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Political and Constitutional Reform Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 373
Taken before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee
on Thursday 19 January 2012
Mr Graham Allen (Chair)
Mr Christopher Chope
Mr Andrew Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mr Douglas Carswell MP, Peter Facey, Unlock Democracy, Zac Goldsmith MP, and Dr Alan Renwick, University of Reading, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Welcome, colleagues. It is very good to see you. It is an innovative and interesting experiment that we are considering. There are a number of proposals for the recall of MPs. We now have before us some of the experts and we intend to pick their brains ruthlessly. I hope that parliamentary colleagues will not take the chance to even any scores that they have held against Douglas or Zac over the years. We intend this session to be very informal and conversational and to set our witnesses at ease. Perhaps you would each like to say a few words about your position and how you came to this topic, and give us some general background on your views. Douglas, would you like to kick off?
Mr Carswell: I am very much in favour of the idea of recall. I think that it’s absolutely essential and one of the few reforms that could genuinely reconnect the remote, aloof political class with the people whom it purports to represent. I’ve long championed recall. I’ve published pamphlets. When I was working for the Conservative party policy unit, I wrote papers advocating it.
However, I think that the proposal that has been put in front of us is 180° wrong. I think that it is deeply and deliberately flawed. Instead of doing what recall should do, which is to make all of us as Members of this legislature outwardly accountable to the people, the proposal, I think, will make us more inwardly accountable to Westminster grandees. It will lead, possibly, to the very thing that it’s designed to prevent-being judged by what you might call the wrath of the mob, rather than assessed deliberately, calmly and measuredly through a renewed and enhanced system of local democracy. It’s a deeply flawed proposal. It’s deeply regrettable. One of the things that is key to re-establishing confidence in the political system has been messed up by the people in charge.
Q2 Chair: Tell us briefly, Douglas, how your system would work.
Mr Carswell: I call the proposal for recall that I advocate real recall. Let me first say what it is not. It is absolutely not about allowing one in 10 or 15% or 20% of people to sign a petition and that’s it-you are then hung out to dry. That is pretty much what the proposal before us is about. Under the real recall proposal, it’s a three-stage process. A petition is initiated locally; the complaint is initiated locally. If a certain number of people-I would say one in five voters-sign that petition, you face stage B, which is the recall ballot. It’s a yes/no vote. The petition asks the local returning officer to arrange a ballot. Should Douglas Carswell, Stephen Williams, Andrew Turner or any of us face a recall election-yes or no? If more than half the people taking part in that vote said yes, you should be recalled, you would face a by-election. In other words, the hurdle is quite high. It is half your local voters-people who’ve known you, people who can genuinely assess your performance in the round.
Under the system before us, you’re basically thrown to the wolves by a committee of grandees. The key hurdle is 10% signing a petition. In the age of the internet, that could be organised and done in a week. This system is not about outward accountability to the voters. It is about empowering committees of grandees to treat very unjustly MPs like, perhaps, George Galloway, who have slightly contrarian views. It’s not democratic. John Wilkes would have been thrown to the wolves by this system. Under real recall, you could trust the confidence of the people whom you are here to serve. I personally would rather face their judgment than those of the commissioners and the Westminster grandees.
Zac Goldsmith: I agree with absolutely everything that Douglas has said. I’ve been advocating true recall for some time. One of the first things that I did as an MP was introduce a Bill on recall of representatives. An early-day motion that reflects that Bill has been signed by 53 MPs. There are many others who do not sign early-day motions, but who would, they tell me, have signed that early-day motion. I have written articles and pamphlets and lobbied the minister relentlessly.
This is potentially a hugely important legislative change. I think that it would genuinely electrify politics. It’s fundamentally about boosting democracy-empowering the people. Let me explain the principal reason for that. I’ll give an example. If voters in a constituency are unhappy with their MP, if they think that they are represented by the wrong person, they really have only one option-to wait until the general election, which could be up to five years away. They can then either not vote, which is not satisfactory at all, or vote for a different party. In theory, that may be okay. In practice, there are a lot of areas in this country where people are comfortable only with one party. There are safe Labour seats that aren’t going to be Tory and there are safe Tory seats that aren’t going to be Labour-I’m not sure how many safe Lib Dem seats there are at the moment. However, the reality is that the choice is just not there.
Under recall, you would be able to replace your MP with someone from the same party, which means that you could continue to support the party that you’ve always supported while knowing that you had an MP who was responsive. If an MP has systematically broken every promise made before an election, if they are negligent in the extreme-they decide to go on a series of six-month holidays, one after the after-or if they switch from one party to an extremist party, making their constituents very uncomfortable, there is currently nothing that voters can do except wait for the next general election. Obviously, under recall, that would change.
However, the most important reason for advocating true recall, as opposed to what is in the document before us, is a point that Douglas has made: it would make MPs more responsive. Our principal job as backbench MPs is to hold the Government to account, but after an election, the greater pressure on MPs is not from voters-constituents-but from the party hierarchy. We all know that that’s the case. With recall, it would become immediately obvious to all MPs of all parties that the only three-line Whip that really matters, to quote Douglas in a different context, is the three-line Whip imposed by constituents. Again, that would be really important.
What the Government have put forward, in my view, is a pretence at recall. Instead of handing power down to voters, which is what recall is meant to do, it hands power up to a parliamentary committee. I would not want to be one of the members of that parliamentary committee. I suspect that if you ask them when they give evidence next week, they will tell you themselves that they do not want the responsibilities that come with this Bill because they don’t think that it’s possible for them to act fairly, neutrally, objectively and genuinely in the interests of constituents. It will be an interesting discussion that you have next week. Unless it is amended, the draft Bill, in my view, needs to be rejected by those people who believe in true recall. I certainly would not support the Bill in its current form.
Q3 Chair: One quick question. Only so many Members of Parliament would fall foul of this and, having gone through the process, be in the position of losing their seats. Wouldn’t there be many others who would not have passed all those thresholds, and would not be in a position of losing their seats, but would have gone through this process and been incredibly damaged by it? They would have to spend a lot of time watching their backs in the constituency-I am putting views that I have heard from other people-and those who, in effect, were found innocent in the court of public opinion, would none the less be severely damaged, and would have dented media reputations and local reputations. How do we get over that particular difficulty?
Zac Goldsmith: I take your point. That is exactly why this Bill is wrong. Under this mechanism, it takes one complaint from anyone, who might be another MP-it does not have to be a constituent-to trigger an investigation. If, for the sake of pacifying, for example, a media campaign against a particular MP, the Committee decides it is easier just to qualify that person for recall and let the voters decide, the MP then faces the challenge of persuading more than 90% of their constituents not to sign a petition. I don’t think anyone can do that. The simple fact that you have been qualified for recall would tell many people that you are probably not the right sort of person. So you would lose that first campaign. You would then find yourself in an immediate by-election where the issue would not be the reason for the recall, whatever that reason happens to be. You would be fighting an election against other Members from other parties within the context of national politics at the time. So you would never have the opportunity properly to defend yourself.
Under true recall, the decision is made entirely by local people, not by one person with a bee in their bonnet. We will all upset one or two constituents, and if we don’t we are probably not doing our job. You’d have to upset many people under true recall, and my view is that the threshold should be around 20%. That is a major thing. If 20% of constituents sign a petition saying they think this person should be recalled, you would then have a two or three-month period during which you could argue about the issue that led to your recall petition. At the end of that, you either survive or fail, but the decision is taken by local people. That would prevent the kind of vexatious campaigns that I think you were alluding to earlier.
Q4 Chair: Peter, do you have any views?
Peter Facey: We support recall as a means to improve accountability of elected officials and representatives, not just MPs. We believe it is a way potentially to close the gap between those who are elected by voters and those who actually make our laws and take decisions for us. This Bill in its current form is a disciplinary code for MPs. It is not recall in the sense that it is used anywhere else in the world. It is one of the most restrictive forms of recall I have seen, not only in terms of the issues you can be recalled for-I agree with all the comments that have been made-but in the way in which you can sign the petition. We are talking here about having to get 10% of people to go to a town hall or another official building and sign in a location, or ring up and ask for, effectively, a postal vote equivalent. The likelihood of their doing that within an eight-week period, even if you get through all the other restrictions, is extremely unlikely.
If this Bill stays in its current form, my recommendation would be that the Government do not introduce it, because it would be a waste of parliamentary time and, if anything, would increase the disconnect between voters and politicians, rather than closing that gap. What will happen is that there will be a case when someone has done something that the public think is serious wrongdoing, they will think they have the right to recall them, and then they will find that they have absolutely no right to do that under this Bill. Instead, they will feel even more disillusioned.
There is also a strong argument that as well as looking at MPs, this should be about other position holders. One strong example is mayors. We imported a north American model of elected mayors, but we did not import the accountability to go alongside it. What we are doing here is, rather than introducing recall for mayors when we created them, taking the step of going where no national Parliament has gone and introducing recall directly for MPs first, rather than for directly elected positions. I am in favour of it for MPs, but there is a stronger case for MEPs, who have less accountability, and for mayors and police commissioners. In this form, the Bill is not even worth the paper it is printed on-or photocopied on as it is in my case.
Q5 Chair: One question to you, Peter, to get Members thinking. For the elected people in our constitution-the Members of Parliament-the proposal is for them to be subject to a further constraint, inhibition or level of accountability. Do you agree with those who say that it is something of a red herring to chase Members of Parliament when the people who really run the politics in this country are those around No. 10 Downing Street, many of whom are not elected, the Prime Minister, who is not directly elected, the media and the senior civil service? All the people who really are the power brokers in our society are completely left aside in consideration of Members of Parliament, who are often there just to make up the numbers.
