27 Oct 2014 : Column 42

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I was out selling poppies in Glossop on Saturday and constituent after constituent came to me to express their outrage at this unacceptable demand for €2 billion. In fact, one constituent even likened the EU to Dick Turpin, the difference being that Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask. Does the Prime Minister agree that the view expressed to me by my High Peak constituents represents the view across the country that this bill is unacceptable?

The Prime Minister: I entirely understand the reaction of my hon. Friend’s constituents. It is exactly the reaction I found in my constituency at the weekend: people outraged that so much money could be asked for with so little time to pay it and with so little thought for the taxpayers who would be called on to do so.

Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) (Lab): Some years ago, this country voted for the Common Market not this bureaucratic nonsense, so why does the Prime Minister not grasp the nettle and have a referendum on the day of the election next year and let the British people decide?

The Prime Minister: There is a clear message: vote Tory in Blyth Valley and get a referendum.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): In a few months, the Prime Minister will begin the serious business of renegotiating our relationship with the European Union. Does my right hon. Friend truly believe that the leaders of the European Commission, in asking for this vast amount of money, have any understanding of how exasperated the British taxpayers are at continuous demands for money that could be spent on British hospitals and British schools?

The Prime Minister: The Commission will see how strongly people feel. One of the great puzzles is that on Thursday night, when this emerged, the President of the current Commission, José Manuel Barroso, knew nothing about the payments, which raises interesting questions in itself. Clearly, the Commission needs to understand that this is taxpayers’ money and that it is not acceptable to behave in this way.

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Prime Minister’s decision not to pay the €2 billion and his statement “or anything like it”. I wish to be helpful. Would it not help his own position if he agreed to bring back for a vote in the House the amount he finally proposes to negotiate?

The Prime Minister: I think we are some way away from that, because we have to go through the estimates, find out what is wrong with the figures and how we can best change them, and go through all those processes before we reach that eventuality.

James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis) (Con): Notwithstanding this unacceptable demand from the European Commission, does the Prime Minister agree that economic stagnation in the eurozone poses a significant risk to the UK’s economic recovery, and do we not need to redouble our efforts to encourage our European neighbours to make the necessary economic reforms to stimulate growth across the eurozone?

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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our growth figures came out during the European Council and demonstrated that Britain was growing at more than 3% this year and that manufacturing, construction and services were all contributing to that growth. There are very few countries in Europe with growth rates anything like that. Indeed, there is a risk to Britain from contraction in the eurozone, and as I said in answer to an earlier question, we need the eurozone to have not just proper fiscal targets, but an active monetary policy and structural reforms to get more of its people back to work.

Mr David Crausby (Bolton North East) (Lab): When the Prime Minister says that the bill came as a bombshell, the House must surely accept his word, but did his officials not give him in advance an estimate of the bill, and if they did, how much was it?

The Prime Minister: They did not, and they could not have known, because it was only at the Friday meeting, the week before the European Council, that the figures became apparent; that was when what the Commission was proposing for every other EU country could be seen. As has been explained, the Treasury then drew up a memorandum on the Tuesday before the European Council, and I was told on the Thursday. Those are the facts, even if they are inconvenient for those who want some great conspiracy and who believe that in the wonderful days of Blair and Brown information was shared so openly across government. I am afraid that does not stand up to the facts.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): ITV News is reporting online that Mr Dominik, the EU Budget Commissioner, has confirmed that UK civil servants knew the precise revised sum some weeks ago. Given that the Prime Minister acknowledges that he knew the mechanisms in place, and given that Treasury officials knew the precise sum weeks ago, what part of it did the First Lord of the Treasury not understand?

The Prime Minister: I am glad the hon. Gentleman raises the point about the lunchtime news programmes, because not all of them have been accurate. One made the assertion that these numbers were discussed at the October ECOFIN, but that is simply not the case. As I said, the key meeting was an officials’ meeting in Brussels on the Friday before the European Council—that was the first time the numbers were seen—and the Treasury drew up a memorandum on the Tuesday. One would expect the Treasury to look at such estimates and work out an action plan to deal with them, and then the Prime Minister is told. That is how things work. I do not know why Opposition Members are looking for a mystery here; it is very straightforward.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Is not the fact that EU Commission officials can describe a demand for €2 billion as “an adjustment” an indication of just how far they have lost touch with ordinary voters, not just in Britain, but throughout the whole EU? This is an accountability issue. In challenging these payments, is my right hon. Friend standing up not just for the citizens of Britain, but for citizens throughout the whole EU who want the EU to succeed, but want it to be more accountable?

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The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The description of it as a “technical adjustment” is what caused the Italian Prime Minister, me and the Dutch Prime Minister to really be very angry. This is a huge amount of money. It was €2 billion for Britain, and—from memory—for Holland, a much smaller country, it was €600 million. This is serious money, not some small adjustment.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): The Prime Minister’s statement on important threats such as climate change and Ebola shows just how important it is for us to work with our European neighbours. However, do not the points made by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) that the Treasury knew about this EU surcharge well beforehand and that the Office for National Statistics was supplying data months ago show that the Prime Minister is just shedding crocodile tears?

The Prime Minister: Where the hon. Lady is right is that of course there is a process for statistics authorities to share statistics across Europe. That happens every year, but the key moment is when those statistics come together and we can see what a country’s draft obligations would be. That is what happened. I know there is a desperate search for a “Who knew what, when?” story, but I think Opposition Members are missing the point—put forward so brilliantly by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—that it is the bottom-line issue that matters. Labour does not want to go to that, because it is not prepared ever to face up to the challenges we are sometimes set in Europe.

Chris Kelly (Dudley South) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the cost of Labour in this context since 2005 has been a reduction in our rebate of nearly £10.5 billion and that a further cost of Labour would be its Front Benchers caving in and paying this enormous sum if they were in government, something to which my constituents in Dudley South say no?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Labour gave away £7 billion of our rebate and our ability to veto what was not in our national interest, signed Britain up to a euro bail-out mechanism to bail out countries that were in the eurozone, and agreed to increases in EU budgets year after year. This Government have taken a very different approach.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): My constituents, like people across the country, are doubly astounded, first, that our country effectively faces a fine for its success and hard work and, secondly, that the money would be used to prop up the failed economic policies of the likes of François Hollande—policies supported by the Leader of the Opposition in 2012. Can the Prime Minister assure my constituents that we will say no to the demand to pay this bill from the European Union? Instead of coming to Britain for a bail-out, the European Union should first of all put its own house in order.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes important points. I have made clear the approach we are going to take, and we should also continue to pursue the economic policies that are making Britain such a strong and growing success.

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Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): There was huge support across the Yorkshire dales for the Prime Minister’s strong position in the Brussels meeting. Can he clarify whether he got any messages of support for that position from the Leader of the Opposition and whether there was any clarity on whether Labour would pay this sum?

Mr Speaker: Order. I think the questions really ought to focus on the policy of the Government and not be a kind of back-door way of trying to talk about Opposition policies. It is improper, and unfortunately it was not very subtly disguised.

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his strength of leadership on this specific issue, but will he confirm that if this €2 billion bill is not reduced or is increased, he will convert his “No, no, no” to a “Never”?

The Prime Minister: I have been very clear: we are not paying this on 1 December; nor are we paying an amount of this nature. We are very clear about that. If, through these processes, we have to pay a little bit more or a little bit less, as we do every year, that is a different matter. I could not have been clearer about this.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Touching on economic issues, in paragraph 7 of the conclusions, the Prime Minister will be aware that the EU recently granted Pakistan favourable trading status, linked to its basic human rights. In the light of the recent decision by the high court in Pakistan to sentence under its completely unacceptable blasphemy laws Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five children, to death by hanging, 45 Members of Parliament from across the House have written to the Government of Pakistan urging them to review this miscarriage of justice. Will the Prime Minister ensure that our Government push Pakistan to review this miscarriage of justice?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. As he knows, we have been pushing the Pakistan Government to amend the blasphemy laws, and I will be speaking to the Prime Minister tomorrow.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber at the start of the statement, I will call him, but if he was not, I will not.

Mr Cunningham indicated assent.

Mr Speaker: He was. I will very happily take his word.

Mr Cunningham: Is the Prime Minister prepared to compromise over the rebate, because so far he has made no statement to rule that out?

The Prime Minister: I hate to say it, but had the hon. Gentleman been here throughout, he would have heard my answer, which is this. Paying a little bit more or a little bit less because of a normal annual adjustment is one thing; €2 billion is quite another.

27 Oct 2014 : Column 46

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): It is a big success that we have managed to get the EU to move towards decarbonisation targets and away from renewables targets, but the Prime Minister may be aware that what was agreed on Friday is considerably less onerous than the targets set out in our own Climate Change Act 2008. Does he have any intention of reconciling those two positions over the next few years?

The Prime Minister: First of all, what we have agreed is less onerous than the package negotiated by a previous Government that set out binding targets for 2020 that have added costs to bills. My advice is that what we agreed is broadly consistent with our carbon budgets; we can achieve what we will be expected to achieve within our carbon budgets.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): My constituents do not give a Yorkshire pudding about who said what and when. What they do care about is Labour-run Kirklees council looking at not filling in potholes, consulting on whether to keep libraries open and struggling on funding. Will the Prime Minister, on behalf of my constituents, continue to pledge to say no to this huge bill, so that we can spend money right here on our constituents?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right: people want us to stand up against unacceptable bills from Brussels and make sure that money is spent on our people’s priorities.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his response to this outrageous £1.7 billion demand. Clearly, the EU is similar to the Labour party, in that it wishes to penalise success and reward failure. When he renegotiates our terms of membership, will he ensure that—second only to dealing with the free movement of labour—he will seek to reduce the power of officials, introduce real democratic accountability and return powers to this Parliament?

The Prime Minister: I think there is a lot in that agenda that we need properly to engage with. We have set out the things I most want to renegotiate. It is obviously going to be difficult, but as I have said, it is worth doing that to give the British people a proper choice between a reformed in and out.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister on behalf of thousands of my constituents in Winchester. Seemingly, many of them of contacted me this weekend to say thank you for his defence of their money. To borrow a current phrase, the European Union is treating Great Britain like a kind of branch office. Does the Prime Minister understand—I know it is difficult—that many of my constituents see this as a further reason why, with a heavy heart, this club is just not working for us any more?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he says about his constituents. I think it is worth while having that renegotiation so that we can give the British people a choice. We demonstrated at the European Council that when it comes to climate change and Ebola, we were able to push for action that will benefit people in our country and across the continents.

