The confusion continues…

The Hull Daily Mail is encouraging people to sign a petition on the Government’s e-petition website calling for action on jobs being lost at the BAE plant in Brough.   They report that, if 100,000 people sign the petition, the Government is ‘obliged’ to arrange a debate in the House of Commons.   As readers will know, there is no such obligation.  The Government sends the petition to the Backbench Business Committee of the House of Commons and it is a matter for the committee as to whether to schedule a debate.  Its latest guidance suggests that, if an MP promotes a debate and several indicate they will take part in a debate, there is a good chance it will be selected.  However, it is not automatic and each proposal has to be considered against others.  As the committee has emphasised, it has not been supplied with any additional time for debates on petitions.

This confirms the confusion that exists about petitions submitted via the Government e-petition site.  There needs to be greater clarity about the process and, if there are to be debates in the Commons triggered by petitions, then the whole process needs to be in the ownership of the House of Commons.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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3 Responses to The confusion continues…

  1. ladytizzy says:

    I’m still unhappy that MPs can use e-petitions as another route to be heard in the HoC. Surely the point is that ownership should be with petitioners not the HoC, even if rules need tightening?

  2. All perfectly correct.

    And one way the House – and through it, the public – can take ownership of a proper e-petitions process, as they have in the Scottish Parliament and elsewhere, is to contact the Backbench Business Committee on bbcom@parliament.uk, demanding that their current very limited ‘consultation exercise’ on the new arrangements be made a fully open and transparent public consultation. The ‘announcement’ of that so-called consultation was made deep in a statement last month on other matters:

    “The committee has also decided to carry out a consultation on ways of dealing with e-petitions to consider how the procedures of the House of Commons might need to adapt to accommodate debates on petitions most effectively. This will involve discussions with petitioners and campaign groups as well as parliamentary bodies.”

    The Committee next meets on Tues 11 October at 12:55. So contact them at once on bbcom@parliament.uk.

    The Committee also has an online application form for MPs (but presumably not the public) to suggest topics for backbench debates: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/backbench-business/application%20form.doc.

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