MPs 'ignore' riots e-petition in Westminster debate

The debate in full from BBC Democracy Live

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The subject of the first e-petition to prompt a Parliamentary debate has been ignored by MPs when the debate took place.

The online petition - signed by more than 240,000 people - called for those convicted of involvement in the summer riots to be stripped of their benefits.

The three-hour debate in Westminster Hall covered the wider response to the riots, but did not touch on benefits.

The second debate prompted by an e-petition is to be held next week.

During the hearing, MPs shared their views on the causes of the riots, the police response and the impact on their constituencies.

A brief exchange took place about Wandsworth Council, in London, serving a mother and her son with a notice evicting them from their council house after he was charged with looting.

Nick Raynsford, Labour MP, said eviction should not be used as a secondary means to punish people who should have already been punished by the law.

Conservative MP Gavin Barwell said when one person in a family was repeatedly antisocial, this could be considered a proportionate response.

The government introduced the e-petitions website this summer.

Any petitions gaining the support of more than 100,000 people can be considered for a full debate if an MP suggests it to the backbench business committee, which controls about 35 days a year of parliamentary time.

Public engagement

Following the riots in several English cities in August, the petition calling for convicted rioters to lose "all benefits" quickly became the first to reach the 100,000 threshold.

At present, anyone jailed automatically loses their benefits, but those sentenced to community punishments do not.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said he would consider changing that, but was criticised by two former home secretaries, Peter Lilley and David Blunkett, over the remarks.

Last month, House of Commons leader Sir George Young welcomed the backbench committee's decision to propose the two debates in Parliament, saying it demonstrated e-petitions could "better connect the public with Parliament".

Although the debate subject was broader than the e-petition, it had been widely expected that the idea would at least be raised.

Gavin Barwell, who proposed the debate at the backbench committee meeting last month, said he had planned to mention benefits in his opening speech, but ran out of time.

There has been some unhappiness among backbench MPs that they are being expected to hand over some of their few slots to hold Commons debates, so that debates can be held on subjects suggested by e-petitions posted on a government website.

A second such debate - on the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster - is due to be held next week. The petition demands the release of all cabinet papers relating to the disaster.

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