Wales politics

Recall petitions 'lock MPs' supporters out'

Chris Davies Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chris Davies was the third MP to face a recall petition

Recall petitions lock supporters of the MP under threat out of the process, a former senior House of Commons official has said.

Sir Paul Silk said the experience of the Brecon and Radnorshire recall petition has added to an "accumulating list of shortcomings" in the process.

The term "petition" is itself confusing, he said.

A by-election will take place in the constituency after 10,005 signed.

Conservative MP Chris Davies was unseated by the petition - the third in the UK - which was triggered by his conviction for a false expenses claim.

He has been selected by his local party for the by-election, which will take place on either 25 July or 1 August. The Liberal Democrats have selected Welsh party leader Jane Dodds, while Labour has picked Brecon Town councillor Tom Davies.

The Brexit Party is also expected to stand.

Sir Paul Silk, who lives in the constituency, wrote about his experience of being an elector in the by-election for the Hansard Society. He has previously questioned the fairness of the process.

He said "the term 'petition' is confusing" - leading people to think recall petitions will be held in the same way as an electronic petition to the House of Commons.

Petitioners instead have to go to one of several set petition signing places, open for a period of six weeks and at least between 9am and 5pm. Petition officers only need to make "reasonable provision" for the availability of the petition at other times - although this cannot include weekends.

Signing stations were not open at convenient times, Sir Paul said. "The petition officer has an undesirable degree of discretion, and the law is inflexible," he said.

He criticised the discretion given to administrators over the number of signing stations, saying in Brecon and Radnorshire (B&R) some had to travel for half an hour to get to a signing station 15 miles away from where they lived.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chris Davies was the third MP to face a recall petition

There were six in B&R, compared to six in the Peterborough recall petition. The constituency has 161 polling stations for other elections.

Postal and proxy forms were not designed for the petition, and an elderly person living in a village without public transport may give up on an attempt to sign a petition unless she or he is "motivated enough to ask for a postal or proxy vote", or find a lift.

"People who support the MP are locked out of the process," he said, saying there should perhaps be a way individuals can show their support for the MP.

The public nature of the petition made some anxious about signing "because they knew that they could be identified".

And few sign a petition because of the offence committed by the MP, Sir Paul said.

"Anecdotal evidence is that many of those who signed did so because they disliked the MP personally, or disapproved of his political views," he added.

Sir Paul said the "shortcomings evident in B&R concerning the recall petition process do not appear to have been unique, and should not be forgotten amid the party political storm".

'Beggars belief'

The Conservatives had been expected to move the writ on the planned by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire on Tuesday, but an opposition source said they had been told this did not happen due to a "returning officer issue".

A spokesman for Powys County Council, which would administer the by-election, said it had been expecting the writ to be issued and that there were "no issues here".

Welsh Labour accused the Tories of confusion and chaos: "It beggars belief that the Tories have failed to move the writ. Worse still that their whips have tried to drag the Returning Officer into their story."

Plaid Cymru said it was a "completely bizarre and very concerning situation" and the party would be "looking for swift and clear answers as to what is going on".

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