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Volume 534: debated on Thursday 3 November 2011

2. How many e-petitions he expects to have attracted 100,000 signatures on the Government's e-petition website by the end of July 2012. (78162)

Since the launch of the site in July, five petitions have reached the threshold of 100,000 signatures, and three out of those five have already been allocated time for a debate. I am not able to predict precisely how many more petitions will reach the threshold by July next year, but the current rate demonstrates the significant interest and support that e-petitions have created.

There is, indeed, a significant interest. I am glad that the Backbench Business Committee has been able to schedule a debate on the FairFuelUK campaign’s petition later this month, and I look forward to a debate now that our campaign for financial education in schools has reached 100,000 signatures on the e-petitions site. Given that petitioners will naturally expect to secure a debate once they reach that threshold, will my hon. Friend keep under review the amount of time that is allotted to the Committee this year?

We have already made it clear that, in the light of the extended first Session of Parliament, the intention is to provide extra days for the Backbench Business Committee, which is doing a very good job of reflecting interests outside. The threshold is one of eligibility—making a petition eligible for debate. It is then for a Member of the House to take that forward, and for the Backbench Business Committee to decide whether it is a matter that has not been debated in some other form.

The substantive point is that when people outside the House are asked to sign a petition they expect it to be debated on the Floor of the House.

The Deputy Leader of the House says no, but many of my constituents believe that to be the case. If that is so, and it is the Government’s intention, will they make available such business in Government time, rather than relying on my colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee?

That was never our intention for the petition site. It is a mechanism for allowing members of the public to express an interest in a matter, and it is for the Backbench Business Committee, which has the time available, to consider that. If we find that there is a huge oversubscription, of course we will have to look at it, and I think the Procedure Committee will want to do that in due course. It makes sense to do so. However, we must not lose the capacity for the House properly to consider legislative business as it should, or to consider matters raised by hon. Members, which is also important.