Petitions to recall MPs should mirror the secrecy of the ballot, finds new report

Summary

The Electoral Commission has today made recommendations to improve the process for recalling sitting MPs, including the need to protect secrecy for individuals who choose to sign the petition.

Its report considers evidence from the first three recall petitions to be run – in the Peterborough, Brecon and Radnorshire and North Antrim constituencies – since their introduction in 2015. It concludes these petitions were well-run, but recommends changes that the UK Government needs to consider to improve what is a new process for citizens, politicians, parties, campaigners, and administrators. 

The report makes a number of recommendations for the UK Government to consider, including the need to consider how to bring secrecy to the petition process; the Commission proposes one way to achieve this, by offering eligible constituents the chance to indicate their opposition to the petition. 
 

Quote from Craig Westwood, Director of Communications, Policy and Research

Craig Westwood, Director of Communications, Policy and Research, said: 

“When you vote at an election, the way you have chosen to vote is protected by the secrecy of the ballot. But the same is not true at a recall petition; when you enter a signing place, it is clear that you are doing so to sign the petition to recall your MP. Secrecy is an important principle in our democracy, and we have therefore asked the UK Government to consider ways to mitigate this. This might include introducing an equivalent to the signing sheet for those who oppose the petition. 

“We stand ready to work with the Government to develop any proposals that would protect the secrecy of the ballot. All of our recommendations seek to improve the experience for those who come forward to sign future petitions, and to make it easier for petition officers to run the process effectively.

“Despite the improvements we have recommended to the rules, the Petition Officers for these recall petitions should be commended for delivering well-run recall petitions throughout the six-week signing period.” 
 

Further information

Other recommendations include reducing the length of a 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. Research from the Commission shows that 79% of those who signed the petition in Peterborough and 70% of those who signed in Brecon and Radnorshire did so within the first two weeks of the signing period.

Further recommendations for the UK Government to consider include giving greater clarity about the closing time of signing places on the final day of the petition and the deadline for receipt of postal signing papers.

Ends

Other information

The full report is now available. There are also fact sheets available for both recall petitions – Peterborough, Brecon and Radnorshire.

A fact sheet that provides information about the rules of recall petitions is also available.

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk

Notes to editors


The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity by:

  • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
  • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
  • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy, 
  • aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency

The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

The Recall of MPs Act (2015) outlines a number of offences that can trigger a recall petition. If at least 10% of the electorate in the constituency signs the petition, the MP will lose their seat and a by-election will be triggered. Once a Petition Officer has opened a recall petition, it must be open for signing for six weeks.

The role of a Petition Officer is to:

  • Open a recall petition
  • Oversee the administration of the petition, including publishing a register of electors who can sign the petition and notifying those electors of the petition
  • Declare the result, including notifying the Speaker of the House of Commons
  • Receive donation and spending returns and make them available for public inspection

Campaigners that plan to spend over £500 at a recall petition must register with the relevant Petition Officer. They must then submit spending returns to the Petition Officer within 30 days of the result of the petition being announced.

In Brecon and Radnorshire there were three registered campaigners. They reported a total spend of £13,365.87.
In Peterborough there were five registered campaigners. The three registered campaigners that have submitted their returns reported a total spend of £6,988.79.
In North Antrim there were two registered campaigners. They reported a total spend of £4,178.

The Electoral Commission has a statutory responsibility to report on recall petitions.