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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 5:45 pm on 27th October 2014.

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Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 5:45 pm, 27th October 2014

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Committee was not unanimous on that matter. That is why we are offering to work on a cross-party basis—I see that the Deputy Leader of the House is in his place—away from the Bill, on a reformed Standards Committee that will genuinely command the confidence of the public and the House and also meet our constitutional requirements.

Amendment 46 relates to the issue of whether only offences committed after this Bill comes into effect should be subject to recall. That appears to be the case as the Bill stands. As an example of the problems that would create, let us take the case again of Bill Walker, the disgraced former SNP MSP. It was only after he was elected that it came to light that he had, over a 30-year period, repeatedly assaulted four members of his family. He was subsequently tried, convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. However, as the Bill stands, had Mr Walker been an MP, he would not have been covered by the recall provisions. Of course, the recall provision should not apply if the electorate are aware of a previous conviction when electing a Member of Parliament, but it surely cannot be right that if an historic offence comes to light and a conviction is then forthcoming, voters cannot remove and replace that convicted politician. We hope that the Minister will recognise that important oversight in the Bill and work with us to tidy it up through this amendment or on Report.

Amendment 49 deals with offences committed by MPs who also hold other elected offices. Although the Bill is so narrowly drawn that we cannot extend its provisions to other elected posts, we think that it is at least sensible to extend it to cases in which MPs hold a dual mandate. Let us use as an example a hypothetical case in which an MP is also a councillor.

If that MP is found guilty of a breach of the councillors’ rules, such as interfering inappropriately with a constituent, and suspended for a certain period, it would be bizarre if they could not be recalled by their constituents as an MP.

Our amendments are designed to strengthen the Bill. They seek to strike the right balance between protecting parliamentary protest and ensuring that MPs who commit wrongdoing are held to account. They would widen the scope for recall and lower the threshold to ensure that genuine wrongdoing does not go unpunished. I hope that they will command support on both sides of the House.

I want to turn briefly to the amendments in the name of other hon. Members, and to turn first to the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Richmond Park. He has campaigned on this issue since he was first elected in 2010 and held consistently to his views. We are concerned, however, that he has not been able properly to define wrongdoing, despite being pressed to do so not just in Committee today and on Second Reading last week, but on many previous occasions. The dangers associated with not having a requirement to demonstrate any wrongdoing are clear: a well-funded campaign group or vested interest would be able to remove a Member of Parliament simply because it disagreed with his or her views.