HM Government e-petitions

The mySociety No 10 Petitions website ran from 2006 to 2010, and was perhaps the largest non-partisan democracy site by volume of users ever, with over 8m signatures from over 5m unique email addresses. According to my own records I signed 31 petitions on the site but since there was no system of user accounts it was not possible to view a list of petitions you had signed (I wrote to them in January 2010 about this but never received a response).

After the last general election when New Labour finally got the boot, the ConDem coalition suspended the No 10 petition site and announced that they were working on a replacement which has recently gone live under the name HM Government e-petitions. The headline feature of the new system is that any petition receiving more than 100,000 signature will be “eligible for debate in the House of Commons”.

Earlier today I came across a link to a petition on the new site asking to Allow the prescription of medicinal cannabis by doctors. This is something that I strongly support and the petition was well written by Peter Reynolds of CLEAR who I met in April at 420 London. I had no hesitation in signing up.

The first thing I noticed is that like the old system there is no way to create an account. Each time you sign a petition you have to enter your name and email address, confirm you are a UK citizen or resident, give your postal address, solve a CAPTCHA (provided by reCAPTCHA), tick a box if you want to receive email about the petition, tick a box to accept the terms and conditions and then click to sign – you then receive an email with a link to click in order to confirm your signature. There is no list of signatures available to view and if you can’t remember whether or not you have signed a particular petition there does not appear to be any way to find out (which is why I keep my own record of all petitions I sign). I am not the only one who is disappointed by the lack of accounts and Paul Smith created a petition to Have ‘accounts’ on epetition site which I also signed.

The terms and conditions state that petitions will be accepted and published providing they call on the government for a specific action, do not substantially duplicate an existing open e-petition, and meet further criteria below. There is clearly a problem with the system because (for example) there are many different petitions all calling for the return of capital punishment. The biggest one (Restore Capital Punishment, 15,319 signatures) was created by Paul Staines (the right-wing blogger also known as Guido Fawkes). Reassuringly there is an even bigger Petition to retain the ban on Capital Punishment which has 22,594 signatures including mine.

Looking through the list of petitions I decided to sign three more before calling it a day: Stop the Badger Cull, Legalise cannabis and UN Membership for and UK recognition of Palestine.

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