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A vital aspect of e-petitioning, if it is to resonate with the public, is that petitioners should be able to see the effect of their pressure. At the same time, the structure should not raise expectations unrealistically.
As well as petitions generally leading to a Government response, the Procedure Committee proposes that e-petitions, as with traditional petitions, should be sent to Select Committees, which may choose whether or not to consider them further, and that provision should be made for debating certain e-petitions in Westminster Hall on three occasions each year (Recommendations 10-11).
The Government consider that there is a case for going further than this. One of the most effective features of the model of petitioning in the Scottish Parliament is the provision for some petitioners to be able to give direct evidence to an appropriate committee, usually in Scotland the Petitions Committee itself. Capacity at Westminster is already very stretched and it would not be appropriate to set up a specific committee. The existing departmental Select Committees are also stretched but could do this as one of their core tasks. The Government consider that over the course of a year it would be reasonable for them each to devote one day to the taking of oral evidence on petitions sent to them which they themselves had sifted for importance. They could then support the petitioners if they felt it appropriate. The mechanics for all of this would require further consideration. The Government would welcome the views of the Liaison Committee on this proposal.
Selection in committee would be a matter for the committee concerned, while the mechanisms for selection of any debates in Westminster Hall would be for further consideration. In both cases, selection would need to take into account all relevant factors (including other House and committee business). But while sheer number of signatures alone could not be the sole determinantsince this would fail to take into account the importance of the subject or the extent to which it had already been considered by the Houseit would clearly be a significant factor.
The Procedure Committee report emphasises that introduction of a new system will take time, not least because of the need to commission and procure the relevant IT systems. It proposes that debate on the proposals should be informed by a fuller estimate of likely costs and also that if the principle is agreed then the House service should also set up a programme for briefing Members and Members staff on their roles under such a system. Importantly, the Committee notes that the new system will require a structure of political governance with a Committee given an oversight role to resolve detailed issues which will need deciding or refining. The Procedure Committee has indicated that it is itself prepared to undertake this role. It may have to report to the House from time to time, in an iterative process, to seek the endorsement of the House for the more high level issues (such as proposed rules of order for petitions).
Significant further work would therefore be needed before the system comes into operation. The Government agree with these conclusions (Recommendations 15-19).
The Government therefore envisage providing time later in the year for a debate on the Committees report and the proposed way forward. The debate would be on the basis of a Motion which would seek the Houses endorsement for the principle of e-petitioning on the basis set out in this statement, instruct the House service to begin the design and tendering process, and charge the Procedure Committee with oversight of the introduction of the system and with consideration of more detailed rules of order for petitions to make the system work and to report back to the House as necessary. The Committee would also identify areas in which Standing Order changes may be necessary to make the system work, which would be considered by the House nearer the time of introduction of the new system.
The Government hope that the House will endorse this way forward, allowing it to take a significant step forward in helping to promote better engagement with the public. The Government note that in due course the House of Lords may also wish to look at its own petitions procedures.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Listed below are the names of special advisers in post at 22 July 2008, the special advisers pay ranges for 2008-09, the number of special advisers in each pay band by Department and the total pay bill cost of special advisers for 2007-08.
All special advisers are appointed under terms and conditions set out in the Model Contract and Code of Conduct for Special Advisers to provide assistance on the full range of their appointing Ministers departmental responsibilities.
|Appointing Minister||Special Adviser in post|
|(1)In addition, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has appointed Andrew Maugham, David Pinto-Duschinsky and Geoffrey Spence to the Council of Economic Advisers.|
|1||2||3||4||Up to Scheme Ceiling|
|(1)Plus one unpaid adviser.|
(2)Includes the three Members of the Council of Economic Advisers who are employed on special adviser terms.
(3)This figure includes salary, severance pay and estimate of pension costs.
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