X factor style voting introduced for Parliament


The government is to introduce legislative reforms that would allow the public to decide on bills before Parliament.

The move, likened to the television show X Factor, would bring to fruition a Conservative promise to give the public greater influence on parliamentary business.

According to the Guardian newspaper, ministers will ensure that the most popular petition on the government website Direct.gov.uk will be drafted as a bill. It is also planning to guarantee that petitions which reach a fixed level of support – most likely 100,000 signatures – will be guaranteed a Commons debate.

The move would allow members of the public an opportunity to gather popular support and have a real chance of it being debated in Parliament and enacted into law. The move could force the government to consider populist ideas such as the re-introduction of capital punishment.

Under the last government, the public was able to submit petitions via the Number 10 website. Petitions with more than 500 votes received a reply from the Government. However this was suspended ahead of the May 2010 general election and the service was not renewed by the Coalition Government. A message on the Number 10 website currently says: ‘The overall future of all HMG digital comms and engagement is bound into the Martha Lane Fox review, which will be announced imminently. The future of e-petitions will be part of that review’.

The Conservatives explicitly promised the measure in their 2010 manifesto: ‘People have been shut out of Westminster politics for too long. Having a single vote every four or five years is not good enough – we need to give people real control over how they are governed. So, with a Conservative government, any petition that secures 100,000 signatures will be eligible for formal debate in Parliament. The petition with the most signatures will enable members of the public to table a Bill eligible to be voted on in Parliament. And we will introduce a new Public Reading Stage for Bills to give the public an opportunity to comment on proposed legislation online.’

The Labour manifesto had also promised that the public would have the right to prompt debates through petitions: ‘The public will be given a new right to petition the House of Commons to trigger debates on issues of significant public concern’.

Prior to the election, the Liberal Democrat manifesto did not explicitly call for such reforms but did call for greater public participation in the development of a ‘citizen’s constitution’.

The e-petition reforms have the support of Downing Street strategists anxious to make politics more relevant to people's daily lives. The plans will require consultation inside parliament.