6.15 pm

Lady Hermon (North Down) (Ind): I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. He will of course know that the Bill as drafted extends to Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but his amendment extends only to England and Wales.

Mr Heath indicated dissent.

Lady Hermon: Oh, so it extends throughout the whole of the United Kingdom? It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman could confirm that and give some examples.

Mr Heath: I will, but if I may, I will come back to that, because it is one of the major difficulties in the drafting.

Mr David Davis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Heath: This will be the last time. I am trying to get to the content of my amendments and I have not yet succeeded.

Mr Davis: This is meant to be helpful. In the several cases of misconduct in public office that I have had to deal with, the charge has been used because, really, there was nothing else that would catch the offence that had been created by the public official. I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s argument; the problem is that there is very little in the way of proper precedent that tells us what the offence really means. It seems to me that that is a very bad basis for any law at all.

Mr Heath: It is difficult, and as the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, the common law offence of misconduct in public office has been subject to scrutiny over recent years. Indeed, the Law Commission is studying it right at this moment to see whether it could be put on to a statutory basis, which might provide a better definition. Curiously enough, however, one of the attractions of the offence for this purpose is its lack of definition, because all I am trying to do is define the things that fall short of fraud, assault and battery or whatever, but that nevertheless clearly constitute improper behaviour in the conduct of a Member of Parliament.

What I am seeking to do is put the matter in the hands of the public, not MPs, so that there is a third trigger in the process. I am trying to ensure an objective test, which is applied in two ways. First, misconduct in public office is a recognisable offence. Notwithstanding what the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) said, it is one that the English courts understand—I will come back to the problem with the other jurisdictions in a moment. Then, using a court that is understood—the election court, which is established under the Representation of the People Act 1983, which provides for two High

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Court judges in England and Wales, two judges of the High Court of Northern Ireland or two judges of the Court of Session in Scotland—the matter would be assessed.

That would put Members of Parliament in the same position as other public servants, which is an important signal in itself. Notwithstanding the need for protection under the Bill of Rights, I do not see why we as Members of Parliament should not be in a different position from other public servants in other respects. I have also drafted my amendments so as to automatically provide a filter for claims that are trivial, vexatious or clearly simply party political in nature, rather than genuine claims of misconduct.

What are the difficulties with my proposal? There are two really big drafting difficulties that I encountered in trying to put it together. I think I am reasonably adept at drafting parliamentary amendments, but I have to say that these were significant problems. One problem is exactly the point that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) made. We are talking about English common law and there is not a directly comparable offence of any kind in Scotland. I looked in vain for a common law offence in Scotland, and the nearest I could find was breach of duty, which is not the same as the common law offence in England. That is why there has to be a slightly, I would say, circumlocutory approach—perhaps that is not the right expression, but it is certainly complex—in that the courts would be asked to adjudicate on the offence as though it were committed in England, irrespective of where it was committed by the Member. I accept that that is a difficulty, and I would like better constitutional lawyers than I am to have a look and find a more elegant way of achieving the same objective.

Chris Bryant: It seems to me that there is another problem. The Crown Prosecution Service says clearly in its guidance on misconduct in public office:

“The suspect must not only be a ‘public officer’”—

not as straightforward to define as it seems—but that

“the misconduct must also occur when acting in that capacity.”

When does an MP act in the capacity of an MP except when proceeding in Parliament, which is the one thing that the hon. Gentleman wants to preclude?

Mr Heath: That is another precise difficulty in the drafting that I foresaw. If the hon. Gentleman looked at my new clause—there are so many tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) that I cannot find it at the moment. [Interruption.] Yes, new clause 7, which states:

“The court may consider such conduct whether or not it is committed in England and Wales, and whether or not it is committed directly in carrying out the office of member of parliament.”

In other words, it deals with the Member of Parliament irrespective of that hazy definition of what the terms of contract of MPs are. I accept that this is a difficulty, however, and I do not want to pretend anything other than that these are difficult issues. I hope the Committee will accept that this is a genuine attempt to find a solution to a very difficult problem.

John McDonnell: I commend the hon. Gentleman for the struggle he has entered into. Let me provide him with this practical example that occurred in my constituency

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in the 1980s. Statements were made in this House that we considered to be of a racist nature, and we thought that they would have been prosecutable if they had been made outside this place. The individual, however, was covered by parliamentary privilege, so was not brought to book. He could only have been brought to book if there had been a right for the electorate to trigger a recall.

Mr Heath: That is the other major drafting difficulty. I do not believe it would be right for me to put something before the Committee that accidentally repealed the Bill of Rights. I think the Bill of Rights provides important protection to Members. My proposals skate on the very edge of what counts as parliamentary privilege and what does not. If the words had been uttered here, they would not be covered by the recall procedure, but I do not think they should be covered by that procedure rather than by having a general election. That is my answer.

What mechanism am I proposing? It is for 100 electors from the constituency—[Interruption.]

The Temporary Chair (Mr David Amess): Order.

Mr Heath: Thank you, Mr Amess.

I am proposing that 100 constituents—I deliberately kept the number low—can petition and make a claim of misconduct to an electoral court. That election court will then receive submissions relating to that claim or petition and will receive any rebuttal from the Member of Parliament concerned. The court will be asked not to find guilt—that would provide the difficulty over the clash with the Bill of Rights—but rather to certify that a prima facie case of misconduct has been made. The recall process would be triggered and it would then be for the electorate to decide. The jury would be, as was said earlier, the electorate, and they would decide whether they felt that the case was sufficiently proven and that they would no longer be prepared to accept the individual as their Member of Parliament. The recall process would then proceed.

Is my new clause a perfectly formed amending provision? I do not believe it is because of the very serious drafting issues I have mentioned. If, however, the Committee’s view is that misconduct should be captured, but thought and speech should not be captured, my new clause provides a potential mechanism for doing so. I hope to hear from the two Front-Bench teams—to be fair to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), I have partially heard it already—that they are prepared to take the provisions away, talk to people much more learned in the law than I could be as a layman, try to provide a workable mechanism and then lay the proposals before the House on Report. It is essential to crack this nut of public access to the system. That is what I want to achieve. I will support the Bill irrespective of whether it contains a further trigger, but I would very much like to see a mechanism that gives the general public access to something that is currently exclusively the preserve of this House if not through custodial sentencing.

Mr David Davis: Before he concludes, I would like the hon. Gentleman to address two issues that can be seen in the central turmoil of the debate. The first is the

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trigger of 100 people. That is not a large number to get together, raising the risk of continuous vexatious references. How would he overcome that problem? Secondly, when the outcome is a finding against the Member by the electoral court, is that a 10% test, as in the Government’s proposals, or a full referendum test as suggested in the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)?

Mr Heath: The first point is explicitly covered in new clause 7(6), which states:

“If the court considers, on the basis of such evidence, that the allegation of misconduct is—(a) not supported by the evidence; or (b) trivial or vexatious in nature; or (c) brought for party political purposes; then the court must dismiss the petition.”

That is the filter that prevents people from bringing vexatious charges time and time again. In extremis, of course, the courts have the power to award costs if they feel that the same allegations are being brought forward again and again inappropriately.

On the second point about the threshold, my proposal is that this should act as a further trigger to the Government’s proposed mechanism. I am perfectly open, however, to discussion over whether a better and more appropriate threshold could be applied—both in terms of the original complaint and of the petition process. I do not have strong opinions on this; I would like to talk to others and see if a consensus could be reached.

Kevin Barron: Would the decision of the election court be challengeable? In other words, if someone were found to have been involved in misconduct, could they appeal against it, bringing an element of fairness into the procedure?

Mr Heath: My new clause is constructed in such a way that there would not be an appeal process because the court would not find on matters of guilt. It would find only on the prima facie case in the same way as a magistrates court when it sends an offence for trial at a higher forum. The electorate of the constituency are the court of appeal as well as the court of indictment, which seems to me appropriate.

Zac Goldsmith: One of my points was half-addressed earlier when the hon. Gentleman suggested that one of his arguments against the notice of intent to recall, which we are proposing, is that it would be awkward and inconvenient for MPs to have this bubbling away. However, the same arguments apply even more so to the fact that only 100 people could get headlines in the local papers such as “Misconduct Charges brought upon MP”—even if the attempt was vexatious. There is more room for that sort of mischief in the hon. Gentleman’s proposals than there are in my amendments. However, I have a question for him about the “gross dereliction of duty” in his new clause 7. How is it possible to find an MP guilty of gross dereliction of duty when there is no job description? Would this apply to an MP who refused to come here to engage, debate and vote, as is the case with some parties?

6.30 pm

Mr Heath: If a Member of Parliament is elected and fails to carry out even the basic duties of a Member of Parliament, that Member of Parliament will, in my

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subjective view, be guilty of a dereliction of duty. If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the number of Irish constituencies represented by Members who have not taken their seats, I think, judging by the electoral history, that a recall procedure would be unlikely to succeed in the long run, simply because people would elect those Members again in the full knowledge that they would not take their seats.

There was a famous Member of Parliament who decided to go and run a pub in Northern Ireland, and did not attend the House of Commons for a very long time. I think that he was eventually persuaded to do so by inducements offered by the then Government, who were rather short of voting power at the time. It may be that his constituents were perfectly content with that position, but I think that it should at least have been argued that he was failing in his duties to the electorate and to the House.

Thomas Docherty: I intervene merely to seek more information. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what the scale of the costs of the election court is likely to be, and who he expects to meet them?

Mr Heath: So many Members have now referred to me as a member of the Privy Council that I think I must have received that status by acclamation. Will someone please tell the Deputy Prime Minister that I obviously behave as though I were a member of that august club, although I am not?

I assure the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife that the arrangements would be identical to those that currently govern election courts and election petitions. However, if someone were clearly initiating vexatious proceedings, as is the case with the present election courts, the court could, if it wished, award costs against the petitioner, and might well do so if it felt that the process was being abused.

I hope that I have answered all the questions that have been asked. I am sorry to have spoken at such great length, Mr Amess, but I have done so mainly in response to interventions, which seems to be par for the course this evening. Let me end by saying that I think that my new clause is objective, and that it fulfils some of what Members on both sides of the Committee want to achieve. I do not claim that the drafting is perfect and cannot be improved, but I hope that the new clause will begin a process of discussion which may reach a conclusion allowing for many of the things that the hon. Member for Richmond Park and some of his supporters want to see achieved without opening the door to what some people equally adamantly do not want to see achieved, which is Members of Parliament being in constant fear of recall on the basis that they have voted to the displeasure of someone very rich in their constituency.

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

I support recall, as outlined in the Bill, for serious misdemeanours. Those of us who were in the House at the time of the expenses scandal knew that things had to change, and, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), the proposal on which we are being called to vote today was in our manifesto.

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I shall oppose the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), and, although I know it is a dangerous thing to do, I shall support those tabled by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). This must be the first and only time I have agreed with him about anything. I also want to say something about the attempt by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) to find a middle way.

