Political news

Future recall petitions could be shorter and more secretive

Ian Paisley avoided a by-election last because 10 per cent of his constituents did not sign the recall petition. Picture by Brian Lawless/PA Wire

FUTURE recall petitions could have measures to improve secrecy and be conducted across a shorter time period.

An Electoral Commission report makes recommendations to improve the process for recalling sitting MPs, including the need to protect the identity of individuals who choose to sign the petition.

August last year saw the first recall petition in Westminster's history following the suspension of North Antrim MP Ian Paisley for failing to declare two luxury holidays to Sri Lanka and carrying out paid advocacy on behalf of the country's regime.

The MP avoided contesting a by-election because only 7,099 people – 9.4 per cent of the registered electorate – signed a petition which needed 7,543 signatures to force his resignation.

The recall petition ran for six weeks and was available to sign at three venues in Mr Paisley's North Antrim constituency, as well as by post.

There have since been two recall petitions in England, both of which reached the 10 per cent threshold for triggering by-elections.

The Electoral Commission's report into the first three recall petitions since their introduction in 2015 acknowledges criticism of the process in North Antrim but concludes that it was "successfully delivered".

However, it does address concern over identifying signatories by suggesting that those who support their sitting MP should also sign a petition.

The report also recommends reducing the length of the petition period from six to four weeks, while extending the hours of signing places to enable people to attend at more convenient times of the day.

The British government is expected to consider the watchdog's proposals.

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