Peter Facey: I have sympathy, but I would not want to go to the extent of therefore dropping recall. Recall is an important connection. There is a serious argument which is that, constitutionally, MPs have all the power, but they exercise only a small fraction of it. The people who limit MPs-I hate to say it-are actually MPs. Constitutionally, you are the most powerful creatures on the planet, but, politically, you neuter yourselves. One of the big revolutions, and perhaps recall can play a part in that, is strengthening MPs. Alongside all the constraints of the political system that we presently have, you will have another balance in that you will be able to go to the Whip and say, "I stood on a manifesto that said we were in favour of this. If I do this, I am likely to be recalled. Therefore, I will not." In some ways, therefore, we should not look at recall as a stick to beat MPs. It may actually turn out to be a great shield for the independent MP when dealing with a powerful party machine.
Q6 Mr Turner: Could you explain by going through the process what has led the proposals in this Bill to be before us rather than your Bill?
Mr Carswell: At the time of the Milton Keynes speech given by David Cameron in opposition, at the height of the election expenses scandal, there was a general acceptance of the idea of recall on the centre right-I am not making a partisan point-which was subsequently followed up by the centre left agreeing with the idea. I know from some of the suggestions that I put forward, and some of the responses to them, that there was a lot of sympathy with the idea of genuine local recall, just as at the same time there was a lot of support for the idea of genuine open primaries, and indeed we had three of them. However, at some point between that Milton Keynes speech and the nine-point proposal that my party put forward during the general election to clean up politics, something got muddled.
I suspect it got muddled because the urgent sometimes squeezes out the important and people who had reflected and understood the detail weren’t involved. Somehow the true nature of recall, which is to make us genuinely outwardly accountable, was lost sight of. Once in government members of the legislature feared that somehow if you went too far down this road, you would have all sorts of vexatious attempts at unseating you. That meant that the confusion and misunderstanding, which perhaps started off accidentally, was never cleared up and Sir Humphrey Appleby came up with a system that he would perhaps like, which is to keep the people at bay, and ministers seem to have gone along with it.
Zac Goldsmith: I absolutely agree with that. When you are fighting an election campaign, decentralisation, democracy, localism and so on are attractive things to offer, but when it comes to the crunch, most governments, and ours unfortunately fall into this category, reach a point where they fear the impact of democracy. We had that in relation to the Localism Bill, where the proposed local referendums were first watered down so that they would be advisory and then finally dropped altogether. It was possible that people might actually make a decision for themselves, and that is a terrifying thing for a government. In relation to recall, it is the same thing. Pure recall, which is where the conversation began, has become something that is not recall at all. The reality is that the committee whose job it would be to decide whether an MP qualified for recall would probably look at the code that we all sign up to. You could be the world’s worst ever MP without breaking a single thing in that code because it relates to financial things or, vice versa, you could by accident break the code-for example, by not registering a bottle of wine given to you by a friendly constituent-and it could be a genuine error. That might be an excuse for the committee to qualify you for recall because you are an unpleasant character and not popular in the House. The process that has been put forward by the Government is just not logical, and neither is it an extension of democracy. It is not actually recall, other than in name.
Q7 Mr Turner: May I ask you a further question? What would be your alternative to the trivial applications? But you can answer the first question first.
Peter Facey: The root of this goes back to the expenses scandal. What the politicians and the parties were doing was looking for a way of signalling to people that they would be given more power to clean up politics and of saying, "This won’t happen again; we’ll find a way of doing it." The problem is that the rhetoric is all about empowering, but the words are "serious wrongdoing." The problem is that it is Parliament and the politicians deciding what the serious wrongdoing is, and not the electorate. That is the root of this. As soon as you try to legislate for serious wrongdoing and you try to find where it is, you get into the difficulty that this Bill is in. Effectively, you try to come up with a quasi-judicial process, rather than a political process, and you end up here, which is unlike any form of recall anywhere else in the world.
You asked how vexatious recall proceedings could be prevented. The standard way of doing it would be to lodge a petition and have a stage before the petition was started, so that you had to have a qualification. So if you allow people to do it, you could say that, if they have to raise 7,000 signatures in eight weeks, which is what the Government are proposing on average would happen under the Bill, in the first stage they would have to raise 1,000 signatures in a very short time. The Government have gone around the world of direct democracy, taking bits from here and there, but they have not looked at some of the other things you could do to enable it. The only other place I know that uses the "going to a place" to sign a petition is Austria, which uses it for agenda initiatives. We have gone that restrictive.
What normally happens in direct democracy is that you have two lots of restrictions-one that limits the scope of what you can do, and the other that makes it difficult to do it. We have gone for both. We have gone for making it extremely difficult to do and saying, "You can only do it for these limited situations." I do not think that a parliamentary committee will ever hang an MP out to dry, in which case you are legislating for something that basically I do not think will ever happen, so why spend time on it?
Q8 Mr Turner: May I ask Douglas about what Members are supposed to do when they are, for instance, the Foreign Secretary, who spends half his time going around the world and a quarter of his time in Parliament? There really is not time to deal with it.
Mr Carswell: Sometimes, unfortunately, democracy can be very inconvenient to the career ambitions of politicians. I think we would all like to be able to disregard the need to be re-elected and perhaps focus on politics, but, unfortunately, we accept that, in this day and age, you are sent here by the people. Your constituents, wherever they may be, are not some sort of added-on extra that you can think about at the end of the day; they are the reason why you are here. If I also wished to be the Foreign Secretary-I have no such desire-I would make jolly sure that my constituents were happy before I focused on fulfilling my duties as a Minister of the Crown. It is in the nature of democracy that the people who put you here should come first.
Can I deal with the point about vexatious attempts? All of us as elected Members are going to be concerned about vexatious attempts to use recall to unseat good MPs, and you are right to be concerned. There will be vexatious attempts to get rid of you; it is in the nature of democracy. But the question is how best to prevent vexatious attempts from bringing down good Foreign Secretaries or getting rid of people who, in the national interest, have to make decisions that perhaps local constituents do not like. There are basically two methods. You can have a committee of grandees, as per this paper, which filters out the supposedly vexatious attempts. That is flawed for two reasons. First, grandees are capable of being pretty vexatious themselves-see John Wilkes, who was repeatedly prevented from taking his seat in this House precisely because the elite did not want him to. You can trump up vexatious charges against people with unfashionable views, and I suspect that this will allow the grandees to do that.
Secondly, as a filter, grandees are not good at withstanding media storms. Do you really imagine that at the height of the expenses scandal the Committee on Standards and Privileges would have given Ian Gibson, who I think was treated abominably, a fair hearing? Of course they wouldn’t. This proposal would not protect against vexatious attempts at the height of a media storm. On the contrary, good people would be thrown to the wolves.
If you really want to make sure that vexatious attempts do not get through, trust the good judgment of the people. If you have real recall, your local voters who have got to know you over many years and can see the good work you will do can make a judgment. It will require 50% of them to vote in the recall ballot that, yes, you should be recalled.
We have some evidence about what people think of vexatious attempts to remove good MPs. Look at the 1997 result in Winchester-the closest we have ever come in this country to having a recall election. It was not a genuine recall; it was, in effect, a judicially sanctioned one. The Tory candidate lost the seat by two votes, cried foul, went to the courts and got a rerun. What did the people of Winchester make of that? They rejected the Tory candidate by 20,000 votes. People who had voted for him only a few weeks before, said, "No, I think you are being vexatious and trying to unseat and overturn a legitimate result." We have nothing to fear from trusting the people; we have everything to fear from trusting the judgment of the elite.
Q9 Fabian Hamilton: Thank you, Douglas, for elucidating your views. I have a lot more sympathy with your view, and Zac’s and Peter’s, on what real recall should be, than with the rather fake attempt before us. I agree with you on both those points. Certainly, you have put a very good case for what real recall is, but isn’t the problem the multiple role of Members of Parliament under our unwritten constitution? You just pointed out the problem in your example of the Foreign Secretary, which was something that I was going to raise, and Andrew raised it. If the public do not like a particular Government’s policy, will they not take it out on that minister-I know that you have tried to answer that-who simply cannot devote the time that he or she would like to constituents?
It seems that the real issue is that we do not have separation of powers. We have a multiple role: holding the Government to account if we are backbenchers or trying to be ministers if we want to pursue a career in the Executive. At the same time, we are representing the very real day-to-day problems of our constituents, which are often brought to us quite wrongly. How many housing cases do you get? I do not know how many council houses you have in your constituencies, but I get a lot of social housing cases-half of them now-that are really nothing to do with me. I should send them to the councils, but I never turn anyone away-no good MP ever does; they say they would like to help. How do you answer the view that recall is tinkering with the problem when the real problem is constitutional-the role of MPs?
Peter Facey: I don’t think people would recall ministers. The reality is that most people like having a minister as their MP. The higher the profile you have as a politician-party leaders tend not to be defeated in elections. There may be exceptions in future, but at the moment, if you are the Foreign Secretary, it is unlikely that you will face recall. Although I agree with you on separation of powers, the root of this is: is the person who is elected accountable to the constituents? If you accept that constituents can, effectively, hire you, the logic goes that they should also have a mechanism to fire you. There must be restrictions-it must be a sober process and be difficult, but possible, to do. I have seen no evidence that high-profile politicians who take a policy role are likely to face recall. There may have been situations in which someone has stood on a manifesto and said, "I am fundamentally against this," and has been elected but does the complete opposite. I am not sure whether that is because they were a minister; it is because that was their manifesto. If that is the worry here, it is one that really should not be there. This is not the problem of recall.