The Bill has been publicised as though it constituted a method of giving the electorate more of a say. It has been suggested that anyone who speaks against it does not trust the voters, and is somehow less of a politician because he or she is afraid to stand for election. It is a bit like being accused of being a witch. Well, each and every one of us has the guts to stand in every election, and to put our record before our voters. I have always said that the one thing that distinguishes all those who stand for election to Parliament or a local council, or for any other elected office, is that they have the courage of their convictions, the courage to stand before their peers and ask for their trust. We should recognise that, because it is an important principle.

I think that we may have given too much away to the unelected quango state and the like. We seem to have believed that if we fill organisations with independent people who have no political influence at all—I do not know whether they are born or develop—there will be better decisions. I am a great big believer in the importance of elected office. I think that it is something of which we should be proud, and for which we should argue forcefully as parliamentarians and other elected office holders.

The Bill is strange in that it has united UKIP with the far left in the belief that it somehow represents a radical way forward. I do not think that it does. I think that it is very dangerous. It does not empower voters, and it will undermine the democracy that we in this country take for granted.

The effects of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park would be very simple. The amendments remove the notion that someone must be recalled on grounds of imprisonment or suspension, and allows the recall of Members for any reason. I think that this the first time I have ever heard a Member present the argument that his proposals will never actually be used. The hon. Gentleman said that it would be very difficult, and that the barriers were very high. Why put such a proposal on the statute book? Is it conning the electorate to give them something that is so difficult to achieve? Is the hon. Gentleman being dishonest with the people who he suggests will be empowered ?

Zac Goldsmith: Let me put the record straight. That is not what I said at all. I have never described the hurdle as impossible. I have said that it is a difficult hurdle—a deliberately difficult hurdle—which is high enough to prevent vexatious abuse, but low enough to be surmounted. Amendment 1 is deliberately designed in that way. It is nonsense to pretend that we are creating an impossible hurdle: I never said anything of the sort.

Mr Jones: Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what he said a moment ago. I did take notes. He said that it would be very difficult, and that the barriers would be very high. During our debate on Tuesday, he said:

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“I know…Members worry that recall might somehow turn us into delegates and no longer representatives…but that is not realistic. Voters care about a wide range of issues”.—[Official Report, 21 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 796.]

The hon. Gentleman was suggesting that the process would be difficult for some reason, but it will not be difficult. He and those who are backing him are implying that people will not be “picked off” because of the way in which they vote, which is complete nonsense.

In a speech that he made the other day, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) gave the very good example of his predecessor Lena Jeger, who had argued strongly for abortion reform although her constituency was largely Catholic. Given the thresholds in the Bill, I think that it would have been easy for her to be recalled. Let me give another example. I do not think that the hon. Member for Richmond Park was here when she was in the House, but there was a very courageous Labour Member of Parliament called Ann Cryer, who represented Keighley. In the face of a great many personal threats and a great deal of local hostility, she argued against forced marriages and highlighted the issue of birth defects in the Asian community. She was also one of the first people to talk about issues that have now gained popularity—trafficking and the abuse of white girls in Keighley. She was very unpopular in the constituency.

Is the hon. Gentleman trying to tell me that somehow the Asian community in that constituency, or at least part of it, could not have put Ann Cryer under pressure by means of recall? I do not think that that would have been the case. She would have come under huge pressure. She received death threats on occasion as a result of some of the things that she said, and many of the things that she said were proved to be correct. Courageous people such as Ann Cryer should be free to speak out although large sections of their constituencies consider what they are saying to be wrong, or disagree with them. I think, knowing Ann, that had this measure existed, she would have acted in the same way, but she would have come under a great deal of pressure to temper her views.

Mr David Davis: I do not remember Lena Jeger, but I think I am right in saying that in each of her successive elections her majority increased despite her stance on abortion. I believe that the same was true of Ann Cryer, whom I remember well—and the hon. Gentleman is right to say that she was courageous.

Mr Jones: I will come on to that in a minute, because we have to look at the process of what is before us. There is this idea that somehow a Member of Parliament is not going to be affected by recall, despite the pressure they are going to come under, and that they will keep speaking out. I do not think that is the case. We only have to look to the examples in the United States to realise that.

Geraint Davies: My hon. Friend will know that I was formerly the MP for the marginal seat of Croydon Central and that I lost it. At one point I stood up to defend the rights of my constituent Feroz Abbasi in Guantanamo Bay, saying he should face a proper trial and have proper treatment. There might have been

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further pressures on me other than the marginality of my seat in that regard, as I might have been facing the possibility of recall by a vociferous minority of UKIPians or others who might have asked why I was talking about what they might assume to be terrorists—as opposed to innocent constituents. If I had come under such pressure, I hope I would still have acted according to principle rather than popularity, but it is intrinsic in what is said in respect of the proposals of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) that this corrupts those who want to stand for principle over popularity.

Mr Jones: My hon. Friend makes a very good point.

Chris Bryant: I just wonder whether we might bear in mind Sidney Silverman and David Steel, who both courageously advanced causes that were considered to be very unpopular at the time. They both represented marginal seats, and I would argue that they kept their seats because they were prepared to say uncomfortable things.

Mr Jones: I have no doubt that what my hon. Friend says is correct, but I will explain in a minute why they would not have kept their seats if there had been recall, because a small and vociferous minority could have removed them.

Caroline Lucas: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr Jones: No, as I want to make some progress first. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Richmond Park says “Absurd” from a sedentary position. He has had enough of a say, talking, I have to say, in some cases complete rubbish. He now has to sit there and listen to me.

In the debate on 21 October the hon. Gentleman, in trying to demonstrate that somehow his Bill would never be used, said:

“I know that other hon. Members worry that recall might somehow turn us into delegates and no longer representatives…but that is not realistic. Voters care about a wide range of issues, and it is rare for recall to be motivated only by one issue.”

I said from a sedentary position, “Gun control.” He then said,

“There are no examples of that.”—[Official Report, 21 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 796.]

Well, I will turn to an example in a minute.

Caroline Lucas: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but the frustration many of us in the Chamber are feeling is that he says on the one hand that a vociferous minority can remove an MP via recall, whereas it is a four stage process that precisely requires a majority in order to remove someone, so that is clearly not the case.

Mr Jones: I am not going to answer that point now, but I will answer it in a minute, and the hon. Lady is wrong in saying that the majority of the electorate in a constituency have to vote for this.

Caroline Lucas: Of the people who vote.

Mr Jones: Exactly; it is the people who vote, but I will come on to that in a moment.

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Mr Jim Cunningham: The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said earlier that the threshold would be so high it would be very difficult for vexatious claims to be made. Why does he not separate that in the Bill? Why does he not drop that—completely separate it—if he does not intend that?

Mr Jones: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Like a lot of other things the hon. Gentleman says, he has not actually thought about that in practice. The problem I have with the word “vexatious” is that somebody such as Ann Cryer might come under such a recall Bill, given what she was arguing for, and it could be argued that the people arguing against her were not being vexatious but were arguing against a clear, important role that she was performing.

6.45 pm

It is said that somehow the use of this recall would be almost unique. The hon. Gentleman used examples from the United States, saying there had only been 40 such occasions. He is completely wrong. If we look at state level in the United States, in 2011 there were at least 150 recalls. Of these, 75 officials were recalled and nine officials resigned under recall. In the state of Michigan alone there were 30 recalls. So we have two things. First, there is the pressure of recall on individuals who then resign before they get to that process, which would happen under this proposal—I am not suggesting some people would not be tenacious, but some might fall by the wayside before that. The hon. Member for Richmond Park also says the electorate look at issues rather than just one issue. In the United States, we only need look at the example in Colorado in 2013 where two state Senators—John Morse and Angela Giron—both voted for tighter gun control. It was certainly not tight gun control as we would understand it in this country. They asked for two things: more ID checks on the purchase of firearms, and legislation to limit people to buying 15 rounds of ammunition. They were both recalled. The right-wing National Rifle Association along with the Koch brothers and their Tea party fanatics piled in something over half a million pounds for that recall election. The Senators lost it and they were then replaced by two very right-wing Republican state Senators.

I say to the idea that somehow this will be free from the influence of big money that it will not be. The hon. Gentleman has not even thought about limits in terms of what could be spent on the elections. If we look at what happens in the United States, we see that in some states as soon as someone loses an election, money goes in to destabilise certain state legislators. Before recall, big money is spent, so being able to control that would be very difficult.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): The question of what these limits are is important. What does recall mean to a person of limited means when they are up against big money?

Mr Jones: Exactly, and I made that point last week. If I had the £250 million or £300 million the hon. Member for Richmond Park has, I would not have to worry. [Interruption.] Well, I am sorry, but it is a matter of fact. [Interruption.] Of family history, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) says. If someone has that amount of money, it influences the

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way in which they can conduct recall elections. If I had that amount of cash, I do not think I would be bothered even if I lost it.

Caroline Lucas: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jones: I am going to answer the hon. Lady’s point if she is patient.

On the hon. Lady’s point about the electorate, the hon. Member for Richmond Park said it is necessary to have 51% of the electorate. No, it is not. In Colorado the recall election had a turnout of 36%, and under what is being proposed by the hon. Gentleman and his supporters it is only necessary to have 51% of the turnout. A small number of people might turn out, and a huge swathe of people in a constituency who might have strong views on other issues but not the issue in question might not be mobilised and might not vote. So to the idea that somehow this would be democratic, I say there could be a situation where there was a 60%, 65% or 70% turnout at a general election, and then a much lower turnout for a recall election—as low as 10% if police and crime commissioner elections are anything to go by—could determine the future of that Member of Parliament. It would take a very strong individual then to stand up before the electorate after the damage done in that process, because we all know what would happen with that individual.

The idea that somehow large numbers of people would give power to the mass of people is therefore complete nonsense. In the United States this gives power to large numbers of small groups of well-organised individuals. People should google the Koch brothers and the American Legislative Exchange Council—which is actually the libertarian wing of the Tea party and is where this proposal is coming from. I think this is very dangerous for progressive politics both in the United States and this country.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): Is my hon. Friend aware that I received an e-mail a few days ago from the British equivalent of the Tea party: the front organisation of the right wing of the Conservative party, the TaxPayers Alliance, which is supporting these proposals?

Mr Jones: That does not surprise me.

The hon. Member for Richmond Park has not even thought about finance and spending limits for recall, or about the work that would be done to undermine someone in the lead-up to it.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): My hon. Friend began by saying that he supports recall as set out in the Government’s Bill. However, surely it provides that, on the basis of either of the triggers, a petition of simply 10% of the electorate can take a Member out completely, regardless of what the other 90% say. How can we give any weight to his argument about democracy, given that he supports 10% being able to oust a Member straight away?

Mr Jones: I must say that I do have problems with that system, but I also know that under it, at least we are talking about someone who has been found guilty of some wrongdoing. If the amendment were accepted, as in the United States, a small number of well financed people would be able to go after certain individuals.

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The hon. Member for Richmond Park referred to a figure of £35,000 for a recall election. The recent recall election in Wisconsin cost $35 million. The idea that several recall election referendums around the country could be done on the cheap is fanciful, to say the least.

