The following article submitted by Consultation Watch in the UK gives an update on 10 Downing's e-petitions initiative and related moves underway to institute a similar system at the local level. For more information on this subject see our previous related post. CLICK HERE. - Editor
Direct Democracy or Petition Sham?
As part of the Governance of Britain green paper, the Department for Communities and Local Government is now consulting on Local petitions and Calls for Action.
Since November 2006 members of the public have been able to start or sign online petitions at the 10 Downing Street website, which can run for up to 12 months and receive a Government response if signed by 200 or more people.
The Governance of Britain green paper committed the Government to considering means of petitioning Parliament and devising a mechanism which could lead to a debate in the House of Commons – but strangely this is not included within this consultation, with no explanation of why not or whether it will be in the future. To find out you may want to email Hazel Blears (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)
Instead, another issue, not even mentioned in the green paper is being consulted upon: petitions to local government.
The consultation document proposes that local authorities would have a duty to respond to petitions in much the same way as the 10 Downing Street system, if they relate to an issue in local government jurisdiction; are organised by a local person; and have a sufficient level of support.
However, as the consultation document admits, "many local authorities already deal with petitions systematically, scrupulously and fairly" – so it is not clear what difference this proposal would make – except for the minority of councils who perhaps do not respond formally to petitions (no examples are cited in the consultation document).
However, the document does mention examples of countries where petitions are a "trigger leading to electoral action, typically in the form of a referendum". One such example of this is Switzerland whereby any change to Swiss law can be subjected to a referendum if 50,000 people sign a petition opposing it within 100 days. Additionally, a referendum on a constitutional change can be initiated by 100,000 people signing a petition within 18 months.Campaigning organisations such as charities, trade unions and other NGOs may therefore wish to reply to this consultation suggesting the Swiss model.The deadline for responses is 20th March 2008.
- Raise public awareness of Government consultations;
- Encourage people to respond to consultations; and
- Share the expertise and insight of charities, trade unions and non-profit organisations.
- Providing links to active consultations on Government department websites;
- Featuring prominent consultations and highlighting their most important aspects; and
- Publishing consultation responses from charities, trade unions and non-profit organisations.
To learn more about Consultation Watch visit their website: http://www.consultationwatch.org.uk/default.asp
Also see this related link for more information on Downing Street's e-Petitions one year on from it's inception: http://newpolcom.rhul.ac.uk/past-events-appearances/2007/11/16/2008-01-30-the-prime-ministers-e-petitions-one-year-on.html