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The foibles of the epetition system in the UK

24 November, 2011
By Allison Orr

Last year the UK Government set up a new epetition system whereby anyone could upload a petition to the website, and if it received more than 100,000 votes it would be passed to the backbench business committee to decide whether or not to schedule a debate on the subject.

Not surprisingly, this has lead to some rather unusual petitions to be uploaded, such as “replace public sector with Smartphone App” or “tax bad rap music”.

Recently a petition reached the 100,000 threshold, when a petition calling for all those convicted of involvement in the summer riots be stripped of their benefits was signed by more than 240,000 people.  This prompted a debate in parliament, but while the wider response to the riots was discussed, the substantive issue of the petition was not addressed, leading to disappointment over the epetition system.

It remains unclear how the epetition system will work on an ongoing basis, particularly given that the website currently shows 5 petitions garnering the minimum number of signatures.  The backbench business committee, who is given the role of bringing petitions to the parliament, can only schedule 35 days in each parliamentary session, and has no control over when those days will be.  No extra time has been allocated to deal with epetitions, so this committee must continue with its current agenda plus schedule time for epetitions, how ever many there may be.

These problems are similar to the ones experienced when the Blair government introduced an epetition system in 2007.  Some of the petitions on that system were “getting Tony Blair to stand on his head and juggle ice cream” and “make Gold by Spandau Ballet the new national anthem”.  More seriously, a petition urging the PM to scrap the planned vehicle tracking and road pricing policy received more than a million votes, sparking a row in parliament.

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