E-petitions: a collaborative system - Procedure Committee Contents

5  Conclusion

78. The then Clerk of the House, Sir Robert Rogers, began his evidence to us by placing petitioning the House in its historical perspective, noting that the concept of petitioning for redress of grievance was "there in the earliest days and […] is at the heart of the petitioning process we have now".[63] He went on to emphasise its continuing importance, telling us

    I think it is highly relevant and, indeed, in many ways central to the sort of business that Parliament should be doing. This House is the central institution in our democracy. It is owned not by its Members, I would suggest, but by the people whom its Members serve, and it seems to me of fundamental importance that our citizens have a way of bringing their issues to Parliament directly.[64]

79. Dr Ruth Fox of the Hansard Society developed that thought by placing petitioning into the modern context:

    I would simply add from our "Audit of Political Engagement"—which many of you will be familiar with—that petitioning is the third highest form of participation that people say they are most likely to do, after voting and contacting an elected representative. Support for both e-petitioning and paper petitions is relatively high compared to other forms of activity and, therefore, that reflects the desire and demand. Petitioning is an ancient right and e-petitions are simply the technology to facilitate that right in the modern day.[65]

80. Our report on Debates on Government e-petitions noted that the e-petition scheme introduced by the Government had proved very popular with the public, and warmly welcomed the level of public interest. Nonetheless it also noted the view of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Natascha Engel, that "a lot of the problems that have arisen [in the interface between that scheme and the work of the House] were perfectly foreseeable and had there been a debate, and perhaps even a vote, they would have been highlighted". We regretted that the Government did not see fit to refer its proposals for its e-petitions system to us or to place its plans formally before the House for debate and decision before the scheme was introduced.[66]

81. By bringing forward the motion which was debated and passed on 8 May the Government has corrected that error. We have now had the opportunity, working with the Government, to develop an e-petition system which can meet the needs of both the executive and the legislature—but more importantly, also of petitioners themselves. The proposals we set out in this report will enable the public to petition the House and press for action from Government; they will establish a Petitions Committee which can consider and respond to their concerns; and they will improve the support and advice which is available for those who wish to petition the House and Government. They have the potential to bring about a significant enhancement of the relationship between the petitioning public and their elected representatives, and we commend them to the House.

63   Q2 Back

64   Q3 Back

65   Q23 Back

66   Debates on Government e-Petitions, para 2. Back

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Prepared 4 December 2014