Recall of MPs Act 2015

Prior to 2015, there was no power of recall in the UK. In fact, removing an MP from office at all was very difficult. Under the (Representation of the Peoples Act, 1983) the only circumstance under which an MP could be removed from office was if they received a prison sentence of 12 months or longer. Lesser prison sentences did not meet this threshold. For example, Labour MP Terry Fields was imprisoned for 60 days for refusing to pay the Poll Tax in 1991 and yet retained his seat. The last MP to be removed from Parliament due to a prison sentence was Conservative MP Peter Baker who was imprisoned for seven years for forgery. 

The background to the Recall of MPs Act (2015)

The MPs expenses scandal of 2009-2010 bought the discussion of recall into focus. This was because there were MPs who had clearly acted illegally or immorally and yet could not be removed by their constituents. It was clear that in the public consciousness, some kind of mechanism for recall of MPs was needed. It is notable that in the 2010 General Election, the manifestos of all three major parties called for some form of this:

Conservative: “At the moment, there is no way that local constituents can remove an MP found guilty of serious wrongdoing until there is a general election. That is why a Conservative government will introduce a power of ‘recall’ to allow electors to kick out MPs, a power that will be triggered by proven serious wrongdoing”

Labour: “MPs who are found responsible for financial misconduct will be subject to a right of recall if Parliament itself has failed to act against them.”

Liberal Democrat: ” [We will] Give you the right to sack MPs who have broken the rules. We would introduce a recall system so that constituents could force a by-election for any MP found responsible for serious wrondoing”

Following the election the a commitment to a Recall Bill was included in the Coalition Agreement:

We will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by-election where an MP is found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by-election signed by 10% of his or her constituents.

In June 2012 the Constitutional Reform Select Committee published a report which listed a number of reasons why a recall system was not advisable. They summarised that:

This report, along with other factors, indicated that the Coalition would seek a ‘watered down’ bill from that proposed in the Coalition Agreement.

Zac Goldsmith’s Private Members Bill

Disappointed with the approach of the Government, Conservative Backbench MP Zac Goldsmith put forward an alternative Private Members Bill called the Recall of Elected Representatives Bill. This bill had the support of more than 70 MPs, including David Davis, Frank Field, Caroline Lucas and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Goldsmith’s bill would require just 5% of constituents to initiate petition of recall and then 20% of constituents to sign the petition in order for a by-election to be called. In Goldsmith’s bill, the voters of a constituency could initiate a recall petition for any reason – thereby giving power over the process directly to the voters. However, Goldsmith’s bill did not make it past Second Reading.

The Recall of MPs Act 2015  is an act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom that makes provision for constituents to be able to recall their Member of Parliament (MP) and call a by-election. It received royal assent on 26 March 2015 after being introduced on 11 September 2014.

Unlike recall procedures in some other countries, the act does not allow constituents to initiate proceedings. Instead, proceedings are initiated only if an MP is found guilty of a wrongdoing that fulfils certain criteria. This petition is successful if at least one in ten voters in the constituency sign. Successful petitions force the recalled MP to vacate the seat, resulting in a by-election.

To date, three petitions have been made under the act; two of these received sufficient signatures to trigger a by-election.

the Speaker of the House of Commons would trigger the recall process, namely:

Once one of the conditions outlined in the act is fulfilled, the Speaker informs the petitions officer of the constituency (in most cases this would be the returning officer or acting returning officer). The petitions officer is then required to make the practical arrangements for the petition so as to open the proceedings within ten working days after the Speaker's notification. This involves selecting up to ten signing locations where petitioners can sign in person, these function in a similar manner to election polling stations. As with votes in elections, voters are able to sign via post or proxy. Campaigning for or against recalling the MP is regulated by spending restrictions.

The petition remains open for six weeks. No ongoing tally is reported by the petitions officer and it is not revealed if the required threshold of 10 per cent of eligible voters threshold has been reached until the close of the petition period. During the petition period the MP remains in office.  The petition is successful if the required threshold of 10 per cent of eligible voters threshold has been reached  the seat then becomes vacant and by-election procedures begin.

The Recall of MPs Act 2015 is a law which was designed by MPs not to be used. Yet so far it has been used to  recall of the former Labour MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya who did nor run in the subsequent by election .

