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Petitions Committee

Volume 447: debated on Monday 12 June 2006

Like all hon. Members, the Leader of the House and I are keen to encourage greater public participation in our democracy. The Power report, “Parliament First” and the Modernisation Committee have made positive suggestions about making better use of public petitions. I am grateful to the Procedure Committee for devoting time and resources to the issue, and we look forward to being able to act on its findings.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. He obviously agrees with me that the Petitions Committee that has been set up in the Scottish Parliament has been shown to be in touch with the people, groups and professionals with petitions, which are vital to people. Will he continue to go down that road and ensure that he and the Leader of the House consider a petitions committee to try to engage the general public more in politics and the House?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend—the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee has been widely praised by people from all parties and those of no party. We recently made a change—some saw it as a landmark change—whereby petitions no longer need to be hand written but will be accepted in hard copy. I think that we can go a lot further than that.

I rather hope that we might. Certainly, the Public Petitions Committee in Scotland has been judged a great success—indeed, I believe that it is being emulated by the German Bundestag—so it is something that we should seriously consider. However, is there not a disjunction between what people are thinking at a certain time and want to put before Parliament, what Members want to put before Parliament, and what gets on to the Order Paper? Is there not a case not only for a petitions committee, but for finding a proper way to consider early day-motions signed by a great number of Members? For instance, early-day motion 1531 on Post Office accounts has been signed, as he knows, by more than half the membership of the House. Is there not a good case for putting that before the House in the form of a debate?

I certainly have no doubt that there is a disjuncture between what Liberal Democrat MPs may be doing and what the public think, and we are keen to find a mechanism that takes account of the public filling in petitions. I am keen to look at solutions to the issues that have been raised by us and in some of the reports that I have mentioned, such as the increased volume of petitions, as compared with those in the devolved Parliament in Scotland, and so on. I am sure that those obstacles can be overcome and I believe that we are at least united in wanting to ensure that the public have a better mechanism for being able to participate in discussions in the House. That is a way forward, and I look forward to the Procedure Committee coming up with some very solid recommendations that have all-party support.

I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for the helpful tone in which he is responding on this issue. Although I never thought that I would stand here and say it, I think that we can learn something from the Scottish Parliament in relation to a petitions committee. However, there is a real difference between what the many thousands of people, who often sign petitions and who work hard to get signatures on petitions, feel will happen as a result of bringing their views to the House and to the Government, and the way in which those petitions are handled. We need to find a way in which people’s views are taken more seriously by the Government and the House when they have gone to all that effort.

On a technical point, may we please—I know that the Procedure Committee is looking into the petitions issue—find a way to accept petitions by e-mail? Many people find it so strange that they cannot e-mail signatures on petitions.

I agree with the right hon. Member and I thank her for her constructive support for the proposals.