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I do not accept that Britain cannot win in Europe; we can, but we need to make sure that we have the right deal to get public support behind this organisation. Clearly, what happened before the weekend in terms of this bill is not helpful.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for standing up to Brussels and for the cut in the EU budget. Given that the EU has had a negative impact on jobs and wages, particularly for low earners, is it not the EU’s responsibility to save hard-working taxpayers money rather than try to increase the taxes they pay? Does this not make the case, which he has made so well, for an in/out referendum on the European Union?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is on to a very important point—that because of the difficulties in the eurozone, people have seen Europe as the source of some of our problems rather than the source of opportunities. That puts even further pressure on the EU to recognise that and to cut its cloth accordingly to try to save people money rather than cost them money.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): Annexe II of the Gleneagles agreement of 2005 states:

“The EU has pledged to reach 0.7 per cent”

of overseas development assistance as a percentage of gross national income by 2015. Given that we are nearly in 2015, will my right hon. Friend confirm whether the Commission has been sending out payment reminders on behalf of the poorest people on earth—in the case of Germany, for $11.8 billion a year; in the case of France, for $8 billion a year, and in the case of the United Kingdom, zero?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has made a good point. We made a promise to the poorest in the world, and we have kept our promise to the poorest in the world. Other countries that made those pledges at that meeting—including Italy, France and Germany—have not kept their promises, and they should answer for themselves. When it comes to issues such as Ebola, however, it is necessary to spend money quite rapidly. I would say to people in our country that it is not just our moral responsibility to help people in west Africa, but it is essential in order to prevent Ebola from coming here. A country needs to have deep pockets and resources in order to take the action that is required.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): The unwelcome scale of the surcharge does at least suggest that the European Commission has recognised the strength of the British economy, the value of the long-term economic plan, and the success of the Government’s approach to reducing our deficit. When the Prime Minister seeks to recalibrate the scale and pace, will he underline the need for the European Union to adopt the same economic strategies as us?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is doing a very good job in finding a silver lining for this cloud, namely the fact that our economy is growing. As I said in my statement, that was going to involve our having to make

27 Oct 2014 : Column 48

some sort of additional payment, but the scale is completely unacceptable. As for the lessons that can be learnt from the success of what we are doing here in Britain, I think that there are examples that can be followed in the rest of Europe.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): The constituents to whom I spoke over the weekend, on the doorstep and in community meetings, were certainly not amused by the irony of a surcharge of £1.7 billion from the European Union having to be paid because our economy is so successful, and they were very much behind my right hon. Friend in wanting to say no to the payment. Does the Prime Minister agree that we should take no lessons from the Labour party, who gave away £7 billion in terms of our rebate in return for absolutely no reform of the European Union?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Not only was that money given away in terms of the rebate, but we saw EU budgets go up and up year after year because of a failure to control spending. That is the lesson that we must learn. We have to be very tough on these things in Europe, which Labour consistently failed to be.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that if we are to keep Britain secure from the threat of Ebola at home, we need to contain it abroad? Should we not recognise the hundreds of people in our national health service who have volunteered to go out to west Africa, and congratulate them on their work in keeping us secure?

The Prime Minister: I think it quite extraordinary that 650 people in our country have already volunteered to go. As I said in my statement, we are sending out troops to help with the logistics and the planning. We must ensure that the medevac proposals are really robust, so that if any people do get into trouble, they can either be given excellent treatment in one of our facilities in the country, or be brought home.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I welcome the agreement entered into between the United Kingdom and France to tackle the chaos at Calais, where the mayor has lost control of the streets. May I urge him to initiate a pan-European push to tackle the evil of human trafficking, which is so often organised, and to tackle countries such as Italy—which is the first safe country for treaty purposes—rather than allowing people to be waved through to Calais?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As well as having proper controls at Calais and at our own border, we must ensure that when people arrive in the European Union, they claim asylum and register in the first country that they reach rather than being passported through to the channel ports.

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con) rose

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Mr Michael Ellis.

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Michael Ellis: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. You were spoilt for choice then.

Does the Prime Minister agree that the euro bureaucrats have made a mistake? They thought that they could push this Prime Minister into doing what a Labour Government clearly would do, and accepting everything that was said. This Prime Minister and this Government will not be treated like that. They will not be treated like a branch office; they will not be treated in the way in which the Labour party has treated its Scottish comrades.

The Prime Minister: Labour did provide a rather odd distraction over the weekend, with the extraordinary meltdown of its party in Scotland. My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we must demonstrate that when something unacceptable like this is put on the table, we are willing to say no.

Mr Hollobone: May I inform the Prime Minister that the clear and strong view from the Kettering constituency is that absolutely no way should we be paying this extra money? Before he goes back to Brussels, may I encourage him to have a good rummage through the cupboards in Downing street, dig out the prime ministerial handbag which was last deployed by its original owner in the early 1990s, and clonk it around the head of the Commission?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend has made an excellent suggestion. I am not sure that the handbag is actually passed down in that way, but the metaphorical handbag is still available, and there are times when it needs to be used.

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Point of Order

4.54 pm

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the Prime Minister’s statement, the Treasury has confirmed that its officials were told, but that the junior civil servants did not pass the information further up the chain of command. Perhaps when the Prime Minister goes back to No. 10 Downing street he can fully apprise himself of these new facts and then come back, out of courtesy to the House, to correct the record and fully apprise us of who knew what and when, and why the Prime Minister, as the First Lord of the Treasury, was not told.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman. No judgment is required in this matter by the Chair, but he has put his point on the record. We will leave it there.

Bill Presented

International Trade Agreements (Scrutiny)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Geraint Davies, supported by Nia Griffith, Kelvin Hopkins, Mr Jim Cunningham, Mark Lazarowicz, Sir Gerald Kaufman, Mr Mike Weir, Jim Sheridan, Jim Dowd, Paul Flynn, Mr Roger Godsiff and Mark Durkan, presented a Bill to require scrutiny of and enable amendments to international trade agreements, including investor state dispute settlements, by the European and UK Parliaments; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 January 2015, and to be printed (Bill 108).

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Recall of MPs Bill

Considered in Committee

[Dame Dawn Primarolo in the Chair]

Clause 1

How an MP becomes subject to a recall petition process

4.56 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out from “becomes” to end of clause and insert—

“the subject of a recall referendum where—

(a) a notice of intent to recall, signed by a number of persons not less than the effective number (5% of persons in member’s parliamentary constituency entitled to vote), in accordance with section (Notice of intent to recall) of this Act, has been deposited with a petition officer, and

(b) 20% of persons entitled to vote have then validly signed a recall petition in accordance with section (Notice of intent to recall) of this Act.

(3) In this Act “recall petition” means a petition calling, in terms determined under section 9(4), for a member to be subject to a recall referendum.

(4) The member’s seat becomes vacant and a by-election held where, in accordance with section 15 of this Act, the majority of people who have voted in a recall referendum, vote in favour of the member being recalled from Parliament.

(5) The provision made by or under this Act does not affect other ways in which a Member’s seat may be vacated.”.

This amendment changes the Bill to remove the proposed conditions of recall on the grounds of imprisonment or suspension by the House to the decision making of constituency voters. It sets out the essential three stages - notice of intent to recall (5% of voters), recall petition (20% of voters) and then a referendum. Only if all three stages are passed is there a by-election.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Dawn Primarolo): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 42, page 1, line 4, leave out “or second” and insert “, second, or third”

Amendments 42 and 43 and NC6 and NC7 form part of a group of amendments and new clauses which provides a route for recall for members of the public independent of any parliamentary committee, or criminal convictions. It allows for an alternative and additional trigger for the recall process which provides direct access whereby one hundred constituents may petition an Electoral Court in the case of improper behaviour or gross dereliction of duty on the part of an MP, and seeks to avoid any conflict with the provisions of the Bill of Rights.

Amendment 48, page 1, line 4, after “second”, insert “or third.”

Amendment 41, page 1, line 10, at end insert—

‘(2A) 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.”

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Amendment 47, page 1, line 16, at end insert “or,

(c) the MP has been convicted of any offence under section 10 (Offence of providing false or misleading information for allowance claims) of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009.”

This amendment adds a further recall petition trigger to the Bill, where an MP is found guilty of an offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 for making a claim for expenses or allowances that they know to be false or misleading in some material respect.

Amendment 45, page 1, line 18, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

‘(4) The second recall condition is that the House of Commons orders the suspension of the MP from the service of the House for a specified period and—

(a) where the period is expressed as a number of sitting days, the period specified is a period of at least 10 sitting days, or

(b) in any other case, the period specified (however expressed) is a period of at least 14 days.”

This amendment reduces the length of suspension required to trigger a recall petition from 21 sitting days to 10 sitting days and from 28 days to 14 days.

Amendment 39, page 1, line 18, leave out “orders” and insert “has ordered.”

Amendment 43, page 1, line 24, at end insert—

‘( ) The third recall condition is that—

(a) an election court has considered a petition claiming that the MP has committed an act which, had it been committed in England and Wales, would have constituted misconduct in public office, and

(b) the court has determined, prima facie, there is a case to be answered, and

(c) the court has notified the Speaker of its decision under sub-section (b).”

Amendments 42 and 43 and NC6 and NC7 form part of a group of amendments and new clauses which provides a route for recall for members of the public independent of any parliamentary committee, or criminal convictions. It allows for an alternative and additional trigger for the recall process which provides direct access whereby one hundred constituents may petition an Electoral Court in the case of improper behaviour or gross dereliction of duty on the part of an MP, and seeks to avoid any conflict with the provisions of the Bill of Rights.

Amendment 40, page 2, line 2, after “starts”, insert “or started”

Amendment 49, page 2, line 5, at end insert—

‘(5A) The third recall condition is where an MP is also—

(a) a Member of the Scottish Parliament,

(b) a Member of the National Assembly for Wales,

(c) a Member of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly,

(d) a Member of the London Assembly,

(e) a directly elected Mayor,

(f) a local government Councillor,

(g) a member of a Parish Council, or

(h) a member of the European Parliament

and the Speaker receives or otherwise takes notice of the fact that that such an MP has been

suspended from a role mentioned in this subsection for a period equivalent to, or greater

than, that specified in subsection (4).

(5B) The Secretary of State may amend the list of bodies in subsection 5A by an order laid before the House of Commons and made under the affirmative resolution procedure.”

