Public petitions to the House of Commons

A guide to presenting a public petition to the House of Commons is set out below. 

To be acceptable, a Public petition must conform to rules deriving from Resolutions and Standing Orders of the House of Commons.  The Clerk of Public petitions in the Journal Office, tel. (020) 7219 3310, fax (020) 7219 2269, is available to give advice to those drafting petitions and to Members planning to present them.

House of Commons Library Factsheet P7, Public petitions, gives further background information on the petitioning process.

Style and contents of a petition

1. A petition should be specifically and respectfully addressed to the House of Commons and should indicate clearly the origin of the petition and its author(s).

2. A petition should contain one or more paragraphs setting out the reasons why the petitioner(s) is/are petitioning the House.

3. A petition should contain a clear request to the House which is within its power to grant.

4. A petition should conclude with a short set phrase indicating the end of the effective part of the petition.

To ensure that the above four rules are met, petitioners are strongly advised to adopt one of these two styles:

Modern wording

Traditional wording

Details to be inserted

To the House of Commons.

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

-

The petition of ...

The Humble petition of ...

Name(s) or description(s) of the petitioner(s)

Declares that ...

Sheweth
That ...

Reasons why the petitioner(s) is (are) petitioning the House

The petitioner(s) therefore request(s) that the House of Commons ...

Wherefore your petitioner(s) pray(s) that your honourable House ...

Set out clearly what the petitioner(s) wish(es) the House to do (the request or "prayer").

And the petitioner(s) remain(s), etc.

And your petitioner(s), as in duty bound, will ever pray, &c.

This is a complete closing phrase. There is no need to insert anything instead of "etc.".

5. Every petition must be respectful, decorous and temperate in its language.

6. No application may be made for any grant of public money, except with the recommendation of the Crown, unless the petition requests a grant of money by Bill (Standing Order No. 48).

7. A petition may be handwritten, printed or typed, but there must be no erasures, deletions or interlineations in it. (petitions are no longer required to be handwritten.)

8. Every petition must be written in the English language, or be accompanied by a translation certified by the Member presenting it.

9. No letter, affidavit or other document may be attached to any Petition.

Signatures

10. Every petition must be signed by at least one person on the sheet containing the petition. The first signature should be written immediately below the petition.

11. If there are signatures on more than one sheet, the full text of the request or "prayer" to the House must be repeated at the head of one side of each sheet. Signatures may be written on either side of any sheet, including that on which the petition itself appears.

12. Every signature must be written upon a sheet upon which the petition or "prayer" appears, not pasted or otherwise transferred to it.

13. Every person signing a petition must place his or her address after his or her signature.

14. Every name appended to a petition must be accompanied by that person's signature or mark.

15. The petition of a corporation aggregate should be under its common seal, if it has one.

Presentation of petitions

16. A petition may be presented to the House only by a Member of Parliament, but a Member is not obliged to present a petition. A petition can be presented informally or formally, as explained below.

17. A Member cannot present a petition from himself or herself. Although any Member may petition the House, such a petition must be presented by another Member. This rule does not extend to cases in which a Member presents a petition which he or she has signed in a representative capacity as Chair of a local authority or of any public incorporated body.

Informal Presentation

18. At any time during the sitting of the House, a Member may drop a petition into the green bag behind the Speaker's Chair. The Member must sign his or her name at the top of the first page above the wording of the petition. If a petition received in this way does not conform to the rules, the Clerk of Public petitions will return it to the Member with an explanation as to why it is not in order and, if appropriate, suggested amendments. (To avoid this, a Member may have the petition checked by the Journal Office before dropping it in the bag.)

Formal Presentation (see Standing Orders Nos. 153 and 154)

19. A Member wishing to present a petition formally (on the floor of the House) should sign it at the top of the first page above the wording of the petition and then have it endorsed by the Journal Office as being in order. The Member should then, in person, notify the Journal Office of the intended day of presentation, at any time up to the rise of the House on the sitting day before he or she intends to present the petition. The Member's name and the title of the petition will then appear on the order paper for the day of presentation. Where notification is given in advance, the Member's name and the title of the petition will also appear on Future Business. The Member will then be called by the Speaker to present the petition immediately before the half-hour adjournment debate at the end of business.

20. The presenting Member rises and may make a brief statement as to whom the petition is from, what it concerns (defined in S.O. No. 153 as the "material allegations"), and the number of signatures attached, and then reads out the prayer (the section beginning "Wherefore your petitioner(s) pray that your honourable House ..." or "The petitioner(s) therefore request(s) that the House of Commons ..." to the end). The Chair has interrupted Members attempting to make a speech rather than a short statement and has directed them to present the petition forthwith and resume their seat (see HC Deb 2 November 1988 cols 1156-7). No other Member may speak on the presentation of a petition, except to raise a point of order.

21. After the petition has been read, the Member brings the petition directly from his or her place to the Table and gives it to the Clerk at the Table. The Clerk will read the title of the petition, as notified by the Member in the Journal Office. Once this has been done, the Member takes the petition and drops it in the green bag hanging behind the Speaker's Chair.

22. Alternatively, the presenting Member may ask the Clerk at the Table to read the whole petition. If this is done, the Member should not explain the petition as well (see HC Deb 23 January 1974 cols 1621-2, 22 January 1982 cols 526-8). A Member intending to ask the Clerk to read out a petition should inform the Journal Office when his or her name is entered on the list, and should ensure that the petition is fully legible, supplying a typed copy if necessary.

After presentation

23. The Votes and Proceedings for the day of presentation record the subject matter of the petition, a description of the petitioners and an indication as to whether it was presented formally or informally. The full text of the petition (whether presented formally or informally) is subsequently printed in Hansard and a copy is sent to the Member who presented it.

24.Under Standing Order No. 156 a copy of the petition, once printed, is sent to the appropriate Government department. Following a Resolution of the House on 25 October 2007, all substantive petitions should receive a response from the relevant Minister, in the form of an observation.* Any observations made by a Minister in reply are printed in Hansard and a copy is sent to the Member who presented the petition. Copies of petitions and observations are also sent to the relevant select committee of the House, which should put the petition onto its formal agenda.

April 2011

 

 

*On the 25th October 2007, the House of Commons endorsed, by resolution, the Government's response to the Procedure Committee's report on Public petitions and Early Day Motions (Government Response to the First Report of the Procedure Committee, Session 2006-07, on Public petitions and Early Day Motions: Cm 7193)