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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007, 14:05 GMT 15:05 UK
E-petitions 'should prompt votes'
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The taskforce called for 'full-blooded entry' into online activity
Online petitions could be used to decide the subject of debates and votes in Parliament under a Tory government.

Tory leader David Cameron said this would show the public "what their elected representatives actually think about the issues that matter to them".

Earlier this year more than 1.7m people signed an anti-road pricing petition on the Downing Street website.

But unlike the Tory democracy taskforce suggestion, the Number 10 petitions do not have any link to Commons debates.

Instead those who signed the petition received an e-mail from Tony Blair setting out the government's thinking on road pricing.

Mr Cameron said: "I would like to see a system whereby, if enough people sign an online petition in favour of a particular motion, then a debate is held in Parliament, followed by a vote - so that the public know what their elected representatives actually think about the issues that matter to them."

TASKFORCE RECOMMENDATIONS
Enhance power of select committees to call witnesses and papers
Improve the publishing of select committee reports, with statements in the Commons
The prime minister should appear before the Liaison Committee on a quarterly basis
More serious examination of policy, rather than 'slanging matches' between MPs
Merge the Modernisation Committee with the Procedure Committee
Elect select committee chairmen by a secret ballot of the whole House, reducing the role of the whips
Make it easier for MPs to introduce and vote on non-party bills
Debate issues of urgent public concern in Parliament
MPs, not Downing Street, should be in charge of rules about what gets debated and when
Government should have looser control over Parliament's agenda
Enhance scrutiny of government finance, with prior justification required for spending decisions
No deals to be made in Europe without prior explanation in the UK Parliament

A Tory spokeswoman said a precise figure for the numbers of signatures needed to trigger a debate in Parliament had yet to be decided.

But she said there would be safeguards to prevent trivial issues that did not warrant debate - such as petitions calling for football team promotion - taking up Parliamentary time.

Petitions would be referred to Parliament's business committee, which would decide.

The democracy taskforce, headed by former chancellor Ken Clarke, also called for a "full-blooded entry into online activities" in a bid to spark public interest in Parliament.

Parliament already has a website, with live and archive coverage of the House of Commons and Lords and select committees available, MPs details, and records of hearings, debates and statements.

The taskforce said it did not blame the print media for their political coverage "diminishing relentlessly" because it reflected the "lack of public interest in the type of politics offered by Parliament at present".

It also calls for a "re-energising" of coverage of Parliament on TV and radio, saying that present broadcast rules were designed to avoid MPs being "travestied or distorted" and result in proceedings being relayed "somewhat stiffly".

Another suggestion was for a new service which would offer what it called "Radio Three politics" where politicians might have longer, "a good ten minutes", to have their say, with plenty of time for questions.

On the procedural side, Mr Clarke said Parliament should be "more relevant and more powerful" in deciding what was debated in the Commons and when.

His report called for select committees to have "US-style" powers to order witnesses to appear.

He also recommended greater scrutiny of spending and European Union decisions, and more grilling of the PM by MPs.

Mr Cameron said it was time to give Parliament "real teeth".

"Parliament is supposed to be the watchdog of the constitution. It's become more of a poodle under Blair. We need to give it real teeth once again," he said.

Mr Clarke was appointed by Mr Cameron in 2005 to look at the party's constitutional policies.

'More powerful'

In an interim report in March, he criticised what he called Prime Minister Tony Blair's "presidential" and "sofa-style" of government.

Speaking just before the report was released on Wednesday, he said: "After Blair, after [Gordon] Brown, we need the House of Commons to be more powerful again."

His report called for a business committee to be set up to control the parliamentary timetable, taking control from Downing St.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Parliament should control what it debates, when it debates, and should be able actually to debate for a time it wants current events at the time when things can be influenced."

The second most important aspect, according to Mr Clarke, was to make select committees more powerful.

He said chairmen should not be appointed by whips, but by secret ballot of MPs.

"[They should] not be ex-ministers being given a consolation prize."

As well as ordering people to appear, they should be able to command debates in the Commons "when they think there's a serious crisis that needs to be discussed, straightaway".

The report will not necessarily become party policy - it is designed to provide options for Mr Cameron when he draws up his next election manifesto, and to provoke debate.


SEE ALSO
Petition calls for murder review
26 Apr 07 |  Berkshire
Is e-democracy now a reality?
02 Mar 07 |  UK Politics
One million 'e-petition' the PM
30 Jan 07 |  UK Politics
Clarke targets 'sofa-style' Blair
27 Mar 07 |  UK Politics

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