27 Oct 2014 : Column 53

This amendment adds a further recall petition trigger to the Bill, where an MP has been suspended from another elected role or office for an equivalent or greater number of days than is set out in Clause 1, subsection (4). (NB Amendment 45 seeks to reduce that period.)

Amendment 46, in clause 2, page 2, line 16, leave out paragraph (b)

This amendment removes the exemption from recall petition in the case of an MP who receives a custodial sentence but for a crime committed before this Act comes into force.

Amendment 44, in clause 5, page 4, line 11, leave out “second” and insert “, second, or third”

New clause 1— Notice of intent to recall

‘(1) A notice of intent to recall is to read as follows—

“If you agree that [name], the member of the House of Commons for [constituency] should be subject to a recall petition, please sign below”.

(2) A notice of intent may be deposited with the petition officer by a person who promotes the call for the member to be recalled from Parliament (“the promoter”).

(3) A notice of intent to recall deposited under subsection (2) must be accompanied by a declaration made by the promoter, verifying that to the best of that person‘s knowledge the notice is in accordance with this Act and any regulations made under it.

(4) A person who makes a declaration under subsection (3) where that person knows that the declaration is false or is reckless as to that fact, commits an offence.

(5) As soon as reasonably practicable after a notice of intent to recall has been deposited with the petition officer—

(a) the petition officer shall, in accordance with subsection (6) determine whether the notice of intent to recall is effective, and

(b) if so, the petition officer shall send a copy of the notice to the member.

(6) A notice of intent to recall is effective for the purposes of this Act if the petition officer is satisfied that the number of persons who have validly signed the notice of intent to recall is not less than the effective number determined in accordance with subsection (9).

(7) But subsection (5) shall not apply if it would require the petition officer to determine that the notice of intent to recall is effective at a time—

(a) within the period of 7 months ending with the polling day for the next parliamentary general election;

(b) when the MP is already subject to a recall petition process, or

(c) When the MP’s seat has already been vacated (whether by the MP’s disqualification or death, or otherwise).

(8) For the purposes of this section a person (“P”) validly signs a notice of intent to recall if—

(a) P signs the notice within the period commencing 28 days prior to the date upon which the notice is deposited with the petition officer and ending on that day, and

(b) P signs the notice on a day on which P would be entitled to vote as an elector at a parliamentary election in the constituency.

(9) In each year, the petition officer of each constituency in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland shall on the relevant day, determine the number that is equal to 5% of the number of persons entitled to vote as an elector at a parliamentary election in the constituency (“the effective number”).

(10) “The relevant day” for the purposes of subsection (9) means, the day on which the registration officer publishes a revised version of the electoral register under section 13 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.”.

This New Clause adds in the process for notices of intent to recall; who is eligible to sign such a notice and how the petition officer is to determine whether it is effective, leading on then to a recall petition notice being issued.

27 Oct 2014 : Column 54

New clause 2—Promoter’s statement of reason and Member’s statement in reply

‘(1) A notice of intent to recall may be deposited with a petition officer by a person (“the promoter”):

(a) who promotes the recall from Parliament of the member to whom the notice relates;

(b) who is entitled to vote on the day it is deposited as an elector at a parliamentary election in the constituency to which the notice relates; and

(c) whose name appears on the notice.

(2) The promoter must ensure that the signing sheet for a notice of intent to recall include s a statement of reasons for calling for the member’s recall to Parliament (“The promoter’s statement of reasons”).

(3) The member may respond to the statement of reasons in a written statement in reply (“member’s statement in reply”) sent to the petition officer after the notice of intent to recall has been deposited with that officer.

(4) The notice of petition sent out under section 8(1) must be accompanied by—

(a) the promoter’s statement of reasons, and

(b) any statement in reply if provided to the petition officer within 2 working days of the notices being sent out.

(5) The statement of reason and any statement in reply must not exceed 200 words each and must be made available by the petition officer at the designated places throughout the signing period.”

This amendment makes provision for the person who deposits the notice of intent to recall with the petition officer, known as the promoter, to include with the notice, a statement of reasons. The member then has a right of reply and both the statement of reasons and any statement in reply must be available with a recall petition throughout the signing period.

Amendment (a) to new clause 2, line 11 at end insert—

“(a) the statement of reasons shall not include reasons relating to the Member’s freedom of expression within his/her Parliamentary role such as those expressed through speeches and votes.

(b) Where the petition officer considers that a statement may contravene (a) he may refer the statement to the Speaker whose decision shall be final.”

To ensure that recall procedure is not commenced because a constituent does not agree with the Member’s political or personal views.

New clause 6—The third recall condition; method of petitioning an election court

‘(1) This section applies when persons allege conduct by an MP which constitutes misconduct in public office.

(2) A petition under this section may be presented by one hundred or more of those who are registered as electors in the relevant constituency.

(3) The petition shall be in the prescribed form, state the prescribed matters and be signed by the petitioners, and shall be presented to the High Court, or to the Court of Session, or to the High Court of Northern Ireland, depending on whether the constituency to which it relates is in England and Wales, or Northern Ireland.

(4) The petition shall be presented by delivering it to the prescribed officer or otherwise dealing with it in the prescribed manner; and the prescribed officer shall send a copy of it forthwith to the Speaker and to the relevant MP.

(5) The election court shall be constituted as if it were constituted under section c123 (constitution of election court and place of trial) of the Representation of the People Act 1983 and sections 124 and 126 of that Act shall apply as if it were so constituted.

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(6) “Prescribed” has the same meaning as in section 185 (Interpretation of Part III) of the Representation of the People Act 1983.”

New clause 7—The third recall condition; consideration by election court

‘(1) This section applies when a petition alleging conduct by an MP which constitutes misconduct in public office is considered by an election court under section (The third recall condition: method of petitioning an election court).

(2) 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.

(3) The court must examine evidence adduced of misconduct, and any evidence produced in rebuttal by the MP.

(4) The court must consider whether, on the basis of such evidence, a person might properly be indicted for the common law offence of misconduct in public office.

(5) For the purposes of this section, gross dereliction of duty as an MP may be considered misconduct in public office.

(6) 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.

(7) If the decision of the court is that the alleged behaviour is such as to satisfy subsection (4), then it must notify the Speaker that it has so determined.

(8) Nothing in this section shall be construed as affecting any provision of the Bill of Rights 1689.”

Amendments 42 and 43 and NC6 and NC7 form part of a group of amendments and new clauses which provides a route for recall for members of the public independent of any parliamentary committee, or criminal convictions. It allows for an alternative and additional trigger for the recall process which provides direct access whereby one hundred constituents may petition an Electoral Court in the case of improper behaviour or gross dereliction of duty on the part of an MP, and seeks to avoid any conflict with the provisions of the Bill of Rights.

Amendment 34, in schedule 1, page 17, line 6, leave out from “effectually” to end of paragraph 1 and insert

“carrying out the functions under this Act and Regulations made under it in relation to notices of intent to recall, recall petitions and recall referendums”

This amendment extends the general duty on the petition officer to reflect the addition of the notice of intent to recall and referendum stages to the Bill.

Amendment 6, in clause 7, page 5, line 22, leave out “receives a Speaker’s notice” and insert

“has determined that a notice of intent to recall is effective”.

This amendment makes clear that the date upon which the petition officer determines that a notice of intent to recall is effective is the relevant starting date for the recall petition process.

Amendment 7, page 5, line 36, leave out “received the Speaker’s notice” and insert

“determined that the notice of intent to recall is effective”.

This amendment makes clear that the date upon which the petition officer determines that a notice of intent to recall is effective is the relevant starting date for the recall petition process.

Amendment 8, in clause 8, page 6, line 13, leave out subsection (2).

This amendment removes the power to make regulations requiring information on the recall condition to be included in the notice of petition to be sent to registered electors.

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Amendment 9, in clause 9, page 6, line 27, leave out from “constituency]” to end of subsection (4) and insert

“to be subject to a recall referendum. If the recall referendum leads to the loss of his/her seat this does not prevent the member standing in any consequent by-election.”.

This amendment changes the wording in the recall petition to reflect that if successful there will be a referendum and that if the recall referendum leads to the loss of the member’s seat, he or she may still stand for election in any consequent by-election.

Amendment 10, in clause 10, page 7, line 9, leave out “Speaker’s notice is given” and insert “petition officer has determined that the notice of intent to recall is effective”.

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7.

Amendment 11, page 7, line 22, leave out “Speaker’s notice is given” and insert

“petition officer has determined that the notice of intent to recall is effective”.

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7.

Amendment 35, in schedule 2,  page 21, line 10, leave out “Speaker‘s notice is given in relation to a recall petition” and insert

“petition officer determines that a notice of intent to recall is effective”.

This amendment has the same intent and achieves the same effect as for the amendments to Clause 7.

Amendment 12, in clause 13, page 8, line 37, leave out “Speaker’s notice is given” and insert

“petition officer has determined that the notice of intent to recall is effective”.

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7 and reflects the fact that the recall conditions and the role of the Speaker are removed.

Amendment 13, page 8, line 44, leave out “Speaker’s notice was given” and insert “petition officer determined that the notice of intent to recall was effective”.

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7 and reflects the fact that the recall conditions and the role of the Speaker are removed.

Amendment 14, page 9, line 3, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7 and reflects the fact that the recall conditions and the role of the Speaker are removed.

Amendment 15, page 9, line 9, leave out “receiving a notice under subsection (5)” and insert “becoming aware that this section applies”.

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7 and reflects the fact that the recall conditions and the role of the Speaker are removed.

Amendment 16, in clause 13, page 9, line 16, leave out “receiving a notice under subsection (5)” and insert “becoming aware that this section applies”.

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7 and reflects the fact that the recall conditions and the role of the Speaker are removed.

Amendment 17, page 9, line 22, leave out subsection (8).

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7 and reflects the fact that the recall conditions and the role of the Speaker are removed.

Amendment 18, in clause 14, page 9, line 31, leave out subsection (2)(b).

This amendment reflects that the Speaker’s role in the recall petition process has been removed.

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Amendment 20, page 9, line 44, leave out “Speaker’s notice is given” and insert

“the petition officer determined that the notice of intent to recall was effective”.

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7.

Amendment 21, page 10, line 24, leave out subsection (8).

This amendment is consequential on the amendment removing subsection (2) of this Clause.

Amendment 22, in clause 15, page 10, line 27, leave out from “officer” to end of Clause and insert—

“determines that the recall petition was successful the officer shall issue a notice of recall referendum

(2) Where a notice of recall referendum has been issued, the petition officer shall hold a referendum on the question set out in subsection (3), within a period that is no less than 21 days and no more than 27 days after the date of the notice.

