Clause 1 — How an MP becomes subject to a recall petition process

Part of Bill Presented — International Trade Agreements (Scrutiny) – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 27th October 2014.

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Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 5:30 pm, 27th October 2014

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess.

I will speak first about the clause as it stands. I will then explain the purposes of the Opposition amendments and set out our view of the amendments tabled by Zac Goldsmith and others. Finally, I will briefly address the amendments tabled by Mr Heath and others. Later in the debate, when the arguments have been set out more fully, my hon. Friend Stephen Twigg will make another contribution to sum up our position.

I want to place on the record Labour’s support for the principle of recall when an elected representative’s conduct falls well below the standards that Parliament and their constituents expect. That is why our manifesto in 2010 promised to introduce recall legislation and why we supported giving the Bill a Second Reading last Tuesday. We made it clear during that debate that we would table amendments to strengthen the Bill. Before I turn to the amendments that we have tabled, as promised, I will talk briefly about the Standards Committee, which recommends the suspensions from the House that could trigger a recall.

The Opposition agree with those inside and outside Parliament who believe that we must reform the Standards Committee in order to build public trust. Although amendments on the Standards Committee were not within the scope of the Bill, I want to place on the record the Labour party’s support for a radical overhaul of the Committee. That would include the removal of the Government’s majority and an increase in the role and authority of its lay members. We propose that at least half the Committee should be lay members and that the Chair of the Committee should not be a Member of Parliament. I note that Mr Lansley, who was the Leader of the House for two years, has backed changes to the Standards Committee. If his comments are indicative of a wider view on the coalition Benches, let us move swiftly to build cross-party support for reform of the Standards Committee.

We tabled four of the amendments that are being considered today and I will set out how each of them would strengthen the Bill. Amendment 45 seeks to amend the threshold for recall that relates to suspensions from the House of Commons. The Government propose that MPs will have to be suspended for more than four sitting weeks or 28 calendar days for the threshold to be reached for recall petitions. According to the excellent research services of the House of Commons Library, it appears that that threshold would have been met on only two occasions over the past two decades, and that no one found guilty during the cash for questions scandal received a sufficiently long suspension to meet the Government’s proposed threshold.

Labour believes that that is not acceptable and therefore proposes the halving of the threshold figures. We are clear, however, that we should not lower the threshold to such a level as would merely allow vexatious and mischievous claims. In addition, we must recognise that parliamentary dissent is part of our democratic heritage, and a Member who is standing up sincerely for their beliefs should not find their right to protest compromised by unnecessary recall petitions. None of those who were suspended for protesting in the Chamber—unless they were serial repeat offenders—would be caught by our amendment. Therefore, we believe that it strikes the right balance of strengthening the right to recall without jeopardising parliamentary democracy.