Zac Goldsmith: I take a slightly different view in that there are plenty of examples of decisions that the Government could take that would almost certainly lead to resignations from some ministers. Take the example of an MP, like me, who represents people living under the Heathrow flight path. If I were a Government minister-God forbid-and I was required to vote for a third runway at Heathrow, I know, as a matter of fact, that I would not be the MP at the following election. If I was a minister, I would be sensible to stand down, so you cannot pretend that that link does not exist. I suspect that High Speed 2, as a present example, could have that impact. There are other examples as well. The proposed sale of the forests could have very seriously damaged the author of this report. I may be wrong, but I believe that he represents the Forest of Dean. Is that right?
Mr Carswell: Yes.
Zac Goldsmith: So there is a link there, and it is unavoidable, but I do not think that that is a bad thing. What it might do is require the Government to apply a little more scrutiny to their own policies. Occasionally, they come up with mad ideas that could do with a little extra scrutiny.
Where I think I differ from Douglas is that I think there are probably a few jobs in Government-not least the Prime Minister, but perhaps one or two others as well-where they are so required to speak for the entire country, even at the expense of their constituents, that you would probably have to insulate them. I would minimise it, but certainly the Prime Minister would be-for as long as he remains the Prime Minister-insulated from potential recall, because it is just too destabilising.
Mr Carswell: Very briefly. Fabian, by extension of your argument, we would not ask these poor, put-upon ministers to stand in general elections in a constituency in the far corners of the country and get a mandate. All we are asking for is the right to trigger an election before the five-year term is up. To be a Minister of the Crown, you first have to be elected by constituents.
Fabian Hamilton: Under the current system.
Mr Carswell: Yes. I will also add that, until 1915-I think I am right in saying-in this country, if you were a member of the legislature and not the Executive and you were invited to join a government, you had to resign your seat and stand in a by-election. That was, like many measures, suspended during the first world war and never reinstated. That ensured that there was, in effect, a separation of powers in this country, and it also meant that every single person who served as a minister in the House of Commons had gone through, in effect, a confirmation hearing among their constituents in order to hold the job. I am not suggesting that we go back that far, but there is something to be said-
Q10 Fabian Hamilton: Maybe you should suggest it. My final question is this: is it not your desire and the desire of those who wish to see this recall mechanism put in place really a desire if not to abandon, then certainly to weaken the power of political parties? Is it not fundamentally anti-political parties?
Mr Carswell: It is anti-fiefdoms. Seven out of 10 constituencies in this country are in effect rotten boroughs. Seven out of 10 constituencies will not change hands during a general election. In four out of the past five general elections, fewer than three in 10 seats changed hands. You have more chance of losing your job in the House of Commons by falling foul of the party machine than by being rejected by the voters in seven out of 10 seats. I do not think that that is healthy. I want people to have choice and competition as to who represents them. If you can have choice and competition in where you shop, what cinema you go to or where you send your child to school, why should seven out of 10 voters live in one-party fiefdoms where you have no say over who is your MP?
Fabian Hamilton: Then change the boundaries.
Q11 Stephen Williams: May I first address a question directly to Zac? You said that this would electrify politics, and I internally raised my eyebrows. On the great hierarchy of issues that this Committee considers, where would you place recall as opposed to electoral reform, which I think you were opposed to?
Zac Goldsmith: Recall is probably the single biggest thing that could be done to reconnect or repair the bridge between people and power, because I think it would automatically ensure that every MP, no matter how safe or big their majority, is kept on their toes. If an MP decides to change their position on a significant issue-you could describe it as breaking a promise-they would be required to go around their constituency, hold public meetings and explain why they have changed their position. They could not simply hide in the bunker that Parliament provides.
On that basis, it would absolutely restore the link between people and power, and it would remove for ever, in my view, the complaint that so many people have that their MP simply does not listen to them, because if that were true and if enough people agreed with that, the MP would no longer be their MP. This is huge. I opposed AV because the argument for AV-I know that this is not what we are here to discuss, but it is what you are alluding to-described it as a mechanism that would break the safe seat. I cannot see any evidence that it would do that. The recall would absolutely break the safe seat. There would be no such thing as a safe seat. My marginal seat in Richmond, which, according to the new changes, is becoming Lib Dem, would be no less safe than a 20,000 majority in the shires. It would be my job to perform as an MP just as it would be their job to perform as an MP. I think this is profound and fundamental.
Q12 Stephen Williams: But following what Fabian said earlier, is not the real problem that, no matter how well known we would like to think we are in each of our constituencies, in some constituencies that is easier to establish than others? A stable population or an easily recognisable name, for instance, can help, but is it not really the case that the vast majority of people when they go along to vote are actually voting for our parties and not for us? It is often our party leaders who lead us astray and, perhaps, break promises, rather than the individual MP. We all say things in our leaflets that we would like to do, but they may not always correspond with the party manifesto. Trying to establish who has broken what mandate is not quite as straightforward as you are both implying, is it?
Zac Goldsmith: One point before you come in, Douglas. That is exactly why you need true recall, as opposed to this nonsense. It enables the electorate to ensure that the person they elected, who represents a party on a series of promises, holds their party to those promises, rather than having to go through the pain of explaining to them at electoral and public meetings why they have broken a promise. That would require much more scrutiny of the Executive and, regardless of whether you vote for the individual or the party, it is equally important.
Q13 Stephen Williams: A final question on that, which is directly to Zac, because it is in your Bill. I am sorry that I will not be there to discuss it tomorrow.
Zac Goldsmith: Sadly, it will not be discussed.
Q14 Stephen Williams: That is another absurdity about how this place works, which needs changing. Clause 1(2)(b)(iii) discusses any Member of Parliament who has "broken any promises made by him or her in an election address". That comes back to what I was saying earlier about how what we might say locally and what our party says in our manifesto are not always the same, but I presume that you stood on a promise that inheritance tax would be cut for the richest in society. Richmond Park is a wealthy constituency. Will you be submitting yourself for recall because that promise has been broken?
Zac Goldsmith: I don’t think MPs submit themselves to recall. They submit themselves to public scrutiny. If enough people in my constituency felt strongly enough about that issue, and if they believed that, even though we are in a coalition, we should have fulfilled that promise, then, yes, I would qualify for recall.
On the point about my Bill, these are suggestions. If you read the Bill, the key thing-the catch-all-is that if people lose confidence in their MP, which can be for any reason at all, and enough people agree that their MP is the wrong MP, they can trigger a recall. There are no conditions applied. It is entirely at the discretion of the local voter.
One final point about the Bill is that I recommended a 10% threshold. Having discussed this ad nauseam with countless colleagues and with experts outside Parliament, my view is that it should be closer to 20%. If I had to amend my own Bill, I would bump it up to 20%.
Q15 Chair: Before we go any further, Alan, will you come to the table please? I will keep my three witnesses in place, because the debate will benefit from your observations, gentlemen, unless you have other places to go.
Dr Alan Renwick, from the University of Reading, I will give you the courtesy that I extended to the other witnesses: do you want to make an opening statement?
Dr Renwick: First, thank you for inviting me. Generally when I come to events like this, I like to speak as much as possible on the basis of evidence. Alas, this is a case where we do not have terribly much evidence. There are not many places that use recall. For some reason, political scientists have not spent much time investigating those cases that exist. However, such evidence as we have suggests that the introduction of recall, either in the restricted form that the Government propose, or in the more extensive form proposed by the other witnesses here, would not transform anything significantly in any direction. It would not be likely to have disastrous effects, but nor would it "electrify politics"-I, too, wrote down that phrase that Zac Goldsmith used. There is no evidence to suggest that it has a big effect in any way.
However, I have a number of views on the Government’s proposals. First, the restriction of recall to cases of proven wrongdoing is a reasonable one, on balance. The main reason why I think that is the sort of reason that Fabian Hamilton alluded to-that some MPs have a dual role in a parliamentary system. They are not just MPs for a particular constituency; they also have national offices, in which they ought to be concerned about the national interest. It would be rather undemocratic for the constituents of one small part of the country to be able to recall someone on the basis of what they did in national office, denying the wider public any participation in that process. It may well be, as I have previously written, that the people of Witney, for example, are very splendid people, but they do not necessarily reflect the views of the country as a whole.
With regard to the concern about vexatious attempts, if you look back to the recall of Gray Davis, the California Governor, in 2003, I have not found a single voice in the UK suggesting that this was a good thing that we ought to introduce in this country. It was uniformly criticised in the media, including by those newspapers-The Guardian, The Independent-that tend to be very much in favour of opening up the political system. We should just remember that that process looked to these people very undemocratic at the time. There are particular problems with the process in California, and there are features of it that it would be stupid to introduce here and which I am sure we would not introduce, but we should be aware of that.
I, however, agree with the other witnesses on certain points. The notion of giving a committee of MPs the power to decide when a recall should happen is unacceptable. That would not carry public confidence. I think there should be an independent committee making those decisions.
Mr Carswell: Voters.
Dr Renwick: I also think that, as Peter was suggesting, the restricted nature of the signature-gathering process is not justified by the Government. They have concerns about the secrecy of the ballot and the avoidance of fraud, but they have not, at least yet, justified the claim that those concerns require the very restricted process of signature gathering that they have proposed.
Q16 Paul Flynn: In the last Parliament, one MP was so riled by criticism of his expenses, that he calculated that he cost each constituent £4.78. He went to the local press and said, "I will give a fiver to anyone who writes to me to say that he’s not satisfied with my service and not getting value for money"-a very rash thing to do. Instead of its costing him a quarter of million pounds, it cost him £30, because only six actually wrote in. The point I am making is that you would imagine that the electorate, particularly his opponents, would have been electrified by this offer of a free fiver. They were not; they remained inert. Is there not a chance that we are overstating-particularly with your 50%, Douglas-the reaction of the electorate on this and their desire to move?
