Wellingborough councillor raises concerns over recall petition signing places locations
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Concerns have been raised by residents living in the Wellingborough constituency over the arrangements for signing places of an ongoing recall petition.
Opened on November 8 for 30 working days, registered voters in the constituency, currently the seat of Peter Bone, can sign a petition to have him removed as their MP.
The recall petition, that ends on December 19, was triggered following the unopposed motion calling for his suspension from the House of Commons.
But Wellingborough town councillor Marion Turner-Hawes (Ind, Isebrook) has been concerned that people who wish to sign the petition are finding it difficult because of where the signing locations are.
She said: “I plan to make a complaint on the basis that it is completely inappropriate where they have assigned people. The biggest concern is that 7,000 to 8,000 people in Wellingborough are being sent to Finedon – four miles away. You could walk it but imagine if you’re elderly or disabled trying to get there under your own steam. There is a bus but it’s not easy. The people who are being asked to travel the furthest are in Castle Street. There’s a signing station at The Castle they can’t use.
"That seems contrary to the spirit of the democratic process.”
Those who wish to sign the recall petition have another 18 days to do so – either in person, by post or by proxy – and it is being administered by petition officer Adele Wylie for North Northamptonshire Council in accordance with The Recall of MPs Act 2015.
Ms Turner-Hawes said: “Not everyone is able to use a postal vote. I know people can do a postal vote but they should not be forced to do that, it should be a choice.
"If we want democracy to work, it needs to be close to where people live. It’s not just in my ward. I’ve heard of people living near Redwell Leisure Centre having to go to Wellingborough Rugby Club in Cut Throat Lane.
“I feel for the council, it’s not something they have done before. They have tried their best but it’s like the people at NNC don’t have a map.”
The recall petition will decide whether Peter Bone should lose his seat as an MP and a by-election held. The petition was triggered after Mr Bone was suspended from sitting in the House of Commons for a period of six weeks for breaching the code of conduct for MPs.
In a written response to another concerned Wellingborough resident, North Northants Council explained the use of various venues.
It said: “Responsibility for the conduct of the petition rests with the petition officer and not North Northamptonshire Council. When designating the signing places the petition officer was required to comply with The Recall of MPs Act 2015 and associated regulations which specify that the number of signing places in the constituency must be no fewer than four and no more than 10. Further, each signing place must be open from 9am until 5pm every weekday for a period of six weeks.
“Due to the very tight timescales, a number of the venues that had previously been used as polling stations at elections in the Finedon Ward were unable to commit to their halls or other rooms being used for the petition for the whole six-week period as they already had bookings scheduled into their calendars including regular engagements.
"Quite understandably, they were reluctant to cancel their regular bookings for community and other activity groups that had long standing arrangements in place at what was extremely short notice.
“Before designating the signing place at Finedon Community Centre, a number of other options were explored. Of the venues considered, the preferred option was a leisure facility as this was located within the ward, however, due to existing commitments that couldn’t be cancelled the venue was unavailable for the six-week period. The remaining venues, situated outside the ward, were either unavailable, not suitable, prohibitively expensive, or felt it was inappropriate for them to engage in the process.
"As there was no other suitable building within Wellingborough town, it was necessary to explore other options. Finedon Community Centre was the only venue in the Finedon ward that was able to accommodate a petition signing place each week day for the whole of the six week period as is required by law.”
The statement added: “The Castle Theatre which has been used as a polling station on previous occasions, is situated in the adjoining ward of Croyland and Swanspool and has a substantial number of electors allocated to it for the purposes of the petition. It would, therefore, not have been logistically viable to allocate the whole or even part of the electorate for Finedon ward to this venue.”
People who want to sign the petition in person, at their allocated signing place as indicated on their letter, have until 5pm on Tuesday, December 19. Signing places are open from 9am to 5pm on weekdays.
The designated signing places are situated in Wellingborough at Tithe Barn Council Offices, Castle Theatre and Redwell Leisure Centre; at Wellingborough Rugby Football Club between Wilby and Great Doddington, Finedon Community Centre, Council Buildings, the council building in Newton Road, Rushden Historical Transport Society and The John White Golf Club all in Rushden, and Parsons Hall, in Irchester.
Applications to sign the petition by post can be made up until 5pm on December 4, 2023. Applications can be made either online at https://www.gov.uk/apply-postal-vote or by completing a paper application form which can be either posted to the Electoral Registration Officer, North Northamptonshire Council, Bowling Green Road, Kettering, NN15 7QX or scanned and emailed to [email protected].
Additionally, a person may appoint somebody else to sign on their behalf (signing by proxy). Proxy signing applications can also be made online https://www.gov.uk/apply-proxy-vote or by completing a paper application form. The deadline for proxy applications is 5pm on December 11, 2023. Proxy application forms can be posted or emailed to the Electoral Registration Officer at the address given above.
A person can sign the recall petition during the signing period if, on the day that they are signing, they are a person registered in the register of parliamentary electors for the constituency and they are aged 18 or over – or the date of his or her 18th birthday is before the end of the signing period – and the person would be entitled to vote as an elector at a parliamentary election in the constituency.
If more than 10 per cent of people entitled to sign put their names to the petition then a by-election would be triggered.
Signing sheets will be verified every evening during the six-week period by the North Northants Council election team.
The process is to ensure the number of sheets in the ballot box matches the amount allocated by the signing place. All signing sheets will be counted face down and will be locked and stored in a secure location.
Once the recall petition closes at 5pm on December 19, the signatures from in-person, postal and proxy voters will be counted as soon as possible once the signing period ends – it must be done no later than one day after.
If at least 10 per cent of eligible voters have signed the petition, the petition is successful. This means the MP will leave their seat once the petition officer has informed the Speaker of the House of Commons of the outcome of the petition. If the petition is successful, it will then trigger a by-election. It is likely that this would be held in late January/early February.
If fewer than 10 per cent of eligible voters sign the petition, the petition is unsuccessful, and the MP remains in post.
The outcome will be announced to the public either way.
On October 16 the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) published a report on Peter Bone MP. A complaint was made about Mr Bone under Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS). Following an investigation by an independent investigator, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards upheld five allegations of bullying and one of sexual misconduct. Mr Bone appealed this decision to the IEP but it was dismissed by the IEP sub-panel appointed to consider that case.
Mr Bone denies the incidents took place and has criticised the investigation.
Electoral law prevents the publication of any statement that could indicate if an individual has signed the petition or not; any forecasts on the result of the petition; and the publication of exit polls before the end of the final day of the signing period.
Anyone who makes any statement on turnout or about individuals who sign the petition would be guilty of an offence.