News In Focus
Society calls for rethink of MPs recall bill
Proposals to give constituents the right to raise a petition to remove their local MP under certain circumstances need a radical rethink, the Law Society of Scotland said today.
In a briefing to MPs ahead of the second reading of the Recall of MPs Bill, the Society argues that amending existing legislation would achieve the same aims as the bill and would be a "more constitutionally appropriate" way of removing an MP from office.
Under the bill, if an MP is convicted in the UK of an offence and receives a custodial sentence which is not overturned on an appeal, or the House of Commons orders their suspension for a period of at least 21 sitting days or 28 days, a by-election can be forced if 10% of eligible constituents sign a petition for the MP's recall.
In its paper the Society questions why a recall procedure should be required when all that would be necessary would be to amend the Representation of the People Act to reduce the period of custodial detention that currently disqualifies a member. It adds: "The other ground of recall – suspension of an MP for more than 21 or 28 days – seems anomalous when a 'suspension' may result in the removal of the MP.
Again, amending the Representation of the People Act would be a more constitutionally appropriate way to deal with lengthy suspensions resulting in significant impact on the capacity of the MP to represent his or her constituents."
The Society also points out that with the different geography and population sizes of parliamentary constituencies, it would be easier to meet the 10% threshold in some seats than in others.
Michael Clancy, the Society’s director of law reform said: “MPs should be expected to conduct themselves according to the highest personal standards, and criminal behaviour resulting in imprisonment falls short of that. Under these circumstances the most appropriate way to deal with this would be to amend the Representation of the People Act 1981 to include the provision for disqualifying MPs who have received a prison sentence of less than one year. It is our view that is the best way to achieve the Government’s policy.
“Suspension of an MP from the House of Commons means exactly that. Suspension is a penalty imposed by the Speaker and should not open the door to a potential by-election.”
He added that with urban seats generaly having larger electorates that rural seats, "it could be potentially easier to oust MPs in rural areas, as it would be much easier to attain 10% of the electorate to sign the petition. This provision needs more thought in order to ensure fairness between MPs and their constituents”.
Click here to view the Society's paper.