Peter Facey: The reality is that recall, if introduced, even in the form that we advocate, would be rarely used-should be rarely used. You would not want recall to be the norm, with every MP facing a recall election. That would not happen. We are talking about the amount of public anger needed to get through the 10% threshold in the way that the Government have set it. Even if you opened up the cause and you basically said that the public can decide, the numbers would have to be very high actually to trigger a recall ballot. If you put the recall ballot in between and just took the Government’s proposal for very restrictive signature gathering, the amount of anger you would have to have to mobilise, in your constituency, people to go to one central location. In mine-I live in rural Cambridgeshire-you are talking about people driving probably for half an hour or 40 minutes to get to the place, standing in a queue, signing and going away. To get 10% of the electorate in eight weeks to do that, or to ring up and request a postal ballot and have it sent to them and then sign it etc, would be quite a large demand. This is not something that you can trigger easily. That is why I am surprised the Government have gone for such a restrictive signature-gathering process and then limited the causes you can do it on as well, to the point where it will become meaningless.
Mr Carswell: Real recall’s requirement of having 50% of people vote for you to be recalled almost by definition means that, in the locality you represent, there has to be a groundswell of opinion that whatever it is you are accused of doing, you have done something wrong. This proposal, by definition, requires only one in 10 people to object. The only requirement to throw you to the wolves is that people, perhaps a committee of grandees in Westminster or an independent panel-perhaps you could call it the Guardian Council, like they have in Iran-regard you as not being fit to serve in the legislature. Since the times of Charles I-I find extraordinary the idea that we should have an independent panel sitting in judgment of members of the legislature. We do have an independent panel: it is called the voters and they should be the ones who make that decision, not a committee of experts.
Zac Goldsmith: I don’t think it’s possible to come up with the definitive definition of wrongdoing. I don’t think that’s possible. The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has made that point. I won’t quote him as we haven’t got time but the point has been made repeatedly. I don’t think it is possible to do it. What constituents might regard as intolerable negligence or rudeness, or a failure even to set foot in the constituency from the day of the election-none of those things are against the code, so how is it possible for a parliamentary committee or a committee of other very noble experts to make those judgments? I simply do not think it is possible, which is why I don’t think this will happen, except perhaps under media pressure in the odd circumstance, or perhaps where there is a maverick or lively MP who hasn’t found many friends in this place.
Paul Flynn: It was a pleasure to hear you refer to Ian Gibson, who was part of the collateral damage of the expenses scandal, quite unjustly. It is fine to see Tory MPs who Jacob Rees-Mogg would refer to as tigers, rather than Bagpusses. Unfortunately, I think you are in a minority on this.
Chair: Keep to the point, Paul.
Q17 Paul Flynn: The suggestion is that we might introduce a reform that will create more disillusionment and disappointment, and we all agree that we have at least a decade’s task of trying to rebuild confidence in Members of Parliament. If you take e-petitions, which I think you might have supported a while ago, there was a great deal of support and they were going to be the voice of the people. There is now some criticism that, rather than being the voice of the people, they have actually increased the power of the tabloid press, because the successful e-petitions are the ones that have had the support of the tabloid press, rather than ones that might have enjoyed popular support. Do you see a sense of disillusionment on e-petitions that is likely to be repeated if we have a poor recall Bill?
Dr Renwick: It is always the case with the introduction of a new mechanism that you start off with a blaze of interest and that pretty rapidly dies. There is a concern, which Peter in particular has raised, that, if you have a recall mechanism that is not possible to use in many circumstances, that adds to disillusionment with the political system. That is a legitimate concern, but I do not think that the effect would be particularly strong here. We already had calls for the recall of Lib Dem MPs last year from students who were concerned about tuition fees before any legislation had been introduced, simply because the idea of recall is now on the agenda. Once you have the idea of recall on the agenda, you may get that kind of concern whatever the legislation might be. Similarly, if you look at those American States that had recall for many decades-in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, they had the legislation on the books-it was never or very rarely used and it simply died out of public consciousness. So I don’t think you can really form very strong expectations for what is going to happen there. Sometimes it will be used, sometimes it won’t be used. Sometimes it will be a matter of public concern and sometimes it won’t be.
Q18 Chair: Is this a treat for the media?
Mr Carswell: E-petitions tell us something very positive about the mood of people if you trust them. Critics of the e-petition system said it would lead to mob rule and mob proposals. As a small-state liberal who dislikes authoritarian government, I am very pleased to see that the 10 proposals with the highest number of signatories-yes, they are supported by tabloid newspapers, perhaps because their readers support them and they feel they have to get behind them-are asking for good, decent, sensible, liberal things such as the disclosure of information about the Hillsborough tragedy. Maintaining the ban on capital punishment is beating the proposal to restore it by a margin of three to one. It shows that if you trust the people with direct democracy, they are sensible and they are not a mob.
Zac Goldsmith: Arguments against genuine recall, arguments against direct democracy are actually arguments against democracy itself. You either believe in letting people decide or you don’t. I think the proposals as they are set out will lead to disappointment. The only thing worse than not handing power back to people is pretending you are handing power back to people, which is what is happening here. I forget the final point, I’m sorry.
I wouldn’t mind commenting on the Gray Davis result. I think it is astonishing to describe that as unfair. We might all find it unfair when we are booted out eventually. Most of us will be booted out of office unless we are lucky enough to do it on our own terms but we might regard that as being horribly unfair. We might think that we have been misread by the electorate. But that is democracy. Clearly a majority of people in California, under fair conditions, regarded him as being a representative in whom they no longer had confidence. Whether we like it or not, that is democracy. I just don’t see any arguments against that.
Incidentally, it is the only example in California’s history, I believe, where there has been a successful recall. There have been endless attempts. Ronald Reagan-they tried it twice against him; Jerry Brown: twice. This is the only successful attempt. So you have to imagine there was good reason to depose him. That said, there are problems with the rules in California in relation to money. It is far too weighted in favour of those who are able to raise extraordinary sums of money. But that is a detail and that is something that you can deal with through the legislative process.
Chair: There are two questions here. One is winning a campaign to get recall and the second is getting the Government to put a sensible proposal before the House for discussion.
Q19 Simon Hart: One question with two parts, which I hope is fairly straightforward. I start from the position of being pretty sympathetic to the real recall proposals and pretty mesmerised by the Government proposal. Going back to a comment that Stephen made earlier about what constitutes a broken promise, is not changing parties halfway through perhaps a broken promise and would that automatically trigger recall under your proposals? If it did, I think that would attract attention. Historically, that is probably one of the few things which really does generate significant anger in a constituency. That is one point.
Connected to that, there may be circumstances, going back to the vexatious point, where a particularly vicious media campaign in somebody’s region or a particularly vicious pressure group could stir up sufficient interest to result in recall. In those circumstances, what are your proposals on the right to appeal against a recall decision that might go wrong for an incumbent? You may say there is none and that’s tough; it’s democracy, live with it. You may be right, but I just wondered if there is any provision for cases whereby somebody might have deliberately misled a constituency, leading to somebody’s unfair dismissal.
Mr Carswell: Taking the last point first, if more than half the voters in a ballot that says, "Should Douglas Carswell be recalled? Yes or no?" say yes, by definition they are right in a democracy. I may well find that I am subject to vexatious and vicious campaigns. So far that has not happened, mercifully, but it may well be the case that that happens. If I have been doing anything right over the past seven years I hope that the 70,000 people I have tried to represent will be the best possible body to judge whether I am up to doing the job. It goes back to this idea of who decides whether you are doing a good job.
You asked whether you should have a recall if you change party. No, I don’t think you should have to face a recall if you change party. Parties would perhaps be able to throw one or two slightly rebellious, troublesome characters out of their ranks if that were the case. It would perhaps empower the party hierarchies to help them whip people through the right lobbies. Part of the problem with democracy in this country is that it is a two-and-a-half brand, generic game. People want a re-personalisation of the political process. The internet allows that re-personalisation process to happen. These sorts of reforms-open primaries and recall-are a way to give people that re-personalisation of politics that they crave.
Peter Facey: You are right: there’s a large amount of anger in a constituency when an MP crosses the Floor, particularly if they do that at the beginning of a Parliament. There’s an argument that the MP could say that his party left him-he stood on a manifesto and his party has completely changed. However, it’s very difficult to say that when you cross the Floor within months of an election.
I agree with Douglas. It shouldn’t be a requirement written in that if you cross the Floor, you face recall. The voters should be able to recall you because of it, but that should be because they’ve lost confidence in you-because you promised them one thing and you’ve delivered a different thing. I have with me the list of all MPs who have crossed the Floor. In lots of cases, it’s for reasons that I think their electorate would understand, but I think that, in some cases, people would say that they had been conned at an election.
Q20 Simon Hart: I absolutely agree with that, but why should the MP in question, the party that they represent or, indeed, anyone else be the slightest bit concerned about an automatic by-election in those circumstances? If we’re confident that they are confident in our ability and that it’s simply that everyone else has changed and we haven’t, put it to the test. I have no problem with that.
Peter Facey: Yes, but I would prefer to leave it to the voters to decide to recall you themselves, rather than there being a mechanism written into the law. If you go with the slightly insane mechanism of trying to define all the wrongdoing and you turn it into a quasi-judicial process rather than a political process, then why you can’t recall someone for in effect being elected on false promises, I don’t understand. I think that the better way of doing it would be to go to a completely open process that you accept is a political process, not a judicial, disciplinary one, and to leave it to the electorate to decide whether they want to recall you, rather than a Chief Whip being able to use it as one of the disciplinary things that they do in relation to a recalcitrant MP.