Thomas Docherty: Has my hon. Friend read the Government’s impact assessment, which says that, even under their proposals, the likely cost of recall and by-election is £300,000-plus? Does he agree that it is slightly ironic that, under the amendment of the hon. Member for Richmond Park, the TaxPayers Alliance is proposing a free-for-all that could quickly rack up millions of pounds of spending?

Mr Jones: That is the flaw in the argument, and it is clear that the proposer of the amendment has not even thought about that cost element.

There is a cost involved in democracy, and I support paying that cost. However, we have general elections, at which people can indicate whom they want to represent them. I have no truck with the argument that the hon. Member for Richmond Park and his supporters are advancing that somehow the system is broken. Time and again, the phrase “Westminster establishment” is used. He may well be a member of an establishment; I am not, and nor are most Members of this House.

Mr David Davis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jones: In a minute. Most Members of Parliament do their best for their constituencies. The situation now is very different from the days when Members never lived in their constituencies or went anywhere near them. In the light of developments such as electronic media, MPs are more accountable to their constituents than ever. I want to knock on the head the idea that we come to Parliament, sit on these green Benches and never give a thought to the opinions of our constituents, and do not talk to them daily.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): My hon. Friend said that in his view, there is no such thing as a Westminster establishment. Does he agree with me that there is also no such thing as a Westminster class? Those of us who live in the real world know what class politics is really all about.

Mr Jones: I agree. I would not consider myself to be in the same class as the hon. Member for Richmond Park, for example. The fact is—[Interruption.] I am not antagonising my constituents, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) says from a sedentary position. Most Members of Parliament get elected to try to do the best for their constituencies, and it is insulting to say they do not. I may disagree politically with other Members of this House—of all shades—but the majority are in politics not only to do what they can to help their constituents, but to make the world a better place as they see it. The same was true of my time in local government; I think I met only one or two rogues—who were perhaps in politics for different reasons—when I was a councillor. It is a bit patronising for people to dismiss that point.

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We must get back to recognising that standing for elected office is a noble thing that people should strive for, not just in this place but in councils and elsewhere. I respect anyone who has the guts to stand for election. Many commentators criticise what MPs do, but if they were asked if they would stand for election and be subject to such scrutiny not only at election time but throughout the life of a Parliament, not many would say yes. We must recognise the value of standing for elected office.

Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and the whole House will appreciate the compliment he has just paid to Members. However, if he is afraid that this extension of democracy will result in the supplanting of socialist Members with libertarian ones, why does he not just propose spending limits?

Mr Jones: The hon. Gentleman is talking complete nonsense. The idea that the Bill is an extension of democracy to the average elector is complete rubbish. It will limit what we in this House can do, and put control of the agenda in the hands of well financed individuals. Yes, I trust my electors: that is why I keep on standing for election and do monthly constituency surgeries to listen to what they have to say. That is why I attend public meetings and speak to my electors when I go to get the Sunday newspaper, for example. We need to dispel the nonsensical idea that Members of Parliament do not speak to their electorate; these days, very few would even get elected if they took that approach.

Geraint Davies: My hon. Friend may be interested to know that in my patch, Swansea, there was a bid by a big financial organisation to have motorbike riding on the beach. It was heralded in the press as a very popular idea, but I spoke out against it, saying that it would do enormous environmental damage, encourage hooliganism and so on. Let us say that the financial forces behind that proposition coalesced behind the popular view—those who wanted a motorbike riding free-for-all—and I was threatened with recall. That would be another example of how this proposal would intimidate democracy and those of us who stand up for principle over popularity.

Mr Jones rose—

Zac Goldsmith: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Jones: Not yet. There is a convention in this House that we have to answer an intervention before allowing another one.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): If the hon. Gentleman turned up a bit more, he would know that.

Mr Jones: My hon. Friend makes a good point from a sedentary position.

There are occasions—I gave the example earlier of Ann Cryer—when Members take positions that are at odds with certain sections of their constituents, but that is the beauty of Parliament. It is about being able to argue not just on our constituents’ behalf, but for the progressive changes and legislation that, if we had recall, I doubt would have been delivered. That is why I find it very odd that people who are supposedly on the left support this type of recall—

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Kevin Brennan: A rich man’s charter.

Mr Jones: As my hon. Friend says, it is a rich man’s charter to pick off anyone who has views at odds with their own.

Zac Goldsmith: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He said earlier that the Colorado state legislators were recalled over gun issues, arguing that the Koch brothers had put millions of dollars into that campaign. In fact, the spending by those calling for the recall was exceeded fourteenfold by those arguing against it. Yes, big money is involved, but I think the hon. Gentleman has got the maths wrong. That aside, our proposals would have very strong limits on funding and, as I and colleagues have said, we would welcome even further controls, so his arguments are just nonsense.

Mr Jones: The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot argue for his proposal and then say, following my raising the issue the other day, that if someone else wants to bring in spending limits, they can. He should have thought this through. He knows exactly what he is doing: this proposal will give powerful individuals with deep pockets a big influence over how our democracy is conducted. I am sorry, but I do not agree with that. It is wrong. The supporters of this proposal are saying, “Are you afraid of your electors? Are you going to give ordinary electors a say?” That is not what the proposal will do. It will give well organised, well financed individuals a lot of say over who sits on these green Benches.

Kevin Brennan: And how they behave.

Mr Jones: I do not think that money should determine that or, as my hon. Friend says, how Members behave. People should be elected on a broad range of issues, and it is for the electorate to determine subsequently whether they are re-elected.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) says that he is proposing strong financial controls, but his amendment 23 would provide only that Ministers should have the power to apply controls on spending to the notice of intent and recall referendum processes. He does not say what the controls or the financial limits might be. Indeed, the limit during the recall petition period for which the Bill provides is £10,000 per accredited campaigner, but there is no limit on the number of accredited campaigners.

7 pm

Mr Jones: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman raises that point because in the United States, to get round any spending limits, a plethora of organisations will be set up to force a recall, meaning that they can carry out vigorous and targeted campaigning. We should remember that such recall would not be like the general election, with 650 contests being fought, because resources could be concentrated on one single constituency, meaning that big money would influence the outcome.

Thomas Docherty: My hon. Friend is being most generous by giving way again as I know that he wants to get towards the end of his speech. On spending limits, is

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he aware that the Scottish National party ran a series of front organisations during the referendum in Scotland so that they could each spend to the £1.5 million limit? Does he agree that one of the great concerns about the proposal of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is that it could give rise to co-ordinated attack after attack from organisation after organisation?

Mr Jones: We all know that organisations get around election limits—we need only to look at the last election in Richmond Park and the activities of its MP—so it would be difficult to control the amount being spent. In the United States, seats are targeted well in advance so that once an election is lost, money goes in to undermine an individual.

Implementing the power to recall for any reason whatsoever would be not an advancement of democracy in this country; it would be a retrograde step. It is suggested that the power would be rarely used, but people would work out clear ways to use it and how to finance the process. I therefore ask the Committee to oppose the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park.

The hon. Gentleman’s proposals would not give the ordinary elector any more power, but would benefit those who want to drive through a political agenda. There are those on the left of my party who think that the process would somehow empower individuals and represent a radical statement, but that is not the case. Under the proposals, progressive legislation would be killed in the House, as views that people passionately believed in and courageously set out—such views may later become the norm in the nation—would be killed not following proper debates and votes in the House, but because someone could finance a recall election that would either put such an individual under pressure to be quiet, or actually force them out.

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Greg Clark): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. The hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) has given you some timekeeping assistance through his suggestions, and I shall try not to fall foul of that.

As the group includes many amendments and new clauses, I shall say something about the overall choice facing the Committee that is embodied by the measures, before giving the Government’s assessment of each, which I hope will help the Committee. If there is time, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), will make a speech at the end of the debate, so colleagues who speak after me will have an opportunity to hear a reaction to their remarks.

As I explained on Second Reading, the Bill has had a difficult history. Some people are against it—and indeed against anything that introduces a system for recalling MPs. The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee concluded of the draft Bill:

“We do not believe that there is a gap in the House’s disciplinary procedures which needs to be filled by the introduction of recall.”

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) made a similar point. Others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), believe that we should adopt an entirely different model of recall: one that is not

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triggered by proven misconduct, but can instead be initiated by a petition of the electorate for any reason at any time.

That disagreement could lead one to suppose that the Government’s Bill is just another contribution to a debate without consensus, and that it has no greater or lesser significance than any other approach, but that would not be right. The Bill is fundamentally different from the approach of no recall, or that of recall for any reason at any time, although I hesitate to tease my hon. Friend by referring to that as the Martini recall—any time, any place, anywhere. The Bill as drafted implements completely and faithfully the promises that the main parties made in their manifestos at the general election. The Conservative manifesto promised that

“a Conservative government will introduce a power of ‘recall’ to allow electors to kick out MPs, a power that will be triggered by proven serious wrongdoing.”

The Labour manifesto said:

“MPs who are found responsible for financial misconduct will be subject to a right of recall if Parliament itself has failed to act against them.”

The Lib Dem manifesto said:

“We would introduce a recall system so that constituents could force a by-election for any MP found responsible for serious wrongdoing.”

The coalition agreement reflected those positions.

As drafted, the Bill would cause a recall petition to be triggered if an MP was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of up to a year or a suspended sentence of any length—hon. Members will know that disqualification is already automatic following immediate imprisonment of more than a year—or, in other words, if serious wrongdoing was proved; or if an MP was suspended by the House for at least 21 sitting days, or 28 continuous days, which again would indicate proven serious wrongdoing. Members will of course consider carefully all the amendments that have been tabled, but it is only reasonable to observe that both other views, whatever their merits, do not implement the particular commitments that all parties made to the electorate at the previous election.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to the Minister for how he is presenting his argument as, ironically enough, debates in the House are often most fractious when there is the smallest difference between people. However, I suggest that the flaw in his argument is his reliance on the words “misconduct” and “wrongdoing” which, under the Bill, will be determined only by MPs. That is the problem for many members of the public, as they would like to be able to decide what constitutes wrongdoing and misconduct.

Greg Clark: The hon. Gentleman expresses his reasonable and important point well. As I said on Second Reading, I do not take the view that the Bill cannot be strengthened. One thing we can conclude from the Second Reading debate is that we will want to reflect, in Committee and during the Bill’s later stages, on the public’s involvement. The Bill can be improved and clarified, and I repeat my personal assurance that the Government will be open to reflecting improvements in the Bill during its passage.

Amendment 42, a cross-party amendment that was ably spoken to by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath)—although he is my hon. Friend, he has the demeanour of a right hon. Member—proposes

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a constituent-led trigger for recall, albeit one based on misconduct. That important suggestion has much to commend it, so I will reflect carefully on the amendment. Similarly, the Opposition have suggested making the trigger more sensitive and sending the clear message that the criminal abuse of the parliamentary expenses system should trigger recall, and I appreciated the spirit in which the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife spoke to those proposals. While my colleagues and I will vote to maintain the balance that the Bill as drafted strikes, and for a faithful adherence to the manifesto on which we stood, it might well be possible for us to support changes on Report. That demeanour is an appropriate response to today’s proceedings and last week’s Second Reading debate, given that no overwhelming case has been made at this stage for sending the Bill back to the drawing board and starting again.

