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Government Rejects Call For Voters To Boot Out No-Show MPs Like Nadine Dorries

Nadine Dorries has prompted a debate over whether MPs should be forced to attend Parliament – rather than attend their lucrative TV gigs.

Photo: REUTERS/Alamy Stock Photo

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The Government has rejected calls for voters to be able to boot out Members of Parliament who don’t turn up to speak or vote in the Commons. 

A petition to “make MPs who are absent from their constituency and Parliament subject to recall” has gathered nearly 13,000 signatures and got a Government response. It demands a change in the Recall of MPs Act 2015, which allows voters to force a ‘recall petition’ locally – in very limited circumstances. If signed by more than 10% of registered voters, it triggers a by-election. 

However, MPs must have been found to have committed an offence that attracts a custodial sentence, been suspended from the House of Commons for ten days or more, or been convicted of an offence under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 – namely fiddling expenses. 

The calls follow Tory MP Nadine Dorries failing to show up to speak in Parliament for over a year – a move the parliamentary Standards Commissioner ruled did not breach the MPs’ code of conduct, as Byline Times revealed.

The Government argues the Recall of MPs Act is “not intended as a mechanism for voters to recall their elected representative because they are dissatisfied with their work.” 

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In rejecting the petition, the Cabinet Office argues that “it is felt that an elected representative has not adhered to the clear set of standards expected of public officeholders, the electorate may make their views known at the ballot box at a General Election.” These are typically every five years. 

Campaign group Unlock Democracy had previously complained that Dorries, the outgoing Tory MP for Mid Bedfordshire who hadn’t spoken in the Commons since last July, was undermining parliament.

She is not thought to have held a regular constituency surgery in several years and it is not clear if she still has a constituency office. Amid mounting pressure, she agreed to step down, triggering a by-election in her rural seat. 

Before she quit, there was no way for voters to get an answer from her or ensure they were represented in Parliament – while she continued to do a show on TalkTV. The Boris Johnson loyalist had claimed that she was staying to mount her own investigation into why she didn’t get a peerage. 

Disgraced ex-PM Liz Truss has spoken in Parliament just six times since she was ousted as Prime Minister – a similar number to her speeches to think tanks abroad. 

And fleeting former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has spoken just five times since last September. Boris Johnson spoke nine times this year but wrote for the Daily Mail the same number of times before he stood down for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. 

The Lib Dem candidate for Mid Bedfordshire recently told Byline Times that she would not take any second jobs if elected. The campaign is a three-way fight between Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, though Labour appears to be edging ahead.  

Naomi Smith, Chief Executive of Best for Britain said: “It’s outrageous that Dorries can go AWOL, leaving her constituents without representation for months, and the Tories still stand a chance of winning the resulting by-election on a minority vote share. 

“There is no defence for our arcane first-past-the-post system, which allows politicians to act with impunity. Britain can’t wait for proportional representation which can make everyone’s vote equal and holds their representatives to account.”

You can view the petition here

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The Petition

A recall petition is opened if an MP is suspended from the Commons for ten sitting days, or certain convictions. However, there is no sanction for MPs who choose to be absent from constituency and Parliament while the House sits. Constituencies should expect a minimum standard of service from their MP.

There are reports of MPs taking holidays or otherwise choosing to be absent when the House is sitting.

If MPs are absent from their constituency and Parliament for 10 sitting days, we believe they are failing to provide their constituency with the representation the taxpayer is paying for. In this situation a recall petition should be opened so the constituency can decide whether to recall them.

Government Response in Full

“The Government does not intend to amend the circumstances in which the Recall of MPs Act 2015 applies; it is for voters to judge their MP’s record and work on local issues at a General Election.

The Recall of MPs Act 2015 sets out the circumstances in which an MP could be subject to a recall petition. The Government believes that these conditions are clear and does not intend to amend the legislation to subject MPs to Recall based on how they perform their role as an elected office holder.

The purpose of the 2015 Act is to provide the electorate, outside of the cycle of general elections, the opportunity to make their views known where an MP has: committed an offence that attracts a custodial sentence; been suspended from the House of Commons for the requisite period or; been convicted of an offence under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. The Act is not intended as a mechanism for voters to recall their elected representative because they are dissatisfied with their work.

An MP’s primary job should be to represent their constituents, scrutinise legislation and raise local issues with Government Ministers, and engage with constituents and organisations in their area. The proxy voting scheme recognises and supports MPs where a longer term absence is legitimate, such as for parental reasons or serious or long-term illness or injury.

It is imperative that all MPs act in keeping with the rules and principles set out in the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament. The House of Commons sets and enforces its own rules, and published the latest Code of Conduct in February of this year. The Code makes clear that holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions, and must make themselves available for scrutiny. MPs must behave in a way that does not bring Parliament into disrepute.

If it is alleged that an MP has not adhered to the rules, they may be subject to an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who reports their findings to the Committee on Standards. The Standards Committee may either recommend remedial action or more serious sanctions for decision by the House. The Commissioner for Standards cannot investigate a Member’s work in Parliament or in their constituency unless this forms part of an investigation into an alleged breach of the rules of conduct.

If it is felt that an elected representative has not adhered to the clear set of standards expected of public officeholders, the electorate may make their views known at the ballot box at a General Election.

Cabinet Office

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