(3) The questions that is to appear on the ballot papers in a recall referendum is—

“Should [name of member of Parliament] be recalled from the House of Commons?”.

(4) A person is entitled to vote in a recall referendum under this Act if that person would be entitled to vote on that day as an elector at a parliamentary election in the constituency.

(5) A person who is entitled to vote in a recall referendum may do so in person, by post or by proxy.

(6) This subsection applies where more votes are cast in a recall referendum in relation to a member of Parliament in favour of the question asked in subsection (3) than against.

(7) Where subsection (6) applies, the result of the referendum is that the member’s seat becomes vacant and a by-election will be held.

(8) The petition officer must—

(a) determine the result of the recall referendum as soon as reasonably practicable after the date on which the referendum took place,

(b) immediately notify the member and the Speaker of the result of the referendum, and

(c) as soon as reasonably practicable, publish the result of the referendum.”.

Where a recall petition has been successful, this amendment sets down the requirement for a recall referendum: it provides the wording for the recall referendum ballot and if passed for the member’s seat to become vacant. This thereby triggers a by-election.

Amendment 23, in clause 16, page 10, line 40, after “amend”, insert—

“(a) Schedules 3 to 5 to apply to expenditure and donations in relation to notices of intent to recall and recall referendums and reporting requirements in connection with the financial control of notices of intent to recall and recall referendums.”.

This amendment extends the regulation making power in this Clause to enable the controls on expenses, donations and reporting requirements set out in the Schedules to be extended to notices of intent to recall and recall referendums.

Amendment 36, in Schedule 3, page 24, line 5, leave out “Speaker‘s notice is given” and insert “petition officer determines that a notice of intent to recall is effective”.

This amendment has the same intent and achieves the same effect as for the amendments to Clause 7.

Amendment 24, in clause 17, page 11, line 11, after “petition”, insert “or recall referendum.”.

This amendment extends the controls on loans to accredited campaigners to be extended to recall referendums.

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Amendment 25, page 11, line 18, after “petition”, insert “or recall referendum.”.

This amendment extends the controls on loans to accredited campaigners to be extended to recall referendums.

Amendment 26, page 11, line 22, leave out “has the same meaning” and insert “and ‘recall referendum’ have the same meanings.”.

This amendment extends the controls on loans to accredited campaigners to be extended to recall referendums.

Amendment 27, in clause 18, page 11, line 27, leave out “recall petition” and insert

“notice of intent to recall, recall petition or recall referendum.”.

This amendment extends the regulation making powers to cover notices of intent to recall including the promoter’s declaration of compliance and recall referendums.

Amendment 28, page 11, line 28, leave out “recall petition” and insert “notice of intent to recall, recall petition or recall referendum.”.

This amendment extends the regulation making powers to cover notices of intent to recall including the promoter’s declaration of compliance and recall referendums.

Amendment 30, page 11, line 31, at end insert—

(0) make provision extending section 13 to apply to the early termination of a recall referendum process.”.

This amendment extends the regulation making powers to cover notices of intent to recall and recall referendums.

Amendment 29, page 11, line 38, at end insert

“(including extending section 12 to cover the signing of notices of intent to recall, any offence under [section Notice of intent to recall] and voting in recall referendums)”

This amendment extends the regulation making powers to cover notices of intent to recall including the promoter’s declaration of compliance and recall referendums.

Amendment 37, in schedule 6, page 57, line 35, leave out from “after” to end of line 36 and insert

“a petition officer has determined that a notice of intent to recall is effective”.

This amendment has the same effect as those for Clause 7.

Amendment 32, in clause 22, page 14, line 30, at end insert—

“‘notice of intent to recall’” means a notice calling, in terms determined

under section (Notice of intent to recall) for a recall petition to be issued;”.

This amendment adds in necessary definitions to reflect the other amendments to the Bill.

Amendment 33, page 14, line 43, at end insert—

“‘recall referendum’ means a referendum asking, in terms determined under section (Notice of intent to recall) whether the seat of a member should be vacated in accordance with this Act;”.

This amendment adds in necessary definitions to reflect the other amendments to the Bill.

Clause stand part.

Zac Goldsmith: I rise to speak to the amendments in my name and those of 80 or so colleagues across the House, and in so doing make a plea to this House. Today, hon. Members will be able to decide if we want a genuine voter-led system of recall with tight caps on spending and a high enough threshold to prevent vexatious abuse; or if we want a bogus system of recall that is possible only in the narrowest of circumstances and with prior permission of this House. Given that under the Deputy Prime Minister’s current proposals just six

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Members in the past quarter of a century would have qualified even for the possibility of recall—and four of them resigned in any case—we can at least agree that the Bill in its current form is a waste of time, but it is worse than that. If enacted, it will confirm the suspicion of many voters that politicians pretend to listen but then deceive. We are only having this debate because at a certain point before the last election the mainstream parties felt obliged to do something to address the increasingly strained relationship between people and power, so it would surely be a madness for us to legislate today on the assumption that our voters cannot be trusted.

We had a good debate on Tuesday of last week and I listened closely to the concerns raised around the amendments that I and colleagues are sponsoring and, for context, I want briefly to recap the effect of the amendments. The process is effectively threefold. First, if 5% of the local electorate sign a notice of intent to recall, within a one-month time frame the returning officer would announce a formal recall petition. Secondly, it would take 20% of voters—14,000 or so—to sign the recall petition in person within an eight-week period to trigger a recall referendum. The referendum would be a simple yes or no—“Do you want your MP to be recalled; yes or no?” If more than 50% say yes, there would then be a by-election.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): The only concern colleagues with longer memories may have about my hon. Friend’s amendment, which I think is very powerful, is the risk of vexatious claims being made for party political or other purposes. Is my hon. Friend convinced that that could not arise with his amendment?

Zac Goldsmith: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and I will focus above all on the point he raises in the few minutes I will take up during this debate. The process is deliberately very difficult. There are several hurdles—I have just identified three of them—and I think my hon. Friend will agree they are very high.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): On step two and the 20% threshold, my hon. Friend said last week and will probably say again today that this needs to be done in person at the town hall or suchlike. What guarantee is there that the easy, “click-send” mentality that so many of us see now in this job will not one day be extended to this process? As a result, vexatious recallswill be much easier to pursue.

Zac Goldsmith: Such a move could happen only by permission of this House. We will struggle today to get any kind of meaningful reform, and the concern that this House will casually extend the remit of recall to include digital democracy is a hope too far for those who believe in direct democracy.

Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): My hon. Friend will remember that when this proposal—an online process rather than a physical one—was put to 40,000 people online, including online campaigners such as members of 38 Degrees, the vast majority, well over 90%, said, “No, this is a bad idea”. The process should be serious, physical and involve a proper hurdle.

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Zac Goldsmith: That is exactly the point: the barriers are high enough to prevent vexatious abuse. However, I recognise that concerns were expressed across the House during last Tuesday’s debate, and they fall broadly into four categories. Three are largely technical and can easily be accommodated. The first relates to cost controls, the second to thresholds, and the third to the frequency with which recall petitions can happen. I will deal with those quickly before coming to the more profound concern that was raised—

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Zac Goldsmith: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind, I will deal with these points first.

On the concern about costs, the Deputy Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), said that under the amendment there would be no cost controls at all on the first part of the recall process, the notice of intent. As he wrapped up Tuesday’s debate, he said that it would effectively be a free-for-all. I know he has read the amendments, so I am surprised he said that, because there are controls that mirror exactly those for the petition stage in the Government’s own Bill. Irrespective of that, it is perfectly possible to build in further controls—strict limits on expenditure and so on—and I have indicated to the Opposition and colleagues in my own party that if they table amendments on Report to bolster those cost controls, I would be very happy to support them.

The second issue, which relates to thresholds, is also technical. The principal concern involves the notice of intent to recall, the fear being that it would be too easy to secure 3,500 signatures—or 5%—in one month and that there would therefore be too many recall petitions.

Mr Russell Brown: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Zac Goldsmith: I will in just a moment. The notice of intent to recall is the least formal part of this process and exists for only one reason: to ensure that where a recall petition happens, there is a genuine demand for it, and not only among a small handful of local cranks. The threshold is about right, but I have said to the Opposition and party colleagues that if they seek to raise it on Report, I would be happy to support it in the interests of achieving meaningful reform.

The third concern relates to the fear that Members would face endless recall attempts, amounting almost to a form of harassment, an issue raised several times in last week’s debate. I see no need for a limit, as the experience of recall around the world shows that its use is extremely rare and that it is used only in extreme circumstances. In 100 years of recall in the United States, where there are virtually no financial controls or controls on broadcasters and so on, it has happened only 20 times. There have been 40 recall referendums—

Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Zac Goldsmith: I will in a moment, when I have finished dealing with this point. However, as I have said to the Opposition and to my colleagues, for the sake of achieving meaningful reform I would not oppose sensible proposals to establish some reasonable limit.

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Mr Russell Brown: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Zac Goldsmith: When I have finished this point. Obviously, it would make no sense to limit the number of times a notice of intent to recall can be started because technically, that would enable one lonely crank in a constituency to exhaust those options for the rest of the constituents, with just a single signature. Logically, if there is to be a limit in this process, it would have to apply to the number of recall petitions themselves. I encourage the Government, the Opposition or any Member to bring forward a proposal on Report to set a limit on what would be possible.

Mr Kevan Jones: I also heard the figure of 40 being mentioned on the radio and in last week’s debate, but in the United States in 2011, there were 150 recall elections at various levels, with at least 30 in Michigan. Although the hon. Gentleman gives the impression that the method is not used in the United States, it is used extensively at all levels of government, and mainly by the Republican right to destabilise local Democrats.

Zac Goldsmith: I am afraid that I did not catch the data that the hon. Gentleman set out, so would he mind repeating those figures?

Mr Jones: In 2011, there were 150 recall elections in the United States—this is not just at state level, but at a local level—and there were 30 in Michigan alone. The hon. Gentleman makes a point about endless recalls but, in practice, people in the United States who are subject to recall do not contest the process, but resign.

Zac Goldsmith: The hon. Gentleman’s point relates to attempts at recall, not recall elections themselves.

Mr Jones indicated dissent.

