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13 July 2007

A new petition?

By Mike Butcher

Apparently we will soon be able to petition Parliament electronically. That, at least, appears to be the implication of a small, almost unnoticed section of Gordon Brown’s 3 July speech last week. In it he said: “I also encourage this House to agree a new process for ensuring consideration of petitions from members of the public.”

Buried in a wide ranging parliamentary statement on constitutional reform, the statement was later explained by a spokesperson, who said a consultation would be held on setting a threshold figure of signatures at which a parliamentary debate would be triggered.

In other words, get – for example – a million people to sign up to an online petition and Parliament could find itself debating said issue.

Of course two things could happen here. Either real issues which excite passion will get debated – like pulling out of Iraq – or the most inane things which everyone agrees on – like stopping dogs fowling the pavement.

The Downing Street e-petitions site was set up to allow people to air whatever they liked, and remains a fascinating case-study in interaction with the electorate. But the initiative came from Number 10. Brown now seems to think Parliament should take the heat instead.

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Could this be be due to the fact that over 1.7m Britons signed an e-petition against pay-as-you-drive proposals, causing the former PM great embarrassment? Quite possibly.

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