Oral Answers to Questions — Leader of the House – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 9 February 2012.

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Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Conservative, Devizes 10:30, 9 February 2012

What recent assessment he has made of the Government’s e-petitions website.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

How many e-petitions have attracted more than 100,000 signatures.

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

In the six months since the launch of the site, more than 3.5 million signatures have been submitted to more than 11,000 published petitions. Those statistics underpin my view that e-petitions are connecting the Government and Parliament with a remarkable number and range of people. So far, eight e-petitions have passed the 100,000 signature threshold. They remain viewable on the site, including the Government response.

Photo of Claire Perry Claire Perry Conservative, Devizes

May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House for his opinion on the report from the Procedure Committee, which is chaired so ably by my right hon. Friend Mr Knight? The report suggests that e-petitions should be debated in Westminster Hall, which would be opened up so that we have more time for such debates. I welcome that proposal, but my constituents would be very concerned if they thought all e-petitions would be shuffled off to Westminster Hall. Will the Deputy Leader of the House reassure them and me that we will still have time to debate e-petitions on the Floor of the House?

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

I agree with the hon. Lady. It is important that the Backbench Business Committee can choose where it holds debates, including on the Floor of the House and in some cases on a substantive motion. Last year’s debate on the release of Hillsborough papers is a good example of just such scheduling of a debate that showed the House at its best.

The Committee should also continue to be able to decide that e-petitions are not appropriate for debate, or that they have already been considered, and not schedule them for debate. Members should be free to seek Adjournment debates on e-petitions if that is felt to be the best route. I note that there will be such a debate in Westminster Hall on 22 February relating to the e-petition on the death of Kevin Williams at Hillsborough.

Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy)

I am sure the Deputy Leader of the House has looked at the report of the Procedure Committee, of which I am a member. One issue that the report looks at is how expectations have been raised because the wording on the Government website suggests that every petition that gets more than 100,000 signatures will be debated on the Floor of the House. If the Committee comes up with an amended form of wording, will he undertake to look at it and to implement changes suggested by the Committee quickly?

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

The Government will respond in due course. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I generally support the thrust of the Committee’s report, but we will respond in the normal way, shortly after the Hansard Society seminar on e-petitions, which I welcome. That is due to take place on 6 March.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Is the Minister aware that many of us feel that the Government should be congratulated on introducing for the first time an e-petition system that can trigger a debate in Parliament? However, does he also agree that any new system needs examining, refining and improving in the light of experience? Because of that, will he try to secure a Government response to the Procedure Committee’s report as soon as possible, so that the House can debate this matter sooner rather than later?

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

I thank the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee for their work on this matter. No system in the world is incapable of refinement and improvement by looking at it over time and I am grateful for the points he makes. I did not think there was any doubt in what we have consistently said. We have said that e-petitions are eligible for debate once they reach the threshold, not that they will necessarily be debated. The system is working well, but the Procedure Committee has made some fair points on how we can better manage the process in the House. We will certainly respond to the Committee as soon as is appropriate.

Photo of Natascha Engel Natascha Engel Chair, Backbench Business Committee, Chair, Backbench Business Committee

The Procedure Committee report was not only excellent; it was done in record time to ensure that we could have a timely debate and to ensure that the e-petition system works as well as it possibly can. Will the Government ensure that their response to the Committee’s e-petitions report comes before 6 March, so that we can consider it in the Hansard Society seminar?

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

We will do our best. The seminar to which the hon. Lady refers will help to inform the work of the Procedure Committee. The results of the seminar plus the Government’s response will—I hope—enable something to be laid before the House that will improve how we deal with e-petitions. With co-ordination and co-operation from everybody involved, we will ensure we get the right response.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I think I am right in saying that virtually every e-petition a Member has brought to the Backbench Business Committee that has reached 100,000 signatures has been debated in one way or the other. The Government should be enormously congratulated on bringing the public in line with Parliament. The Leader of the House has not had enough praise for that. Without this system, we would not have had the EU referendum debate.

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

I am always grateful for praise and congratulation from the hon. Gentleman. I genuinely think the e-petition system has been a great improvement. The old Downing street e-petition system, under the previous Government, had no mechanism for questions ever to get on to the Floor of the House. The most memorable thing it ever produced was a suggestion that Jeremy Clarkson be Prime Minister. I think our system works an awful lot better.


The greatest number of signatures, 1.8 million, recorded on any individual petition at the old Downing Street e-petition system was the one against vehicle tracking and road-pricing. The Blair junta refused to openly admit their curtailment from this screaming voice of...

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