Zac Goldsmith: Yes, it does. In California, which has had more recalls than any other US state, there has been one successful recall of a governor, when Gray Davis was replaced by Governor Schwarzenegger. From 2011 to 2013, nine of the 120 elected representatives faced recall, but not one of those processes was successful.

Mr Russell Brown rose—

Zac Goldsmith: I will move on from that point, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to speak.

I have set out the technical points that were raised on Second Reading, and I hope that hon. Members realise that it would be relatively easy to deal with them on Report.

Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): When there is an unpopular policy in a constituency—HS2, for example—and the MP cannot speak out in public, for instance because they are a Front Bencher, would not my hon. Friend’s proposals make such a Member very vulnerable? Can he assure me that his proposals could not be used to blackmail Members of Parliament who might not be able to speak out as they would wish?

Zac Goldsmith: My right hon. Friend’s point goes to the heart of our debate because it deals with a much more profound concern than those three technical points with which I have attempted to deal. This is the line in the sand on which we will need to decide today. It

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relates to the fear that elected representatives could be unfairly hounded from office—kicked out because of how they voted on issues such as gay marriage, the badger cull or HS2. It is the idea that the mere existence of recall would make Members nervous about expressing themselves on controversial issues, and that rich and powerful vested interests could chase from Parliament those who dare to stand up against them.

Mr Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con) rose—

Zac Goldsmith: Those fears, however sincere, are misguided, and I want to explain why before I take any further interventions.

First, on a technical level, the numbers make such a thing virtually impossible. To reiterate, under my proposals, no Member could be recalled unless 50% plus one of his or her constituents voted for that recall, so there would be no question of a minority hounding an MP out of office—unlike with the Government’s plans, under which, bizarrely, 10% of constituents could throw out their MP, even if the other 90% absolutely adored them—and no Member could even face a full recall vote unless 20% of electors, or roughly 14,000 people, made the effort to go in person to a town hall, within a limited time frame, to sign a petition asking for one. We heard last week from hon. Members who had received 500 e-mails about badger culls and 400 e-mails about equal marriage, but those figures of 400 and 500 would be nowhere near enough to topple an MP, to trigger a referendum, or even to get to the point of having a recall petition. Those numbers are pitifully small compared with those required to clear the hurdles even to instigate the process that I am describing. What is more, those letters that MPs receive are often online and in template form; they can be sent at the mere click of a mouse. We are talking about a completely different scenario.

It is no coincidence that many of the Members who have unfairly faced the greatest difficulty during this Parliament, the very people whom the critics of recall might imagine to be the most vulnerable to attack, have put their names to my amendments, and they were the first to do so—my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Ribble Valley (Mr Evans) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and for Meriden (Mrs Spelman). They did so because they know that the existence of recall is the best possible way of challenging a noisy minority of critics either to put up or shut up. They know that when a recall petition fails to materialise, a Member will be able to turn to his or her tormentors and say, “The silent majority does not share your view.”

Sir James Paice (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I entirely share my hon. Friend’s view that many of the letters we receive are identical, having been prompted by one source, and that they represent a tiny minority. Could not that be said of the e-mails and letters we have received in support of his amendments?

Zac Goldsmith: Even if my right hon. Friend had received not a single letter in support of recall, that would not change my own commitment to trying to secure this very minor but nevertheless meaningful reform.

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The key point that I plead with Members to consider is that people can be trusted. They are not a mob of fools who are easily driven to the polling booths by manipulative media barons; they are our friends, our neighbours and our family. They can tell the difference between the rare examples of misbehaviour or betrayal so egregious that justice demands recall and the much more frequent instances of legitimate disagreements on policy or of trivial, minor foolishness. Although he spoke against recall very well last week, I think that the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) made that point himself, albeit inadvertently, when he said that his predecessor could easily have been recalled because of her views on abortion—she represented a largely Catholic seat—but she won seven elections, and in each one her majority grew. Voters are like us: they can respect and support someone without having to agree on every single issue. Very few people in this world are motivated purely by one concern over one issue.

Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman referred to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) said last week. Will he also consider the example of my constituency, as I was one of only two Labour MPs who voted not to ban hunting? That was an issue that could have prompted calls for a recall, but it would not have happened, because people accept that individual MPs have very strong views on individual issues.

Zac Goldsmith: The hon. Lady makes a brilliant point. She represents an urban seat where there are not many fox hunts, as far as I am aware, and the fact that she faced so little comeback from her constituents reflects the high esteem in which they hold her and it is testament to how rarely recall would be used in reality.

I want to answer the point made in an earlier intervention about conscience voting. There are times, I believe, when a betrayal might be so extreme as to merit a recall. I know that I was elected in Richmond Park and north Kingston largely because my constituents felt that I would be able to bat for them on the issue of Heathrow expansion and put up a serious fight. I made promises at the time that I would disown my own party and, if necessary, trigger a by-election to combat that enormous threat to my constituents. If I had U-turned straight after the election, having made those solemn vows to my constituents, and helped to facilitate a third runway, should I have been able to do so with impunity? I do not think so. Perhaps that is the line in the sand in the debate we are having today.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): I fully support my hon. Friend’s amendment. He is doing a very sound job of trying to persuade people by saying how rare and infrequent these events may be and reassure them that there will not be opportunities for vexatious recalls, but is not the true power behind the amendment the fact that it is the only one that trusts the British people to make those decisions, rather than people in this House defending their own?

Zac Goldsmith: My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that I absolutely agree with his comments. [Interruption.]

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Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I think my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) might choose to address herself to this debate in a different way.

I have not signed the hon. Gentleman’s amendments, although I happen to agree with him. I want to raise two issues that he still has not addressed sufficiently. First, 5% is a very small number. He suggested that he might accept a higher number on Report. Would he be prepared to accept 10% or 15%? Secondly, some of us think that the financial provisions are not tough enough in the Bill or in law. Will he support further amendments at a later stage?

5.15 pm

Zac Goldsmith: The notice of intent to recall is the most informal part of the process—its only purpose is to demonstrate that it is not a waste of time. I do not mind if the level is 5%, 10% or 15%; the House has to decide on that and will have an opportunity to do so on Report, I hope, if these amendments are accepted. I will not vote for the lower thresholds because I have made a commitment to the House. On the question of whether it is 10% or 15%, I would be interested to see what the House thinks.

On financial controls, very strict limits should be applied on the notice of intent to recall. I cannot see that the process would merit more than a few hundred pounds being spent on it, and I certainly do not think it should be in the thousands. As I said, the regulations relating to financial controls in my amendments exactly mirror the controls in the Government’s Bill. I think they can be improved. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to have that argument with the Government, and I will back him up in doing so.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): How is the hon. Gentleman going to get the whole thing about the costs involved in doing this—£500, or whatever else—into an area that can be organised in such a way that it would be seen by all?

Zac Goldsmith: That is an interesting question. The structure of this place is such that those discussions could be quite difficult. The formal point at which we would be able to have them would be on Report. If my amendments are accepted, it would be for anyone in this House to table further amendments. If they want to do so with me and the Committee that I was part of, we can do that. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to get in touch with me—I am happy for him to do that—because this process should as open as possible. I will not dig my heels in on these matters, because they are not issues of principle but technical issues that can and should be addressed.

Mr Kevan Jones: They are not technical issues.

Zac Goldsmith: They absolutely are technical issues.

Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): My hon. Friend alluded to the example of his undertakings on Heathrow. Members of the party that joined the coalition made undertakings at the election about student finance, and then, in the interests of good government, swallowed hard, and will almost certainly take the pain at the next election for the breach of their promise to the electorate. However, they made a decision in the interests of the sound

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administration of the country, and they should be commended for that. They should be free to make those decisions, as we all should, when sound administration requires it. The problem with the amendment is that it works against decent government, which, overall, our constituents should expect of us.

Zac Goldsmith: I would give two responses. First, if we existed in a world where recall was possible, I suspect that the promises made before the last election would not have been made. In the context of a recall regime, we would have to be much more careful about the promises we made because we would know that we could be held to account after making and then breaking them.

Secondly, if circumstances require a broken promise—an abandonment of a manifesto pledge—in a system of recall, or, frankly, without it, it is incumbent on Members to go back to their constituents and explain why that promise had to be broken. In the case of the Liberal Democrats, I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey) has spent a lot of time speaking to and engaging with students of all ages to explain why the U-turn was necessary. I can absolutely guarantee that whether or not he wins at the next election, he would not have been recalled on the back of what was a profoundly broken promise. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) must have confidence and faith in his voters. Voters can see through these things.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): A lot of us are worried about my hon. Friend’s amendment because we do not want recall procedures to be started on the basis of the votes we cast here or of what we say. Has he seen the amendment in my name and that in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice), which make it absolutely clear that no recall procedure should be initiated on the basis of how we vote or speak in this House? Would my hon. Friend be prepared to accept those amendments?

Zac Goldsmith: I have seen my hon. Friend’s amendment and I understand why he and my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire have tabled their amendments, both of which say more or less the same thing. However, as I said a few moments ago, this is the line in the sand for me. I think we can trust our voters. When the Division bell goes, Members will have to decide whether they believe we should trust people with this power. As Members make their decision, I hope they will properly consider whether the arguments they have heard against recall—vested interests, an over-mighty press and a fallible public—are in fact arguments against democracy itself.

Mr Russell Brown: On Second Reading, the hon. Gentleman said:

“I suspect that every politician, at one point or another, would find themselves the subject of the 5% recall petition stage.”—[Official Report, 21 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 793.]

That is how the process would begin, but the hon. Gentleman needs to differentiate between misconduct and wrongdoing and policy. As the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) has said, a process based on political party policy should not be allowed to begin.

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Zac Goldsmith: My point about the 5% in Tuesday’s debate was that every constituency, without exception, will have one or two or a handful of people who will want to initiate the process. My point was that the 5% notice of intent to recall might well bubble away in constituencies up and down the country, but in a world where recall existed that is something to which we would become accustomed. If a petition began to reach the 3,500 mark in a one-month period, I would say that that would be a fairly good indication that the recall petition was merited in that constituency, for whatever reason it had been initiated.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): In signing this amendment I have signalled my support in principle of it, but I think it would be strengthened if the petition officer had before him a definition of what should represent justification for recall. He could then judge, at the very start, whether it was a case of hounding out or something less serious.

