In July 2011, the Government created a new website which enables people to create and sign e-petitions. The Government also decided that once a petition has been signed by 100,000 people, the Leader of the House would write to the Backbench Business Committee to inform the committee about the petition and to ask the committee to consider finding time for a debate on it.
The Backbench Business Committee believes the e-petitions site is a very welcome initiative which has the potential to provide a new way for people to make their views known to Parliament and to have them debated. However, the committee is concerned that some potential problems with the system need to be addressed in order to make it successful.
The Backbench Business Committee's key concerns are:
- The Government is responsible for giving time to the Backbench Business Committee, and the time available to us is very limited – less than one day a fortnight. The Government has not provided any additional time to debate e-petitions and our existing limited supply is already oversubscribed
- The committee has no power to schedule debates unless some Members of Parliament come forward to tell us that they wish to take part in them. However the Government has not provided any way to link petitions to Members of Parliament who wish to sponsor them on the e-petitions site, or any advice to petitioners on what they might need to do. Unfortunately, this means that no Members of Parliament have yet come to ask us for a debate on an e-petition
- We want to work to make the new e-petitions a successful way for people to trigger debates in Parliament
The Backbench Business Committee will:
- Publish advice on our website to help organisers of petitioners know how to take their case forward
- Continue to press the Government to provide specific time for debates on e-petitions so that there is an effective way for the public to engage with Parliament
- Hold individual and group meetings with campaign groups and organisers of e-petitions to discuss how best to get their issues on the agenda
Background to the committee
The Backbench Business Committee is a new committee responsible for choosing the business of the House on 35 days a year. It was recommended by the Wright Committee at the end of the last Parliament. The House has decided that these 35 days will be devoted to backbench business and that at least 27 of them will be debates in the main Chamber of the House of Commons, with the remainder to be taken in Westminster Hall. Members of the BBC were directly elected by the House to reflect party strengths. Other select committees are elected within parties rather than by the House itself. The chair was elected in a separate and contested election.