Dr Renwick: I agree with most of that. If you have triggering conditions, it would be sensible to add some triggering conditions to those that have been specified already. It would be perfectly reasonable for one of those to be Floor crossing. Another would be failure to attend the House beyond a certain minimum. You could add further points to what the Government have specified.
Zac Goldsmith: Under true recall, if there was demand for a by-election, it would happen, so you wouldn’t be wasting people’s time by automatically having one. If there was demand, it would happen. I don’t think that there should be any automatic triggers at all, except perhaps-this is included-if you’re sentenced to more than 12 months, but even that I’d be happy to remove. There are examples of MPs having stood up against a policy as martyrs. Terry Fields is an example of someone who refused to pay the poll tax and he was jailed for 60 days. Should that lead to an automatic recall? I don’t think so. He probably commanded the support of his constituency. That is what I am told; I don’t know. But under true recall, it would have been for constituents to decide. Does he command their confidence or not? Should he be recalled or not? I think that in the case of Terry Fields, the implication is that he probably would have been, and it would have increased his majority. That is the test. However, I wouldn’t have any automatic conditions at all.
Q21 Chair: Shall we call this total recall? We mentioned Schwarzenegger in another context earlier. If we had had the full recall package that I think three of you are proposing, how would that have played out during the expenses era, when MPs’ personal, private financial records were stolen and put out by the media? Would there have been a feeding frenzy throughout the land? Would such a system have helped with the view of whether Members of Parliament and politics were honourable and an honourable profession?
Mr Carswell: I don’t think that the expenses scandal would have occurred if we had had recall. MPs would have constantly been aware of who sent them here, which would have moderated their behaviour. MPs who did wrong were found out by the media and by digital technology that allowed evidence of their wrongdoing to come to light. Let’s say that we had had recall from the beginning. I shouldn’t think that there would have been a single Member of Parliament who wouldn’t voluntarily have published their expense claims online from day one anyway. Recall allows openness, transparency and accountability. It’s precisely because we don’t have that sort of mechanism that we’re in this mess.
Some people have found evidence of a correlation between wrongdoing on the part of MPs and the size of their majorities and the safeness of their seats. I have not seen the evidence myself, but it would not surprise me if there is a correlation. If you are in a safe seat, which you regard as a fiefdom and a sinecure, you are not as responsive, responsible and moderate in your behaviour as if you are not.
Q22 Chair: So completely innocent Members of Parliament, in those circumstances, would not get caught up in a media-led feeding frenzy of "throw the rascals out".
Mr Carswell: I think Ian Gibson would not have been treated the way he was, if there was real recall.
Zac Goldsmith: I think it would have improved the situation. You had a witch hunt conducted by people in this place who were terrified of the backlash-rightly so; it was a legitimate backlash. I think decisions were made in an irrational manner, and I think in those circumstances, had I been caught up in that, and had I been accused of fiddling the expenses system and buying things I should not have bought and charging it to the taxpayer, the very best and most dependable and reliable jury that I would have wanted to turn to would have been the people in my constituency. I know that if I made the case, were I innocent, I would trust them to make the right decision, but I do not trust, necessarily, all my colleagues, wonderful though many of them are.
Peter Facey: If the expenses scandal happened then I think you have to accept there would be a degree of feeding frenzy. I agree with Douglas; I think if you had recall in the first place it is less likely the scandal would have happened.
Zac Goldsmith: But that is not a bad thing.
Peter Facey: No, I agree. I think that those MPs who found themselves being pilloried for buying a Mars bar or other things, on Tesco receipts when it turned out that they had not claimed it on expenses, but the item just happened to be on the same receipt, would have very quickly been effectively found innocent in that process, because the difficulty of getting the number of signatures we are talking about, even under true recall, would have meant that it would not have happened in reality.
Now, there would have been MPs, under those circumstances, who were recalled. I happen to think that is a good thing. If you believe in recall, you cannot say that in one of the biggest scandals to hit a western Parliament, nothing would have happened; because if nothing would have happened then we should not have recall-what would be the point? Those MPs who found themselves effectively smeared, without any ability to talk to their constituents or actually defend themselves, would have been able to go out and say, "Look, these are the facts." Ultimately, I trust the electorate as a better court or judge of MPs than I do editors of newspapers or, for that matter, parliamentary Committees or other forms of discipline. Ultimately, I think it would have increased the sense of respect for MPs, rather than decreased it.
Dr Renwick: I agree that total recall would have worked fine in the circumstances of 2009. I think the problems with that system are not associated with that kind of circumstance; but I do not agree that total recall would have prevented the expenses scandal. I have looked at the correlation between expenses claims and the safeness of majorities, and there simply is not one. There is no evidence of greater probity among office holders in those jurisdictions that already have recall. I think we should not imagine that introducing any form of recall mechanism is going to have a transformative effect on the nature of behaviour in public life.
Q23 Mr Chope: Do you know of anybody who supports this Government draft Bill, other than the Government?
Mr Carswell: No.
Q24 Mr Chope: So really this is just a gesture by the Government, using the word "recall" to give the impression that they are doing something, when actually they are probably undermining the current system, even to a greater extent than they have already?
Peter Facey: I would call this tick-box consultation, in the sense that it is the sort of thing that sometimes companies do with employment policies. It is, "I’ve got a list of things, and I’ve ticked them." Effectively, the Government have met a manifesto commitment by saying, "We will bring forward proposals on recall. Oh-we have done it." The fact that they are completely-sorry-pants and do not do anything at all still means they tick the box. I would not normally, when somebody comes forward with a mechanism to increase accountability, tell a Committee like yourselves that there is no point in bringing it forward in this form. If somebody who believes in this stuff, as I do, is telling you, "In this current form, don’t bother", I don’t know why you would, because effectively this Bill will not do what the Government want it to do. I agree with Alan; I am not saying that, even in a full recall, it will have a completely transformative effect on everything, but I believe such a reform would be helpful.
This would not be a helpful reform; it will just be a waste of time and money and would make Parliament even more of a laughing stock than it already is, in some people’s view.
Mr Carswell: Just like open primaries, it seemed like a compelling, attractive idea to pick at, at the height of the election expenses scandal. The problem is that, when its implications were fully understood-the world looks very different when you have a ministerial Red Box in the back of your car-there was a realisation that if you are in Government, these things may not be, to use the terminology, helpful to you.
If MPs suddenly start treating every Government-sanctioned Whip as an advisory, but treat the only three-line Whip that counts as the one from the people, suddenly people will start to behave as members of an independent sovereign legislature and may say, "Actually, I don’t want my money misspent this way. I don’t want these grand schemes to go ahead."
If you had proper open primaries and proper recall, politics would be a very messy, mucky business and it would be a complete nightmare getting the Government’s business through the House. That would be good for the rest of us who are not in the Government, but there are implications in respect of what this would do to enliven and restore the legislature. The people would once again control Parliament and once the people controlled Parliament again, Parliament would insist on controlling the Government-and guess who doesn’t want that to happen.
Q25 Mr Chope: Am I correct in saying that you tried to ensure that there was a power of recall in relation to police and crime commissioners? You made the point earlier that they will be directly elected and, once they are elected, if they turn out to be lazy and useless-just taking their salary and nothing else-nobody will be able to do anything about it until the end of their term of office, which will create a lot of disillusionment.
Why didn’t the Government use the recall mechanism and incorporate that into the Bill so that it could be used against police and crime commissioners? In my view, that should apply to failure to carry out your activities-not necessarily only illegality. I recall that one of our Conservative colleagues got fed up with the Whips during a Parliament and gave up being a Member of Parliament: he drew the salary but did not attend or ask any questions, and that went on for three or four years, so his constituents were effectively not represented. He did not do anything illegal. We could get police and crime commissioners who are equally useless, but against whom there is no sanction.
Mr Carswell: My preference is that all elected public officials, in a Goldsmith utopia, would be subject to recall and that unelected public officials would be subject to confirmation hearings, but we are some way away from that.
Zac Goldsmith: I agree with the premise of your question 100%. Can you imagine the disappointment, then, if this thing goes through as it stands and people are led to believe that we have a recall mechanism, only to find that, in respect of the things that they think are wrong-for example, not being represented for three years in Parliament-the parliamentary Committee that is established does not agree with them and they can’t recall their MP unless he or she breaks a technicality or a code or breaks the law in, perhaps, a minor way? This will lead to real disillusionment and will do so much more harm than good. It has to be rejected. But as you hinted at the beginning, I have not met anyone yet who is enthusiastic about supporting it, which is good news.
Q26 Chair: And if 49% of people have that view about that MP who has not attended for three or four years, that is a definition of his doing a reasonable job-if he gets away with it.
Zac Goldsmith: Yes, absolutely.
Q27 Tristram Hunt: I still fail to see-if the international example is that, actually, the use of recall is not particularly strong-how this is going to suddenly revive the sovereignty of Parliament and MPs, when we know from our comparative analysis that it does not happen. So even if we have the full recall, how will this give us the results that we want?
Mr Carswell: First, the knowledge that you can be fired by your boss tends to moderate behaviour. If you know that you face recall and that the possibility of recall is there, it moderates politicians’ behaviour. Often people look at states in America that have recall and comment that it is very rare that recall is even initiated, let alone triggered, but it is the fact that it could happen that means that people are responsive-they have surgeries, they attend constituency events.
