UK Politics

'Laziness' not grounds for MP recall, says Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg
Image caption Nick Clegg says recall should be a 'backstop'

MPs should not be stripped of their seats for political reasons or "laziness" under plans for "recall" elections, Nick Clegg has said.

MPs accused of serious wrongdoing could be forced to stand down and face a by-election if enough voters demand it.

But the deputy PM said "recall" must be "a backstop sanction rather than something that would be used - or abused - for political purposes".

He told a committee of MPs he did not want it to become a "kangaroo court".

Proposals to introduce recall elections were drawn up by all three main parties at Westminster in the wake of the the 2009 expenses scandal.

But political and constitutional reform committee chairman, Labour MP Graham Allen, said the idea, contained in a draft bill, was unpopular with MPs who believed Mr Clegg was "fighting yesterday's battle".

'Political argy-bargy'

Mr Clegg conceded that the worst expenses offenders had been dealt with by the courts and there were already procedures in place to remove MPs from office if they were jailed for 12 months or more.

But he said the recall plan was still needed as a "backstop" in cases where MPs had been jailed for less than 12 months or if MPs decided they were guilty of "serious wrongdoing".

He said it would be up to the House of Commons, in a vote of all MPs, to decide what constituted "serious wrongdoing".

But he added: "I would have thought it fairly unlikely that the House would regard just outright industrial scale laziness as a matter of serious wrongdoing. I personally think someone who does that has not got much hope of being elected at the next general election."

MPs should not be recalled because of "political argy-bargy" or if constituents "violently disagree" with their political opinions, he went on.

"That way lies a capricious, unbridled, highly politicised tit-for-tat system which I think would fly in the face our traditions of representative democracy," said the deputy PM.

'Deeply flawed'

"It's a balance between giving people the right, under certain circumstances, to trigger a by-election, and not simply wait for the next general election, but it's not a free for all."

He added: "You have to have a certain degree of due process otherwise the whole thing just becomes a kangaroo court."

If MPs decide that one of their number has committed serious wrongdoing, in a vote of the whole House, constituents will be allowed to raise a petition for a by-election, provided they can get the support of 10% of the constituency.

Conservative MP and direct democracy campaigner Douglas Carswell has criticised the proposed legislation as "deeply and deliberately flawed" as it would give recall powers to "Westminster grandees" rather than the public.

Fellow Tory backbencher Zac Goldsmith said the "worst MP in the world" could still escape censure under the government's plans, which are currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny.

The constitutional affairs committee is due to publish a report on recall elections "in the not too distant future," said Mr Allen.

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