Zac Goldsmith: I would argue that that is exactly what the coalition Government have attempted to do, but they have failed. It is very hard to define wrongdoing by a Member of Parliament, because our jobs mean something different from constituency to constituency. Any number of Committees, my own included, have attempted to define wrongdoing by MPs, but it is almost impossible to do so. For example, an amendment tabled by the Liberal Democrats, with support from Members of other parties, suggests that an MP who engages in “gross dereliction of duty” would qualify for their new trigger for recall, but how is it possible to define the duty of MPs when there is no job description? Would that include an MP who never turns up to Parliament to vote? I suspect not, because if it did we would have a problem with Sinn Fein and open a whole can of worms that many Members would not want to open at this stage.

Those amendments are a complete waste of time because it is impossible to define wrongdoing. The only people who are qualified to define whether an MP is behaving well or badly and living up to expectations or not are the people that MP represents. That is why the protection needs to be in the threshold, not in the definition.

Mr Andrew Robathan (South Leicestershire) (Con): I compliment my hon. Friend on showing enormous sincerity in moving his amendment. Will he explain exactly how this petition of 5% would work? I am so old that I remember studying the Chartists’ petitions, and their third petition in 1848—I was not there—was somewhat discredited by the fact that “Victoria Regina” had signed it, which was thought rather unlikely. “Mickey Mouse” often comes up in petitions. Of course, it would have to be a name and address in the constituency, but that is quite difficult to check, so could my hon. Friend please explain how that would work?

Zac Goldsmith: My right hon. Friend is right that that is difficult. Before I answer his question directly, let me repeat that this is the least formal part of the process and it is not covered by normal election rules. Yes, policing this process would be harder, but the promoter—a person has to deliver the 5% of names to the returning officer—would be bound by the criminal law in the

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same way that other elections are governed in this country. If the promoter deliberately included signatures of people who were not eligible to vote, double signatures, signatures of people who were too young or who were from other constituencies, or made-up names, that would be a very serious criminal offence. Could it ever happen? Of course it could. Does election fraud happen in constituencies? Of course it does. It is not possible to have a perfect system, but the protection is in the fact that the promoter would be bound by the criminal law.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on tabling his amendments. The momentum for recall came from manifesto commitments focused on serious wrongdoing. Is it not possible to uphold the principle of letting the people decide, but to place parameters on serious wrongdoing—we will not define it ourselves, because it is not possible to be do so—to ensure that the people can decide what it is? Can we ensure that the focus of our principles and intentions is on that?

Zac Goldsmith: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. In fact, an open recall system of the sort I propose gives local constituents the power to decide what constitutes serious wrongdoing. For my part, I believe that it would not be abused by voters. They would be able to tell the difference between a disagreement on a simple policy issue or a frivolous mistake in someone’s private life and issues that are so serious they merit recall.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I am honoured to be allowed to intervene on this brilliant speech by someone who actually trusts the voters. It seems to me that if all we are concerned about is wrongdoing, that is covered by the Standing Orders of the House, under which we are entitled to expel Members who do something of which the House disapproves. That makes the Bill as framed—without my hon. Friend’s excellent amendments—unnecessary. We should do the whole thing properly, or not at all.

Zac Goldsmith: Again, my hon. Friend will not be surprised to know that I absolutely agree. My concern is that many of the arguments against recall imply that, to paraphrase Lenin’s infamous dictum, democracy is so precious that it must be rationed.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman not just for the Lenin quote, but for his extraordinary generosity in giving way. Will he just elucidate one absolutely straightforward point, not a great philosophical issue? The London borough of Ealing faces £87 million of cuts. Who would pay for this process? Will it be yet another impost on a struggling local government?

Zac Goldsmith: I believe that, under the Government’s Bill, the cost of the petition and the by-election would be borne centrally. My right hon. Friends on the Front Bench are welcome to intervene if I am wrong. The same would be true in the alternative that I am proposing. I have checked with Electoral Reform Services, which routinely conducts referendums, and I have been told that the cost would be £35,000 for a recall referendum.

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That works out at about 40p per person. If that is the price people have to pay for decent representation, I suspect that most people would regard it as a price worth paying.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman knows that on certain matters I admire his commitment. My problem is that the Bill has been advertised, particularly those using the 38 Degrees website, as a serious amendment to get rid of bad apples. The 38 Degrees document in fact says that people can have a recall for no reason: they do not have to state a reason. Will he clarify the confusion in the public mind? He plays fast and loose with the statement that anyone who opposes this is against democracy. Will he be quite clear that he does not support the idea of having a purposeless petition, or one in which the purpose is not stated, against a Member? We now have a situation in which the will of the Scottish people is quite clearly to stay in the Union, but we are being threatened—thank goodness, we can take it up at the general election—and under recall, his rule could be used to try to overturn the will of the people and to be anti-democratic.

Zac Goldsmith: This is a point of difference. I do not believe that voters will attempt to recall—and they certainly would not succeed in recalling—anyone who is not a bad apple. I do not believe that voters will remove people over a policy difference. I made that point earlier. The question comes down to whether or not the hon. Gentleman trusts the voters. It is as simple as that. I cannot guarantee that frivolous attempts will not be made—of course I cannot—any more than I can guarantee what will happen in his seat or anyone else’s at the next election. Democracy is unpredictable, but ultimately I have confidence that voters will make the right decision.

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has talked about many technical points, so may I offer him a technical point? Would it not add to the level of democracy if the names and addresses of everybody among the 5% or 20% were made available to the public, just as a marked register is made available after an election, so that everybody could see who they were?

5.30 pm

Zac Goldsmith: That is an interesting debate to have. Instinctively, I would be reluctant to go down that road, because I do not think that people should have to declare their vote. I do not believe that any amendments to that effect have been tabled to the Bill or to my amendments, but we could have that debate on Report. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point on board.

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op) rose

Michael Connarty rose

Zac Goldsmith: I have allowed too many interventions and I want to come to an end to allow other people to take part.

Regardless of their views on recall, I hope that Members will at least acknowledge that something has gone wrong with our politics. The question is what we should do to fix it. Surely the Government Bill—this desperate pretence

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at reform—is not the answer. Its every clause betrays a lack of confidence in voters, with or without the feeble Government amendments—the last-minute tweaks of the last couple of days. If we as a Parliament are so untrusting of our fellow citizens that we refuse to allow them even the remotest opportunity to hold us to account, other than twice a decade, we will merely confirm their low opinion of us. We should think the best of our voters, demonstrate our confidence in their moderation and good sense, and enact a true recall Bill.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess.

I will speak first about the clause as it stands. I will then explain the purposes of the Opposition amendments and set out our view of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and others. Finally, I will briefly address the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) and others. Later in the debate, when the arguments have been set out more fully, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) will make another contribution to sum up our position.

I want to place on the record Labour’s support for the principle of recall when an elected representative’s conduct falls well below the standards that Parliament and their constituents expect. That is why our manifesto in 2010 promised to introduce recall legislation and why we supported the Bill’s Second Reading last Tuesday. We made it clear during that debate that we would table amendments to strengthen the Bill. Before I turn to the amendments that we have tabled, as promised, I will talk briefly about the Standards Committee, which recommends the suspensions from the House that could trigger a recall.

The Opposition agree with those inside and outside Parliament who believe that we must reform the Standards Committee in order to build public trust. Although amendments on the Standards Committee were not within the scope of the Bill, I want to place on the record the Labour party’s support for a radical overhaul of the Committee. That would include the removal of the Government’s majority and an increase in the role and authority of its lay members. We propose that at least half the Committee should be lay members and that the Chair of the Committee should not be a Member of Parliament. I note that the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley), who was the Leader of the House for two years, has backed changes to the Standards Committee. If his comments are indicative of a wider view on the coalition Benches, let us move swiftly to build cross-party support for reform of the Standards Committee.

We tabled four of the amendments that are being considered today and I will set out how each of them would strengthen the Bill. Amendment 45 seeks to amend the threshold for recall that relates to suspensions from the House of Commons. The Government propose that MPs will have to be suspended for more than four sitting weeks or 28 calendar days for the threshold to be reached for recall petitions. According to the excellent research services of the House of Commons Library, it appears that that threshold would have been met on

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only two occasions over the past two decades, and that no one found guilty during the cash for questions scandal received a sufficiently long suspension to meet the Government’s proposed threshold.

Labour believes that that is not acceptable and therefore proposes the halving of the threshold figures. We are clear, however, that we should not lower the threshold to such a level as would merely allow vexatious and mischievous claims. In addition, we must recognise that parliamentary dissent is part of our democratic heritage, and a Member who is standing up sincerely for their beliefs should not find their right to protest compromised by unnecessary recall petitions. None of those who were suspended for protesting in the Chamber—unless they were serial repeat offenders—would be caught by our amendment. Therefore, we believe that it strikes the right balance of strengthening the right to recall without jeopardising parliamentary democracy.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): May I be absolutely clear on this? Is my hon. Friend saying that there could be a cumulative number of days and number of suspensions—I take this as a matter of personal interest?

Thomas Docherty: I am most grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. We are clear—I look to the Minister to clarify this when he responds—that it is a case of suspension, not a running total, although one hopes that we will not see my hon. Friend too near to the Dispatch Box and the mace in the near future.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Earlier, my hon. Friend touched on a point that the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) never really cleared up because he did not distinguish between malpractice, bad practice and criminal activities, and political activities. That is the weakness in his amendment—it does not distinguish between the two and we could end up with a recall because of someone’s political opinion in the Chamber or outside. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Thomas Docherty: I am grateful for that intervention, and my hon. Friend spoke very well last week when he pointed out, and Labour Members agree, that we are representatives, not delegates, in this place. That is an important principle, particularly for those of us in the Labour movement. He is entirely right—I will come to this later—that the basis for recall should be wrongdoing and someone’s conduct, not the causes that they support.

Richard Fuller: The hon. Gentleman said earlier that he wanted to stop the public having this choice to avoid vexatious or mischievous recall petitions. Does he believe that Members would be subject to that because the public are not smart enough to understand what is mischievous or vexatious, or that they would be too open to manipulation as the result of a recall petition?

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman was slightly misinformed about what I said. We believe that the people of Dunfermline and West Fife are very smart: they sent me to the House of Commons and voted no overwhelmingly a few short weeks ago.

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Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Further to the intervention from the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), is the problem with the Labour party’s position that it would essentially put power of recall in the hands of a Westminster Committee, whereas other amendments would put power in the hands of the people?

Thomas Docherty: I appreciate that this might be a novel concept for some Members of the House, but Labour is sticking to what its manifesto said. We said in our manifesto that we would support recall for those who have committed wrongdoing. That is what we are proposing tonight, and that is what our amendments seek to strengthen.

