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Petitions

– in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 20th January 2011.

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Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen 10:30 am, 20th January 2011

What recent progress he has made on the Government's plans to link petitions to debates in the House.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

What recent progress he has made on the Government's plans to link petitions to debates in the House.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

What recent progress he has made on the Government's plans to link petitions to debates in the House.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

As the Leader of the House has said, the Government will move the online petition system to the Directgov portal soon-certainly before the summer. Officials are now working on an effective verification system to ensure that petitions become a useful tool for engaging with the Government, in contrast to the gimmicky approach of the previous Government's No. 10 petition site. My briefing notes say that, at this point, I should use the pseudo-word "clicktivism", a neologism as ugly as it is unintelligible. I have no intention of associating myself with it.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He is, I know, aware that the rail line between Manchester and Clitheroe is in desperate need of improvement. If the requisite number of signatures were collected by a "clicktivism" or anything else, could it be debated in this House and, if so, what impact does he think it would have on Government policy?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

That is exactly the sort of issue that might well commend itself for a debate via the petition system. I commend my hon. Friend for his vigorous campaigning on the issue. Rather than wait for that to happen, he might like to pursue the option of having an Adjournment debate in order to debate the matter further.

Photo of Richard Ottaway Richard Ottaway Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

Can the Minister say what a "direct portal" is? As I understand it, petitions were made to No. 10, so I hope he is going to confirm that petitions will now go to the House of Commons and that the House of Commons will debate petitions to it, not to No. 10.

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

Well, the petitions will be to the House of Commons, but the Government's site will be used simply because it is there. The "Directgov" site is the common site for connexions via the internet to Government. I believe that the address is www.direct.gov.uk, so the hon. Gentleman might like to look at it and see whether it is a sensible portal to use-if he accepts the word "portal" at all.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

What will be the role of the Backbench Business Committee in government e-petitions?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

The Committee itself made it clear in its first special report that in determining what business should be taken, it would consider

"public petitions recently submitted to the House and petitions published on the Downing Street website-until such time as a system for electronic petitions to the House is implemented".

We very much welcome the Committee's continued interest in e-petitions as a source of debate, and we will work with it and with the Procedure Committee in making sure that we have a proper procedure for linking petitions to Parliament.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

I am very surprised that the Deputy Leader of the House has not followed the Scottish Parliament system for public petitions, given that that has been widely praised both by his predecessor and by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will he briefly outline why there is such a divergence between the 10-year-plus Scottish Parliament system and this system?

Photo of David Heath David Heath The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons

I do not think that there is a huge divergence. We looked at the Scottish system and at whether it was applicable. The Procedure Committee, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has also looked at the issue. We have the Directgov site in place, and we are keen for people to be able to put petitions before the House at the earliest opportunity-and this provides the earliest opportunity. As I said, I hope we can get it up and running before the summer. If the Procedure Committee has further views on how the system could be changed in the future, we would certainly be open to its suggestions.