New legislation that would allow voters to kick their MP out of parliament mid-term has been attacked as a "stitch up" by one of the staunchest supporters of so-called "recall" laws.
On Wednesday David Cameron and Nick Clegg used the Queen's Speech to announce a Recall of MPs Bill would be introduced before the 2015 general election, after years of delays and internal coalition wrangling.
Constituents will be able to sack their MP if they are sentenced to up to 12 months in jail. And voters could also trigger a by-election if the House of Commons resolves that an MP has engaged in "serious wrongdoing". Under the new law, a vote would be forced if more than 10% of constituents sign a petition over an eight-week period.
MPs are now only expelled from parliament if they are jailed for more than one year. Less serious wrongdoing is punished by temporary suspension from the House.
However Tory MP Zac Goldsmith said the Bill was a "breathtakingly cynical attempt to convey an impression of democratic reform" without actually empowering voters in any real sense.
Goldsmith, who has long campaigned for a power of recall, blamed the "stitch up" on Clegg. He said the legislation actually handed more power to the establishment, as the decision as to whether a MP was guilty of "serious wrongdoing" and would face being kicked out was in the hands of a committee of MPs, not voters themselves.
"It is surely revealing that not a single organisation interested in democratic reform, or a single reform-minded MP backed the Lib Dem plans," he said in a statement today.
"True recall is simple. If a percentage of constituents – usually 20 per cent – sign a petition in a given time frame, they earn the right to have a referendum in which voters are asked if they want to recall their MP. If more than half say yes, there is a subsequent by-election."
Goldsmith said the argument against allowing voters to recall their MP whenever they likes was the same as the argument used to prevent women being given the vote.
"It is theoretically possible of course that an MP might be unfairly removed from office under recall, but the same can be said of any election. And where recall happens, there are no known examples of successful vexatious recall attempts," he said.
MPs had previously warned that a recall mechanism could be abused for party political advantage and fears were raised about the process turning into a "kangaroo court".
The government said the measures announced today would be "transparent, robust and fair" but would not lead to MPs facing "frequent and unnecessary distractions". And it insisted move will give constituents a direct voice when MPs have behaved badly.
It comes after years of wrangling that sparked bitter recriminations and rows between the two governing parties.
Recall powers formed a key plank of the coalition agreement by Cameron and Clegg in 2010 following widespread voter discontent about the House of Commons expenses scandal. Under the deal, they pledged to bring forward "early legislation" to introduce the powers but the move was repeatedly kicked into the long grass.
The proposals appeared to have been killed off earlier this year when the Liberal Democrats accused the Conservatives of scuppering the measure. But the prime minister later declared his intention to revive the plans in the wake of fresh anger over the behaviour of MPs.