|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I have a reservation that the noble Lord might wish to consider. I sat on the Members Interests Committee in the House of Commons from 1982 until 1994 and on the Privileges Committee in the House of Commons from 1996 until 2001, so I sat through a number of inquiries. The problem with inquiries is that they have to make a judgment and such judgments can be fine and on the
15 Jun 2009 : Column 871
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I support the remarks of my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours. I can see exactly that sort of situation arising. We have seen in the media recently vendettas built up against certain politicians, which is easy when one sees a large number of newspapers and the BBC taking a particular line, which may not be based on fact. I was recently involved in a case in relation to the Speaker of the House of Commons. Most of the stuff printed in the newspapers was downright lies, yet a certain perception grew up about the person in this case. A perception can be created and acted on. This House could even be pushed into taking action against Members because of fear of the media, but that applies even more so in the House of Commons. A political campaign could be manufactured against a Member of Parliament and in the constituency there could be a movement to get rid of that Member on an entirely political basis.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, ought to think carefully. I hope that he might speak a little more. For example, I am particularly disappointed that the seconder of his amendment, my good friend the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, is not here; he probably knows more about all aspects of this subject than anyone present. Could the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, tell us why the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, is not able to be with us to lend his vocal support to this amendment?
My last point is the one that I made in my first intervention, which the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, batted away in an insouciant manner as if it was irrelevant, but it is very relevant. The reason why we have seen the petitions and campaigns growing up in constituencies about individual Members of Parliament is that MPs have been elected by the first-past-the-post system and are accountable. Real democracy lies in that accountability of individual Members, which is there in first past the post but not in the arithmetical correlation between the number of votes cast and the number of Members of Parliament in some fancy scheme devised by the Liberal Democrats or others.
The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, referred to my own election to the Scottish Parliament. That was through a system that is entirely wrongI am its beneficiary, but I do not like the system. In a list system, how would this work? I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, might explain this. Let us suppose that a list system was introduced at the behest of the Liberal Democrats, particularly one like that for the elections that we have just had for the European Parliament. How could that system work then? The noble Lords proposal is very naive. Since a former leader of the
15 Jun 2009 : Column 872
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, I follow the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, in thinking that much of this amendment seems previous in its make-up. The amendment talks of being guilty of misconduct, but we do not quite know by whom, about whom or how that procedure will work. It is important to have that issue clear in any Bill before we move further down that road.
My concern follows those expressed by other noble Lords. We obviously want Members of Parliament who will exercise their independent judgment. Indeed, we are talking about greatly strengthening the power of individual Members of Parliament in the face of the Executive, which will mean that they are highly controversial. Under the guilty of misconduct rule, one is concerned that the awkward squad might suddenly find themselves somehow being asked about aspects of their behaviour that they might not be asked about if they were more prepared to toe the line of whichever party they belonged to. Even worse, a Member of Parliament with a particular behaviourit might be particular sexual preferences that are entirely within the lawmight run into groups in their constituency who greatly disapprove of it, as is their entitlement, and in turn might seek to disaffect and build up opinion against that Member.
The power of Members of Parliament needs buttressing in many ways. They have lived a life where they have been squeezed and squeezed and, while misconduct clearly has to be punished, we have not yet reached the right or appropriate place to strike the balance, either in the Bill or this amendment.
Lord Bates: My Lords, I must admit that I feel some professional sympathy for the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. His amendment seems to be struggling for any support at all, having been demolished pretty effectively by the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Borrie, Lord Foulkes and Lord Campbell-Savours. If there were any stumps still left in the ground, my noble friend Lord Hodgson has ensured that they have been taken out.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, has done the House a service by raising this matter. I do not think that anybody who has been out on the campaign trail knocking on doors over the past six weeks can be in any doubt about the anger felt by members of the public at the breach of trust that has been revealed through the articles, mostly in the Daily Telegraph, on expenses. There is intense anger. We need to ensure that there are degrees of protection for Members of Parliament.
