The government has published new laws that give voters the ability to recall their MPs, but critics say the bill is “meaningless” as it keeps powers in the hands of politicians.
The bill, published on Thursday, rules that an MP can be recalled if they are convicted of an offence and receive a sentence of 12 months or less, or if House of Commons authorities suspend them for at least 21 sitting days.
In such a scenario, constituents would be given the option of signing a recall petition. If 10% of voters sign and a committee of MPs agreed, a byelection would be held.
Under pre-existing rules, MPs are only automatically ejected from parliament if they are jailed for more than 12 months.
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“The bill puts in place a recall mechanism for MPs which is transparent, robust and fair,” deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said in a statement.
“It strikes a fair balance between holding to account those who do not maintain certain standards of conduct, while giving MPs the freedom to do their job and make difficult decisions where necessary.”
All three of the major Westminster parties promised to put forward such laws ahead of the last general election, and the bill was finally announced in this year’s Queen’s speech.
However, critics say that in its current form the bill has been unacceptably watered down from the original proposals, with some questioning whether any MP would ever be unseated under the new laws.
A group of 22 MPs from seven parties, lead by Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, have instead put forward an alternative bill.
The private member’s bill, which was formed in part by a survey of 40,000 members of the public, would mean an MP could be recalled if 5% of voters in a constituency sign a “notice of intent to recall” and 20% of voters signed a subsequent “recall petition“.
Ultimately, the power would no longer lie with MPs.
“Recall is supposed to be about empowering voters to hold their MPs to account, and the government’s proposals fall scandalously short. They don’t empower voters in any meaningful sense at all, and at the very first scandal, they will realise they have been duped,” Goldsmith said.
“We have formally tabled the bill, and will use it as the basis for radical amendment of the government’s version.”
Tory MP David Davis, the former shadow home secretary and another supporter of the alternative bill, added, “Genuine recall is critical to build the reputation and credibility of parliament. And so it is appropriate that we create a recall law that is produced with the public and MPs working alongside each other.”
In a survey by Blue & Green Tomorrow and Vote for Policies, published in the Guide to Sustainable Democracy, 93% of 6,999 respondents said a genuine recall bill would strengthen the UK’s democracy. Only 2% said it would weaken it.