UK Politics

No 10 'will respond' to e-petitions sent to Labour

Nurses at Downing Street
This petition about nursing pay was handed to Number 10 in 1968

E-petitions sent to the previous Labour government will now be given a response, Number 10 has confirmed.

Downing Street had earlier stated that existing e-petitions to Gordon Brown's administration would not be carried forward or receive responses.

A review of the system is currently being carried out.

Number 10 now says it will respond to the e-petitions which had more than 500 signatures when the general election was called.

For many years, members of the public were able to hand petitions in at the door of Number 10 Downing Street.

The petitioners were often accompanied by their local MP and photographers to record the moment.

In November 2006, a new electronic system was brought in as a "modern parallel" and it soon became very popular.

The largest, calling for plans for a pay-as-you-drive road pricing system to be dropped, received almost two million signatures.

Online review

All petitions with more than 500 signatures were promised a government response.

When the new government came to power, it began a review of online services, including the e-petition system.

The Downing Street website made clear that existing e-petitions, submitted to the previous administration, would not be carried forward to the new administration as part of this process.

That left Charlotte Pell, whose petition had more than 1200 names on it, frustrated and feeling let-down.

"I felt disappointed, the government had missed an opportunity," she told BBC Radio 4.

"If a petition has thousands of signatures, it's a signal for government to have a look at it, dig deeper, and ask: 'why are these people saying this?'"

Mixed messages

Her argument is that her petition - calling for Professor John Seddon to be made "public services tsar" - is as relevant to this government as the previous one and so remains worthy of a response.

Charlotte Pell also accused the government of 'mixed messages', following the recent pledge from the Chancellor George Osborne to consult the public about where cuts should be made.

1200 people wanted John Seddon to be made 'public services tsar'

Her disquiet is echoed by Clive Handy, who began a petition which closed recently with backing from more than 17,000 people.

It called for the Battle of Britain memorial flight, which celebrates the sacrifice of those who flew during World War II, to be spared in any defence cuts.

"They're trying to have the 'big picture' and having everybody involved in public consultation, but in this case they haven't, they've cut it," he said, before adding: "We're not getting a public consultation."

There has though now been a change of heart from within Number 10, with a new form of words on the e-petitions page.

All petitions which had exceeded the 500 signature threshold as of 6 April 2010 will now get a response.

Charlotte Pell welcomed the about-turn, telling BBC Radio 4 that it was "great news", adding: "I'm sure all the other people will be pleased as well. It's good they recognised how we were disappointed - they have responded really well by changing it."

A new e-petitions system will be launched later in 2010.

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