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Margaret Ferrier pictured at the count after winning the Rutherglen and Hamilton West seat in 2015
Whether or not there will be a by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West depends on whether Margaret Ferrier voluntarily steps down or is forced to do so by her parliamentary peers and her constituents.
Ferrier has been bombarded with calls for her to resign as an MP, the latest from Nicola Sturgeon, but at the time of writing it is difficult to know what the beleaguered politician will do. She now sits as an independent MP having had the SNP whip removed.
So here are the rules and procedures which set out the general range of circumstances which affect if or when an MP steps down.
Conviction of an offence (other than an offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 – providing false or misleading information for allowances claims) does not in itself mean an MP has to stand down.
However, if an MP is convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for a year or less, a recall process is triggered and a petition will be opened to voters in the constituency once the appeal period has expired.
A sentence of imprisonment for more than one year will automatically and immediately result in the seat’s being vacated.
Under the Recall of MPs Act 2015, a recall petition can be opened in certain circumstances. If at least 10% of the number of eligible voters sign the petition then the sitting MP will lose their seat, and a by-election will be held in the constituency.
A recall petition can be opened in a constituency if any one of three conditions is met.
• An MP is convicted in the United Kingdom of an offence and receives a custodial sentence (including a suspended sentence) of a year or less.
• Following on from a report from the Committee on Standards in relation to an MP, the House of Commons orders the suspension of the MP from the service of the House for a specified period (at least 10 sitting days, or at least 14 days if sitting days are not specified).
The DUP MP for North Antrim faced a recall petition after he was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 days for advocating for Sri Lanka after failing to declare that its government had paid for his visits there. He was the first MP to face a recall petition since a new law was introduced in 2015. Paisley survived the process and held on to his Commons seat. The support of 10% of his constituents was required to force a by-election and it fell short by 444 signatures.
• The MP has, after becoming an MP, been convicted of an offence under section 10 of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 (providing false or misleading information for allowances claims).
Have there been any by elections for Westminster since the start of the pandemic?
The only means by which a member’s seat may be vacated during the lifetime of a Parliament are through death, expulsion by resolution of the House, or disqualification, either by the voiding of the member’s election or through accepting one of a number of offices which are incompatible with membership of the House of Commons.
A member who wishes merely to resign his or her seat must be appointed to one of two offices of the Crown, retained from antiquity for this purpose only.
These are the ‘Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds’ and the ‘Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead’.
Other such offices have been used for this purpose in the past, and some of them have carried duties and salaries: this is not the case today.
A controversy took place in early 2011 when Gerry Adams, the then leader of Sinn Fein, indicated he wished to resign from his seat of West Belfast by sending a letter to the Speaker. A Treasury statement on the 26 January 2011 stated that he had been appointed to the Manor of Northstead. In the House of Commons on that day, the Prime Minister stated that Adams had ‘accepted’ the office.
As a result of the controversy, the relevant passage in the parliamentary rule book Erskine May now states that the former member ‘is appointed’ to the offices, instead of the previous text which stated that s/he ‘accepts office’. Subsequently two other Sinn Fein MPs have resigned from the House of Commons in 2013 and 2018, and have been appointed in the same manner.
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Scottish National Party, Margaret Ferrier
World news – GB – Will there be a by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West?