Riots: Benefits e-petition hits crucial 100,000 mark

image captionE-petitions have proven to be a popular innovation, with the website at times struggling to meet demand

An e-petition calling for rioters to lose their benefits has hit 100,000 signatures and become the first to be considered for a Commons debate.

It has dwarfed others on the government website, which has struggled to deal with the volume of people accessing it.

The petition has now been formally referred to a committee which will decide whether to hold a debate.

It comes as English councils say they will seek to evict social tenants found guilty of taking part in disorder.

The e-petitions website has been closed to address its technical problems and is due to re-open on Friday.

But the Cabinet Office, which runs it, has confirmed the e-petition submitted by Stephen Mains, saying "convicted London rioters should loose [sic] all benefits" has reached 100,000 signatures.

The threshold for the petition to be referred to the Commons backbench business committee, which can table debates, is 100,000.

Mr Mains's petition has attracted vast numbers of signatures in just a few days. Its nearest rival, a bid launched by Conservative MP Robert Halfon to cut the price of petrol, was well behind it with 24,000 signatures on Wednesday.

Mr Mains's petition argues: "No taxpayer should have to contribute to those who have destroyed property, stolen from their community and shown a disregard for the country that provides for them."

If the backbench committee agrees to table a Commons debate, there is no guarantee the law will be changed.

The committee's chairman, Labour MP Natascha Engel, quizzed Prime Minister David Cameron about whether action will be taken to respond to the petition.

'Raised expectations'

She told Mr Cameron: "One of the ways in which ordinary people are trying to get their voices heard is by going onto the government's new e-petitions website and signing a petition posted two days ago, asking for rioters to have their benefits withdrawn.

"How is the prime minister going to meet those raised expectations... that something will happen as a result of going onto a government sponsored website?"

Mr Cameron replied that the point of the e-petitions website, set up last week, was to "empower" people to make their voices heard on various topics.

"If it reaches a certain level of signatures it will be debated in this House whether we like it or not and I think that is an important way of empowering people."

He added: "I think there may be opportunities, possibly through the new criminal justice and sentencing legislation to make sure we are better at confiscating things from people when they commit crimes because we have got to look at all the ways we can of making sure our punishments are robust."

It comes as councils in Manchester, Nottingham and London say they will seek to evict social housing tenants who are convicted of violence locally and the government says it will consult on extending their powers, to allow them to punish those who travelled out of the area to take part.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said Mr Mains' e-petition had been formally referred to Ms Engel's committee, adding: "The e-petition is now eligible for consideration for debate by MPs and in the meantime, the government will respond to those who have signed the e-petition. It will remain on the site, and people will be able to continue adding their signatures.

"Under the procedures previously announced, it will be for the committee to decide whether an e-petition should be proposed for debate after the Commons returns from the summer recess."

Eviction proposal

Other popular e-petitions include the campaign to retain the ban on capital punishment, signed by 20,000, which began in response to a less popular campaign to bring it back.

The most popular of the petitions calling for the return of the death penalty has been signed by 11,000 people.

Asked about the e-petition, a spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said that, under current arrangements, "any benefit recipient who is convicted of an offence and is imprisoned, will lose their benefit entitlement".

Mr Cameron, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Deputy PM Nick Clegg have expressed sympathy with suggestions social tenants found to have been engaged in criminal activities should be evicted.

But Labour MP Kevin Barron warned evicting people from social housing in one area - only to see them rehoused in another "taking that unacceptable behaviour with them" would not "solve the problems".

Ministers have warned MPs not to "ignore" e-petitions although Leader of the House of Commons Sir George Young has suggested the threshold for signatures to prompt a debate may be raised if it is found to be too low.

Labour has said the petitions could lead to debates on "crazy ideas".

The system replaces the previous e-petitions pages on the Downing Street website, set up when Tony Blair was PM. The most popular of these, with more than 1.8 million people in support, opposed road pricing.

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