Procedure Committee

Session 2006-07 22 May 2007 No. 7

Publication of First Report


The House of Commons Procedure Committee has today published its First Report of Session 2006-07, on Public Petitions and Early Day Motions, HC 513.

Launching the report, the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, Rt Hon Greg Knight MP said€”

"For too long public petitions have existed in the parliamentary shadows. This is not surprising since successive Governments have failed to respond to a substantial proportion of them. They have the potential to play a key role in connecting Parliament with the public. Our report will help to bring them out into the light, so that they can fulfil that potential. We have recommended:

The Government should be obliged to respond to all petitions within a specified period. We recommend 2 months.

There should be a regular opportunity for debates on petitions

The texts of petitions and the responses to them should be published in Hansard

It should be much easier to find petitions on the parliamentary website

I can announce today that we are also in favour of introducing e-petitions. But we want to be sure that we get the arrangements and the systems right before we go live. So we are going to spend the coming months examining the practical and procedural implications in detail before we come forward with concrete proposals."

The Summary of the Report is as follows:

Public Petitions

In looking at the procedures for public petitions, we have chosen to build on the strengths of existing practice. We have therefore made a series of recommendations intended to make the procedures more effective and to make them more accessible to, and comprehensible by, the public. These recommendations include:

€A requirement on the Government to respond formally to all petitions within two months of their presentation;

€Publication of the texts of petitions and responses to them in Hansard;

€Easier access to petitions on the parliamentary website; and

€Opportunities for debates on petitions in Westminster Hall.

We have also expressed our support in principle for the introduction of an e-petitions system. We aim to come forward with a proposal for a worked-up and practicable system in due course.

As a consequence of these recommendations, we do not recommend that the link between petitioners and the Member (often their constituency Member) who presents the petition should be broken. Therefore we conclude that members of the public should not be able to petition Parliament directly. Neither do we recommend the establishment of a Petitions Committee.

Early Day Motions

Early Day Motions (EDMs) are frequently criticised, but they remain popular with Members and with the public. As with petitions they are an important means by which the House can engage with the public. In the face of a continuing increase in their numbers, we have considered whether the House should take steps to limit them. We have concluded, however, that the disadvantages of doing so would outweigh any benefit.

We have considered whether a procedure should be introduced to allow some EDMs to be debated. We are concerned that there is no opportunity for a backbench Member to hold a debate on a substantive motion and insist on a vote on it. But we do not believe that finding a means to debate EDMs is the best way to meet that concern. We urge the Modernisation Committee, which is currently looking at the role of backbenchers, to consider the introduction of a separate procedure to allow substantive motions tabled by backbenchers to be debated.

We recommend the continuation of the present arrangements for the printing of EDMs. Although we do not propose at this time that electronic tabling of EDMs should be introduced, we are considering issues relating to e-tabling in our inquiry into Written Parliamentary Questions and will return to this matter in the light of what we learn in that inquiry.

Copies of the Report may be purchased in The Stationery Office Bookshops or ordered from The Stationery Office by telephone (08457 023474).