Those who are in favour of representative democracy and the notion of Members of Parliament ought to be encouraged that people feel so strongly and expect
15 Jun 2009 : Column 873
In moving his amendment, the noble Lord said that it is not entirely in order or watertight in its present form because it does not specify the role of the public standards agency. I could not see the reference to the public standards agency
Perhaps this is an opportunity to have a discussion about the other issue, which relates to the circumstances under which censure would take place. Although the amendment does not mention it, it has been stated in the press and by the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, in his introductory remarks that this would be an option where a motion of censure had been passed on a Member of the House of Commons. That would trigger a mechanism by which a petition, a referendum or a by-election would take place. We are unsure about which at the moment. There already is a mechanism: a Member of the House of Commons whose case has been highlighted and who has not yet been censured has chosen to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds, thereby causing a by-election in Norwich North and giving people a say on this.
The noble Lord is on to something and does us a service by tapping into a huge level of anger and concern at the revelations that have been made. He may have a point about the mechanism of recall, although we would like to see a recall of Parliament en bloc and a general election called as a way of testing the public mood on these matters. But the recall of individual Members of Parliament could be considered. There would need to be safeguards against the malicious prosecution mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hodgson. The experience in the United States has not exactly been wonderful. In California, 5 per cent of the electoratea pretty large numbervoted to recall Gray Davis to allow Governor Schwarzenegger eventually to be elected.
There remains a series of questions about the mechanism and how this would take place. If this is simply a probing amendment, I think that it does the House a service. If it is a serious amendment, I cannot see how we could possibly support it, unless there were further evidence as to how it would work.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for raising this topic. The amendment would compel the Secretary of State to request the Electoral Commission to undertake a review and report on arrangements that would enable constituents to recall a sitting Member of Parliament. As has been said, a number of recall systems are in operation internationally, most notably, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, just reminded us, in 18 states in the United States of America. Detailed characteristics vary but they commonly involve a certain number of electors petitioning for the holding of a ballot at which an elected official may be voted out of office mid-term and/or for a by-election for their replacement.
I agree with noble Lords that there is no doubt that the issues that have arisen in recent weeks have badly dentedif not worsethe publics confidence in politicians of all parties and in the institutions of our democracy. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear last week, there is no more pressing task for all of us involved in public life than to respond to the publics demand for reform. In his Statement on constitutional reform on 10 June, the Prime Minister set out the Governments intention to bring forward new legislative proposals following cross-party discussions as the first stage of this reform. These proposals include, as the noble Lord, Lord Tyler reminded us when he moved this amendment, the immediate creation of a new parliamentary standards authority and the agreement of a statutory code of conduct for all Members of Parliament. The Prime Minister said:
There will be consultation with all sides of the House to come forward with new proposals for dealing effectively with inappropriate behaviour, including the potential options of effective exclusion and recall for gross financial misconduct, identified by the new independent regulator and by the House itself.[Official Report, Commons, 10/6/09; col. 796.]
Provision for the recall of elected officials exists in 18 of the 50 US states, although not at federal level. The American experience has been varied. It is certainly true to say that the recall of elected officials has not been common. Until 2003, when the Californian governor was successfully recalled following a recall election, despite other attempts, the only governor to be successfully recalled was in 1921 in North Dakota. There are examples at a more local level of government in the United States of successful recall.
The variation in the systems in operation across the 18 states is instructive when considering whether similar arrangements might be appropriate for the United Kingdom. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, pointed out, the question arises of what constitute the grounds for recall. Specific grounds are required in only eight states and most commonly relate to gross misconduct, violation of oath or criminal convictions. All 18 US states have some form of petition process, but the thresholds vary. Usually the formula is based on a percentage of the vote in the last election for the office in question, but there are other variants. There are also variations in the way in which the ballots are conducted, including the point at which the individual who is subject to the recall is permitted to put forward their own case.