Wayne David: Would the Minister like to go a little further and indicate whether he is prepared to have genuine cross-party talks to see whether it is possible to establish a consensus?

Greg Clark: Well, I think that we are having them now in Committee; the parties are approaching a serious subject and seeking to strengthen the Bill. Of course, those talks can also take place between now and further occasions when the Bill is debated. The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point.

Mr David Davis: My right hon. Friend is handling this in his characteristically rational way, but he made one comment that I really cannot leave unchallenged. He said that the Bill is progressing without any serious assault on its central tenet. Its central tenet is that for a wide range of offences, which under the current criteria would include the expulsion of the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) for impugning another Member of this House—not a financial or criminal offence—Members could be cast to a jury in which effectively one member, or 10%, could vote and find them guilty. In other words, 90% of a Member’s constituents could think that they should stay and 10% could think that they should go, and on that basis, under the Government’s proposals, the Member would be thrown out.

Greg Clark: I learnt to take a rational approach during my many happy years working with my right hon. Friend, so he will forgive me if I apply it here. I will move on to talk about the point he makes later. Suffice it to say that if the figure of 10% was reached, that would trigger a by-election in which the Member could of course stand. I know that he has personal experience of doing that. Indeed, I campaigned for his successful re-election.

Let me reflect on some of the concerns raised on Second Reading that are germane—you will be relieved to hear, Mr Amess—to the amendments before us. Members were concerned that a process that allowed recall for any reason could be put to vexatious use in a number of different respects. First, it could be used to hound someone out of office because of honestly held and sincerely expressed views. Secondly, it could be used to wage a war of attrition, with recall petition after recall petition being opened by just 5% of the electorate

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who have conceived a grievance against a sitting MP. Thirdly, it could be used for limitless expenditure on propaganda intended to destabilise an MP, by vested interests that the MP might be brave in confronting, well before any spending limits for an actual recall petition kicked in.

Mr Kevan Jones: We have heard the word “vexatious” used a lot in this debate, but people with strongly held views on abortion, for example, are not vexatious. I am not suggesting that the Minister is saying that, but I think that we need to differentiate between vexatious silliness and people having strongly held personal beliefs that might be at odds with certain groups within their constituencies.

Greg Clark: The right hon. Gentleman—everyone who has contributed today seems to be right hon. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Of course Parliament, and election to it, should be the subject of significant debate on issues of contention; that is the purpose of Parliament, and of standing for election. Therefore, it is not right to assume that any challenge to an MP would be, in and of itself, vexatious—quite the opposite—but at times it might be possible for people with less high-minded motives to take that approach.

Let me briefly address the principal amendments and new clauses in this group. Amendment 1 and new clause 1, tabled and spoken to by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park, would delete the two conduct-related triggers for the recall of an MP and replace them with a system of petition-based recall for any reason, to be initiated by 5% of the electorate signing a notice of intent to recall. That would trigger an official recall petition that, if signed by 20% of the electorate within eight weeks, would lead to a recall referendum. If the majority of those voting in that referendum voted for recall, the seat would be vacated and a by-election called. There is nothing to stop repeated, or even parallel, notice of recall petitions being lodged, all with attendant publicity and each requiring only 5% of the electorate to sign, meaning that an MP could suffer a prolonged bombardment of negative publicity in that way.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): The Minister said on Second Reading that he thought that the Bill needed to be improved and that there could be amendments. If not these, does he have in mind some Government amendments to deal with some of the issues about democracy?

7.15 pm

Greg Clark: I do, and if my right hon. Friend—I know him to be right hon.—is patient, I will make those suggestions later.

New clause 2 is operable only if amendment 1 and new clause 1 are passed. It provides for a 200-word statement by the promoter of the recall petition, and a reply by the defending MP, to be included in the petition. Let me say something about some of the flaws in that understandable provision. The notice of intent to recall could contain accusations that are unfounded or unproven. Although the MP would of course have the right to reply, the inclusion of an unfair and unfounded statement on an official communication to every elector would almost certainly damage their reputation, particularly as the petition officer has a duty to send the statement

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to everyone on the electoral roll. Indeed, the statement could be positively libellous, and although the MP could seek damages though the courts, the injury to their reputation would be difficult, if not impossible, to repair.

Mr Lansley: Whereas my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) included in clause 9 of his Recall of Elected Representatives Bill a provision whereby any process would be stayed where there was an indictment on a chargeable offence, that has not been included in the amendments before us today. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is another flaw in the amendments? Clearly a notice of intent could include statements that would be prejudicial to a police investigation, as well as potentially very libellous and unfounded. My right hon. Friend has not yet noted this—I am sure that he has read it—but in those circumstances the Member would be given two working days in which to frame a reply to the statement of reasons.

Greg Clark: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He points to some other flaws in the amendment, which in itself is designed to be sensible and constructive, as having a statement and a rebuttal is clearly sensible.

Let me turn to the amendments tabled by a group of colleagues on both sides of the House, including the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), the hon. Members for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith). I have a great deal of sympathy with the thinking behind the amendments, which the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome set out comprehensively. They would give the public a role, which some have felt has been missing, in initiating recall, and provide an answer to the charge that one flaw of the Bill is that it is about MPs marking their own homework. Those are two themes that emerged on Second Reading. In line with our manifesto commitments, and with the views of many Members who spoke on Second Reading, and indeed today, the important point about the amendments is that they would keep the recall process focused on misconduct, which I think is the advantage of the approach he has set out.

The amendments propose that where misconduct in public office is alleged, electors in a constituency would be able to start a petition to initiate a recall process. They would require 100 electors to support the petition before it could be presented to an election court. I do not need to labour the point—my hon. Friend mentioned it—that this is a suggested way forward that clearly raises important legal drafting requirements, so I do not think that it will be possible at this stage to commit to endorsing them. But I think that he has proposed an important avenue and the possibility of a third trigger that is linked to an initiative of the public, which is valuable.

With regard to some of the difficulties, there is a widening of the definition of misconduct to include “gross dereliction of duty”. As others have said, that would require some understanding of what that might embrace.

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Lady Hermon: In relation to the possibility of the Government looking at a third trigger relating to misconduct in public office and the question whether that applies equally to Northern Ireland and Scotland and to England and Wales, may I say ever so gently to the Minister that issues such as parading, stopping parading, flying flags and not flying flags can be criminal offences in Northern Ireland, and public representatives may become involved in them, so drafting this provision carefully in relation to Northern Ireland will take some time?

Greg Clark: We will attend to the points that the hon. Lady makes. They apply perhaps with even more force to the possibility of a recall in Northern Ireland being triggered initially by 5% of the electorate, for any reason. In relation to the arrangements in Northern Ireland, we have taken care not to cause repeated debate and contention when that would be against the interests of democracy in the Province. Nevertheless, I will reflect on her words.

Anne Marie Morris (Newton Abbot) (Con): May I take the Minister to task about his comments on new clause 2, which stands in my name? He suggested that there is almost a greater likelihood of libellous statements being put on the statement of reasons than on anything else. In an election process, many pieces of paper are put into the public domain, and they are properly scrutinised. I do not believe that anybody who puts out something that is potentially libellous will not feel the full force of the law. The duty of care remains, come what may, and this document is no more susceptible to a problem than any election leaflet.

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend takes me to task in a very gentle way. It may be true that election leaflets may contain statements that are contentious to the point of being alleged to be untruthful, but a statement that is supplied by the returning officer to every elector may be viewed as having official authority, whereas the leaflets that we produce at election time, whatever our intentions, may be discounted to a greater extent, if I may put it that way.

Anne Marie Morris: But the Post Office delivers our election addresses to every single household, and that gives them some standing: they are not just pieces of marketing.

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. She will remember that I applauded the intention of her new clause, which was to allow a reason to be given for a recall. However, even the arrangements that we have at present were not sufficient to deal with a case where a very offensive statement was circulated linking the candidacy of Members of the European Parliament to a protest against the murder of Lee Rigby in a wholly distasteful way. These things are not proof against abuses of the kind that I mentioned.


Kevin Brennan: Will the Minister give way?

Greg Clark: Once more, and then I will make some progress.

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Kevin Brennan: Is the Minister’s understanding of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) that they could cause an hon. Member to be subject to a recall petition for voting against those amendments?

Greg Clark: I do not know whether departure from an election manifesto would constitute a reason for recall under my hon. Friend’s proposals, but the hon. Gentleman stood on the same manifesto as we did in favour of our brand of recall. He is tempting me on to a path that it is probably not profitable to go down.

Let me say to my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome and the colleagues who signed his amendment that I understand where they are coming from. I am willing to contemplate ways to improve this Bill, and between now and Report I undertake to reflect seriously on how that can be done.

I have much sympathy with the amendment to new clause 2 tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice).

Wayne David: Will the Minister give way?

Greg Clark: No. I want to make a bit of progress, if I may.

The amendment would ensure that the statement of reasons could not contain reasons relating to a Member’s freedom of expression in Parliament, including what an MP said or how he or she voted. In other words, recall by petition would be focused on conduct, not causes. However, it would not stop people campaigning for recall based on what the MP did in Parliament; it would simply prevent the statement of reasons from being disclosed in relation to the statutory requirement to avoid such matters. Other publicity could state with impunity other reasons, perhaps the real reasons, behind the move to recall an MP. It therefore would not work as a safeguard, which many Members will wish for, to prevent Members’ freedom of expression from being used to recall them. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reflect on that, and we will look to see whether the spirit of the amendment might be carried forward separately.

I turn to the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), who is not in his place. They would give the Bill retrospective effect in that a currently serving MP who had been suspended by the House for at least 21 sitting days would be liable to a recall petition. Only one such person is currently sitting in Parliament—the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), who was suspended for a month in 2002. The House tends not to favour retrospectivity. In general, the courts impose punishments for offences that were current at the time of the offence.

Jim Dowd (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab): For the sake of clarity, if the amendment were to be passed, would, for example, the 10-day suspension of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) be in the bank so that he could afford only another 11, were that to arise?

Greg Clark: No, because suspensions are not cumulative, and that would be below the trigger level.

It is in a similar spirit that I approach the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife and his colleagues. I welcomed the tone of his

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remarks and his commitment to finding ways to strengthen this Bill, where they are available, so that it can command the support of the House and, indeed, the country. Amendment 45 makes the second trigger more easily sprung, if I may put it like that. It would reduce the suspension that triggered recall from 21 to 10 sitting days—this is partly an answer to the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd)—or from 28 to 14 continuous days were it to be expressed in that way. Since 2000, four MPs have been recommended for a suspension that would trigger the second condition for recall. Under the amendment, nine rather than four MPs would have been subject to recall.

I accept the constructive spirit in which the amendment was offered, but let me explain my difficulty with it. There are two ways in which an MP can be suspended from the House: first, through a recommendation by the Standards and Privileges Committee; or secondly, and this relates to your chairmanship of this Committee, Mr Amess, through disorderly conduct in the Chamber and then being named by the Speaker. If an MP is suspended after being named by the Speaker, the suspension is for five sitting days for a first offence and 20 sitting days for a second offence. Setting the figure at 21 sitting days, as the Bill does, excludes the possibility that a suspension from the House following being named by the Speaker for a second offence would trigger recall. I do not think that was the intention of the disciplinary measures that are in place.