In July 2018 then Labour MP Fiona Onsanya was charged with perverting the course of justice in relation to two incidents of speeding. It was alleged that she had lied to the police about who driving in relation to two speeding tickets. In December 2018 Onasanya was found guilty but appealed the verdict. In January 2019 she was sentenced to three months imprisonment. Following the failure of her appeal, the recall process was initiated. This petition had the support of the Labour Party who had already removed the whip from Onasanya. The recall petition was opened on 19th March 2019 and comfortably reached the 10% threshold with 27.6% of constituents signing the recall petition. Onasanya was therefore recalled and replaced by Lisa Forbes who won the subsequent by-election as Labour’s candidate. 

 To date, five petitions have been made under the act; two of these received sufficient signatures to trigger a by-election.

 Firstly, in North Antrim after Ian Paisley (DUP) was suspended by the House due to his expenses. The 10% threshold was not reached so he retained his seat without election.

The second use has featured heavily in the news. This occurred when Fiona Onasanya (Labour) was convicted for 3 months for perverting the course of justice. The 10% petition threshold was reached and the by-election campaign in Peterborough began. Fiona Onasanya did not stand but the Labour party managed to retain the seat with Lisa Forbes becoming the new MP.

The third was in Brecon and Radnorshire (Wales) where the Conservative MP Chris Davis was convicted under the Parliamentary standards act. A by-election took place, Chris Davis was re-selected by the local Conservative association. He, however, lost the by-election to Lib Dem Jane Dodds.

The fourth was Margaret Ferrier  who in October 2020, suspended by the SNP and had the party whip withdrawn for breaching COVID-19 lockdown rules. She continued to sit as an independent MP. Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader and first minister of Scotland, called on her to resign her parliamentary seat. She was arrested in January 2021 and charged with "culpable and reckless conduct" In 2023, she was suspended from Parliament for 30 days and a recall petition was opened, which unseated her on 1 August, triggering a by-election. This was the first successful recall petition in Scotland. She was replaced by Labour MP Michael Shanks.

The fifth was Peter Bone  who On 16 October 2023, following a complaint made in October 2021, was recommended to be suspended from the House of Commons by the Independent Expert Panel after a report found he had "committed many varied acts of bullying and one act of sexual misconduct" against a male member of his staff. The recommended suspension length of six weeks, subsequently confirmed by the Commons, triggered a recall petition under the Recall of MPs Act 2015. Bone denied the claims against him and said the investigation was "flawed" and "procedurally unfair". On 17 October, Bone lost the Conservative whip, but continued to sit as an independent until a successful recall petition in Wellingborough vacated his seat on 19 December 2023. 

A by-election took place on Thursday 15 February 2024 in the UK Parliament constituency of Wellingborough. This followed a recall petition held in late 2023 that removed the incumbent MP Peter Bone under the terms of the Recall of MPs Act 2015, triggered by his six-week suspension from the House of Commons for bullying and sexual harassment.

The by-election was won by Gen Kitchen of the Labour Party. It was the biggest swing from the Conservatives to Labour since the 1994 Dudley West by-election and the second biggest since the Second World War.

Scott Benton: Conservative MP Lobbying scandal In December 2023, a report by the Commons Standards Committee   concluded, that his interactions with The Times were a "very serious breach" of lobbying rules and that he had given the message that "he was corrupt and 'for sale' and that so were many other Members of the House". The committee recommended that he be suspended from Parliament for 35 days. In February 2024, Benton lost his appeal against the proposed suspension.  MPs later voted to approve his suspension of 35 days from the House of Commons, triggering a recall petition which, if successful, would have led to a by-election. On 25 March 2024, however, Benton tendered his resignation and ceased to be an MP. 

How is the power of recall used internationally?

Canada – There is no law allowing recall on a Federal (national) level in Canada. However, in British Columbia, a representative can be removed from office if they have held their seat for at least 18 months and 40% of their constituents sign a recall petition. This law has been in force since 1995 and has been invoked 26 times.

Germany – There is no federal law allowing recall. However, in the Bavarian Landtag (Parliament) the entire Landtag can be dismissed by referendum if 1 million citizens sign a recall petition.

United States – The United States has no federal recall laws. However, recall has a strong history in state politics and 19 states have recall laws. Recall powers vary depending on the state. In some states, for example Alaska or Georgia, specific grounds of misconduct are required to recall officials. However, in other states, like California, there are no such requirements. In California, all that is required to initiate a recall is the signature of 12% of registered voters in any given electoral district. In April 2020 a recall petition was successful against the Governor, Gavin Newsom. A recall election will take place in September 2021.