Several hon. Members rose

Thomas Docherty: I will make a little progress if I may. Amendment 47 relates to MPs who have fiddled their expenses.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con) rose—

Thomas Docherty: I will give way one last time.

Chris Heaton-Harris: Surely amendment 45 puts even more pressure on the Committee that decides on suspensions because it knows that the threshold has been reduced from what the Government propose—28 days, or whatever—to 10 days. I would much rather leave it to the people, but in my opinion we would be putting pressure on the Committee that would make the judgments, and any punishment would therefore fall the wrong side—or the right side for the hon. Gentleman—of those 10 days.

Thomas Docherty: I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I struggle with his logic. Does he trust the independent Standards Committee? As I said a few moments ago, it would be genuinely independent and would have a majority of lay members. A Member of Parliament would not chair it. If he does not believe that an independent Committee can judge fairly and rationally the bad conduct of his colleagues, I am not sure what his faith in the system would be.

Several hon. Members rose

Thomas Docherty: I am going to make progress—many hon. Members wish to speak.

As I have said, amendment 47 relates specifically to MPs who have fiddled their expenses. It is worth noting that since the introduction of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority not one MP has been caught trying to abuse the new system. The cases that have come to light in this Parliament have related to the last vestiges of the old, discredited system. Nevertheless, it is crucial that Parliament listens to the concerns of the public to ensure that if a Member of Parliament is found to have abused the new system a suitable course of action is available. That is why the amendment would ensure that, when the IPSA compliance officer finds that an MP has committed a serious breach of the rules, and the MP is convicted of making a false expenses claim, they will be subject to recall.

Some colleagues might question why the Opposition have singled out expenses for qualifying for recall, even when a non-custodial sentence is given. Labour Members

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believe that a flagrant misuse of public funds by an elected representative is unacceptable and that extraordinary measures are required. We hope that MPs in other parties agree with that principle.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con): I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s points. Everything he has said points to a proper judicial process rather than an internal one. Would his supporters prefer that?

Thomas Docherty: That is why we have set out that there should be three routes to recall. Hon. Members will know that the occasions on which recall should be required will be very few and far between, but the hon. Gentleman is right that we are proposing three methods of recall. For the benefit of the Committee, it is worth capturing them again.

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

Thomas Docherty: Let me finish dealing with the earlier intervention.

The first criterion is that a Member of Parliament is convicted and given a custodial sentence. The second is that they have received a suspension from the House for a specific period—amendment 47 tackles that. The third is that a Member is found to have fiddled their expenses and receives a conviction. Those are three clear examples of wrongdoing. None of them is about how a Member votes in the House, their views or other such behaviours. That is the difference between the Opposition and the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin).

Mr Davis: The fact that the hon. Gentleman proposes three different methods does not solve the flaw in the central method, which is that a Committee of the House will make a ruling. If the ruling is, in effect, a career capital punishment for a Member of Parliament, the decision should be judicial. I am sorry, but no lay Committee and no Committee of the House is equipped to make such a decision. It must be judicial.

Thomas Docherty: I am genuinely not sure I follow the logic of the right hon. Gentleman’s position.

Mr Davis: I am not surprised about that.

Thomas Docherty: To be fair, the Prime Minister could not follow the right hon. Gentleman’s logic when he was a member of the shadow Cabinet.

To reiterate the Opposition’s position, recall must be based on a measure of wrongdoing. It cannot happen just because a group of constituents, or a well funded vested interest group, seek to remove a Member of Parliament because they disagree with them.

Chris Bryant: My hon. Friend is trying to grasp a complicated matter. The Bill of Rights makes it absolutely clear that no proceeding in Parliament should be questioned or impeached by any court of law or any other place. Unless we change the Bill of Rights, it seems difficult to allow a court or another body outside Parliament to judge what a Member may or may not have done in the proceeding in Parliament. Does my hon. Friend’s proposed Standards Committee, which he wants to make more independent, meet that same rule?

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Thomas Docherty: With your indulgence, Mr Amess, perhaps I may spend 30 seconds on the issue of parliamentary privilege. In part, the Standards Committee is outside the scope of the Bill, because it would remove the exclusive cognisance of the Committee, and it would be open to judicial review, either by the complainant or the Member of Parliament if either party was unhappy. As the learned and knowledgeable Clerk sitting close to you, Mr Amess, will agree, there are already some exceptions to the issue of privilege, such as the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The register is not covered by parliamentary privilege, so if a Member makes a declaration, the courts are able to use that as evidence in criminal proceedings, as I think happened a few years ago—my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby will probably be able to tell me which case it was. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is right: we have to be careful that we do not end up creating endless litigation that would result in far greater frustration for our constituents and the parliamentary process.

5.45 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Procedure Committee discussed the question of lay members of the Standards Committee voting and concluded that if they did have votes, they would be outside privilege. Therefore, there is a real difficulty in having voting lay members on any Committee of Parliament.

Thomas Docherty: The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Committee was not unanimous on that matter. That is why we are offering to work on a cross-party basis—I see that the Deputy Leader of the House is in his place—away from the Bill, on a reformed Standards Committee that will genuinely command the confidence of the public and the House and also meet our constitutional requirements.

Amendment 46 relates to the issue of whether only offences committed after this Bill comes into effect should be subject to recall. That appears to be the case as the Bill stands. As an example of the problems that would create, let us take the case again of Bill Walker, the disgraced former SNP MSP. It was only after he was elected that it came to light that he had, over a 30-year period, repeatedly assaulted four members of his family. He was subsequently tried, convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. However, as the Bill stands, had Mr Walker been an MP, he would not have been covered by the recall provisions. Of course, the recall provision should not apply if the electorate are aware of a previous conviction when electing a Member of Parliament, but it surely cannot be right that if an historic offence comes to light and a conviction is then forthcoming, voters cannot remove and replace that convicted politician. We hope that the Minister will recognise that important oversight in the Bill and work with us to tidy it up through this amendment or on Report.

Amendment 49 deals with offences committed by MPs who also hold other elected offices. Although the Bill is so narrowly drawn that we cannot extend its provisions to other elected posts, we think that it is at least sensible to extend it to cases in which MPs hold a dual mandate. Let us use as an example a hypothetical case in which an MP is also a councillor.

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If that MP is found guilty of a breach of the councillors’ rules, such as interfering inappropriately with a constituent, and suspended for a certain period, it would be bizarre if they could not be recalled by their constituents as an MP.

Our amendments are designed to strengthen the Bill. They seek to strike the right balance between protecting parliamentary protest and ensuring that MPs who commit wrongdoing are held to account. They would widen the scope for recall and lower the threshold to ensure that genuine wrongdoing does not go unpunished. I hope that they will command support on both sides of the House.

I want to turn briefly to the amendments in the name of other hon. Members, and to turn first to the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Richmond Park. He has campaigned on this issue since he was first elected in 2010 and held consistently to his views. We are concerned, however, that he has not been able properly to define wrongdoing, despite being pressed to do so not just in Committee today and on Second Reading last week, but on many previous occasions. The dangers associated with not having a requirement to demonstrate any wrongdoing are clear: a well-funded campaign group or vested interest would be able to remove a Member of Parliament simply because it disagreed with his or her views.

Zac Goldsmith: The hon. Gentleman is right that I have not been able to define wrongdoing, but neither has anyone in the Committee. All he has been able to do is create thresholds that demonstrate certain elements of wrongdoing, and one falls into terrible difficulties when one tries to do that. For example, reducing suspension from 21 to 10 days would have meant that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws) would not have fallen foul of the provisions, despite the fact that many people think he probably should have, whereas the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) would have fallen foul of the provisions even though his crime was not apologising for impugning the honour of certain Members of this House. We may not like it, but that is hardly a recall offence. The trouble with the mechanism that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) is introducing is that it will have a perverse outcome, not a democratic outcome.

Thomas Docherty: Opposition Members disagree. We believe that there is a clear measure. If someone is convicted of a criminal offence and sent to prison for a non-expenses-related offence, that is clear wrongdoing. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says about struggling to define wrongdoing, but he seeks simply to blow off the doors for recall.

Zac Goldsmith: I am struggling to define wrongdoing, but I challenge anyone here to define wrongdoing in a way that would genuinely capture wrongdoing by MPs. It is simply not possible. My argument is that it is not necessary because we have a jury out there: they are called constituents and we can rely on them. My concern is that even with a relatively straightforward threshold such as jail, there could be perverse outcomes. For example, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—I apologise for bringing her into this—could have been sent to jail for two or three days for her role in

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a protest against fracking. I have no doubt that she would have been welcomed as a hero by her constituents for doing so, but under the hon. Gentleman’s mechanism and under the Government’s mechanism just 10% of her constituents could have thrown her out of Parliament. Yes, she may have been able to claw back in through a by-election, but I suggest that a situation where 10% of the people can throw her out of Parliament and make her lose her job on the back of something most of her constituents would appreciate, is another example of a perverse outcome.

Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his second speech so early on. I do not disagree that there is a particular issue—I, too, apologise to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion—in relation to parliamentary protest. I am not saying for a second that this relates to the hon. Lady, but the Opposition have been struggling with the question of when knocking off a policeman’s helmet is an act of civil disobedience and when it is an act of assault. That is why we are not getting in the way in trying to subdivide an act. As the hon. Gentleman says, the decision is for any Member’s constituents to make.

As the impact assessment states, even under the Government’s system, which as we have already stated is relatively modest, the cost to the taxpayer of both the recall petition and the by-election would be £300,000. I am slightly perplexed about where the Electoral Reform Society got its figure of £35,000. A sum of £300,000 is to most of us real money and there is a real danger that, without any control over the grounds of recall, not only would the system be open to abuse by well-funded special interest groups that dislike how an MP has voted in the House, but the cost to the taxpayer would be astronomical.

Michael Connarty: I asked the hon. Member for Richmond Park about definition, but he did not come back to me. I notice that in new clause 1, which he has tabled, there is no need to define the purpose of a recall petition at all—a petition can be called for no reason. He has tried to rescue himself by seconding new clause 2, which asks for a clear definition. The confusion is that he is mixing up populist politics with good jurisdiction. It is clear he is playing to a crowd that is basically following the 38 Degrees argument, which is that a recall can be called without stating any reason. Of course, that undermines the whole purpose of jurisdiction and having a recall Act.

Thomas Docherty: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Richmond Park has been struggling for four years to come up with a workable definition. The reality is that a failure to do so does not give us a pass to proceed without a definition. We are deeply concerned that these provisions would be open to vexatious challenges.