Members in all parts of the House have incurred the sanction of the Chair. Being suspended is not a trivial matter. It seems to me, however, that breaking the rules of order in the Chamber is not the same as a suspension for misconduct based on a recommendation by the Standards and Privileges Committee. Tam Dalyell, for example, was suspended for 20 days in 1989 for having been named twice. Because of this technical overlap, I hope that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife will reflect on the drafting of the amendment and not press it to a vote.

Mr David Davis: This goes straight to the point that I raised with my right hon. Friend about the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway), who, if I remember correctly, was suspended for 21 days for refusing to apologise after impugning the merits—shall we say?—of other Members of this House. Many things would lead to this. Ian Paisley the elder was, I think, named a couple of times and suspended. These things should not come anywhere near to causing a recall. That is part of the problem with the Government’s mechanism, which is being held up as precise and effective but is in fact a blunt weapon of considerable size and unexpected outcomes.

Greg Clark: My right hon. Friend makes the same point as I am making to the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife. The reduction of the trigger would bring into scope the suspensions that are occasioned for disorderly conduct in the House.

Sir Edward Leigh: Will the Minister give the Government’s view on my amendment? If the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park fails, my amendment would still stand, because it applies to the whole Bill. It states that no action would

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be initiated on the basis of votes cast or of what a Member says in the Chamber or does in motions. Are the Government prepared to look kindly on my amendment and consider it?

7.30 pm

Greg Clark: I always look kindly on any proposals by my hon. Friend. I intend to finish with his amendment, so I will come to it. I completely respect and approve of the sentiment behind it, and I hope my hon. Friend will accept what I say in response to it.

Let me make some progress, because I have spoken as much as other Members have. Labour’s amendment 46 would ensure that a Member of Parliament who was convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for an offence committed before this Bill is enforced would be subject to a recall petition process. It would cover historic offences that, though not committed at the time of the MP’s election, were not known to the electorate at the time.

I have great sympathy for that point. As I said earlier, retrospectivity is extremely rare in this House, but this is an important point about the electorate’s ability to judge a Member’s misconduct. If a Member had committed an offence and the information was not in the public domain, and if they were elected with the electorate being in ignorance of that offence and it subsequently came to light and was the subject of a conviction, I think that that is a circumstance in which it would be reasonable for that Member to be recalled. I will return to the issue and hope the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife will engage in some discussions with me, which might satisfy the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), who is sitting behind him, to see whether we can more perfectly capture that point in the Bill.

Amendment 47 would mean that a Member of Parliament convicted for any offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009—that is, an offence related to MPs’ allowances—would be subject to recall regardless of the sentence imposed. I think the whole House will want to send a clear signal that criminal abuse of the expenses system will lead to judgment before constituents as well as court. The amendment is technically deficient, because the way in which it would be placed in the Bill would rule out the possibility of an appeal, unlike the other criminal triggers. I again offer to work with the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife to see whether we can agree on a considered reflection of that purpose for Members to consider on Report.

Finally, as far as amendments tabled by Opposition Front Benchers are concerned, amendments 48 and 49 would mean that, if an MP was suspended from their role in another elected capacity, including from their parish council, district council, county council, devolved legislature, city council or the European Parliament—the hon. Gentleman mentioned a hypothetical example that might have caused him to reflect on this matter—they should be able to be subject to recall from this House.

There is certainly a debate to be had about recall for elected offices, as I made clear on Second Reading. This is a limited Bill, but that is not to say that there is not a good case to be made for provisions to be extended elsewhere in due course. Until that debate is concluded, however, it would seem odd that a councillor could be

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recalled from this place because of a suspension from the council when they could not be recalled from the council itself. It also raises the question of whether a parish council’s standards for suspension, for instance, are an accurate reflection of the practice in this place. Without being churlish to the hon. Gentleman—I had some experience in opposition of drafting amendments—I should like to point out that it is pointless to include a reference to the European Parliament, since one cannot be an MP and an MEP at the same time.

Jonathan Edwards: Unfortunately, my new clause 4 was outside the scope of this Bill, but it would have empowered the devolved institutions with the ability to introduce their own recall mechanisms, if they wished to do so. On Second Reading, the Minister said there had been no such request from the devolved Parliaments. If that request was forthcoming, when would the Government be able to legislate?

Greg Clark: I cannot answer that question. The scope of the Bill is set. We had not at that time had such a request and I cannot say whether one has been made since.

Mr Kevan Jones: The Minister has mentioned the European Parliament. Does he not think it is ironic that MEPs can be convicted of fraud of their expenses and still remain Members of the European Parliament? From 2009 to 2014, I think that three UKIP Members fiddled their expenses but were not thrown out of the European Parliament.

Greg Clark: I repeat what I said on Second Reading: I think there is a strong case to extend these provisions to other elected bodies, but the Bill proposed by our manifestos and the coalition agreement related to this place.

Amendment 41, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), would not allow speeches, questions or voting to be reasons for recall. I completely sympathise with my hon. Friend’s intention. Having served under his chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee, I saw the ferocity of his interrogation of some witnesses, and were they misfortunate enough to be his constituents, that might well lead them to trigger a recall petition, which would be completely inappropriate.

I am afraid, however, that the amendment would have unforeseen consequences. Specifically, the suspension of a Member for tabling parliamentary questions in return for payment might be precisely the sort of misconduct for which this Bill is designed to trigger recall. Therefore, to exclude questions, speeches and so on would not serve the purpose that my hon. Friend and I would wish to see, but I understand and agree with the spirit behind his amendment. When we come to Report and as the Bill progresses, I will reflect seriously on the issue. If he will join me in a conversation about that, I will see what we can do at the next stage.

I hope I have given a reasonable assessment of the Government’s take on the amendments and that the Committee can continue its debate on that basis.

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Geraint Davies: I have in my hand “Profiles in Courage”, a book John F. Kennedy wrote 50 years ago when he was in hospital with a back injury inflicted during the war. It is about eight Senators in American history whose common characteristic was that they stood up for principle against the popular view and often against their own party. They often suffered the electoral consequence of that, which eventually resulted in the termination of their political careers.

I want to focus on the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), because it strikes me that the essence of what they propose is in fact in direct contradiction with the aim of encouraging noble behaviour such as that of past politicians—not only in America, but here—who stood up for what they believed was right, not what was popular.

During this simple debate, many of us—possibly all of us—will have been inundated with e-mails from 360 Degrees. [Hon. Members: “38 Degrees.”] 38 Degrees—that’s the one. I remember it well. 360 Degrees is the evolutionary future—the mutation—of 38 Degrees. If the hon. Gentleman’s amendments are agreed to, we could look forward to powerful groups with vested interests—be they people who are on the political margins or those with financial interests—focusing their fire through mass mailings in order to conjure up an apparent demand for the recall of a particular Member over something that had nothing to do with their misconduct, but everything to do with a political position that might not be popular.

Like other Members, I fear that politics today—and this is the view of the public—is too much driven by focus groups or politicians seeking to please particular people, rather than giving some leadership and seeing the fruits of their fortune mature over time. As I mentioned earlier, I stood against a particular planning decision on beach motorbiking, which seemed popular at the time. After debate and consideration, the council came round to the view that there would be environmental damage to the beaches and an impact on Swansea’s image as a quality tourist destination, and residents came round to the view that it would spark weekend motorbike joyriding and so on. Over time, the view of the public in fact changed, but had there been a recall system at that time, had there been financial support from those who wanted to make money out of that venture—there could be thousands of such examples—it not only might have ended the career of the MP, but more likely have been background noise that caused intimidation.

If companies with financial interests in planning, or a group of such financial organisations, persevere on a particular issue over several years and choose to target different people at different times, they can corrupt or distort the way in which certain Members behave through intimidation behind the scenes or directly. That is a very dangerous direction in which to be going.

Alongside that is the issue of particular political groups or parties. To return to the example of Guantanamo Bay, some people in my then constituency took the view that my standing up for a constituent there—for their rights to a fair trial, a fair hearing and fair treatment—was completely irrelevant, because my constituent was obviously guilty before having been tried and I should not be talking about him. If somebody had wanted to make a big issue about that, I might have been in a more difficult position. As I mentioned earlier, I like to think

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that I would have continued to stand up for principles rather than popularity, but we are all in Parliament in a democratic situation. The point I am trying to make is that, in the round, if we allow the amendments of the hon. Member for Richmond Park to go through, it would be an intrinsic corruption of our democracy.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Before Chris Mullin became a Member of Parliament, he campaigned with great courage for the release of the Birmingham Six, for which he was denounced by so many newspapers and all the rest of it. Knowing him, he would have done exactly the same if he had been a Member of Parliament, but can my hon. Friend imagine what would have happened to him with a recall and how difficult it would have been for him to campaign so courageously, even though he had a pretty safe seat when he did become a Member?

Geraint Davies: The point about Chris Mullin is well made. Different people with different temperaments in different situations, with different constituencies with different profiles and majorities, will face different stresses and strains—not just actual and in your face, but behind the scenes. As I have said, that might have a very corrosive influence on democracy itself, and we should stand fully against it.

All of us like to think that despite pressure behind the scenes or otherwise, one would put principle before popularity. With fixed-term Parliaments, we know that we will have five years of making difficult decisions, but have the time to explain such things. However, we might be faced with instant demands or pressures, which—let us face it—might be orchestrated by political parties against those in particularly marginal seats. There would be issue after issue, and requests to do this and to do that. People from 38 Degrees, or whatever it is called, are just the tip of the iceberg. Lots of other groups would insist on the immediate satisfaction of their demands. It is easy to get groups of people to send in letters without their thinking through the issues. It would all become a sort of crowd mentality, and before we knew it, people who should be MPs would be intimated and not stand, and it would also interfere with the quality of people who came forward.

Jonathan Edwards: Surely the defence against the scenario that the hon. Gentleman presents is the fact that the threshold, as suggested in the amendments of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), would be 20% of the electorate, and that people would physically have to visit the town hall and put their name to a recall petition. [Interruption.] Well, it would be 20% to initiate the final recall mechanism for a recall by-election. In my constituency, that would be more than 11,000 people. If 11,000 people went to the town hall in Ammanford and wanted my recall, I would resign myself.

Geraint Davies: Yes, but my understanding is that 5% would be needed to start the process.

My issue is with recall being within the armoury of those who want to intimidate people for any reason. On the face of it, it might be for a policy reason, but I thought that we were supposed to be discussing behavioural issues in relation to conduct and doing the right thing.

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Obviously, if we break a law, we should not be above the law, but I might be an MP and support the wrong football team. People may laugh at this, but people might say, “We don’t want someone for Liverpool who supports West Ham”, and there might be enough of them to mount a challenge, which would be a massive distraction.