Q28 Tristram Hunt: On that point, is it a state-by-state law in the US? And has any political science work been carried out on the relative nature of Congress or Senators where there is recall in the US?
Peter Facey: There is only recall at a state level. So, congressmen and senators are not applicable in that sense. It tends to be governors, and a few places have recall for members of the state legislature. Most places have it for figures like mayors and directly elected officials.
Mr Carswell: Tristram, if I may say so, in the United States, even in rock-solid Republican or Democrat areas, the open primary process means that there is choice and competition as to who gets to be your representative. In this country, there is simply not that choice and competition. In seven out of 10 seats in this country, a few dozen people-usually in party hierarchies in London-get to decide who gets to be the next MP. So, this process could be transformative, because it could allow accountability, choice and competition in seats where there simply isn’t any.
Q29 Tristram Hunt: Okay. I have just a couple of brief questions. I don’t know if you both voted for the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, but now that we have potentially the longest parliamentary system outside Rwanda-five years, three months-do you regard the power of recall as being of extra worth and value, given that the capacity of the electorate to check their representatives has been markedly diminished by this Government?
Zac Goldsmith: Absolutely. I think that it was important, regardless of fixed-term Parliaments, but I take your point; it increases the importance of recall. And regarding your previous question, if you don’t mind my jumping in, you are right-everywhere that recall is used, it is minimally used. I think that British Columbia in Canada has had 24 attempts, but only two have reached the correct number of signatures and only one of those was successful. I think that in California there were 111 attempts-unless my maths is wrong-with four of them reaching the correct number of signatures and only one of those went through.
However, as Douglas suggested earlier, I think that the existence of recall would improve the performance of MPs-for sure. Take the tuition fees example. I think that it would have been a requirement under recall for Lib Dem MPs to travel around their constituencies explaining to each and every person why they took the decision they did. And I happen to believe that in the constituencies that I know-my neighbouring constituencies-they would have survived. Ed Davey in Kingston actually did this; he undertook this process, regardless of recall. I believe that if there had been a recall attempt on that issue in Kingston, he would have sailed through it. So I think that recall would have improved people’s performance, and that is perhaps why there are so few successful attempts.
Mr Carswell: Can I come in with one point? Perhaps one thing that recall might change is something that is intangible; it cannot be measured. I often hear complaints on the doorstep when I am out canvassing, both in my own constituency and in others, that, "All you politicians are the same-you don’t say what you mean and mean what you say. You say anything to get elected." Perhaps if we had recall, it might encourage people like you and me who are standing for office not to over-promise, to say what we really believe and to say what we think, rather than regurgitating the party manifesto, and to have a certain sense that we can’t promise the earth-we can only do what we can do. I think that if politicians started to do that, perhaps we might trust them a little bit more and have greater respect for them, and we would recognise that there were limitations to what politicians could do, but we would have more faith in what they said when they said they would do something.
Q30 Tristram Hunt: On the issue of democratic accountability, Zac, in your Bill-in paragraph (3)(b) of clause 2, "Recall elections"-you suggest that "under a system of proportional representation, the next candidate on the relevant party list shall take the seat." You suggest that that should happen rather than an election. Why is that?
Zac Goldsmith: It is complicated with PR; it is one of the reasons why I don’t favour PR in any system, because I think that you lose that local and direct accountability. However, my view is that recall should apply to anyone in a position who has been elected: mayors; particularly councillors; MPs; and so on. But I think that it should also apply to MEPs. How you apply it to MEPs is more complicated and I think that it is open to a broader discussion. In my Bill, I suggest a mechanism, but there are other mechanisms out there. My principal interest is in relation to directly elected representatives, such as MPs and councillors, where the system is so simple that it is extraordinary that they’ve managed to muddle it up. With MEPs, however, I accept that there is a discussion to be had. But that mechanism in my Bill is one mechanism that has been put forward. If you can suggest alternatives, I will notionally amend the Bill, because it is a genuinely difficult issue.
Q31 Tristram Hunt: And why the move from 10% to 20%?
Zac Goldsmith: Because I think recall needs to be possible, but I don’t think it should be easy. I think there needs to be real support for recall, or real disillusionment with an MP before the process begins. I think that 10% is possible, but if 17,000 of my constituents signed a petition saying that they had lost confidence in me, I could not say, "It’s a political game-it’s shenanigans and I’m the victim of a Lib Dem smear." I would have to accept that that is a significant number of people and I would have to respond. Ten per cent allows a little more scope for vexatious campaigns-the time-wasting campaigns. Twenty per cent. feels right to me, but, again, I think that is a decision we should take in this House-15%, 10%, 25%. In Canada, British Columbia goes for 40%, which I think is far too high, but I think that 10% is on the low side.
Peter Facey: If you look at the mechanism in the Government Bill, you will see that 10% is actually quite high in the context of the Bill. If you opened it up, but kept the 10% and all the things in it, you would not be talking about a petition in the sense that we normally think about it. You are talking not about me going around and you signing your name on a normal petition, but about making it very difficult for you to sign, having to effectively go to a place to do it, and having to effectively apply for the equivalent of a postal vote to come to your house. To get 10% in the way that the Government propose will, I think, be a sufficient hurdle, because it is on the most restrictive end of direct democracy. They have basically modelled it on Austria, which has an extremely conservative mechanism.
Dr Renwick: I agree. I encourage the Committee to try to get an answer from the Government about why they have introduced this mechanism. If they tell you it is because we don’t have a record of people’s signatures so you can’t have a process whereby people sign a petition and then you check the signatures afterwards, don’t believe them, because you can perfectly well have a process of looking at a selection of the signatures that have been submitted and contacting those people to check that they did indeed sign the thing. That process is used in a number of US states, so they haven’t justified their proposed very complex signature collection process, as far as I can see.
Q32 Tristram Hunt: As scholars of recent political history, can you lay out, without libelling anyone, where, in the past five or seven years, you think a recall ballot and election would have been most likely to take place? If Zac’s Bill were in place, can you, in a sort of counterfactual history, give a sense of where that might have happened, just as an example?
Mr Carswell: I am not going to name names, but I think it is most likely to have happened where MPs treat their constituencies as a sinecure-a fiefdom-and as what they need to do in order to be part of this club in London. Perhaps there are some MPs who do not hold surgeries, who do not respond to letters, and who promise things at election time and then do not deliver on them. Those are probably quite local and specific things. If you don’t show an interest in your constituents, I imagine you will fall victim to real recall, but I doubt that a committee of grandees in Westminster could ever devise a code of practice where you would fall foul of wanting to be part of the grandees in Westminster.
Zac Goldsmith: That is exactly the point. We can’t do it, because all those things that Douglas just cited are things that ordinary voters would cite if they were upset with their MP-broken promises, didn’t answer a letter and so on. None of those things would come close to breaking the code that Christopher was talking about earlier, which is why it is impossible to encapsulate this.
The expenses scandal was a different thing. There were specific cases there that triggered real alarm and there were MPs who, had they not been booted out, would subsequently have been recalled, and MPs who were jailed who probably would have been recalled.
I think there is another thing. If an MP tricks the electorate into voting for them by peddling a particular image of themselves that is not true and is not a reflection of the truth, I suspect they would be subject to recall. There have been examples of highly homophobic campaigns being waged by people who are themselves secretly gay. As a voter, I would take exception to that. I would never judge anyone on the basis of their private life-I would try not to-but I would judge a representative who spun a yarn about their private life. There are examples, but I will resist the temptation to name names, although I would love to do so.
Q33 Chair: Just to follow on from that, in the Derek Conway case, would he perhaps have been one of those people where only 49% of those in the constituency felt that he had behaved badly, and therefore, he was endorsed in his behaviour?
Mr Carswell: I do not want to say something against a former colleague, but I imagine, with the sort of people that I represent in Clacton, that if I had behaved like that, I would be on thin ice and more than half would want me out. There is no question about that. I wasn’t going to name names but if I had behaved like that, I think I would have a career outside politics.
Peter Facey: You can certainly say that in those circumstances, it is likely that a recall petition would be triggered. I do not have a crystal ball to say whether the electorate would recall them in the event of a referendum; having just fought a referendum and been on the losing side, I am not a very good predictor of these things. I think you can certainly say that it would probably be triggered in that circumstance.
Another example, to give you a European one, would be the UK Independence party MEPs who were found guilty of effectively abusing their expenses, but kept their seats. In those cases, UKIP would probably have brought the recall petition. That would be an example of the mechanism you were talking about whereby somebody was elected and effectively did an action, but was left there for a full four years, with no ability of the electorate to actually change it.
Personally, I would change the electoral system for the European Parliament. Unlike Zac, I am in favour of PR. I would change it to a more open system, but if we are going to have closed lists, we should at least have a mechanism like recall, which would have a degree of accountability for somebody, which at the moment, there is no accountability for at all.
Q34 Chair: If the process were triggered before all the facts were out-hindsight is a wonderful thing-at the very beginning, and people said, "There is really not enough evidence at the moment and we will let this person carry on", presumably, double jeopardy would mean that that person got off on the first occasion, and when further evidence became available, they would not have to go through that whole process again.
Mr Carswell: Do you imagine in Winchester that if subsequent information had come to light that the Tory griping was actually justified, there would have been an appetite for a third election? I doubt it. Trusting the people means that if there is an appetite for this process to be triggered, generally it will be right. I can think of several cases-if I did not hold a surgery in my constituency for a prolonged period of time, or if I gave the impression that I lived in my constituency, but did not. Those are the sort of trust issues that I think would probably lead to a recall. Trusting the people means-who knows?-that there could be people who do not live in their constituency but are seen to do such a good job that it is not an issue. It would be for people to decide.
