New figures released indicate the government's introduction of online petitions has been a success.
The report comes just over a year after the e-petition website launched and as many as 6.4 million people have signed up in its inaugural 12 months. 36,000 petitions have so far been submitted, with an average of 12 people joining the service every minute, reports the BBC.
With voter apathy and political disillusionment an increasingly common story in the UK, the e-petitions website is designed to encourage public engagement. The service was established by the coalition after the expenses scandal, when the gap between the people and Parliament was deemed wider than ever.
If a petition attracts over 100,000 signatures it can be considered by MPs for debate in Parliament. So far, 10 petitions have reached this threshold and only one was not accepted for debate. That particular petition called for the government’s NHS reforms to be dropped, but was not taken further at the time because it was already being debated in Parliament.
The service attracted attention after the London riots last year, as 258,261 people signed a call for convicted rioters to lose all their benefits – in what proved to be the most popular petition to date.
Despite its popularity, some believe the service could go further in strengthening public involvement. “The introduction of the e-petitions system was a step in the right direction, and the government deserves credit for setting up the system quickly and cost-effectively,” said Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government programme, in a report on e-petitions. “But it is falling short of public and media expectations.
“If the House of Commons is to be responsible for responding to petitioners' concerns then it should take over the running of the system from the government. A new Petitions Committee should then respond to petitioners' concerns and properly engage them in the parliamentary process.”