Mr Kevan Jones: Tempting as it is to get 11,000 people to turn up tomorrow in the constituency of the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), the important point is that—as in the case of Ann Cryer, which I raised earlier, or the very good example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick)—in a well-organised campaign with finance or perhaps a newspaper behind it, it would not actually be that difficult to get such numbers of people to turn up.

Geraint Davies: That is completely right. Even if it was not possible in many cases to muster such forces, it would obviously be possible in some. The question is whether that is right, and whether it would that necessarily be a good reason for recall. Cases have been mentioned of having to confront in particular communities very difficult human rights issues that are difficult to talk about in the first place, but the threat of recall would hang over someone in a marginal seat that had certain movements or certain communities. One needs to be able to talk freely about such matters without intimidation.

Thomas Docherty: My hon. Friend mentioned representing somebody who had not been found guilty of anything. I do not know whether he is aware of this, but under the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), if a Member of Parliament faces trial, that due process might be completely bypassed and the MP would go straight to a recall petition. An hon. Member who was subsequently completely exonerated of all charges might have lost their seat in the heat of such a moment.

Geraint Davies: Precisely. If one’s defence is, “I’m not a murderer,” all that people hear is the word “murderer”. Clearly, enough charges might be brought against a person who is targeted for whatever reason, perhaps by a political party or financial interest that knows someone else can be put in if they are got out of the way. The example has been given of the American gun lobby displacing someone who wanted to improve people’s protection against guns and replacing them with someone who was clearly in the gun lobby’s pocket. Once a few heads had rolled in various constituencies over time, other MPs would think, “I don’t want to end up like Harry or Harriet”, or whoever it happens to be, and we would get into all sorts of difficulties.

We should guard against the rush to populism in the amendments of the hon. Member for Richmond Park. We should uphold judgment and principle, rather than quick popularity. I find the amendments very worrying, which is why I wanted to speak on this issue.

Lady Hermon: The hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) is not present, but I am sure that she will not mind if I speak for her on this one occasion. She is a member of the Alliance party. She does not sit on Belfast city council, but her party colleagues on the

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council decided to fly the Union flag on the 17 flag-flying days, rather than 365 days a year. As a consequence, she received death threats. What concerns me about the proposal of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) is how vulnerable the hon. Lady would become to those who want to make vexatious claims about something over which she had no control.

Geraint Davies: I am grateful for that example. It is difficult to imagine how much harassment there would be if the amendment was agreed to. Harassment can happen through a range of mechanisms and can be sophisticated. People would protest using electronic and social media, as well as conventional media, to threaten people with recall. Ultimately, we are all human and we have families. Members will say, “I haven’t done anything wrong, but this is affecting my children in school.”

We need the space to discuss things with clarity and, hopefully, rationality. Obviously we express differences, and we all understand that that can provoke passion. However, to have a mechanism by which we could all be targeted or intimidated, that could distort people’s judgments, and that could affect whether people were here or not would be fundamentally in conflict with the ideals to which we aspire in this House.

Anne Marie Morris: Passing a recall Bill is one of the most important things that we can do to restore trust between Members of Parliament and their constituents. I wish that I had heard the word “trust” more in this debate. There is too much concern about the machinations of political parties trying to use the process in an abusive way. Although I understand that concern, surely the most important principle for an MP is that the relationship they have with their constituents must be based on trust.

That is why I supported the introduction of the Bill. It is also why I strongly support the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). I have worked with him on a number of the amendments. Accepting them is one of the only ways in which we can support the true meaning of democracy and ensure that our constituents have a genuine say. Although the Government Bill is well-meaning, to have a mechanism that can be triggered in such limited ways does not underscore the trust that must exist between MPs and their constituents. That trust is critical.

I hear the concerns about abuse. It is partly because of those concerns that I tabled new clause 2. I am pleased that there are 67 supporters of that proposition. The new clause intends to take on the challenge of how we should deal with the reason an MP should be subjected to recall. We have talked about the challenge of describing and defining wrongdoing. As has been said many times, it is virtually impossible to do so. The new clause would enable the public to put forward very clearly why a particular Member of Parliament should be subjected to recall.

There are three parts to new clause 2. First, there must be accountability in any system. That is why the reason for recall has to be put forward by a named individual. The name of the individual must be on the record and must be clear at every polling station at

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which the petition and, ultimately, the referendum are determined. The individual must be willing to put his name forward.

On Second Reading, it was suggested that an individual who was not the prime mover behind the recall petition might be used. I believe that the electorate are sensible enough to work out when something is a sham and when the person is just a place saver. I am therefore not convinced that that is a real risk.

Mr Kevan Jones: I am sorry, but having read the hon. Lady’s new clause, I do not think it would do anything of the sort. It would leave it wide open for the reason to be a matter of conscience on which the Member has spoken in the House or a matter of conduct in their family life that is nothing to do with this place. The reason could be anything. Only one elector would have to be identified. What about all the other electors? Would she insist that they have their names and addresses published as well?

Anne Marie Morris: The hon. Gentleman has not heard my comments on the second part of the new clause. I was talking about the named promoter and will get on to the reason and the right of reply for the Member of Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman’s question about the promoter has already been answered by a number of Members who support the amendments of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park. The general view is that we do not publish how people vote in this country. That is not a matter of public record. Although I understand the concern and think that the idea is worth considering—

Mr Kevan Jones rose—

Anne Marie Morris: No, I will not give way. Although I understand the concern, I do not think that that will be an issue.

The second part of the new clause, on which the hon. Gentleman also commented, is the reason. He is right that any reason may be given, but he is wrong if he thinks that the electorate are sufficiently unintelligent and disengaged that they will not read the 200 words carefully to understand what it is about, particularly given the percentages that would be required. This is the opportunity for members of the public to clarify what the individual has done wrong.

One concern that the Minister raised was that the statement might be libellous. I explained that that would be no more of a risk in this document than in any other document that is put out in the same way.

Mr Kevan Jones: The hon. Lady has not answered my point at all. Like the other supporters of the amendments of the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), she says that any reason may be given for the recall of any Member of Parliament. Some well intentioned individuals might use the provisions, but some people would finance a campaign. In the example that was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick), I am sure that a newspaper would have backed a campaign to recall the former Member for Sunderland South. The same might have been true of the example that I gave of Ann Cryer in Keighley.

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Anne Marie Morris: At the end of the day, it depends upon trust and the view that we take of the electorate. I trust the electorate to make sense of what is written and to make a sensible judgment. The public have to deal with all sorts of comments and accusations in the media every single day. They do not believe everything that is written. I dispute what the hon. Gentleman says because he completely underestimates the trust and intelligence of the British electorate.

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): More than 50% of the electorate voted against most Members of the House, including myself and the hon. Lady, when we were elected to this place. Does she not see the trap that political opponents will cause petitions to be raised to try to overturn the results of elections?

Anne Marie Morris: Anything is possible. We live in the real world of good and bad, but if we make decisions about introducing such legislation on the assumption that the worst will happen, rather than looking at the best that will happen, and we do not focus on trust, we will be giving the wrong message to the electorate. It should not be a message about us being concerned about some political group ganging up against us—that is the wrong message to give to the electorate. The message should be, “We trust you to make sensible decisions.” That for me is imperative.

8 pm

Lady Hermon: I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene. May I draw her attention to a particular and important scenario in Northern Ireland? Although Northern Ireland was safe enough to host the G8 summit at Lough Erne and the World Police and Fire Games, it is not safe enough for us to know what amount is donated to political parties, and we still have anonymity of political donations to political parties. I would therefore have no idea who had sponsored a recall motion to get rid of me in North Down, and similarly, none of my colleagues from other parties in Northern Ireland would know that because of the anonymity. Big money can buy a recall in Northern Ireland. Will the hon. Lady address that issue?

Anne Marie Morris: Clearly, I have no knowledge of Northern Ireland and exactly how it operates, but the hon. Lady makes a fair point and there are issues about funding. However, that applies in every political situation, and I do not think that her points invalidate the suggestion in new clause 2.

It seems to me that along with my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park we have put forward a form of accountability, and with the provision of a reason we have provided some transparency. Under the Government’s arrangements there is no explanation or reason.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Lady is generous in giving way and I have two quick points. At the moment, a voter may choose not to take part in the full register and be only on the so-called edited register. How would new clause 2 apply to such a person? Secondly, is she saying that a Member of Parliament could be recalled not because of something that they did, but because one of their fellow party members did something—such

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as in the example given by the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon)—or because their party supports a policy? Will the hon. Lady clarify those points?

Anne Marie Morris: On the first point, the rules will be exactly the same as in a general election, so I do not see that there is a problem. On a Member being recalled because of something that one of their colleagues said, again I go back to my fundamental point of trust. We either trust the electorate or we do not. They can either see that something is frankly true, or they can see it as rubbish. That would be my view.

New clause 2(3) would enable an MP to have a right of reply. There is currently no provision in the Government’s Bill to give the MP any right of reply, and such a provision would provide fairness.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): The hon. Lady keeps saying that the Government’s proposals—which I think could be improved—do not require somebody to say what the problem is or allow a response, but does she accept that such a process would take place when somebody has been convicted of a criminal offence or been suspended for 21 days, so the problem ought to be fairly obvious?

Anne Marie Morris: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but I suppose that I simply do not think the grounds are wide enough. From everything that the Minister has said, it seems that although there are firm red lines that will not be crossed, even he is looking at the Bill to see how it can be improved. Let us talk about the art of the possible rather than the current constrained position in the Bill.

Jim Dowd: I am not entirely unsympathetic to the thrust of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), but for one reason above all others—I think this is the Government’s reason—I am not yet convinced that I will vote for them. We must understand what the threshold is for the process. The Government’s position, even thought I do not support it in total, is that a single set of circumstances can deal with this issue. New clause 2 has no threshold, so therefore if one process was concluded unsuccessfully, it would not stop somebody from starting the whole process again. Can the hon. Lady give me any guarantee that that would not happen, once people had been subjected to this measure, and given the damage that even the question of facing recall could do to an individual—

The Temporary Chair (Mr Jim Hood): Order. Interventions must be a lot shorter than that, and not replaced by speeches.

Anne Marie Morris: Gosh, that was quite a long intervention and I am not sure I remember it exactly. May I indulge the hon. Gentleman, Mr Hood? Could he remind me in one sentence of what he actually said because the intervention was so long?

Jim Dowd: Under the hon. Lady’s proposals, there could be an unsuccessful application for recall, but the whole thing could be started over and over again.

Anne Marie Morris: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his indulgence; that was a much shorter and better comment. We discussed that point in the committee, and my recollection is that there is provision to deal

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with that, so that someone cannot keep requesting recall time and again, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I apologise that I cannot point him to the chapter and verse, but I agree that it is an issue that ought to be considered.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Surely the stop for the process continuing over and over again is the fact of previous failure. A previous failure will obviously stop it, because if people are getting nowhere they will not continue.

Anne Marie Morris: The hon. Gentleman is right and that is the way it should work. However, the mechanism that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park and I are proposing is broader and provides some comfort to those who are concerned that the process will be subject to political game playing.