Dr Renwick: Sorry, I have forgotten what the question was.
Q35 Chair: Double jeopardy, that you go through the process when there is insufficient evidence and get off free.
Dr Renwick: Well, if you have a process whereby you must first determine whether wrongdoing has taken place, that ensures-or makes it more likely-that that kind of danger does not exist. You do not have a pre-emptive starting of a petition process, in response to the initial allegations. Rather, you have a process of investigating the issue first.
Q36 Chair: Oh, really. I did not realise there was an investigatory level in this and that evidence was taken.
Dr Renwick: Under the Government’s proposals, either the MP would have been convicted of a crime and sent to prison for a period-
Chair: I am going for total recall, though.
Dr Renwick: Oh, under total recall, yes. Your point seems to be an argument in favour of not having total recall, in that you want to have a process of deciding first whether there has been wrongdoing, and once that decision has taken place, you can see whether there is public desire for recall. Unless further allegations are substantiated thereafter, if the first opportunity for recall is not taken up, that opportunity-
Q37 Chair: In the case that I raised, the Standards and Privileges Committee looked at this and made a decision. Then, later, a little more information emerged that might have coloured their judgment, had they known that information at the time.
Peter Facey: People are under the misapprehension that direct democracy is instant democracy. This is a tool in some ways of the voters deliberating. This should not be quick. We are not talking about a process. If you are going through the petition process and then having to have a recall referendum on somebody, and then a by-election, you are not talking about instantaneous. The reality is that if you have a referendum I don’t think you should have to face another referendum. If somebody has a petition and it does not get anywhere, I do not think that stops you from bringing another petition. It is quite right that if you have actually gone through effectively asking your electorate whether you should stay and 50% say you should, you deserve to stay.
You emphasise a potential problem, which, in comparison with the rest, is very small. The reality, because of the length of the process, is that the information would come out and the public anger would not be there at the beginning to trigger this process. There has to be a large degree of anger in the constituency to do this. It is not passive: a lot of work would have to be there to recall somebody. Therefore, the level of anger in a constituency would have to be quite large for it to get to the stage of it happening.
Q38 Stephen Williams: I want to ask the three advocates of recall where they see the relative importance of it. It seems to me there is a consensus that you want the power of the voter to be enhanced-and therefore the power of somebody else must be diminished. Douglas is fairly clear that the Executive power should be diminished. I am not sure that any of you have said the power of parties should be diminished, or that of the people who influence parties.
If I could ask you a multiple-choice question: A, B, C. Which do you think should be done in order of preference? We will assume that all three should be done. I think that all three of the things I am about to ask you should be done. A: electoral reform; B: taking big money out of politics; C: total recall-not the Government’s proposals, but what you are advocating. Which is the most and which the least important?
Mr Carswell: Number one, sorry to be a politician and answer with my own answer, D is my preference, which is for open primaries. I believe every MP should be subject to an open primary.
Stephen Williams: Okay, you can have D; that is fine.
Mr Carswell: Secondly, I think it should be recall. I think open primaries and recall go together. I have looked admiringly at some features of the Irish multi-Member system and would not rule that out. However, if you had open primaries and recall, there would be less of a case for the idea of adopting multi-Member seats. I am open-minded. Not all my base support share this view, but I think if it could extend choice and competition it would be a good thing.
Getting big money out of politics? I think the internet is going to revolutionise politics in a way that means the old party structures are torn down. Parties are going to have to become open-sourced; they are going to have to open up their processes and become platforms and facilitators for democracy, rather than monopolisers of it. Part of that process will see the democratisation of party funding. You are going to see something like the Obama campaign and the Deaniacs in the campaign before that, and the Ron Paul campaign. A great deal of money will be raised by £20, £30, £40 donations on line. When that starts to happen, I think we can chuck the big corporate interests, including the taxpayer-funded interests, out of politics and the funding of politics altogether, and that would be a good thing.
Zac Goldsmith: My D would be direct democracy generally, unless I can use that in place of electoral reform. The priority for me would be recall, closely followed by open primaries, although they do go together. Then electoral reform in the form of direct democracy. I will not try to repeat it, but I agree with Douglas’s answer in relation to big money in politics.
Q39 Stephen Williams: You don’t think big money in politics is a problem?
Zac Goldsmith: I think it is a problem, but I think the solution is emerging. The problem is much more profound in other countries. I would hate to see us move to that. We have an $11 billion US election campaign coming up-an estimated $11 billion to $13 billion. That is clearly wrong. There are remedies for that; none of them are talking about that, but it is clearly very wrong.
Q40 Stephen Williams: A lot of that money is spent at primary level, though, isn’t it?
Mr Carswell: Increasingly by small donors. Instead of a millionaire giving a £1 million, you get a million people giving a quid. That is the way it is going and that is a good thing.
Zac Goldsmith: The problem is where people make donations that are big enough that they can expect to be repaid in one way or another. That is where it is about the size of the donation.
Q41 Chair: We will come back to that very important issue. Peter, you are allowed your selection.
Peter Facey: A, B, C and D. Effectively, you are asking the campaigner which one they would choose. In reality, I would choose the one that has an opportunity of getting through. There is a Bill for recall, so we are concentrating on that. If you ask me whether I would prefer proper electoral reform to recall, and which I think would transform politics more, I would say that changing the overall electoral system would have a more transformational effect than recall. Does that mean, given that the Government are committed to bringing forward a Bill, that there should not be a good Bill on recall? Although it may not transform politics, it would certainly help reform politics and is a sensible reform.
You can get people who disagree on other matters to agree that this would be a sensible reform. It may not transform politics, but it would increase accountability to voters if it is done in the correct way, and I think that is a reason for doing it. It would get support across a whole range of people, increase the power of the electorate, and hopefully make them hold their MPs and elected officials in higher regard. As I mentioned at the beginning, it would also give MPs a degree of shield to say, "My electorate believe this and therefore I cannot do that. If I do, I face potentially alienating my electorate and being recalled." I would go for lots of other things, but this is a very sensible reform if we do it in the right way and not the way that the Government propose.
Q42 Chair: I assumed, Alan, that, as neither a campaigner nor a Member of Parliament, you would want to keep your academic reputation unsullied by not entering this quiz, but you are indicating that you would like to say something.
Dr Renwick: I am perfectly happy to comment on which of the various measures that you and others have mentioned would have most effect. All the evidence we have-which of course may not be entirely reliable for the UK-firmly points to the answer that recall would have the least effect of all the reforms under discussion.
Q43 Sheila Gilmore: I wanted to challenge slightly some of the assumptions that have been made about electoral reform as a means of making an impact. Our experience in Scotland, which is admittedly very brief, especially with STV, is that it can create safe positions for people as long as there is a party system. On the whole, there is a proportion of the vote below which we probably won’t fall. On that basis, people could do very little and be re-elected.
People have mentioned the party list system. If, when people retire or resign or whatever, we simply get the next person on the list, that has some rather odd effects. In the scheme of things, that is not necessarily a way of making people very accountable.
Mr Carswell: I think the aim should be choice and competition in politics. We accept the virtues of choice and competition in other aspects of our lives, so why do we have a political system where we don’t have choice and competition? Yes, you are right that electoral reform is not the be-all and end-all of doing that. I am genuinely open-minded; I used to be in favour of the status quo, but I think that aspects of it are so rotten that we need reform. I think the key reforms we need are recall and open primaries-real recall and real open primaries-but I am open to multi-Member seats as well. It is not a panacea and I think that open primaries are the single biggest change that we need to make.
Chair: If I may, unless any of the witnesses are burning to comment, I will ask Andrew to speak because he has not had a chance so far.
Q44 Andrew Griffiths: We heard earlier about big money in politics. First, on the funding of this process, from the taxpayers’ perspective there is a great deal of investment in a recall. Do we feel able to demonstrate that that is good value for money for the taxpayer? Secondly, in relation to funding these campaigns, does some sort of provision need to be in place in terms of caps and limits on who can fund a recall campaign or not?
Peter Facey: In the Bill, there is a limit to how much a recall campaign can spend-I think that it is £10,000. That is a reasonable amount. You can look at whether you want to reduce it or not. The answer on the question of recall and whether the mechanism is worth the money is that, ultimately, democracy costs. I happen to think that the mechanism would be very rarely used and therefore it would not cost the overall electorate.
Actually, the alternative cost of having somebody in office, either a directly elected office or, in this case, an elected representative who has lost the confidence of their electorate is huge. It may not be as easily definable in terms of pounds and pence, but it undermines the whole political system, and it would then cost even more to rectify. Yes, having a recall referendum will cost money. If you want to save money, scrap the next general election. That will save you £40 million. You could scrap other things. In fact, just have life peers.
Zac Goldsmith: It is even more simple. To have a recall in my constituency, 17,000 or so people would have to sign a petition saying they want a recall. They are saying that they willing to spend £1 each-it is about £1 per voter; in fact, it is slightly less at about 80p per voter-to have a recall. If they think that that is too much and my crimes do not merit that, they will not sign the petition. If they do, then we will have a recall. But the decision is theirs.
Mr Carswell: Under the bogus system of recall, the Speaker sends the instruction to the returning officer to organise the ballot. Under real recall, as you are signing the petition, you are instructing your local returning officer to spend money organising it so that would be very much part of the debate. Should we recall Carswell? Is it worth the £40,000 or £50,000? That would be a factor. You should pay for what you sign for.
Dr Renwick: I agree with that. Just one point, you could easily design a signature collection mechanism that is both more open and cheaper, so you could reduce the cost there for a start.
Q45 Andrew Griffiths: In what way? Can you give us an example?
