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Point of Order

Volume 744: debated on Tuesday 23 January 2024

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would appreciate your advice on what can be done in relation to the poor performance of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in responding to e-petitions. It has been agreed that the Government will provide a response to e-petitions that receive at least 10,000 signatures within no more than 21 days, but an e-petition calling on the Government to take the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill through this House has been waiting for a response for more than 100 days and is now over 13 weeks late.

I wrote to the Environment Secretary on 28 November to highlight the delay in responding, and to ask for a response to this petition and an explanation for the delay, but I have not received a reply to that letter. This is not the first such letter I have had to write to the Environment Secretary about late responses to e-petitions. In the last year, the Petitions Committee has had to write to the Environment Secretary on nine occasions regarding significantly overdue Government responses. It is critical that petitioners, who are members of the public, get responses to their petitions in the agreed timeframes, and a failure to do so shows a lack of respect for the petitioning process.

Madam Deputy Speaker, can you advise on how I can ensure that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responds to e-petitions in a timely fashion?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me notice of it. The Committee she chairs is entitled to receive a timely response to petitions and, just as importantly, so are members of the public who have signed them. I am sure that she was entirely correct to raise this matter and that Members will be concerned about it. She is lucky that the Leader of the House happens to be here. I sense that she might want to say something in response, because I have no power to compel the Secretary of State to reply to the hon. Lady’s correspondence. As I say, I am sure that we may see a response from the Leader of the House, so perhaps it would be most effective for me to allow her to make a brief comment.

I am very happy to do so, Madam Deputy Speaker. As the hon. Lady knows, we do a lot to ensure that Departments are adhering to their obligations to this place. That takes the form of training, and of calling in Ministers and permanent secretaries in certain cases, and of course Members of this House can raise any such issues at business questions. I hope that Members know that I always respond to those questions and always take their requests and comments seriously. I will ensure that the hon. Lady’s point is followed up with the Department and that her office receives an explanation and, I hope, a swift answer.

I thank the Leader of the House for that. I am sure it is extremely helpful, but no doubt the hon. Lady will come back if problems persist, as I am sure that the Speaker would be concerned to hear about these delays.

Bill Presented

Children Not in School (National Register and Support) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Bridget Phillipson, supported by Catherine McKinnell, presented a Bill to provide for a national register of children who are not pupils at any school; to require local authorities to provide data about such children in their area for the purpose of maintaining that register; to make provision about the support that local authorities provide to such children; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Wednesday 7 February, and to be printed (Bill 149).