E Petitions

E-petitions allow voters to raise issues which they believe politicians should consider. They are agenda setting, but, unlike a referendum or a plebiscite, they are not meant to decide policy. They represent a marriage of direct and representative democracy.

The original idea was that if a petition attracted 100,000 signatures, it would be considered for debate or dealt with by the Government. However, when a petition reaches a threshold, the government stated ‘it will be considered with a view to seeing whether the matter raised has already been debated or is already going to be debated in a different context, or whether the request has already been met by Government’. Also the debates tend to take place in the Grand Committee Room and not in House of Commons which reduces their status.

Since its inception in November 2006, the government’s e-petitions website has gathered over 8 million signatures for a wide variety of causes, from over 5 million unique email addresses. Among the causes that have most gripped the public imagination have been various attempts to pressure the government into reforming drug policy, including a campaign in 2015 to ‘Make the production, sale and use of cannabis legal,’ which gathered 236,995 signatures. Having easily reached the 100,000 signature threshold, the Petitions Committee were duty bound to organise a debate among MPs on the issue, which took place in October 2015. However, the debate itself was poorly attended despite the obvious public support, and proponents of reform widely criticised the government’s response.

Much of the criticism levelled at petitions seems to stem from the idea that they don’t make a difference, but simply allow armchair ‘slacktivists’ to feel like they’ve done their part without ever having to put any real effort into campaigning.

Improve Maternal Mortality Rates and Health Care for Black Women in the U.K.

The petition, which received over 187,000 signatures, states: “Black Women in the U.K. are 5 times more likely to die during pregnancy and after childbirth compared to White Women. We need more research done into why this is happening and recommendations to improve health care for Black Women as urgent action is needed to address this disparity.”

Unsuccessful e-petitions ( most are)