MPs’ right to free speech must be protected - Sir Jim Paice urges

Sir Jim Paice speaking in Parliament

Sir Jim Paice speaking in Parliament - Credit: Archant

Sir Jim Paice says MPs’ right to free speech must not be restrained under plans to introduce a system of recall that could see members sacked by their constituents.

MPs are discussing a bill which would introduce into law a legal right for constituents to recall them from the Houses of Parliament and, in effect, sack them – triggering a by-election.

An amendment to the bill was put forward this week by Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, who said the recall process should be triggered by a notice signed by five per cent of the electorate.

But Sir Jim, MP for South East Cambs, argued against the amendment, stating that freedom of speech for MPs must be protected and should not be used against them as a reason for recall.

He said that, if the amendment was agreed, companies or pressure groups may be able to exert pressure on an MP to vote a certain way or mention an issue in parliament under threat of recall.

He said: “We can imagine the opportunity for well organised and probably well-funded pressure groups to exert influence on members with a small proportion of the vote—just enough to have scraped home—through the threat of recall.

“It is easy for members to say, as some have, ‘I am far too strong-minded and I will not be bought,’ but I challenge that. It would be a brave individual who faced such pressure yet did not feel that they might have to bend to it.”

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Sir Jim agreed with Mr Goldsmith that the Government needed to do more to make the processes simpler and to involve the public but said the amendments went “too far” and potentially restricted MPs’ freedom of speech.

Sir Jim said: “I fear that the idealistic way in which the amendments have been cast means that they are just too broad.

“I fully accept the need to go further than the Government are going, and I think that there is a need for popular involvement, but it has to concentrate on the real issues that cause the public concern: unacceptable behaviour by their Member of Parliament that devalues their role.

“We all agree that that is necessary. The issue is whether we extend that to matters relating to freedom of speech, which I think would be a step too far.”

The amendment was defeated by 166 votes to 340.