Sir James Paice: I am following what the hon. Gentleman is saying very carefully. He is right that nobody has managed to define wrongdoing. Does he not accept, however, that the two different amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and I have in their own way sought not to define wrongdoing but to exclude certain issues

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relating to freedom of expression, which we will come on to later? Rather than defining wrongdoing, we could make exceptions to what is clearly not wrongdoing.

Thomas Docherty: My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby will touch on that point and on points made by the right hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and others.

Crispin Blunt rose

Thomas Docherty: I want to make some progress. I have been on my feet for a significant period and perhaps longer than some of my colleagues would wish.

Without a clear definition or threshold to demonstrate wrongdoing, the amendments, however well intentioned, open the door to abuse. Furthermore, as the hon. Member for Richmond Park has admitted, he has provided no spending limits for his system, further raising the spectre, as we have heard, of US-style recall petitions. Those on the Labour Front Bench are clear. We support giving the public the right to recall their MP on the grounds of misconduct. We do not support recall on the grounds of how an MP votes. That would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and limit the ability of MPs to represent their constituents effectively. We urge MPs to reject the amendments, because they do not provide robust safeguards. However, we recognise the diversity of opinion across the House and hope that our debate this afternoon might help us to find a way forward.

Zac Goldsmith: I would like the opportunity to put the record straight. I did not say that we had no financial controls attached to the amendments. On the contrary, we want all the controls in the petition stage to apply throughout the various stages in the Bill, so that the regulations provided by Government would be mirrored on the notice of intent to recall, on the recall petition and on the referendum itself. As I have also said, it is up to the hon. Gentleman and other Members to come forward with other ideas for further tightening the regulations to prevent abuse. I am sure that would meet the approval of the whole House.

Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but I say very gently that he is seeking to amend the Government’s Bill and is then asking the Government to come up with suitable amendments to his amendments. That, I am afraid, is not how it works. Perhaps in a few months’ time he will be sitting on the Opposition Front Bench—we do not know what Boris will do—but he is not on the Front Bench at the moment. It is not for other people to come up with amendments that tidy up amendments tabled from the Back Benches.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green) rose

Thomas Docherty: I will give way to the hon. Lady, because I have taken her name in vain on more than one occasion.

Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman did take my name in vain and for the record I am very glad to be able to put him straight that I have never, ever knocked a helmet off anybody, much less a policeman. With respect, I think the arguments he is making are spurious. The amendments described by the hon. Member for

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Richmond Park are already in the Bill. Amendment 23 is also very helpful when it comes to regulating the amount of money we are talking about. Frankly, the idea that this is something cooked up by 38 Degrees is such an insulting suggestion. The hon. Member for Richmond Park and many more of us have been working on this issue for many, many years.

Thomas Docherty: I hope the hon. Lady will accept that I did not mean to imply that she had knocked off a policeman’s helmet. On her main point, I must say that simply working on something for a long time does not in itself solve the problem. I have been working for some time on trimming down but have not made enough progress; that does not mean I should simply stop and say it has been accomplished.

6 pm

These are not robust amendments, but we recognise the diversity of views and will urge the Government to work with parties across the House to find a way forward. In that spirit, I want to turn briefly to the amendments in the names, among others, of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), which have appeal because they enable a public trigger that is still based around wrongdoing. We want to listen carefully to the arguments tonight. In order to function properly, the proposals will need further refinement, but in principle we would be willing to consider the idea of an external body deciding whether the trigger level of misconduct had been reached, if we can make it work fairly, and we are willing to discuss the amendments in more detail with the signatories. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby will say more about that later, but we hope that the Government will reflect upon this matter carefully.

In conclusion, Labour believes that voters should have the power to recall their MP for wrongdoing, and we believe that our amendments would strengthen and improve the Bill, but we look forward to the debate and the Committee finding the best way forward.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Members for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith). I want to speak principally to the amendments in my name and those of other hon. Members on both sides of the House who have been kind enough to add theirs—amendments 42, 43 and 44 and new clauses 6 and 7—but first I want to welcome the Bill, which delivers on a manifesto commitment from at least three of the parties represented in the House. The other parties must forgive me as I do not know whether it was in their manifestos.

Caroline Lucas indicated assent.

Mr Heath: The hon. Lady nods her head.

I am pleased that our commitment is finally being honoured. In government, I was frustrated at the time it took to get something before the House, and I think it is an open secret that I would have preferred it to have gone slightly further than the Bill before us, but nevertheless it is exactly in line with what those parties said they

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wanted and what they put to the people. I hope, therefore, that we can get away from this false dichotomy between a real recall Bill and a bogus recall Bill. This is not a bogus recall Bill, but it is one that could be strengthened, and that is exactly what we should be focusing on.

I think we might need to look at the constitution of the Standards Committee. As a former member of the old Standards and Privileges Committee, I think there is scope for changing the membership of the Standards Committee, although I would make one caveat about the voting rights of members. That point was covered in a Green Paper on privilege that I produced as Minister but which I do not think anybody read, apart from—possibly—the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife. Either way, it was obviously minority reading, given that so many people since have commented from a position of sublime ignorance on the subject of privilege. Nevertheless, there are issues to consider and in principle I agree that we should reform the Committee.

We should not kid ourselves, however, that any Committee of the House will have the confidence of many members of the public. That is why I want a mechanism that provides the public with direct access to this process and which is not mediated by a custodial sentence or the decision of a Committee of the House. I am sorry but there is no way such a Committee could be seen as anything other than an old boys’ club. I winced slightly when I heard my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), who is not in his place, refer to the capacity of the House to expel Members. This is not a gentlemen’s club. Can we please get away from the Victorian idea that we make the rules and deal with things? Our electorate has a right to be engaged in this process.

Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Standards Committee, whose lay members are denied a vote by the House, does nothing more than report to the Floor of the House? It is not a Committee that sits upstairs and comes to these decisions. The decision about whether somebody is guilty of misconduct—I have spent three years trying to find out exactly what that means—would be taken on an amendable report on the Floor of the House.

Mr Heath: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but that does not alter the fact that the public will not believe that any mechanism mediated by MPs, either in Committee or on the Floor of the House, is not going to protect MPs. I do not think it a fair criticism, but that prejudice is now impossible to remove, so let us accept it.

I want to find a new way to give the public access to the recall process. As was clear from the exchanges between the hon. Member for Richmond Park and the Labour spokesman, we are talking about behaviour that our constituents cannot accept, rather than views with which they disagree. As I think he knows, I have a lot of sympathy with much of what the hon. Member for Richmond Park is trying to do, and I accept his point about 20% being a difficult level to achieve—somebody would really have to incense their constituents—but I do not accept that 5% would be difficult to achieve for a well-funded campaign or even a political opponent who has lost an election and wants an immediate rerun. He blithely says, “Of course, all Members would probably

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have a petition process against them”, but that is not a satisfactory position for Members to be in. If someone wants to do radical things in the House and represents a socially conservative constituency, they will face problems of this kind. It does not take much to get 3,500 people to say they do not support gay marriage or some other policy on which we have legislated. I want to concentrate, therefore, on genuine misconduct.

Sir Edward Leigh: It could be the other way round—a social conservative could be attacked by more liberal constituents—but I agree with everything the hon. Gentleman has said. I presume he is in favour of the amendments from me and my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Sir James Paice) providing that no process could be started based on votes cast or speeches made here. Is he in favour of what we are trying to do?

Mr Heath: I am in favour of the principle, but I have my own amendments that would have the same effect.

Mr Kevan Jones: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the threat of recall would have an effect on MPs? In the United States, a lot of people who face a recall just resign. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) contended that the support of 50% plus one of voters would be required for a successful recall, but that is not the case; it would only require 50% plus one of those taking part in the referendum.

Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman makes valid points.

I want to turn to the mechanism I am suggesting.

Richard Fuller: My hon. Friend just said that the threshold of 3,500 voters or 5% was low, and used the example of gay marriage as an issue on which a petition could easily be secured. Will he explain to the Committee how that would be so wrong for democracy? What would be so wrong for me, as the hon. Member for Bedford, to have to go back to my constituents under the threat of a potential recall because of something I had said in the House? I cannot understand what the problem with that would be.

Mr Heath: The hon. Gentleman might take a different view, but my personal view is that the general election process is where these things are decided, not on a single issue, but on the performance of the Member and the plurality of views that are expressed. To have a form of Athenian democracy in this country, where we have constant voting and constant re-election, does not seem to—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Clacton (Douglas Carswell) is burbling from a sedentary position, but I do not think his party had anything about recall in its last manifesto, so perhaps he needs a further recall now, because if he votes for a recall provision this evening, he will be breaking his election pledge not to have one; I do not know.

Let us move on. I personally do not think that what the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) described is in the interests of the sort of representative democracy that we have always enjoyed in this country. However, I do think—I feel this very strongly and have argued it passionately, both before the election and since—that

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we need to find a way of capturing those examples of misconduct that are not necessarily caught by the criminal law and might not attract the attention of the Standards Committee, or, even if they do, where the public do not accept that as a mechanism.

Geraint Davies rose—

Mr Heath: I will give way once more, then I will get to what I want to propose.

Geraint Davies: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the constant threat of recall, particularly for those in marginal seats, might be intimidating and lead parliamentarians to champion popularity over principle, which would corrupt the democracy in which we live?

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

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

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

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

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

Zac Goldsmith: The right hon. Gentleman describes the offence as a catch-all, but the advice that I have had—I have sought advice on this—is that it is a catch-virtually-nothing-at-all. The Crown Prosecution Service has issued guidance saying that it should apply

“only where…the facts are so serious that the court’s sentencing powers would otherwise be inadequate”.

The House of Commons Library says:

“There are few prosecutions, suggesting that action is taken only when misconduct is particularly gross”.

And the courts have said:

“The threshold is a high one requiring conduct so far below acceptable standards as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder. A mistake, even a serious one, will not suffice”.

Is the right hon. Gentleman really adding anything at all to the Bill?

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Mr Heath: Yes, I think I am, for two reasons. First, I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has just said, because the offence is actually quite frequently used nowadays in the courts of England—we are talking about more than a dozen and towards 20 cases a year. In fact, there was one only last week, when a senior police officer was indicted for the offence. Secondly, the reason the offence is not used against Members of Parliament at the moment is, of course, the potential difficulties with the Bill of Rights—I need to move on to that, because that is one of the difficulties.