Committee claims government enthusiasm for e-Petitions has “evaporated”

May 8, 2009 at 1:46 pm Leave a comment

A committee of MPs has said it is “disappointed” at the government does not appear to fully support a new scheme for online petitions.

Petitioning currently involves sending a written appeal to an MP who can then present it to the Commons, either by making a short statement or just placing it in the Petition Bag behind the Speaker’s chair in the Commons chamber.

The text of the petition is then published in Hansard, the Parliamentary record.

Last year the Procedure Committee published a Report on e-Petitions which recommended that the House of Commons adopt a system of e-petitions “to offer a simple, effective and transparent way for the public to tell the House and its Members about what matters to them and to indicate the levels of support for their concerns.”

In July 2008 the Government issued a response, accepting their recommendations.

“In December 2008 we received a letter from Chris Bryant MP, Deputy Leader of the House, indicating a significant shift in Government opinion with less support for an e-petitioning system as previously envisaged,” the committee reports.

“The Deputy Leader’s letter reiterated the Government belief that “the system you have proposed would both strengthen the traditional role of the House of Commons as the recipient of petitions and make the process more accessible for the public.”

“However, it went on to raise questions about the projected costs of the proposed scheme and asked us to “look at the options for lowering the expense of the House system, with the aim of producing a more cost-effective solution whilst establishing and maintaining a system in which Members and the public can have confidence.”

The Deputy Leader quoted an estimate of £500,000 for the set-up of the parliamentary system and £840,000 for annual running costs.

The committee said it is difficult to provide accurate estimates for the proposed system because “we are not aware of any other existing scheme of comparable scale and ambition.

“Uncertainties are created by the lack of experience or direct comparison by which to gauge the number of e-petitions likely to be submitted to and accepted by Parliament, which self-evidently would have a considerable impact on the running costs, if not necessarily on the set-up costs.

“One certainty, however, is that the system would involve significant expense in ensuring both that it was secure and that it worked efficiently from the first day of operation – essential factors in commanding the confidence of the public and of Members.

“Any reductions in costs would therefore have to be found largely in areas other than the development of the IT system.”

The committee concluded that a significant reduction in costs cannot be achieved without breaching the fundamental principles that petitions should be part of parliamentary proceedings and that constituency Members should be directly involved in the petitions procedure.

Greg Knight MP, The Chairman of the Procedure Committee, said:

“Last April we devised a system of e-petitions which offered a simple, effective and transparent way for the public to tell the House and its Members about what matters to them.

“The need for security and robustness means that such a system, if it is to be effective, is never going to be a cheap exercise.

“We are therefore very disappointed that the Government’s initial enthusiasm for e-petitions appears to have evaporated. We call upon the Government to think again on this issue.”

The public lobby their MP or a Lord directly but petition either the House of Commons or House of Lords as a whole, according to

Lobbying is an attempt to influence the opinions of MPs and Lords on specific subjects.

The procedure for petitions in the Lords is very rarely used.

Click here for more information about lobbying or petitioning the Commons.


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