UK Politics

Call for MPs who switch parties to face by-election

An MP has called for all Members of Parliament who defect to another party to face an immediate by-election.

Conservative Chris Skidmore said the vast majority of constituents voted for a particular party, seeing their MP as "the embodiment of the party locally".

Introducing a Ten Minute Rule Bill, he said giving voters the right to have a say on an MP's defection was vital to improve public trust in politics.

Fellow Tory Sir Peter Bottomley opposed the bill, but did not push for a vote.

After passing through its first reading stage the bill now joins the queue of private members' bills waiting for a second reading - its only chance of becoming law would be if the government decided to adopt it.

At present, when an MP switches parties during a Parliament, a by-election is only called if the MP himself chooses to resign his seat.

Mr Skidmore cited the cases of Bruce Douglas-Mann, who voluntarily triggered a by-election in 1982 when he left Labour for the SDP, and Dick Taverne, who called a by-election in 1973 when he switched from Labour to Democratic Labour.

But more recently several MPs have crossed the floor without a by-election. Former Northern Ireland secretary Shaun Woodward defected from the Conservatives to Labour in 1999 and faced considerable criticism for not resigning his seat.

In 2007, Quentin Davies also quit the Tories for Labour and remained an MP until the 2010 general election when he accepted a Labour peerage.

'Undeniable truth'

Mr Skidmore said the subject of his bill had never been debated before in the Commons and now was the right time to do so because it could play a part in restoring trust in politics.

"We can no longer continue the charade that we are each elected solely as individuals," he said. "To do so is simply not to be speaking the same language as our constituents.

"It is an undeniable truth that the vast majority of constituents will vote for the party, with the member the embodiment of the party locally.

"Parties clearly do matter, otherwise there would be no need for a member to change from one party to another. They may as well sit as an independent."

Mr Skidmore, MP for Kingswood, said members who chose to defect must live with their decision.

"But it is neither right nor fair that the constituent should live with that decision also, often for many years until a general election is called," he said.

Sir Peter, MP for Worthing West, said he agreed that the subject should be debated, but disagreed with the idea of it being part of a bill to be enacted.

"I don't think many of us would get elected without parties," he said. "But the key point is we have a duty to our constituents, to our parties and we have international obligations as well, and in my view, the trust comes from what you do, not whether you choose to change your party."

He insisted it was the purpose of general elections to decide who held or lost their seat.

Although he added that in his view, "it would not be a bad thing to remove party labels from ballot papers altogether".