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Volume 532: debated on Thursday 8 September 2011

The Leader of the House’s office is constantly monitoring the effectiveness of the e-petitions site. Following its launch, the site now hosts more than 6,500 petitions, which have received more than 1.5 million signatures. This unprecedented interest in the site is a useful indicator of its effectiveness. For the first time, the e-petitions website is not just graffiti, but offers the public an effective route for engaging with Parliament.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that answer—I was going to ask him about the overall visitor numbers to the site and the number of petitions already hosted on there. Will he comment on the decision of the Backbench Business Committee about the most popular two petitions not being discussed until we reconvene in October?

I think it would be entirely improper for me to answer on behalf of the Backbench Business Committee, but let me make it clear that we have provided a way for the public to engage with Parliament. What the petitioners want, presumably, is for the topic they have raised either to be dealt with effectively by the Government or to be debated in due course by the House when the opportunity arises. The idea that when a petition reached the threshold there would be an immediate debate is not the purpose of the site, but it does mean that proper consideration is given to whether the matter has been debated or will be debated in another form or whether the Government have changed their policy to meet the concerns, which may be the case in relation to at least one of the petitions that has already reached the required threshold.

But does the Minister agree with the Daily Mail, which says that this amounts to an e-petition con? The Government said to the public, “If 100,000 of you sign one of these petitions, there’ll be a debate.” What discussion did the Government have with the Backbench Business Committee about how the time for those debates would be allocated?

May I caution the hon. Lady, first against reading the Daily Mail, and secondly against agreeing with what it says? The Government have never said that when a petition reaches the threshold it will have an automatic right of debate. It will be considered with a view to seeing whether the matter raised has already been debated or is already going to be debated in a different context or whether the request has already been met by the Government. If there is then a need to debate something that the public have registered as an interest, the Backbench Business Committee will respond to that request. That seems to me an entirely proper way of doing things and it is a huge improvement on the old No. 10 petition site on which the petitions went precisely nowhere.