The Government has published a White Paper and draft Bill on the Recall of MPs, with the aim of restoring faith in the political process after the expenses scandal.
We are not convinced that the proposals will increase public confidence in politics. Indeed, we fear that the restricted form of recall proposed could even reduce confidence by creating expectations that are not fulfilled. Under the Government's proposals, constituents themselves would not be able to initiate a recall petition. The circumstances that the Government proposes would trigger a recall petitionif an MP received a custodial sentence of 12 months or less, or if the House of Commons resolved that there should be a recall petition following a case of "serious wrongdoing"are so narrow that recall petitions would seldom, if ever, take place. Moreover, time has shown that the existing democratic and legal processes worked in removing the MPs who were shown to have been guilty of serious wrongdoing during the expenses scandal.
In addition, we do not believe that there is a gap in the existing disciplinary procedures of the House of Commons which needs to be filled by the introduction of recall. The new House of Commons Committee on Standards, which will include lay members, already has the sanctions it needs to deal with MPs who are guilty of misconduct, including recommending the ultimate sanction of expulsion in cases of serious wrongdoing. The Committee must actively consider this option, and if it does make this recommendation, the House must be prepared to act. Given that the House has confirmed the recommendations of the Standards and Privileges Committee in the past, we are confident that it will continue to do so.
We recommend that the Government abandon its plans to introduce a power of recall and use the parliamentary time this would free up to better effect.
However, we recognise that the Government may be unwilling to discard a pledge made in the Coalition Agreement. We have therefore made some specific recommendations for improving the recall process if the Government decides to proceed with its proposals. In particular, we recommend that the Government replace the requirement for a single designated location for signing the recall petition with a requirement for multiple locations, to make signing the petition in person as convenient as possible for everyone in the constituency. We further recommend that people who have an existing postal vote should automatically be sent a postal signature sheet in the event of a recall petition.
We urge the Government to ensure that constituents in Northern Ireland have the same options for signing a recall petition as constituents elsewhere in the UK, rather than being restricted to signing by post.
Finally, although we understand why the Government has avoided defining "serious wrongdoing" in the draft Bill, we consider that there is a need for an indication of what constitutes such behaviour. We suggest that wrongdoing in the context of recall constitutes a breach of the code of conduct for MPs, while serious implies a breach of sufficient gravity that it would merit more than a period of suspension.