There are certain rules that a Public Petition must comply with in order for a Member to present it to the House.
These derive from Standing Orders (the written rules under which Parliament conducts its business) and Resolutions (decisions) of the House. If you would like some background material on Public Petitions, this is set out in an archived library note: Public Petitions
What should a Public Petition look like?
A Public Petition must:
- Address the House of Commons directly;
- Identify clearly the origin of the Petition and its signatories;
- Set out the reasons why the Petitioner(s) is/are petitioning the House;
- Make a clear request to the House which is within the House’s power to grant; and
- Use temperate and respectful language.
Public Petitions can be either handwritten or electronically word processed and should use the following structure, or similar (traditional wording is available upon request):
To the House of Commons.
The Petition of (brief description of Petitioner(s)),
Declares that (description of the problem/issue).
The Petitioner(s) therefore request(s)/ urge(s) the House of Commonsto (the request).
And the Petitioner(s) remain(s), etc.
Public Petitions which are presented to the House of Commons should:
- Be on a plain sheet of paper;
- Be in the English language, or if not in English be accompanied by a translation certified by a Member;
- Have no erasures, deletions or interlineations to them;
- Contain the full Petition text with signatures on the first sheet and just the request or “prayer” (the paragraph beginning ‘The Petitioners therefore request that’) with signatures on all subsequent pages; and
- Contain the names, original signatures (photocopies and electronic signatures are not permitted) and addresses of the Petitioners as stated at the beginning of the Petition.
How are Public Petitions presented to the House?
Only Members can present Public Petitions to the House, though they cannot present a Public Petition which they themselves have signed. Members are also under no obligation to present Public Petitions to the House.
- Informal: when the House is sitting a Member can drop a Public Petition in the green Petitions bag behind the Speaker’s Chair. Members need to sign the top of the Petition.
- Formal: Members can present Public Petitions on the floor of the House. This takes place just before the adjournment debate (a 30 minute backbench debate at the end of a sitting of the House) and requires Members to give notice by the rise of the House on the previous sitting day in the Journal Office. When presenting on the floor of the House the Member rises in his or her place and may make a statement of the parties from whom the Petition comes, the number of signatures attached to it and the material allegations contained in the Petition (but may not make a speech).
What happens after a Public Petition is presented to the House of Commons?
Regardless of how a Public Petition is presented to the House of Commons the journey it takes afterwards does not differ. Public Petitions are printed in Hansard (the official report of the proceedings of Parliament).
The text of the Public Petition is then sent to the Government department responsible for that area and the Select Committee that shadows that department. The Government’s observations are also printed in Hansard and once printed a copy is sent to the Member who presented the Public Petition and the relevant Select Committee.