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Parliament ponders the weight of e-petitions

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A House of Commons committee meets tomorrow to gather evidence on the wisdom of giving electronic petitions the same status as paper petitions.

The House of Commons Procedure Committee will gather to hear evidence tomorrow afternoon from Tom Steinberg, founder of mySociety and the man behind the Prime Minister's e-petitions site, and digital media adviser Tom Loosemore. A further evidence session will take place on 30 January.

In line with the spirit of the inquiry, the committee has set up an e-consultation on the issue of e-petitions, though to date the public doesn't seem to have leapt into this brave new world. At the time of writing there are a paltry nine posts on three subjects.

One poster complains about their experience of the e-petitions run by the Prime Minister's office.

Poster "Perspective Vortex" said that at the end of the consultation period the government emailed everyone who had signed up opposing replacement of Trident nuclear missiles with a message in support of government policy.

The poster explained: "In essence, my petition was used to create a mailing list to assist the government in lobbying the public; I consider myself to have been duped into assisting interest groups opposed to my petition... I consider the e-petitioning system to be a mendacious gimmick with the overall effect of generating political disengagement and cynicism."

10 Downing Street's e-petitions site launched in November 2006 and is still in beta, but has at least gained public support - 41,000 people signed up recently to make Jeremy Clarkson Prime Minister. The Scottish Parliament and several local authorities have also experimented with e-petitions.

To put your views across you can go to the committee forum here.

Paper petitions can be presented formally by a Member of Parliament during an adjournment debate. Petitions can also be presented informally by dropping them in a green bag behind the Speaker's Chair. ®

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