I have talked through the issues of the promoter, the reason and the opportunity for an MP to be given a right of reply, but I am sure that many amendments could be tabled to my hon. Friend’s proposals to address some of those issues. For example, we could require the statement of reasons to start with a certain sentence, which would mean that the statement had to be about something that we all feel is inappropriate behaviour from a Member of Parliament. There are things that could be done, but they depend on whether we think our starting point should be the Government’s narrow starting point, or a much broader starting point that would come from a position of trust.

Mr Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Anne Marie Morris: Not again. Because I think that—

Mr Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Anne Marie Morris: No, I will not: read my lips.

You have been incredibly indulgent, Mr Hood, and I know that many other Members wish to speak in this debate. New clause 2 goes to a matter of trust and is sufficiently important for me to ask for it to have a separate vote when we decide on the amendments. On that note, I will conclude my comments.

John McDonnell: I am grateful to the Minister for his response on the calculation of days. To be absolutely clear—again, this is not out of personal interest at all—I take it that this totting-up process is within one parliamentary Session. I would be happy if the Minister confirmed that.

Greg Clark indicated assent.

John McDonnell: If there is to be an additional number of days, those cannot be carried over from one Session or some of us may well be in trouble or face the 20 days. I take the straightforward view that this is an evolving piece of legislation, and I am grateful—the Committee will not often hear this—for how Front Benchers have tried to get a dialogue going to hone the legislation to make it effective. I do not know—who am I to speak for the general public?—but from what I understand, I do not think those who have been campaigning for the right of recall for some time will be satisfied either with what the Government are proposing

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or with the Opposition amendments. I think the public want something much more direct on the ability to recall an MP not just for misconduct or wrongdoing, but because they have said or done something that is so outwith the opinion of their constituents, or so obnoxious, that people are willing to campaign for their recall.

I do not find that a problem. Democracy is a rough old trade at times. We live and die by the sword and the votes. On a number of occasions since I have been in the House, elements within my electorate would have sought a right of recall because of my views on Ireland—I chaired the Guildford Four campaign for a number of years—or, at one point in time, because of my views on the life expectancy of Mrs Thatcher. They should have that right. They should be able to bring together fellow constituents to suggest that something is so appalling that a Member of Parliament should be brought before the court of the electorate once again.

The fundamental issue is the one that my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) raised. How do we get that equivalence of influence or power? I understand his argument that one newspaper with vast amounts of resources could campaign against an MP. The Sun had a pop at me at one point in time but, when that occurred, my popularity went up and my majority increased—that has happened to others. He makes a valid point that that might be different if there is a by-election threat or recall outside a general election.

We need further thought on the right of reply, which the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) mentioned. How can that be strengthened in terms of both the statements that are made and the media? That throws up the issue of media ownership, which is a wider debate. We will be forced to come back to that and other issues at a later stage, but my view is that the electorate are not just demanding the right of reply, and there will be a reaction if we do not give them a right of recall beyond the proposed one.

Some people are not happy with the right of recall campaign by 38 Degrees. It was effective not because it was backed by big finance or a national newspaper, but because it was a grass-roots campaign. E-mails coming in their hundreds can be annoying to some MPs, but they demonstrate the vibrancy of our democracy and people’s interest.

Politics has changed in this country. People’s views are no longer shaped solely by the newspaper they read or by the influence of the magnates who own large sections of the media. We are witnessing a lot more people power. People are able to influence individual campaigns and therefore, rightly, to influence MPs’ views. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) was anxious about individual campaigns—he mentioned a planning proposal for the beach. I welcome those campaigns. I welcome people’s ability to mobilise and express their views, no matter how forcefully. I find that, when I explain to campaigners that I cannot support them, I win their respect. I am sure the situation is the same in his constituency on most occasions.

Geraint Davies: I welcome campaigns in my constituency and a vibrant and active democracy. The question is whether we allow a situation whereby an MP is subject to a series of recall demands or intimidation,

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which would take us to a different place from the one that my hon. Friend describes, which is simply a healthy democracy.

John McDonnell: I do not believe that people petitioning or lobbying, or even media campaigns, are intimidation.

Geraint Davies: I am talking about recall.

John McDonnell: Well, the right to recall time and again is the exercise of the democratic will of the local people. I do not find that intimidating. It is a democratic expression of views and I welcome it.

In Scotland, there was a huge turnout in the referendum. All of us welcomed it. People might not have welcomed the result at the end of the day, but we all welcomed that turnout. It is alleged that there were elements of intimidation in the campaign. Nevertheless, people had the sense to make up their own minds, whatever intimidation went on.

8.15 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I thank my Friend for giving way on that point. I support the amendment we will vote on later. Clearly, what he says about expanding democracy and participation is true—it is welcome and good. Does he agree that there is a very large elephant parked outside the Chamber, namely the House of Lords, which is not subject to any kind of electoral accountability, and yet has a huge influence on legislation and can decide the future of Bills and laws in this country? Surely we need the right to recall or remove Members of the House of Lords.

John McDonnell: We will draft amendments for the next stage of the Bill. I had not even thought of amending it to that extent, but my hon. Friend makes an important point. We could make it a constitutional reform Bill.

Geraint Davies: I completely agree that the referendum in Scotland was a great expression of the democratic process, but does my hon. Friend agree with a series of referendums on Scotland? An MP could be recalled every couple of months if there was a focused attack on them. I presume he would not want another vote in Scotland, but perhaps he would.

John McDonnell: There may well be another referendum in due course. We might have to listen to the electorate on that and respect their views. If there is a continuous flow of recalls in an individual constituency, that might reflect that there is something seriously wrong within it. I believe the electorate are wiser than that. If a small group campaigned against an individual MP, the electorate would see through it. The electorate who vote in a recall are the same as those who will vote in a general election. I do not see that there would be a significant difference, apart from, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham has said, the focus of big money or a powerful magnate on a short campaign, which we need to address in the debate.

Mr Kevan Jones: I hear what my hon. Friend says, but he should look at what has happened in the United States. Big money gets behind the campaign. There is a recall when the big money does not like the result—the gun control lobby in Colorado is a good example. The turnout in the recall election can be quite small—I

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believe it was 36%. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) said that we would need 51%, but it will be 51% of a small amount of the electorate.

John McDonnell: I say again that my hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point on the influence of big money in recall elections, but I remind the House that, even after a recall, the individual has the right to stand at the general election, when the same electorate will vote. Therefore, if an individual is unfairly treated in a recall ballot in that way and unfortunately loses, they can stand at the general election, in which they will have the same standing as every other candidate who puts their name forward. There are protections, but he has a valid point that Front Benchers need to consider. How can an individual have the right to voice their views during a recall campaign in a balanced way, with an equivalence of resources and access to the media? That goes beyond new clause 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Newton Abbot, which I support. When the recall campaigns take off, they will be driven in some instances into the local media, and in some instances the national media.

It is a simple principle: trust the electorate and the people. The proposed system still has the hurdle of the House taking a decision on whether a recall process is set in motion. The proposal still involves the House narrowing the definition of the basis for recall. Our constituents might have a much wider view of misconduct and wrongdoing, and we must listen to them.

This is not just about restoring confidence in Parliament. We went downhill in the expenses scandal—that disaster affected all MPs, no matter how honest they were, and those who drove us into the mire damaged us all. We are slowly building confidence. I agree with other hon. Members: people come into the House to do good. This was an honourable profession, and I believe it still is. For most of us, the proudest moment of our lives was when we were elected to represent our constituents. The recall discussions will give the message that we have listened and are willing to tackle the problem, no matter how hard it is.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): I accept much of what the hon. Gentleman says. However, does he agree that MPs from the larger parties have a degree of protection in that they can afford to continue to fight against recall petitions and elections, and that if MPs from minor parties, who have limited resources, are constantly put under the pressure of recall, they would be eliminated not for any wrongdoing, but simply because they can no longer afford to fight to hold their seat?

John McDonnell: That is a valid point about equivalence of arms, and the Front Benches should examine further the controls on expenditure during such periods, as well as the right of access to the media. I should point out, however, that some of us in the larger parties might not get complete protection in some instances—I shall put it no more strongly than that.

I support the amendments, and I welcome the willingness of those on the Front Benches to work together to get a workable piece of legislation that we can all support. I also look forward to the amendment to abolish the House of Lords to be tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn).

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Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): I speak to the amendments as someone who is accustomed to being in the eye of a political storm. I am possibly the only MP in the Chamber who has had an attempt at recall mounted against them. When my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) first tabled the amendments, he asked me to speak about my own experience. At the time I decided not to do so, because I did not think it was particularly appropriate. But having heard some of the hot air in the Chamber tonight, I feel compelled to use my own example, and its consequences, to lay some of those bogus arguments to rest.

Two years ago today, I took part in a reality TV programme called “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here” and I disappeared to Australia. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) asked what would happen if a local or national newspaper ran a campaign against an MP, but I had every national newspaper against me and not just for a day but for a month—in my study they stand waist high. Of course, none of those newspapers said that Parliament was in recess. None of them said that I did not miss any Government legislation. None of them said that I had spent every day of the summer in my constituency office and the trip was my holiday. There were even Members who joined in the outcry against me, giving comments to the newspapers from their sun loungers from Barbados to Benidorm. Nobody said, “Oh, by the way, we are in recess”, and a massive media storm ensued. Even my local radio station, BBC Three Counties, went to my constituency and vox-popped constituents. It did not take comments from constituents who were backing me—it refused to do so. The national media created a perfect storm and rode on the crest of it for an entire month, giving them thousands of column inches.

In the middle of all of that, someone decided that I should be recalled and that they would get together a national petition. Out of the entire UK population of 65 million, one month to the day after the furore started, a national online, click and send petition—the type to which someone can contribute when they have had a bottle of red wine, or been down the pub, or read the local newspaper and got really angry with what they have read—had just 766 signatures. Facebook was a different story. The petition got just 16 likes.

So it is nonsense to say that the media can attack Members or whip up their constituents to get them recalled. There was no national newspaper, political programme or radio station that did not have it in for me during that month when I was in Australia—

Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Nadine Dorries: I am not going to give way at all.

Anyone would think that every one of my constituents loathed me, but they did not. In fact, hardly any of my constituents signed that petition.

Mr Kevan Jones: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Nadine Dorries: No. The hon. Gentleman has taken up enough time with interventions tonight.

My constituents did not sign that petition because they know the kind of MP that I am. I am not a party-political MP. When I am in my constituency I am

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not a Conservative MP—I represent everybody, regardless of what political party they vote for, and my constituents know that. They also know that I will go the extra mile. I do not do surgeries once a month—most times I do them every week. My constituents know that I will go the extra mile for them. They know that I do not get involved in grubby political games in Parliament. They know that I represent them. I put my constituency before my party, and I put my constituents before Westminster. I have always done that—

Mr Jones: Stand as an independent then.

The Temporary Chair (Mr Jim Hood): Order. The hon. Gentleman has had a lot to say tonight in interventions, and he should stay in order when the hon. Lady is on her feet.

Nadine Dorries: My constituents know exactly what type of MP I am. There has been an elephant sat inside—not outside—the Chamber tonight, and it is the reason why the Government have introduced the Bill. They have not introduced it because the public have infinite trust in us, or because they think MPs are wonderful people that work hard for their constituents. The Bill has been introduced because the people do not trust politicians any more. They have no faith in us. They need to know that they can have more democratic control over what we do here because they do not like a lot of what they see going on.

