Thank you for getting in touch with me about the Government's proposed legislation on the recall of MPs.
I support the principle of recall. We need a system that improves accountability and gives more power to the public to hold their representatives to account between elections where there has been serious wrongdoing and misconduct. I am not in favour of a system of recall that simply enhances the House of Commons' internal disciplinary procedures. There needs to be far greater transparency and what we emerge with at the end of this process must have and hold public confidence.
However, I would make two key points:
1. The Government bill as it stands needs strengthening.
In respect of recall following on from misconduct or abuse of office, the length of suspension from Parliament which the Bill proposes in order to trigger a recall petition is currently too high, and it fails to catch some of the cases that we have witnessed in Parliament over recent years. We also need to improve the process that would lead to recall, such as by rebalancing Parliament's Standards and Privileges Committee so that it does not reflect a Government majority, whoever is in power, and by increasing the lay membership of the Committee.
2. In my view, the recall process should relate to the misconduct of Members of Parliament, and not their political views or priorities.
My worry in respect of Zac Goldsmith's amendments is that they could easily have the opposite effect to those intended. By having a recall process, starting with a ‘Statement of Intent' that requires just 5% of a constituency and that can be triggered on any issue - an advantage will be handed to well-funded interest groups, or politicians, who have the resources to mobilise and gather signatures. It is hard to see how this would help representatives to take difficult decisions in the long-term or in the national interest (and MPs are representatives, not delegates, sent to Parliament with a specific mandate on one or more issues). It could limit the ability of some MPs to vote for social legislation opposed by a well organised minority. It could mean an MP securing, say, 15,000 votes at a General Election, facing the start of a recall process, perhaps even within a few months of an election, because 3500 people support a ‘Statement of Intent' in opposition to a contentious law: Same Sex marriage, for example.
I suspect it would have made it hard to an MP like Chris Mullin to champion the then highly controversial case of the Birmingham 6, subsequently released after their convictions for the Birmingham pub bombings were overturned. During his campaign, a national tabloid ran a front page calling him ‘The most odious man in Britain', and it isn't hard to see how, in the heat of such a campaign, a recall ballot could be got going. It strikes me as taking us a step closer to the US model of politics, which is not one I admire. Even if spending limits applied on any single trigger or petition, there remains a huge potential imbalance- having spending limits doesn't necessarily mean any MP or local party has the money to actually spend on the face of determined, possibly even successive, political challenges.
So it is right that a stronger mechanism should exist so MPs who abuse their position can face the consequences between General Elections. The right to recall could play an important role in giving people more confidence in the Parliamentary system under such circumstances, and I am very happy to back it, but we have to get the balance right and ensure that the outcome genuinely strengthens democracy.
I hope this is helpful and thank you again for writing.
Karen Buck MP