Government Moves Towards Bills By Crowdsourcing

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The government is pushing its scheme to allow successful online petitions to be debated as parliamentary bills

The coalition government has started to push its social responsibility aims by introducing plans to allow online petitions to supplement the parliamentary agenda.

Under the planned scheme, petitions that gain over 100,000 supporters, the government suggests, will be taken forward for debate in parliament. Details of the proposed scheme will be tackled later.

Consent Procedure To Be Navigated

The first step will be to gain the consent of parliament and other authorities, including the House of Commons Procedure Committee to see how debating time can be allotted to sanctioned petitions.

The plan takes the previous government’s initiative, steered under the prime ministership of Tony Blair, a step further. Under Labour, a section of the Number 10 website was dedicated to the publishing of petitions. If it attracted over 500 signatures, the petitioner would receive a response from the government but there was no undertaking to act on the results of any petition.

Under the original terms and conditions there was no specification that signatures should be obtained from British citizens. The new plan will be moderated to check that petitioners are on the electoral roll. How deep this verification process will be, to ensure that the publicly available electoral lists are not plundered by pressure groups illicitly adding false signatures, has not been disclosed.

Another change will be a tightening up of the rejection procedures for frivolous petitions. In the past, a motion to make reactionary TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson prime minister attracted 50,000 votes in August 2008. Officials responded with a suitably witty video response.

Although the petitioning scheme was outlined in the Conservative Party Manifesto, the Number10 petitioning pages have been closed since it was suspended prior to the last General Election. The new government stated that this was to allow the “digital champion” Martha Lane Fox to complete her review of potential reforms to the governmental online presence.

It could be some time before the petitioning system is put into place. A bill has to be passed through the Commons  and, for speed, this could be introduced as a private member’s bill but this would be easily blocked. Even if passed, it would then have to receive the assent of the House of Lords and resources committed to running the extension to the Direct.gov website.

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