The introduction of the coalition Government’s e-petitions system has been a successful improvement for public engagement with Parliament. However, it is clear that the public expect to be able to petition their Parliament and seek action from their Government. I want to work with the Procedure Committee, the Backbench Business Committee and interested Members from across the House to develop the current system into something that more fully meets that expectation.
I agree that reforms of this House should not have an adverse effect on the successful work of the Backbench Business Committee, which this coalition Government established. It may be possible, none the less, that there is a role for a Select Committee or Committees in examining petitions, taking evidence on petitions, seeking information from Government, and even recommending debates in Parliament. However, I envisage that it would remain for the Backbench Business Committee to consider and schedule debates.
Under the current system, the MP of a signatory to an e-petition is not made aware that a constituent’s signature has been added. Can reforms to the e-petition system take account of the importance of promoting direct engagement between the signatory and their elected representative?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Improving engagement with Parliament and politics must be the focus of any improved system. I am grateful to him for his suggestion on how we can achieve that. However, I alert him to the fact that more than 11 million signatures have been added to petitions in the two years or so since the Government’s e-petitions system was established. I am not sure that hon. Members would welcome an e-mail for each of those signatures, but I do agree that there are ways in which we can open up the data overall to help Members and their constituents to identify and work together on popular petitions.
My hon. Friend may not know this, but I have this week written to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), to set out the Government’s response to the Committee’s sixth report of the previous Session, which related to debates on Government e-petitions in Westminster Hall. I hope that we will shortly be able to bring forward a motion to extend the practice of opening up Westminster Hall for e-petitions until the end of this Parliament while we consider longer-term proposals for the petition system in this House.
The hon. Lady is right. I referred to the petition system advisedly—that is, not just the e-petition system. At the moment the e-petition system is working well and is a significant improvement on what happened in the past. The paper petition system in this House is somewhat anachronistic. What we need—I want to work with colleagues to make this happen—is a petition system that enables our constituents to petition their Parliament but also engages with Government to get a response from Government. The signal improvement, I hope, will be for this House to be able to use the petition system as a basis for demonstrating further improvements in the engagement of the House with the issues that matter to our constituents.