Dr Renwick: Well, I suggest that, rather than having this absurd system where you have somewhere that people have to go in order to sign the petition, and it’s open for eight weeks-as someone who grew up in the constituency of Caithness and Sutherland, as it then was, this is just bonkers from my point of view- you simply have forms that people can get off the internet. You can have a stash available at the local council office, and then you post it in.
The Government have decided essentially that the validity of signatures needs to be tested before people sign. This is why they have set up all this process, but rather than doing all of that, you simply take a random selection of the signed papers that have been submitted and call up those people-use other mechanisms for contacting them-and ask them, "Did you really sign this? Was it really you?" It is much cheaper than the system recommended by the Government. It is used in several US states. It was recommended by the chief electoral officer in British Columbia, though not introduced. It is more open and cheaper, and altogether sensible.
Q46 Simon Hart: Can we return for a moment to thresholds? Zac’s proposal of 10% or 20%, whatever it might be, is quite clear. Douglas, on yours, you referred to 50%. What is that 50% of?
Mr Carswell: It is 20% required to sign a petition-step A.
Q47 Simon Hart: Sorry, 20% of the registered voters.
Mr Carswell: 20% of the registered voters must sign a petition to trigger the recall election. The recall election is then a ballot paper, which would say, "Should Simon Hart be recalled? Yes. No." More than half of the people voting would have to vote "Yes" for you then to face a by-election.
Q48 Simon Hart: In the case of, for example, extending it to police commissioners, there is a chance that the turnout for that may be pretty low. Those kind of elections are perhaps different from what the Government propose. Should the threshold reflect the uniqueness of the Police Commissioner’s constituency as opposed to a parliamentary constituency?
Mr Carswell: I do not want to get drawn too much into the question of police commissioners because there are one or two imperfections in the proposal. Having said that, I am a strong fan of directly elected police commissioners. I prefer to call them sheriffs. It is a great idea.
There are different methods of recall that could be applied to those, but the principle should be the same: if you hold elected office and you are no good-
Q49 Simon Hart: I was getting to that. It is a principle and we would work out the detail differently with each one, which I think makes sense. I have one last question. You mentioned defining what a broken promise was when it comes to looking an elector in the face, and this is a bit of advice really. We all made promises in opposition as Conservatives about what we thought or hoped might happen once we were in Government. Of course, when our good friends the Liberal Democrats joined us, we had to adjust our promises accordingly. How do we get over that?
Mr Carswell: Do you know that thing called the electoral address that you write and I write? I have to be honest, there are elements in my party in the centre who tried to write bits of it for me, and I was not having it. I think that that should be, and that is in effect, your contract with the voter. If you, as Simon Hart, and I, as Douglas Carswell, feel that we need to be a little more judicious in the promises we make, the time to do it is in that publicly funded election address that is sent out. That is, if you like, our prospectus and contract with the voter. I would take great care, if there was recall, to make certain that what I personally put in that election address did not overpromise.
Q50 Simon Hart: Of course, the danger with that is that we will all be incredibly bland, because we do not know what the heck the result will be and we might be in bed with any one of our political partners, so in the end we end up saying nothing, which is a danger.
Zac Goldsmith: Can I just jump in quickly?
Chair: May I just squeeze all my colleagues in? I am conscious of the time. There will be a little time at the end.
Q51 Fabian Hamilton: I want to come back on two points: first, some Members will remember the period in 2003 in the run-up to the crucial vote on the possibility of joining the war in Iraq-the invasion. A huge number of Labour and other MPs, including Lib Dems and Conservatives, were very, very anxious about it. At the time, the Whips came up to all of us-our Whips certainly did-and said, "You do realise that if the majority of Labour MPs", not Conservatives, because they were supporting us, "vote against the resolution, the Prime Minister will dissolve Parliament and call a general election?" My response to that, because I voted against the war, was, "Please do that, because I will win." How do you think that that would have affected the outcome? If we had had total recall along the lines that you have expounded this morning, would we have had a different result on the Iraq war?
Secondly, I think Zac mentioned recall at the time of the election expenses scandal nearly three years ago. It was very difficult for a lot of MPs-I am not speaking for myself particularly-who were the subject of really biased, almost inaccurate, front-page headlines in their local newspapers, to give any kind of balance. Some of that balance was given on the doorstep, but as we all know, you cannot knock on the doors of 68,000 or 70,000 electors. You knock on as many as you can and speak to as many people as you can, but if they have concerns, it is unlikely that they will personally be able to put them to you, whereas they will read on the front page and in the paper that this person did this, this and this and is it absolutely appalling. Is there not a real imbalance there and would that not be reflected in any recall ballot?
Zac Goldsmith: On the first point, I think that there could well have been a different outcome on Iraq. I think that it was the wrong decision, and I think that subsequently, most people here now accept that it was the wrong decision-I guess that that is the case-in which case, democracy would have been thoroughly positive. There would have been a different outcome, more deliberation, more information and more transparency-probably a different outcome. I think that that is a good argument in favour of recall. If we had recall now, would we go rushing into war with Iran, as Douglas was about to say? The answer is that we would certainly think about it a lot more than we would otherwise. We certainly would not simply listen to the Whip.
In relation to the difficulty that some MPs had over expenses, you are right to say that there were people on the front page who should not have been there, but I think that you are wrong to say that we cannot talk to each and every voter in our constituency if we need to. Before the general election, I had a very marginal seat. I was accused on the front page of every newspaper of avoiding paying tax. The reality is that I have never avoided tax-I am not going into that argument here-but I knew that I had a lot of persuading to do and there were a lot of arguments to be had with my constituents, otherwise I would not be elected. I called public meeting after public meeting until there were no more questions to be asked. I believe that as a result of that, people were willing to take my word for it. They were willing to believe, at short notice without much time before the election, that what I was saying was true, and I have subsequently been vindicated. Nevertheless, I had that opportunity. I spoke to a lot of people, and, as a result, my standing was higher than before the scandal erupted.
Q52 Fabian Hamilton: Were your public meetings well attended?
Zac Goldsmith: They were very well attended. Packed. There was standing room only-buns at the beginning. Absolutely. There was a real interest, but then there would be in expenses. I have colleagues who had to stand and face their constituents over expenses. In some cases, they were instructed to do so by the party. It was very awkward and they probably had done something wrong. There were loads of people wanting to get in. If they were good MPs, they would have had a subsequent meeting to allow those people who could not attend the first to attend the second, and it’s a matter of survive or fall. Once you have had that direct conversation and you have had a chance to put your side of the story across, you can’t then complain. It is possible to do that now. Our constituencies are not that big yet. I would not want our constituencies to grow much bigger because then it would no longer be possible to have those conversations.
Peter Facey: I cannot say that if you had recall you would change the result of the vote on the Iraq war. I don’t think that we can make that claim for recall. What you can say is that it would enable an MP who did not want to vote for the Iraq war but was feeling pressured to have a bit of a shield on their side to say, "Actually, my electorate here expect me to do this." You cannot go back in hindsight and say , "Would we have gone to war if we had had this mechanism?" Would it have made the MP slightly more independent from the pressures of the Whips? Yes, I think it would have done. Hopefully, that would have had the effect of making the war less likely. At the very least it would have strengthened the MP as opposed to the party Whips or the Government.
In the case of the recall ballot, the reality is that some local newspapers did things that were reprehensible. The reality is that when you get to the stage of having a recall petition, and you are called in to the local radio station and everywhere else, the issue would go away very quickly and the anger would not be there anymore. The recalls that would go through are those where there was strong evidence and a genuine sense of anger. You can see it with those MPs who did face criticism and who were subsequently re-elected. Ultimately, their electorate said, "Okay, we don’t like this, but this is not a sacking matter."
Mr Carswell: Fabian, you are absolutely right. Under a recall system, it would be vital that you, as a member of the legislature or as an MP, could have a direct conversation with the voter. In the old days, 20 or 30 years ago, that conversation had to be conducted through the prism of the editor of the local newspaper or the local radio. E-mail, Twitter and the internet allow that conversation between each one of us and our voters to be carried out far more directly without the distorting effect of the mainstream media. This proposal is suited to the sorts of changes that are taking place that allow us as individuals to be held directly to account by the people we represent and not through the prism of the media.
Real recall is an innovative change for the world as it is becoming, not the world as it was 20 or 30 years ago.
Q53 Chair: Alan? May I say that since you have put up with two very vocal parliamentarians and a vocal campaigner, I will call you back if you have any remarks at the end? Please answer Fabian’s questions.
Dr Renwick: I just wanted to agree with Peter that there is no way of knowing what would have happened in 2003, so I will leave that. With regard to unfairnesses towards certain MPs in 2009, yes there may well have been some, but those are the sorts of unfairnesses that one has to put up with if one is an MP. Those are not the sorts of problems that I am concerned with in the total recall model, which are much more about the skewing of democracy that would be brought about if people who should be caring for the national interest are excessively focused all the time on their constituency interest.
Q54 Chair: Andrew, did you want to come back on anything?
Mr Turner: No.
Chair: Okay. Alan, I will give you the opportunity to say a few final remarks. I am very conscious that in order to keep this fascinating debate going and bottom out some of these issues, we used up a bit of your time. Are there any final remarks that you would like to make?
Dr Renwick: No, the final points that I have just made illustrate the two main points that I would want to make. First, claims about huge transformative effects are based on no evidence. Secondly, we should be concerned about that issue of the gap between national and local accountability.
Chair: Colleagues, thank you very much. Witnesses, thank you for a fascinating session this morning. There was very good exchange and development of argument as we went along-not just the taking of positions. We appreciate the way in which you have interacted with us this morning. Thank you.