Commons could 'fire' misbehaving MPs

Passing judgement? MPs could authorise by-elections under coalition proposals
Passing judgement? MPs could authorise by-elections under coalition proposals

By Alex Stevenson

MPs are to be given the power to effectively fire misbehaving colleagues under coalition plans out today.

Draft legislation on the ability to 'recall' MPs before the next general election has unexpectedly given the Commons the power to authorise by-elections where the MP has committed serious wrongdoing.

Originally the 'right to recall' mechanism was supposed to give voters the chance to oust their misbehaving MPs.


But under the measures released today they will only be able to start a 'recall petition' if their MP has been convicted and given a jail sentence of 12 months or less. MPs jailed for more than a year are already ejected from the Commons under existing rules.

Politicians who break the rules but are not sent to prison can still be ousted if the Commons passes a resolution authorising a recall petition to take place, however.

Experts said the move makes the prospect of more by-elections much more likely than would have been the case had the coalition stuck to its original proposals in draft legislation published today.

All three parties had committed to giving voters the chance to recall their MPs if they are found guilty of wrongdoing in their general election manifestos.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said a Commons resolution would "in practice" take place following a recommendation from the Commons' committee on standards and privileges, which investigates and passes judgement on allegations of wrongdoing.

"If an MP has been found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing, they should not be able to retain their seat with impunity until the next general election," constitutional reform minister Mark Harper said.

"Our proposals would allow constituents to decide whether or not an MP should retain their seat."

The altered measures prompted criticism from the opposition, which claimed that the Tory-led government was offering "yet another broken promise".

"The fact that MPs have a final say in whether a recall petition is triggered, unless an MP commits a crime punishable with a prison sentence, is certainly not what the Tory or Lib Dem manifestos promised," shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan commented.

"There needs to be clear guidelines and checks and balances to ensure a recall trigger can't be abused by particular interest groups and works to the benefit of all constituents."

The coalition's proposals open up a number of questions about how many by-elections the measures will actually trigger. MPs on the standards and privileges committee have traditionally been tentative to impose severe punishments on their colleagues, for example.

"The government's recall proposals have the veneer of democracy, but a streak of paternalism runs through them like a stick of rock," Unlock Democracy's director Peter Facey commented.

"A proper recall system empowers citizens, not MPs or the courts. It should be up to local people to decide what issues should trigger a by-election. In their present form, these proposals are not worth the parliamentary time it will take to debate them."

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