Muddying the waters

Lord Norton

Parliament is not government

I recently did a post on my own blog about the extent to which people confuse Parliament and Government and how this is compounded by the new e-petition system, under which people can submit petitions to a Government website and, if one attracts 100,000 or more signatures, it can be considered for debate in the House of Commons.  However, the body for deciding whether it is debated is a committee of the House, the Backbench Business Committee, and it has not been provided with any extra time to allocate for such debate and, as far as I am aware, was not given the task by the House of deciding whether such petitions should be considered. 

The Backbench Business Committee is understandably not pleased by how this has been organised and has now issued a statement, identifying its concerns with what has been done and how it intends to proceed:

“The Backbench Business Committee’s key concerns are:

  • The Government is responsible for giving time to the Backbench Business Committee, and the time available to us is very limited – less than one day a fortnight. The Government has not provided any additional time to debate e-petitions and our existing limited supply is already oversubscribed
  • The committee has no power to schedule debates unless some Members of Parliament come forward to tell us that they wish to take part in them. However the Government has not provided any way to link petitions to Members of Parliament who wish to sponsor them on the e-petitions site, or any advice to petitioners on what they might need to do. Unfortunately, this means that no Members of Parliament have yet come to ask us for a debate on an e-petition
  • We want to work to make the new e-petitions a successful way for people to trigger debates in Parliament

The Backbench Business Committee will:

  • publish advice on our website to help organisers of petitioners know how to take their case forward
  • continue to press the Government to provide specific time for debates on e-petitions so that there is an effective way for the public to engage with Parliament
  • hold individual and group meetings with campaign groups and organisers of e-petitions to discuss how best to get their issues on the agenda.”

The situation is not exactly satisfactory.  I am a great believer in the use of e-petitions, but it needs to be crystal clear as to whether one is petitioning Government or the House of Commons.  If one is petitioning the House of Commons, then it should be via a parliamentary – not a government – website and the House needs to have ownership of the process, including how petitions are then dealt with.  I have previously advocated a Petitions Committee, though the task could be fulfilled by the Backbench Business Committee.  The crucial point is that any system of petitioning has to be taken seriously by the House, which includes making the resources necessary available to ensure that issues are considered and people feel that petitioning has been worthwhile.   If people feel it has been a waste of time, then the situation is arguably worse than if no e-petitioning systm had been introduced.

9 comments for “Muddying the waters

  1. Dave H
    07/09/2011 at 7:02 pm

    I feel the need for a petition along the lines of:

    “The government should provide adequate Parliamentary time and resources to the Backbench Business Committee to discharge the duties given to that committee by the government”.

    Ideally there should be time limits on all of this, so that normally the committee would consider the petition within a month of it reaching the threshold for signatures and if a full debate is recommended, then that should be scheduled within the next month.

    Otherwise it’s all just cosmetic window dressing. At least under the old system we got a patronising email from No.10 explaining why we were wrong and they were right and that the government was going to carry on regardless.

  2. Len
    07/09/2011 at 9:10 pm

    Lord Norton, I have a (slightly) off topic question: When might the Goodlad reforms be put to a vote, because they’ve not yet come out of the Procedure Committee? As you know, that report recommended the Lords have its own Backbench Business Committee, and I wonder if they will adopt similar criteria for debate (IE, peers must suggest topics for them to be debated).

    I do hope that a Backbench Business Committee is created, and the sooner the better!

  3. Len
    07/09/2011 at 9:10 pm

    Lord Norton, do you know when might the Goodlad reforms be put to a vote, because they’ve not yet come out of the Procedure Committee? As you know, that report recommended the Lords have its own Backbench Business Committee, and I wonder if they will adopt similar criteria for debate (IE, peers must suggest topics for them to be debated).

    I do hope that a Backbench Business Committee is created, and the sooner the better!

  4. ladytizzy
    07/09/2011 at 10:44 pm

    The top-rated petition continues to gather more votes, but why? Once a petition has 100K signatures then to add to it is futile. Have I missed something?

  5. MilesJSD
    milesjsd
    07/09/2011 at 11:34 pm

    In the face of so many imminent Civilisational and Global Disasters as well as Local Difficulties, E-petitions will be just one more ineffectual drag.

    Already we have twice as many People on Earth than It can support, and plans locked-in to raise this lemminglike-genosuicidal numbers-rush over the extinction cliff-edge, to three-times what the Earth can support, by 2050;
    that’s if this present fast-diminishing Mother Earth is still up and breathing then.

    Evidently such governance matters are too complex and horrifying to be mentioned, let alone to be discussed publicly, and thereafter debated parliamentarily.

    For stronger democratisation, much more mature, quicker, and all-people-inclusive democratic channels and facilitations have to be legislated – keener, wider and quicker than anyone evidently has yet dreamed of.

    When a Disaster breaks upon us, it will be too late to deal with it democratically, and Martial Law is going to be necessitated.

    We really do not want to be spinning-out and wasting our precious peace-time on ineffectual band-aids and sandpits for ostrich-heads (with due respects), and time-and-energy procrastinations.

    E-petitions are another downwards-democracy dud idea; procrastinatory, too little, too late.

    I’ve never seen one; nor even had one emailed to me.

    I reckon that many of our comments donated to this Lords of the Blog e-site, should be collated and sorted, and called

    “Advices about our Needs, from the Citizenry to the Parliamente”:
    not “Petitions”.

    “Petitioning” carries a stigma under its skin, of forelock-tugging, and as “begging” for a “crust of bread please sir ?”.

    Democratise all of us.

    • maude elwes
      08/09/2011 at 10:35 am

      @Miles:

      And when nature takes its turn in trying to cull the overpopulation by some kind of pandemic plague, or two, scientists, who want big bucks, come up with some kind of ‘saviour’ pill or ‘vaccination’ to rapidly counter her tactics.

  6. maude elwes
    08/09/2011 at 10:41 am

    My question is, does the House ever take the public seriously? I think not. And so, this is why we have no faith in government.

    I went to friends soiree last night where this came up, and low and behold, all, without fail, felt thay had been betrayed by consecutive governments who denied their existence in democracy was needed in any way. And this was a rainbow group.

    There, referendum was hailed as the saviour of us all.

  7. Twm O'r Nant
    08/09/2011 at 4:40 pm

    Already we have twice as many People on Earth than It can support

    One tenth as many, but with what kinds of minds, trussed up in skyscraper cities?

  8. Gareth Howell
    10/09/2011 at 9:42 am

    if one attracts 100,000 or more signatures, it can be considered for debate in the House of Commons.

    And let it not pass without saying that Members could also conclude that debate by voting electronically online from wherever they please.

Comments are closed.