Bishop of Chester takes part in debate on Recall of MPs Bill

On 19th January 2015, the Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Peter Forster, took part in the debate on the Government’s Recall of MPs Bill, during the second day of its Committee Stage. He spoke three times during the debate on Lord Hamilton of Epsom’s amendment, which sought to raise the threshold at which a petition against an MP would trigger the recall process, from 10 per cent to 20 per cent. The amendment was withdrawn at the end of the debate.

14.03 Bishop of ChesterThe Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I think that only these Benches could participate in these petitions since we have a right to vote in general elections, although there is a convention among us that we do not. I think that the last person who did so was Archbishop Runcie, who simply could not resist voting against Mrs Thatcher. He was found out and promised not to do it again, so there is a convention that we do not do it but we could.

As I have listened to the debates and read the previous transcripts, I have thought that there is a difference between the theory and the reality of what we are talking about. The theory that an MP would be subject to this petition, which would have reached the 10% or 20%, and that he or she would stand in the subsequent by-election backed by his or her party is pure make-believe. That is simply not going to happen but that is the theory and it is why a by-election would not be a counterpetition. It simply seems unreal that that is going to happen and, for that reason, there is therefore an argument for increasing the threshold from 10% to a higher figure. It corresponds to the reality of what we are talking about, rather than the theory…

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, perhaps I may just add to my point. I take what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said, and I can see the argument both ways. I do not think that any political party would support a candidate in those circumstances. Maybe I am misreading this but, given the dynamics of the media, I simply cannot see the reality of a political party supporting the MP in those circumstances…

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I am sure that the Government do not wish to prolong this debate unduly, but that is a very important point. In our society a dumbing-down effect happens because of a lot of legal provisions. I am thinking of suffragettes, who were sent to prison, or people who protested against nuclear weapons in certain circumstances. Alternatively, it may be about ethical issues where we have changed the law, such as same-sex relationships. One can think of all sorts of situations in which a limited period of imprisonment might well have arisen. If an MP thought that if that happened there would be a petition process and you would need only 10%, I fear that it would result in a certain dumbing down. Some issues here need to be carefully teased out.