No doubt all these questions merit careful consideration; indeed, the amendment envisages putting these considerations into the hands of the Electoral Commission. However, to task the Electoral Commission with policy work of this nature is inconsistent with the recommendation of the 11th report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which recommended that,
The Commission would of course review and report on the administration of any procedure to recall Members of Parliament, were we directed to do so. In doing so, we would focus on the extent to which any such procedure was run consistently, professionally and with a primary focus on voters, in the same way as we approach our reports on other elections.
I am sure that there is agreement on all sides that this suggestion merits careful consideration and, indeed, the Prime Minister has made clear his commitment to taking this debate forward. I therefore hope that noble Lords will agree that legislating to force a debate on this issue will not be necessary and that, in any event, the Electoral Commission is not best placed to undertake this work. Again on behalf of the House, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, for raising this very current issue and I hope that he will consider withdrawing his amendment today.
Lord Tyler: My Lords, I am grateful to all Members of your Lordships House who have contributed to this thoughtful, if brief, debate. I hope that it will be listened to with care at the other end of the building.
In response to some of the points that have been raised, I should say that there are quite well established rules in statute for the handling of referendums. That meets the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that it could affect the judgment of the new parliamentary standards authority if it knew that, at the end of this careful process, the result could be a by-election, but we will have to be confident that this new machinery will stand above the party battles and will be truly independent and approach these issues with due integrity, or there is no point in having it; we might as well keep the present rules. That is the critical issue that other Members may not have appreciated. This is part of a new regime that we know will come. The Prime Minister has said that it will come; indeed, he has raised the issue of recall in this context, and the other parties have agreed.
For that reason, the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is not right that there could be a vendettaI think that that was the word that he usedbecause the process will be outwith party discussions and away from all policy issues. It will have nothing to do with partisanship. Incidentally, the noble Lord kindly expressed interest in where my noble friend Lord Rennard was. I am
15 Jun 2009 : Column 876
The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, is absolutely right that clearly we will have to develop a very good processa due processthat will have to be a long way away from the present processes, which rely on Chief Whips and special groups in parties. Even small groups of people at constituency level decide the fate of a Member of Parliament. That is utterly wrong. We should have a due process and proper triggers, so the noble Lord is right.
If this amendment is passed, the process that I am suggesting will be looked at carefully by Electoral Commission. I do not think that it would endanger the independence of Members of Parliament who may take a view that their constituents think of as controversial. In this process, the controversial views will not be in question; the question will be whether, on the clear evidence put before an independent investigation, the Member has broken the rules of their House. Therefore, the recall mechanism, with which the noble Lord, Lord Bates, expressed some tentative agreement, must be something that both Houses of Parliament should look at carefully.
In the past few weeks, politicians have constantly said to the public, Yes, we understand your anger. Yes, we understand you want to have a bigger role in deciding what should happen. If, now, at this first opportunity, the parties say, Oh well, of course, we dont want you to have any role at all; we want to leave it to the parties and those people within Parliament or in the local party structure to make all these decisions, there will be real disappointment. The Prime Ministerthe Minister just now repeated itsaid:
It is true that we do not have the whole system in place, but very soon we will have a new system in place. Your Lordships House would be right to put a marker down that we think that, ultimately, the public anger to which the noble Lord, Lord Bates, referred is very important. The Prime Minister, the leader of the Conservative Party and the leader of my party picked that up and see that it is essential to find a mechanism to which that public anger can be constructively deployed.
Look at the contrast between the sort of procedure that I am discussing and the present knee-jerk reactions. Within a few days, a few people in a constituency can give a thumbs-down to an individual constituency Member. That is surely wrong. This measure would be much better. I believe that we should recognise that the public feel that their influencetheir powerover their representatives, especially in those 500-plus safe seats in the House of Commons, has diminished and is diminishing and that this should be reversed. I wish therefore to test the opinion of the House.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|