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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 6:00 pm on 27th October 2014.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Liberal Democrat, Somerton and Frome 6:00 pm, 27th October 2014

I do think that is a recipe for “populism”—in the worst sense of the word—and that it is open to abuse. It is a naive view that it would not be abused by those with deep pockets and strongly held views. It would be, and I do not believe that is necessarily in the interests of parliamentary democracy as we understand it.

To return to misconduct, several Members have rightly said that it is difficult to define the misconduct that we are talking about, so I looked around for an objective test of whether somebody had behaved improperly. I found that in England there is such a test, which many Members will be familiar with. English and Welsh law has the common-law offence of misconduct in public office, which is often used against public officials—most commonly against police officers nowadays, but also against council officials or others in the public service, including occasionally civil servants. The offence is understood by the courts and has been in existence for a long time—since 1783: Rex v. Bembridge, if anyone wants to look up the start of the offence.

If it helps the Committee, I will give a simple definition. Actually, nothing is simple in this area, because it is open to interpretation, but the legal definition—the working definition for the moment—of the offence is where somebody

“wilfully misconducts himself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder without reasonable excuse or justification”.

To an extent, therefore, it is a catch-all offence to deal with people who behave improperly. I felt that it might serve as an appropriate trigger for the public to have recourse to the system without having to go through the other mechanisms.