The government has just published details of the new House of Commons Petition Committee. Unlock Democracy has been calling for a genuinely deliberative petitions committee for some time to improve engagement with the public. I set out a more detailed case for a petitions committee here.
The number 10 petition site did a very good job of raising public expectations that they could influence the political system, but the reality was somewhat different. So while it is very welcome that the focus of the petition is Parliament and not the government, there are a number of issues the new committee will need to address if it is going to genuinely connect people and Parliament.
- How is it going to engage with people who don’t have access to the internet?
- Are there going to be public criteria about how the committee will decide which petitions are taken forward and which are not?
- Will the person who started the petition be able to communicate with the other people who sign the petition or can only the committee do that?
Will the committee be able to launch an inquiry or take evidence on the subject of the inquiry? For a petitions committee to genuinely engage with the public, they need to be clear about the possible outcomes. The process needs to be a dialogue, not parallel conversations.
Giving the committee the power to ask the lead petitioner for more information or refer the petition to another select committee that has expertise in that area are tentative steps in the right direction but there is still a long way to go. We await more details from the committee with interest.