowned by their constituents for taking brave and unpopular decisions. They are quite likely to be backed in their local area, but I recognise that we are taking a risk, which is why I suggested a sunset clause.

Mr Kevan Jones: That may possibly be the case. However, if a very well-financed individual or organisation campaigned against a Member on subjects such as those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), the Member would have to go through the recall process. Even if the MP were re-elected, they would have had to spend all their time on that. I am sure a lot of people would be put off from raising principled issues that have changed life in this country for the better.

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Mr Stuart: The argument against the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park is that powerful interests would come along and act. It always strikes me that the vulnerability of British politics to money is tremendous; yet I suggest that the cases in which it is abused are remarkably few and far between, notwithstanding the righteous efforts of the hon. Gentleman to highlight those he comes across. I simply ask him why we should not give this a chance for a Parliament. If the public in a local area was of the opinion that there had been an abuse, people would be able to divine who was behind such an attempt and see through what was behind it, even if the person named as bringing it forward was a front person. Time will tell: we perhaps need to give it a chance to find out whether that is true or not.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I support the principles behind the Bill. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that over the years there have been systematic intense media campaigns against Members of the House—Tam Dalyell, Tony Benn and others—as can be seen just from reading the newspaper headlines of the time. It is quite conceivable that a media campaign with a huge amount of money behind it could succeed in getting rid of a Member of Parliament who was taking unpopular decisions. That is big money: it might not be big money paid to individuals, but it is big money influencing public opinion.

Mr Stuart: Ultimately, however, it would not be the press barons but our electorates who decided. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that our electorates are easily moulded by the tabloid press, I point out that the public would decide, not the press barons. That goes back to the earlier point that this is about trusting the public to exercise their judgment and come to the right conclusion.

Chris Bryant: Is not the truth that the people we are talking about—Leo Abse, Sydney Silverman, David Steel and, for that matter, people from previous generations, such as Plimsoll—all enhanced their reputation with the public even though they advanced unpopular causes? It would be exactly the same today.

Mr Stuart: I tend to agree. There is an idea that powerful outside forces will pick on a Member of Parliament, but as many Members have commented, whatever the public disgust with MPs in general—rightly or wrongly—people tend to have a much higher opinion of the MP in their own area. If such an MP was under threat for doing his or her job and for bravely standing up for what he or she thinks is right, I would trust local people to send out the strong message that they will have no truck with such efforts to destabilise and remove the MP. There would be risks, as there always are, but at least the decision would rest with the public in the constituency, who would ultimately decide the MP’s fate.

We are where we are, and there is a crisis at least of public trust, although not of Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) made a powerful speech on the importance of speaking up for Parliament and about the fact that Parliament works, whatever problems people may have with parties or individual MPs. None the less, I think that we need to

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trust the public to do the right thing. If we do that, they will feel that we have given them a say in judging whether or not we have done wrong.

6.34 pm

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): On behalf of the Opposition, I will respond to the debate and place on the record our position on recall.

I am disappointed that the Deputy Prime Minister has not joined us at any point in this debate. His name is on the Bill, but he has not chosen to come to the House today. We have, however, heard thoughtful speeches from Members on both sides of the House, and I shall touch briefly on four or five of them.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) asked whether the public and, indeed, Parliament had confidence in the Standards Committee. We share his concerns and believe that there is a compelling argument for reforming the composition of the Committee on a cross-party basis.

The right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) spoke eloquently and at some length. He made the point, rightly, that vexatious recall petitions might be used to destabilise a Government. That is not something that we wish to see. He also said that MPs who voted for or against military action or going to war might face recall. If the lessons of the last century, and of 1914 in particular, teach us anything, it is that public opinion might be in one place at the start of a conflict, but in a different place by the end of it. The courageous MPs on both sides of the House who took a stance against the war in 1914 would undoubtedly have faced a recall petition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) made the brief but important observation that we are representatives, not delegates. That is a position that the Opposition fully support.

The right hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), apart from a three-week sabbatical in 2012, served for four years as Leader of the House and Chief Whip. He was perhaps, therefore, more than anybody else, the midwife of the Bill. He spoke eloquently about whether it is a cause or a conduct that we are trying to regulate. Like the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, he warned about the possibility of destabilising campaigns.

The right hon. Member for North West Hampshire also spoke about the role of the Standards Committee. I asked a question of the House of Commons Library and, with its usual efficiency, it responded to me during the course of the debate. There have been 15 occasions when the Standards Committee has recommended suspension. On not one of those occasions has the House sought to overturn the recommendation of the Committee. That suggests that the House gets it right on suspensions.

Finally, the hon. Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) made a powerful and eloquent speech. I hope that we will see more of him in the Chamber during the Committee stage.

The Opposition will support the Government in the Lobby this evening if there is a Division. As has been said several times, there was a commitment to introduce recall in the Labour party manifesto, as well as in the

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Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos. In the coalition’s programme for government, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister stated jointly:

“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.”

Given that this is the fifth year of a five-year Parliament, I wonder what happened to the “early legislation” part of that promise. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will have a good answer when he responds.

We think that the Bill can be strengthened in a number of ways. We will set out our exact amendments in the next few days. However, I will talk briefly about two issues: the principle of recall and whether the provision should be extended to the holders of other public offices. There is cross-party support for the principle that where it can be shown that serious wrongdoing has occurred, the public should have the right to remove their representatives between elections. The public have a right to expect that those elected to represent constituents behave with probity. Where an elected representative has fallen well below the standard expected of the person holding office, it is unacceptable that they should be allowed to continue in office for up to five years without challenge.

Equally, however, we do not support allowing vexatious or purely political attempts by well-funded vested interest groups to subvert the democratic will of the people, and we are concerned at the suggestion that recall could be triggered without genuine wrongdoing having occurred. It is not enough to dislike how a Member of Parliament has voted, and we will therefore consider carefully any amendments that widen the scope for recall. We are clear, however, that the trigger for recall should be a Member’s conduct, not the expression of an opinion with which some constituents disagree.

There is a long and noble tradition of parliamentary pioneers, and the society we take for granted today was achieved only through a democratic struggle that stretched over 350 years. I am personally a great admirer of Charles James Fox, whose statue guards the public entrance to St Stephen’s Lobby. Fox was a thorn in the side of George III and many of his Prime Ministers. He was a campaigner against slavery and the slave trade. He fought for religious tolerance and personal freedom, and he opposed both the principle and conduct of the war with the colonies in North America. There is little doubt, however, that Charles James Fox would have faced a recall petition on more than one occasion if the proposals set out by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) had been adopted at that time.

There are equally great parliamentary reformers from the last 50 years. As the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) said, Leo Abse was one such MP. Along with Lord Arran, he was a great champion of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. After Humphrey Berkeley lost his seat in 1966, Leo Abse took up the private Member’s Bill that ultimately led to the change in the law. What would have happened to Leo Abse—or indeed other parliamentary supporters—if recall had been available in 1967? I fear that some of those brave and forward-looking MPs would have been recalled.