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The public can petition the House of Commons to make MPs aware of their opinion on an issue and to request action.

Petitioning is a formal process involving sending a written appeal to an MP, following a set format, which is then presented to the Commons by the MP. The text of the petition is published in Hansard. There is a procedure for petitions in the Lords but it is very rarely used.

Who petitions Parliament?

Anyone can petition Parliament. All that's needed is that the petition is properly set out and has the signature and address of at least one person.

What happens when the MP gets the petition?

Generally, MPs will present all petitions they receive from their constituents. However, MPs aren't compelled to present petitions and doing so does not imply that they support the action the petition is calling for.

Petitioning the House of Lords

A Member of the Lords may present petitions to the House of Lords - reading out whom the petition is from and what their main point is. However, the procedure is rarely used, and leads to no action.

Formal or informal presentation

MPs present petitions by either giving a short statement in the debating chamber of the House of Commons or by simply placing the petition in the Petition Bag (which hangs on the back of the Speaker's Chair).

After presentation

The Votes and Proceedings publication for the day the petition was presented will record:

  • The petition's subject matter.
  • Description of the petitioners.
  • Whether the petition was presented formally or informally.

The full text of the petition is printed in Hansard

A copy of the petition is sent to the appropriate government department, for example, a petition against smoking would be sent to the Department of Health. Government departments are expected to offer observations on all substantive petitions, these are also printed in Hansard.

Tracing petitions

Petitions can be traced by consulting the Journal of the House of Commons, which can be found online or in many larger libraries. Please contact the House of Commons Information Office or the Parliamentary Archives for older petitions

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Backbench Business Committee

The Backbench Business Committee consider any subject for debate, including those raised in e-petitions or national campaigns.

Lobbying and petitioning - what's the difference?

On a very simple level, the public lobby their MP or a Lord directly but petition either the House of Commons or House of Lords as a whole.

Lobbying is an attempt to influence the opinions of MPs and Lords on specific subjects.

Petitioning is making a request to the House of Commons to take action on a specific issue, which is presented to the House by an MP, often on behalf of their constituents. There is a procedure for petitions in the Lords but it is very rarely used.

Related internet links

In July 2011 the Governmentlaunched an e-petitions website:

It's in the bag!

All petitions, whether presented formally or informally in the Commons, are placed in a green bag that hangs behind the Speaker's Chair.

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