The "Governance of Britain" Green Paper, which was published in July 2007, set out the Government's proposals for the next stages of constitutional renewal. A major theme running through the Green Paper is the importance of reinvigorating democracy. Active participation by as many people as possible is essential for a healthy democracy as it encourages a shared understanding, builds cohesion and instils confidence in the institutions and the people who are elected to represent us.
The Government recognise that the demands on our democracy are evolving. People are less engaged with the formal democratic process. Some, particularly disadvantaged groups and younger people, are increasingly unlikely to vote at elections. Others are channelling their political activity beyond voting and party politics to protest groups and single-issue campaigns. The Government want to address these challenges by increasing opportunities for people to participate in the decision-making process between elections and in ways that also encourage participation by those whose voices are not often heard.
Today I am publishing a discussion paper which sets out a proposed framework for the use of innovative engagement mechanisms by national government. The paper includes a range of proposals for the application of deliberative engagement methods—citizens' summits and juries—to inform the process of national policy making. Finally, there are proposals for a strengthened petitioning process for the House of Commons.
Involving the public in debates and decision-making on national issues can serve to reinforce and strengthen our democracy. But the Government are not suggesting that people should be asked to take the decisions they elect their MPs to make—Parliament should always have the final say on major national issues. We believe that, over time, these proposals will encourage greater involvement, provide people with opportunities to participate in collective debate on issues and lead to a greater understanding of the value of parliamentary democracy.
Both the "Empowerment" White Paper, which is also published today, and this proposed National Framework for Greater Citizen Engagement will increase opportunities for people to take part in decision-making—in their local communities and by influencing national Government. The Government are keen to gather views from Parliament and the public on the content of this discussion paper. Copies of the discussion paper have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The paper is also available on the Ministry of Justice website at: www.justice.gov.uk/publications/citizen-engagement.htm