I am a strong supporter of recall. It is precisely because I am such a strong supporter that I didn't vote for Zac Goldsmith's amendment last night.
I saw two problems with it.
First, his amendment set the bar to force a recall by-election very high - much higher than the government's proposal:
- 5% of the electorate would have to sign a notice of intent to recall;
- then 20 per cent would have to sign a recall petition within an eight-week period;
- then there would be a referendum and only if a majority voted in favour of recall would a by-election take place
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that although Zac's amendment gave the appearance of involving the public, in practice very few recall by-elections would take place. As Zac said in the debate on Monday night, "The process is deliberately very difficult".
In contrast, the Government's proposal only involves one stage, which is 10% of the electorate signing a petition.
The second problem with Zac's proposal is that it would allow people to initiate recall for any reason. I don't agree with that. Recall should be about getting rid of MPs if they do something wrong, not because you disagree with their politics. The right time to pass judgement on the latter is the next election.
But I do think Zac had a point and it's one which a number of my constituents have also made to me. As things stand, the Government's proposals would only allow recall in two circumstances:
- if an MP is given a suspended sentence of any length or sentenced to imprisonment for up to a year (MPs are already automatically disqualified if they are sentenced to imprisonment for more than a year); or
- if an MP is suspended by the House of Commons for 21 sitting days or more or 28 continuous days or more.
The Bill as currently drafted does not allow members of the public to initiate recall and that is a concern because it is certainly possible to imagine circumstances where constituents thought their MP was guilty of wrongdoing, but other MPs did not think it was so serious (I remember the reaction of many MPs to the expenses scandal for example).
Several MPs proposed amendments which sought to address this flaw by allowing members of the public to initiate recall but only where it concerned misconduct rather than policy disagreement. The Minister responsible for the debate said that he had:
"a great deal of sympathy with the thinking behind the amendments ... 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"
He undertook to come back with revised Government proposals at Report stage in a few weeks time.
I think this is the right approach. My constituents are right to say that they, not just MPs, should have the right to force recall - but it must only be where MPs have done something wrong, not where supporters of a particular party are trying to undo the result of an election they have lost.
Gavin Barwell is the Conservative MP for Croydon Central. This blog first appeared on Gavin's personal blog, and can be read here