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David Porter » Articles at Suite 101 » Recall of Parliament Is Action Being Seen to be Done

Recall of Parliament Is Action Being Seen to be Done

Reflecting public fear about rampaging criminality, a one day recall of Parliament can only be a start in debating what action is needed next in Britain.

Governments do not bring back holidaying Members from frequently far-flung corners of the world, lightly. Account has to be taken of maintenance work scheduled for the recesses across the Palace of Westminster. The recess working programmes of staff are disrupted at a cost, as are pre-booked tours.

However, there are times when to do otherwise is to risk political scorn, and allow crises to deepen. People need to feel that their Parliamentary institution is taking matters seriously, and since 1948 it has been recalled 24 times. August 2011 is clearly another such occasion.

By the way, ‘recall’ should not be confused with voters having the right to ‘recall their elected representatives’. In the 2010-2011 Parliamentary session, backbencher Zac Goldsmith MP tabled a Private Members’ Bill calling for an MP who has been dishonest, broken promises or brought the office into disrepute, to be sacked and another election to take place. At present, voters have to wait for an MP to resign before getting another election.

Recall Procedure

An extra day was added to the summer term, 20 July 2011, when Parliament sat on to debate public confidence in British media in the light of the phone-hacking scandal, criminal investigations of corruption and perceived lack of integrity across sections of the media. The debate was entitled: ‘Public Confidence in the Media and Police’.

It was easy to add a day. To reopen for business mid-summer is harder. The Speaker under Standing Order No. 13 (passed in 1948) can only appoint a time to return when asked by the Government of the day. He or she must consider if a recall is to debate matters of ‘public interest’. The House of Lords is normally recalled by the Lord Speaker at the same time. There are similar arrangements in force in the devolved legislatures in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh for recall.

Obviously MPs and peers on holiday will be aware of events, at home or abroad. Social media is active, even on the beaches. They will not be caught out, but may have to make hasty travel arrangements. Not all Members expressed joy at having to return, but several budget airlines reported a ‘scramble’ for seats on planes home. Since 1994 it has been that MPs’ expenses ‘wholly and exclusively attributable to the recall’ are legitimate and met from the public purse.

Previous Recalls

24 September 2002, both Houses were recalled to debate ‘Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction’. On 3 April 2002 it came back to debate presenting a ‘Humble Address to Her Majesty expressing the deep sympathies and condolences of this House on the death of Her Majesty, the Queen Mother’.

On 14 September, 4 and 8 October 2001, the Commons were recalled to debate ‘International Terrorism and Attacks in the USA’, while the Lords called their debate: ‘US Terrorist Attacks’. 2-3 September 1998 it returned to consider the Omagh Bomb: Criminal Justice (Terror and Conspiracy) Bill. In May 1995 it was over Bosnia; September 1992 about Government Economic Policy and UN Operations in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Somalia.

September 1998 it was the invasion of Kuwait and 3 and 14 April 1982, the Argentine invasion of the Falklands Islands. June 1974 it was Northern Ireland; January 1974, Fuel; and September 1971, Northern Ireland. May 1970 saw a recall to debate prorogation (the ending of a Session or term) of Parliament, followed by dissolution and a subsequent General Election.

1968 had two recalls, August for Czechoslovakia and Nigeria, January for the Labour Government’s Expenditure Cuts. The Berlin Crisis brought the House back in October 1961 for a week. September 1959 was for prorogation and dissolution. The Suez Crisis of 1956 was debated 12-14 September; October 1951, prorogation and dissolution. It was the Korean War, September 1950 and Devaluation of Sterling, September 1949. The recalls and their subjects chart part of the economic/military/political history of Britain since the last war.

The Political Outcome

As some calm returns and the crime wave peters out, the analysis begins in earnest. It will go deep into every aspect of our legal, education and economic policies, and will be hotly debated. Meanwhile all Party front benchers are currently making similar horror noises at the lawlessness, violence, mindless damage and criminality of riots, although there are dissenting voices about Parliamentary response.

Some left-wing blogs have described the recall as ‘gesture politics’, coming on top of criticism that the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, Chancellor of the Exchequer among others were away on holiday when the crisis broke. Whether politicians should take breaks with their families is a different issue.

The fact is that Parliament should be where Government is held to account/forced to defend policies and MPs get a say too. Recall is the only way during a recess. If there was only Government by press statement, people would soon complain, and rightly.

First published on Suite 101, 11 August 2011, as the riots raged across various cities in England.

Image: Parliament’s Recall Doesn’t Suit All – GraceKelly

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