On Tuesday 27 October 2015 the Cross Party Group on Rare Diseases met in the Scottish Parliament. 24…
Last week we attended the launch event for the new House of Commons Petitions Committee. The Speaker, John Bercow MP, and the leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling MP, Ben Howlett MP and Paul Scully MP were there to launch the committee.
The Committee aims to engage more people in parliament by raising the issues that matter most to them. Petitions with the most public backing on the government’s petition site will be raised within parliament.
Primarily the purpose of this is to raise the profile of issues that are important, and that the public are concerned about, but that are low on the parliamentary and political agenda.
Sometimes the issues that gain traction out in the rest of the world do not penetrate the walls of Westminster. This disconnect can mean that no matter how successful your awareness raising campaigns are with the public, the people with the power to change things are unaware of the issue.
This is where the Petitions Committee, and the government’s petition site, could be useful to you as part of your campaigns work. We all know that petitions on non-governmental platforms can be really powerful in raising the profile of an issue with the general public. However, with the parliament and government's petitions site your petition, and campaigns, profile could be raised across the public, parliament and government.
The Petitions Committee will be coordinating what happens to petitions from the government site.
Set up a petition on the government site:
The Committee will only look at petitions from their own site. This, in part, is to make sure everyone signing the petition is a British Citizen or resident. It also means that signatures from paper petitions or petitions on other sites will not count towards the total number of signatories. To set up a petition you must have 5 signatories, at this point petitions are moderated. Petitions may be rejected at this stage if it is defamatory, regarding something currently going through the courts, or is a duplicate of something already on the site. Petitions can only stay in the site for up to 6 months.
To ensure your petition makes a big impact, you’ll need to have a really clear outcome that you want to achieve. The chair of the Committee recommended that this action should ideally be the title of your petition – for clarity’s sake if nothing else. You’ll need to keep in mind what can and cannot be achieved – for example, they do not have the power to call for a vote of no confidence in a politician.
If work is already happening in the Commons on your particular issue the Committee may decide not to hold a debate but will instead pass it on to another Committee already dealing with the issue, or take another action such as setting up an inquiry.
The most important thing about the Petitions Committee’s work for the rare and genetic conditions community seems to be their ability to use their own discretion. During the launch event they used the example of rare conditions to illustrate that where an issue is deemed by the Committee as being ‘important’ but has not managed to attract a large number of signatures for some reason – such as there being only a small population of people affected by a specific rare condition – then the Committee will still consider taking action.
The Committee team are keen to help and give advice to people setting up their petitions and can be contacted by email.
Whilst the government/parliament petition site, and the Petitions Committee, won’t be the perfect mechanism to reach all your campaign goals, if you want something to be looked at and debated in the Commons, this might be a good place to start. Especially since you don’t need extensive connections around Westminster, or even an MP to deliver the petition.
We are hopeful that this new Committee will be a useful tool for patient groups to raise their concerns in Parliament!
If you would like more information, or have questions about this work please contact our Policy and Communications Assistant, Beth.