E-petitions website 'misleading'
The Government's e-petitions site is "misleading" people about their chances of influencing policy, MPs have said.
The website creates "unrealistically high" expectations for the impact of submissions and should be changed, according to the Commons Procedure Committee.
The e-petitions system was set up by the coalition last summer to make it easier for the public to make representations. When more than 100,000 signatures have been gathered, the House's Backbench Business Committee is notified and has the power to timetable a parliamentary debate.
So far discussions have been triggered on issues such as stripping benefits from rioters, disclosing official documents about the Hillsborough disaster and scrapping fuel duty rises.
In a report, the Procedure Committee said it welcomed the scheme's potential for engaging the public. It called for more parliamentary time to be allocated for debates on e-petitions, suggesting additional sessions could take place between 4.30pm and 7.30pm on Mondays in Westminster Hall.
However, the MPs also criticised the website for stating that e-petitions were "an easy way for you to influence government policy". They agreed with the chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Natascha Engel, that the wording was "deeply misleading".
"It is wrong for the Government to raise petitioners' expectations of the e-petitions process to unrealistically high levels," the report said. "E-petitions may be an easy way to raise awareness of an issue, to receive a response from the Government to a particular concern, or even to have a matter debated in Parliament. They are not, and should not be claimed to be, an easy way to change Government policy or legislation."
The committee proposed changing the site's wording to "an easy way for you to make sure your concerns are heard by Government and Parliament". They also voiced concerns about the statement that e-petitions collecting more than 100,000 signatures would be "eligible for debate in the House of Commons". Instead the line should say that when the threshold is reached "the Government will ask the Backbench Business Committee of the House of Commons to consider scheduling a debate on it in the House".
Responding to the report, Leader of the Commons Sir George Young said the system had been a "great success", adding: "More than three million people have signed e-petitions since the system was set up, and it has enabled the strong views of hundreds of thousands of them to be debated by MPs in the House of Commons. It is clear that several of these debates have had a real influence over Government policy.
"We welcome the report of the Procedure Committee as a valuable contribution towards improving the public's engagement with the work of the Commons. We will consider the detailed recommendations of the committee's report in that context, and issue a response in the usual way in due course."