Expulsion

11.33The expulsion by the House of Commons of one of its Members may be regarded as an example of the House's power to regulate its own constitution, though it is, for convenience, treated here as one of the methods of punishment at the disposal of the House. Members have been expelled for a wide variety of causes.1 In some cases, such as the last case in which expulsion was imposed, it was in consequence of a Member being sentenced to a term of imprisonment.2 In the previous case (and the only other since 1945), the case arose from a finding of contempt by the Committee of Privileges and the motion that the Member be suspended for six months was amended to substitute the penalty of expulsion.3 The Minister moving the original motion to suspend the Member concerned warned ‘Expulsion is a very serious step. It could be a step open to very great abuse.’4 Much more recently, similar concerns were expressed by the Committee on Standards, which noted in 2014: ‘There is a danger that the power of expulsion could be used to remove people because their opinions were unpopular, rather than because of misconduct. Members are elected, and the decision of the electorate should be respected.’5

In recent years, Members have resigned before debates on their conduct in cases where the Committee on Standards and Privileges6 or the Committee on Standards7 had recommended suspensions for terms of six months.

Expulsion, though it vacates the seat of a Member and a new writ is immediately issued, does not create any disability to serve again in the House of Commons, if re-elected. The House's attempts in the mid-eighteenth century to be rid of John Wilkes, who was three times expelled and once had his return amended in favour of his defeated opponent, ended, some years later, only in the expunging from the Journal as ‘subversive of the rights of the whole body of electors of this kingdom’ of the earlier resolution that, following his expulsion, he was incapable of being re-elected in that Parliament.8 In 1882, when Bradlaugh was expelled and immediately re-elected, no question of the validity of his return arose.9 A Member whose seat is vacated under the Recall of MPs Act 2015 is not precluded from standing in the subsequent election.

Footnotes

  1. Being in open rebellion (CJ (1714–18) 336, 467); being guilty of certain criminal offences, such as forgery (ibid (1722–27) 702; ibid (1954–55) 25), perjury (ibid (1782–83) 770), fraud or breach of trust (ibid (1718–21) 406, 412, 413; ibid (1727–32) 871; ibid (1812) 176; ibid (1892) 120; ibid (1922) 273, 276, 293, 319; and see Colchester ii, 373), conspiracy to defraud (CJ (1813–14) 433), misappropriation of public money (ibid (1702–04) 171; ibid (1810) 398), and corruption either in the administration of justice (ibid (1547–1628) 588) or in public office (ibid (1711–14) 30, 97); having misconducted themselves in the exercise of their duties as Members of the House (ibid (1667–87) 24; ibid (1693–97) 274 and 5 Parl Hist 900–910; CJ (1693–97) 283); having behaved in a manner unbecoming an officer and a gentleman (ibid (1795–96) 661; ibid (1890–91) 268, 272, 282); and being guilty of contempts, libels, or other offences against the House (ibid (1547–1628) 917; ibid (1640–42) 301, 537; ibid (1667–87) 431; ibid (1711–14) 513; ibid (1714–18) 411; ibid (1722–27) 391; ibid (1882) 61; ibid (1947–48) 22). See also Report of Precedents, HC 79 (1806–07). Further details of the procedure are given in Erskine May (24th edn, 2011), pp 198–99.
  2. CJ (1954–55) 6 and 24–25.
  3. Committee of Privileges, HC 138 (1946–47).
  4. HC Deb (30 October 1947) 443, c 1160.
  5. Committee on Standards, Eleventh Report of Session 2013–14, Patrick Mercer, HC 1225, para 28.
  6. Committee on Standards and Privileges, Second Report of Session 2012–13, Mr Denis MacShane, HC 635.
  7. Committee on Standards, Eleventh Report of Session 2013–14, Patrick Mercer, HC 1225.
  8. CJ (1761–64) 721–23; ibid (1768–70) 178–79, 228–29, 385, 386, 387, 451; ibid (1780–82) 977. See also 1 Cav Deb 352.
  9. CJ (1882) 62.