The British Petition System
Petitions have a long history in Britain. For over a thousand years they have been a tool for citizens to try to address their grievances to the monarch or to the government. In 1689 the right to petition the King was even enshrined in the Bill of Rights.
The 19th century saw several famous examples of petitions in British history. For instance, in the 50 years before women received the vote in the UK, over 17,000 petitions calling for women to gain the vote were received by the House of Commons.
One in 1896 was signed by 257,000 women and was one of the largest petitions of the century. These petitions ensured that the issue of women’s suffrage was never off the political agenda, and they had a significant cumulative effect.
However, by the 21st century the number of petitions reaching government had dropped significantly. Then, in 2010, following an election promise a new petitions website that addressed petitions to the government and to parliament was set up.
Going forward, should a citizen wish to change the law or a government policy in the United Kingdom, the possibility exists to petition parliament online.
With 10,000 signatures on the website, petitions get a response from the government.
After 100,000 signatures, petitions are considered for debate in Parliament, and these petitions are almost always debated.
A Petitions Committee reviews all petitions. The Petitions Committee is set up by the House of Commons compromising Members of Parliament from government and opposition parties.
- The number of committee members from each political party is representative of the membership of the House of Commons as a whole.
- Petitions must call for a specific action from the UK Government or the House of Commons.
- Petitions must be about something that the Government or the House of Commons is directly responsible for.
- Petitions can disagree with the Government and can ask for it to change its policies. Petitions can be critical of the UK Government or Parliament.
From the Desk of “B”