I know that most MPs come here to work hard and look after their constituents, but the Whips Office holds the keys to power and ministerial ambition so there is a difference between the consideration that some MPs give to their constituents and what they give to their own political ambition and their climb up the greasy pole. The difference is as vast as that between sound and silence. Many MPs are one person in their constituencies and a different person entirely at Westminster. People are sick of the Whip system, the parliamentary system and the party-political system. They do not want to see that any more because they want people to represent them. They want their opinions represented here. They do not want grimy deals done such as, “Don’t defect to UKIP and I’ll make you a Minister” or “Don’t vote for this Bill because the Liberal Democrats don’t want you to.” They know about those deals and they are disgusted. That is why we have the Bill.

The amendments could have been a little grittier, but it is vital that we vote for them. It has been argued tonight that Members could be removed for their position on a particular policy, but if they are good MPs that is nonsense. It has been argued that an MP could be removed because of a political row, but I am sure that all the 766 people who signed that petition were supporters of the Opposition. During the 2009 expenses crisis, one thing we knew was that everybody nationally hated MPs, but on a constituency basis many people said, “No, we don’t like MPs, but our MP is okay.” That is because they know what we do for them and the type of person we are. When MPs do fall down, it is because they ignore their constituents, do the grubby deals and put their own personal ambition above the interests of their constituency. A former Minister complained about the Bill today. I asked whether he would vote for it if he was still a Minister, and he said, “Of course I would.” That is the root of the problem—collective responsibility and putting party first.

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We need this Bill. I do not believe that we will have the benefit of the British public’s trust unless the Bill goes further and we vote through the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park. Any MP arguing that thousands of people, just because they are political opponents, would walk down to the town hall and put their names on a register to get them out because the local newspaper has a campaign against them, is talking absolute nonsense. Nobody has anything to fear. If you are a good MP, if you put your constituency first, if you are part of the people in your constituency, and if you take no notice of your Whips Office but do what you should do in principle and do what is right for the people who elected you, then you have nothing to fear from either the amendments or the Bill.

Mr Winnick: I shall be brief. Let me make it quite clear that I certainly have respect for the electorate. Having been elected nine times, and crossing my fingers that there will be a 10th time, I have every reason to respect the electorate, but my respect would be the same if the electorate’s decision had been different.

8.30 pm

I think there is a general consensus that there should be a recall mechanism. The real debate is how we are going to have a recall mechanism that does not damage MPs or their ability to campaign on various matters if they so wish. Let me say again, I do not want any kind of cover-up. In the previous Parliament, I was in a minority of about four or five MPs—I was standing on the Government Benches and there were one or two Liberal Democrats on the Opposition Benches—arguing on a Friday that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 should be applied to Parliament. There was a good deal of opposition to that. That opposition was not expressed when we debated the matter on successive Fridays, but in other ways and we know what happened in the end. I do not want any cover-ups. I believe that what we do and what we spend should be known to the public as it is now. Moreover, I used to campaign in the 1990s and before then for the outside financial interests of MPs to be revealed. There was a great deal of opposition, but that has all changed. So whatever criticism can be made against me—I am rather critical of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith)—it cannot be said that my point of view comes from a desire to cover things up from the electorate.

Why am I hesitant, to say the least, to support the hon. Gentleman’s amendment? I feel it could act as a kind of inhibition on MPs wishing to campaign. We are constantly told outside, “What we want are not MPs who go through the Division Lobby because the Whips tell them to do so; they should be more independent and be able to make up their own minds.” I hope that to some extent we all try to do that in our own particular way if we are not in the Government or in the official Opposition team. However, I come back to the point I made in interventions. There have been campaigns that have made Britain a better and more civilised place: the campaign to abolish capital punishment; the campaign to legalise homosexuality; and campaigns to bring about other changes, for example in the 1960s to outlaw racial discrimination. Without wishing to be too party political, that was opposed by the official Tory Opposition at the time. Those campaigns were unpopular. Some might

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say that a recall mechanism would not have made any difference because the MPs involved in those campaigns would have continued regardless. It is true that they would have done so, but it would have made life that much more difficult. In addition to the normal opposition that one inevitably faces in their constituencies and in the media and so on, they would have been constantly faced with a recall mechanism being applied. If that were not successful, there would have been another and so on and so forth. I could be wrong, but there would have been more difficulties for the sort of campaigns I have mentioned.

I have already mentioned Chris Mullin this evening. Just imagine a Member of Parliament getting up in the House of Commons at the time of the undoubted atrocities committed near my constituency in Birmingham in November 1974 when 21 people were murdered to say that there had been a miscarriage of justice. We now know that people were wrongly convicted, but saying that would take great courage. It so happened that the person concerned was not a Member of Parliament at the time, but I repeat that he would have done the same if had been in the House of Commons. If an MP had campaigned against such a miscarriage of justice—the Guildford Four are another example—in the face of constant calls, encouraged by the press and others, for recurrent recall mechanisms, it would surely have made their life that much more difficult.

Mr MacNeil: On the fear of recurrent recalls, does the hon. Gentleman agree that an amendment should be tabled requiring that a person pay a deposit to call a recall referendum, as is the case for elections to Parliament, in order to inhibit constant recall mechanisms and time wasting? The deposit might be redeemable only on a successful recall.

Mr Winnick: It might or it might not.

In future reform campaigns, we will need the courage of MPs to do as I have indicated and not to feel inhibited by the greater pressure put on them by the recall mechanism. If an MP in a highly marginal constituency—my first, and only, majority in Croydon was 81—was elected with a majority of, say, 100 or 150, perhaps winning it for their party for the first time, would they, being keen to get re-elected, think that the time to take up a controversial issue? They might wonder what purpose it would serve, given their slender majority. Of course, it is easier for Members with larger majorities to pursue such campaigns, but those with tiny majorities would feel greatly inhibited from doing what they might otherwise consider necessary.

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): I accept the point about tiny majorities, of course, but the question is whether we adopt the proposal from my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), the proposal for a 50% threshold to get rid of an MP or the Government’s proposal for 15% or 20%—or is it 5%? Whichever way, it is a relatively small number. That is the problem.

Mr Winnick: Yes, it might be. As I said at the start, there is bound to be a recall mechanism that the House will approve by a majority—that is inevitable—but I stress what the Labour spokesman and others have said about the importance of distinguishing between conduct and policy. I was in the last Parliament and I have no

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doubt that we did ourselves a great deal of damage. It is said that the House of Commons has never been popular. It was said last week that in October 1834, when the building went up in flames, people actually cheered, and I have even heard it said—although I find it difficult to believe, because I am not aware of any great scandal or any allegations of MPs taking unfair rations—that the House of Commons was not particularly popular during the war. We should not have any illusions. Nevertheless, damaging and justified accusations were made against many Members and, even though a large majority of MPs were found not guilty of fiddling their expenses, collectively the accusations did us a great deal of damage, and had that damage not been done, it is unlikely we would be discussing this matter now. I have no illusions about that.

I do not question for one moment the sincerity of the hon. Member for Richmond Park. I know that he has a genuine view, which he has expressed—indeed, I think he expressed it before he came to the House of Commons—but I have to say, for the reasons I have stated, that I have some disagreement, to say the least with what he is proposing. I would rather have a different mechanism.

The only other point I would make is about the danger of tit for tat. I will not mention a certain Member, but I can imagine that in this Parliament there would have been a great deal of pressure from one side to start the recall mechanism. If that had happened, the other side would inevitably have acted in the same way. It is always the same in the House of Commons: if one side starts a process that is damaging to the other side, the other side responds accordingly. We could have this tit-for-tat business—it might not happen, but it is a possibility—where MPs put great pressure on their leaders by saying, “Why don’t we start the recall process? The other side did it over X; why don’t we do it over Y?” I wonder whether that would do much good for the reputation of the House of Commons.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): It seems to me that one of the big issues with trust in politicians concerns money. Does my hon. Friend agree that we really should look at Members’ second jobs, which has a lot to do with the erosion of trust?

Mr Winnick: I am sure my hon. Friend is right. At the end of it, I hope we will all reach a consensus of a kind—well, at least a majority.

Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman mentioned tit for tat, but does not game theory suggest that if someone knew that starting a recall effort would be reacted to by the other side—if, indeed, the motive was political—that would prevent the process from starting in the first place? The potential for tit for tat eliminates that possibility, which brings us back to dealing with genuine scenarios.

Mr Winnick: It might do, and that scenario might not arise in the first place. I am just saying that there is a possibility that if that did happen, it could damage the reputation of the House of Commons. All these are matters that I hope will be taken into consideration.

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I hope that we will reach a majority—I said “consensus” earlier; “majority” is a better word—so that we can say we will have a mechanism, but one that will work. It should also be one—this is the purpose of my intervention in the debate—that does not hinder Members of Parliament in raising issues, however controversial or unpopular, that they believe to be right.

Sir Edward Leigh: I rise to speak to amendment 41, standing in my name, which would add the words:

“No action shall be initiated against an MP in relation to a recall petition process on the basis, or as a result of votes cast, speeches made or any text submitted for tabling by such an MP, within, or as a part of, a parliamentary proceeding.”

It is quite obvious what I am trying to get at, and I am afraid I disagree with my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). I believe that parliamentary privilege and our freedom to say anything in this House, knowing that we will be held to account only in a general election, is a very powerful defence of liberty against tyranny. It is a matter of the utmost importance, and I think that the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park is extraordinarily dangerous.

I know that the very phrase “parliamentary privilege” sounds a bit old fashioned and pompous, but it is terribly important in our history. As the Library put it,

“The ancient origins of parliamentary privilege, and the archaic language that is sometimes used in describing it, should not disguise its continuing relevance and value. As we have noted…the work of Parliament is central to our democracy, and its proceedings must be immune from interference by the executive, the courts or anyone else who may wish to impede or influence those proceedings in pursuit of their own ends.”

For centuries, we have maintained from the Bill of Rights the absolute freedom of extraordinarily difficult, unpopular, unfashionable people to say difficult, unfashionable, unpopular things in this House, knowing that nobody outside in any court—this is where I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), who wants to set up some electoral process or court, or whatever it is called—can hold them to account. Every Member has known for centuries that they have the freedom to express very unpopular opinions, knowing that they can be held to account only at a subsequent general election.

8.45 pm

Indeed, why do we slam the door in the face of Black Rod at the opening of Parliament? History is important. There was a time when the King marched up that aisle and tried to arrest some of us. It was not because we were guilty of some corrupt act; it was because we were saying things that the Executive did not like. Ever since then, and culminating in the events of the 1680s—when, I am sorry to say, there was a king on the throne who was trying to set up an absolute monarchy—we have maintained this privilege through the Bill of Rights. It is not some old-fashioned, archaic term that is irrational and that should be swept away on a tide of populism. If we were to go down the Richmond Park route, we would not be making this place more democratic and accountable. Actually, we would be silencing the freedom of this place to express unpopular opinion.