Feeds

Gov justifies e-petitions as MPs mull upping debate threshold

100,000 online votes too small a barrier to cross

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

The Coalition government's e-petitions website has been defended by the team working on the Cabinet Office's digital-by-default agenda, after politicos considered upping the 100,000-votes-to-get-it-debated-in-the-Commons threshold.

In a post on the government digital service blog, Peter Herlihy - delivery manager for the GovUK corporate platform [warning: this project calls taxpayers customers] - said that it has now been more than 100 days since the e-petitions site landed.

"The service continues to be incredibly popular - on average 18 people have signed an e-petition every minute since the service started," said Herlihy.

He pointed out that media outlets have given such online petitions significant coverage when they came close to 100,000 signatures.

As backbench Labour MP Natascha Engel, speaking in the House of Commons last week, put it: "Many e-petitions are being started by national newspapers and, as a result, are breaching the 100,000 signature threshold in under a week."

In August, a flurry of frankly embarrassing pro-death sentence petitions, which followed a campaign by blogger Guido Fawkes and the Daily Mail, led to the site having a little lie down.

The Backbench Business Committee is, Engel argued, increasingly burdened with discussing whether or not Parliament should debate e-petitions that cross the 100,000 votes barrier.

"The fact that e-petitions are being passed on to the Backbench Business Committee means we are becoming an e-petitions committee, rather than a Backbench Business Committee," she grumbled.

Engel asked the Leader of the House, George Young, whether he would "consider as a matter of urgency... allocating time specifically for e-petitions in Westminster Hall, to give us some breathing space until the Procedure Committee makes its recommendations in a report on how to deal with e-petitions in the long run?"

Young batted away the MP's request.

"I believe e-petitions have been a success in building a bridge between people and Parliament and in ensuring that the House’s diet reflects the interests of those outside," he said.

"I welcome what the honourable lady’s committee has been able to do so far in finding time to debate e-petitions and I recognise that the success of e-petitions has increased pressure on it.

"We are committed to a review of the Backbench Business Committee, and concurrently there is a review of the calendar of the House. That is the right context in which to visit the issue she rightly raises of the increased pressure on her Committee to find time for debates."

Deputy Leader of the Commons David Heath had previously claimed that the committee of backbenchers does have the "time available" to mull over which e-petitions were worthy of a parliamentary debate.

Herlihy, in his blog post, quoted the Leader of the House of Commons' office, which said that six petitions had so far broken the 100,000 signatures barrier.

He added that one about the London riots and another on the Hillsborough disaster had already been debated in the House. A further two on fuel duty and Babar Ahmad were scheduled, and a debate based on an anti-immigration petition that received more than 120,000 signatures is expected to be added to the Commons' calendar in early 2012.

The final one outstanding is a petition about financial education in schools, which is waiting on an MP to approach the backbenchers' business committee at some point this month.

Head of GDS invites protest vote

Herlihy also highlighted some intriguing figures about traffic to the e-petitions site.

Daily visitor numbers fluctuate dramatically between 2,000 and 350,000, he noted. And around half of all petitions submitted to the site are rejected for violating the service's Ts&Cs. These include "duplication, defamation and relating to things the government can’t act on".

All of which presumably means that this, this and this won't be debated in Parliament anytime soon even if such outlandish petitions gain more than 100,000 signatures.

The e-petitions boss continued to justify the site's existence by adding that the White House had since launched a similar service, dubbed "We the People".

The US site received 12,000 petitions and collected 1.2 million signatures in the first month of its life, said Herlihy.

"What does this tell us?" he pondered. "Well, what it does make clear is that there is a real appetite for online petitioning and that the widespread use of social media can make them a powerful tool for engaging with governments."

But perhaps he's asking the wrong question, given that backbenchers are struggling to take e-petitions seriously. ®

Remote control for virtualized desktops

More from The Register

next story
Bladerunner sequel might actually be good. Harrison Ford is in it
Go ahead, you're all clear, kid... Sorry, wrong film
Euro Parliament VOTES to BREAK UP GOOGLE. Er, OK then
It CANNA do it, captain.They DON'T have the POWER!
Musicians sue UK.gov over 'zero pay' copyright fix
Everyone else in Europe compensates us - why can't you?
I'll be back (and forward): Hollywood's time travel tribulations
Quick, call the Time Cops to sort out this paradox!
Megaupload overlord Kim Dotcom: The US HAS RADICALISED ME!
Now my lawyers have bailed 'cos I'm 'OFFICIALLY' BROKE
Forget Hillary, HP's ex CARLY FIORINA 'wants to be next US Prez'
Former CEO has political ambitions again, according to Washington DC sources
prev story

Whitepapers

10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.