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MP says petition plan will give power to the people


Tuesday 4th January 2011 (Andrew Griffiths)

Allowing popular online petitions to be debated in Parliament ‘is about giving power to the people’, says Burton’s MP.

Andrew GriffithsAndrew Griffiths quoted the immortal words of television character Citizen Smith after the Government said ministers would seek agreement with House of Commons’ authorities to start giving petitions discussion time within a year.

“I think Parliament should be debating the issues the voters care about, and making the agenda of Parliament reflect local people’s concerns and issues is really very welcome,” said the Conservative, a member of the Commons’ Political and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee.

“I’ve used petitions myself to great effect. I’ve had ones like the Post Office campaign and the Bring it to Burton campaign to bring the FA’s national football centre to St George’s Park.

“I think using them is a great way of demonstrating people’s commitment to an issue.”

Reports suggest the Government intends to close the suspended e-petitions part of the Number 10 website and open a similar facility on the Directgov website.

This would be moderated scrupulously, with petitions checked for ‘eligibility’ and only those receiving most support, probably 100,000 signatures, debated.

Some suggestions could become formal propositions via the private member’s bill procedure, which would need an MP to back the measure.

“If 100,000 people or however many sign a petition, parties should be sitting up and taking notice and debating those issues on the floor of the House of Commons,” Mr Griffiths said.

“There’s got to be some kind of quality control. We would not want to waste valuable debating time on whether or not Simon Cowell should be knighted for his contribution to music.

“I think there’s a sensible way of filtering out the wacky and the mischievous to leave the relevant and the topical.”

Mr Griffiths rejected suggestions the measure was nothing more than democratic window dressing.

“If this was just something brought forward in isolation then it would not achieve what people hope,” he said.

“But if we combine it with the proposal to allow people to recall their MP, for instance, these sort of measures are about giving the voters, the people whose lives the actions of parliamentarians affect, more control and power.

“In the famous words of Citizen Smith, it’s about ‘power to the people’.”

Labour has suggested the plans will lead to MPs discussing ‘crazy ideas’, such as petitions asking for Jeremy Clarkson, the motoring journalist and former Repton School pupil, to be prime minister, and for Jedi and Darth Vader to be the country’s religions.

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