Committee opens consultation on its working methods
23 July 2015
The new Petitions Committee has agreed a provisional set of working methods explaining how it will consider petitions.
The working methods cover the following questions:
- When will the Committee consider each petition?
- How will the Committee decide which petitions will be debated?
- How will the Committee facilitate public engagement in debates?
- How will the Committee know whether MPs are interested in debating a petition?
- When will the Committee refer petitions to select committees?
- What else will the Committee do with petitions?
- Will the Committee consider petitions hosted on other e-petitions sites?
The Committee is now opening these proposals for consultation. It will consider the views it receives and publish the results of its consultation, including the responses it receives, in the autumn.
Until then, the Committee will operate along these provisional working methods.
How to respond
Please use our online system to upload your response. You are welcome to comment on all or just one of the Committees' proposed working methods and your response can be as long or short as you wish. Your response will need to be either a word document (doc, docx, rtf, txt ooxml or odt format), not PDF. Please contact us if you have any problems using the online system.
Deadline for responses: 30 September 2015
Background/ Focus of the consultation
The Procedure Committee has recently completed an extensive inquiry into the House's petitioning system. That work resulted in the creation of a new e-petitions system (at petition.parliament.uk) and of the Petitions Committee itself. The Procedure Committee's detailed proposals are set out in its report, E–petitions: a collaborative system.
This consultation does not seek to reopen the wider questions examined so recently by the House of Commons
Instead, the Petitions Committee would welcome views on the detail of the working methods it has proposed.
The Petitions Committee's proposed working methods
When will the Committee consider each petition?
Public (paper) petitions
The Committee will consider public (paper) petitions once they have received a response from the Government – unless they raise a very topical issue, or the Government has said that it is not going to respond.
The Committee will consider e-petitions as follows:
Considered when closed after 6 months (with discretion to consider earlier if necessary)
Considered when Government response received (with discretion to consider earlier if necessary)
Considered at next available meeting, whether the Government has responded or not
Groups of petitions
The Committee may, from time to time, take action on groups of petitions, if they are on similar or related subjects. This could include a mix of both e-petitions and public petitions.
How will the Committee decide which petitions will be debated?
House of Commons Westminster Hall Chamber
The Petitions Committee has the power to schedule a petition or petitions for debate in Westminster Hall on a Monday from 4.30pm, for up to three hours. The Committee will take the following factors into account when deciding which petitions should be debated in Westminster Hall:
- Number of signatures, with a presumption that a petition with 100,000 signatures or more will be debated unless:
- The subject has recently been debated or is likely to be debated in the near future
- The Committee (or another parliamentary or government body) has decided to pursue the issue in another way
- The subject is unsuitable for debate in Parliament
- Topicality, including the breadth of interest among MPs
- Whether the subject is likely to be debated in Parliament by other means
In practice, this means that most petitions with over 100,000 signatures will be debated – whether in the Committee's time in Westminster Hall or otherwise.
Other petitions, with fewer signatures, may be debated if they are topical and there is widespread support from MPs across the House for a debate.
Main House of Commons Chamber
The Committee will consider requesting time for debate in the Chamber from the Backbench Business Committee in the following circumstances:
- A petition (or group of petitions) has reached 100,000 signatures
- There is evidence of interest from a large number of MPs, on a cross-party basis (perhaps proved by a well-attended Westminster Hall debate)
- A clear point of debate has emerged (perhaps from a committee inquiry), which would be suitable for a substantive motion
- The subject is not likely to be debated by other means
Public engagement in debates
The Committee will do all it can to maximise the potential for petitioners and other members of the public to be involved with debates on petitions, including:
- giving plenty of notice in advance of debates, wherever possible;
- creating opportunities for petitioners and others to engage with MPs before debates take place, so that their views inform debate; and/or
- offering opportunities after debates for public discussion.
Are MPs interested in debating a petition?
The Petitions Committee will do the following to assess the level of support among MPs for a debate on a particular petition or petitions:
- Regular communications to MPs (perhaps jointly with the Backbench Business Committee) to alert them to e-petitions which the Committee is considering for debate
- Inviting MPs to indicate in writing their support for a debate
- If there is competition for time available, inviting MPs to attend the Committee in person and argue the case for a debate.
When will the Committee refer petitions to select committees?
The Committee will adopt the following approach to referring petitions to select committees:
- The Committee will refer a petition to a select committee if it is already inquiring into the subject of the petition, or is about to do so
- The Committee will consult the relevant select committee (informally or formally) before referring a petition, to find out whether the committee would be likely to take any action as a result of the referral
What else will the Committee do with petitions?
The Petitions Committee has the power to:
- take written evidence
- take oral evidence (at Westminster or elsewhere)
- go on fact-finding visits
- write to the Government or other public bodies (perhaps on the basis of evidence taken) to press for action or further explanation of policy decisions
- produce reports with recommendations to the Government.
The Committee will also be able to work informally.
The Committee will be flexible in the approaches it takes to its work on petitions, tailoring its response to the issues raised.
If the Committee looks into a petition in an area covered by another select committee, it will notify, and where appropriate consult, the Chair(s) of the relevant committee or committees before the Petitions Committee takes any evidence, written or oral, on the substance of a petition.
Will the Committee consider petitions hosted on other e-petitions sites?
The Committee will not consider e-petitions hosted on external websites, and nor will it consider archived petitions from epetitions.direct.gov.uk.
It would still be open to petitioners to approach MPs and ask them to take up their cause—for example, by approaching the Backbench Business Committee for time for debate.
The Committee may take petitions hosted on other sites into account when assessing the topicality of subjects proposed for debate.
Committee staff will give advice to members of the public about how they could raise these petitions in Parliament in other ways.
- Inquiry page: Petitions Committee working methods
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