E-petitions: a collaborative system - Procedure Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

A "collaborative" system?

1.  We do not consider that it would be sensible to set up a separate House system. Rather, we believe that a better way for the House now to achieve the objective our predecessors set out of "reinforc[ing] [its] historic role as the proper and principal recipient of public petitions" will be for ownership of a joint system to be shared between the Government and a re-established Petitions Committee, on behalf of the House. (Paragraph 19)

Platform for a joint system

2.  A joint system should be based on the existing Government e-petition site, redesigned and rebranded to show that it is owned by the House and the Government. To emphasise the Parliamentary oversight of the system, and in line with the House's historic role as the principal recipient of public petitions, it should use the URL epetitions.parliament.uk. There should also be a clear link from the Parliament website www.parliament.uk to the e-petition site, including from the pages which explain the existing paper petitioning system. (Paragraph 20)

Role of the Committee

3.  We are persuaded that, in a jointly-owned system, there should be a House of Commons Petitions Committee charged with oversight of the e-petitioning system on behalf of the House, liaising with the Government. The Committee should also assume responsibility for oversight of the paper petitioning system in the House of Commons. (Paragraph 28)

Chairing and membership

4.  We consider that a committee charged with such responsibilities on behalf of the House should have a chair elected by the whole House and members elected by their parties, as with the majority of existing select committees. (Paragraph 30)

New committee, or allocate the responsibilities to an existing committee?

5.  Our preference is for a separate committee to be set up which can focus exclusively on the significant task of considering and responding to petitions. (Paragraph 33)

Engagement with petitioners and potential petitioners

6.  The potential is there, we believe, for the establishment of a new system overseen by a Petitions Committee to improve significantly the House's engagement with petitioners and prospective petitioners. (Paragraph 44)

Moderation of e-petitions

7.  We recommend that moderation of the jointly-owned system—that is, examination of e-petitions submitted to ensure that they comply with the terms and conditions of the site—should be carried out by Petitions Committee staff, advised as necessary by officials of Government departments. (Paragraph 49)

Threshold for publication

8.  We recommend that an e-petition be required to attract at least five signatures in addition to its creator before it will be submitted for moderation (and thereafter publication). (Paragraph 52)

Terms and conditions or the submission of an e-petition

9.  The terms and conditions of the site which we consider appropriate to a jointly-owned system are published in the Annex to this report. (Paragraph 53)

10.  Petitioners should be required to include a clear statement of the action which they want the Government, or the House, to take as a result of their petition. (Paragraph 54)

Duration on the site

11.  We recommend that the period for which a petition should be open for signature on the new site should be six months. (Paragraph 64)

Presentation to the House

12.  We recommend that, once it is closed for signature, the title of each e-petition be recorded in a list in the Votes and Proceedings (or elsewhere in the formal record of House proceedings), together with the number of signatures it has attracted. (Paragraph 65)

Debates on petitions

13.  We recommend that the Petitions Committee should assume responsibility from BBCom for determining debates on petitions in Westminster Hall. If the Petitions Committee decides that a petition deserves a debate on the floor of the House, it would take that request to the Backbench Business Committee, which could (but would not be obliged to) allocate backbench time for it. (Paragraph 68)

Paper petitions

14.  We have concluded that the rules and procedures for paper petitions should remain as they are. (Paragraph 72)

15.  We recommend that the Government should retain its practice of responding to every paper petition presented to the House. We recommend that the requirement that all paper petitions should be referred to the relevant select committee, and formally placed on their agenda, should be removed. (Paragraph 73)

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Prepared 4 December 2014