By Jonathan Isaby
East Yorkshire MP and Procedure Committee chairman Greg Knight was keen to know what progress there was to report on the electronic petitioning of Parliament:
"Is he aware that as long ago as 2008, this House was promised a debate in Government time on the electronic petitioning of Parliament? It is now nearly 2011 and we are still waiting. When, oh when, can we debate e-petitions?"
Sir George Young indicated that the Government was keen on making this happen:
"He will know that there is a commitment in the coalition agreement to take the issue forward. I hope that my office will be in touch with his Select Committee shortly to indicate how we plan to bridge the gap between House and country by taking forward the agenda of petitions. The commitment is that when a petition reaches 100,000, it will become eligible for a debate in this House. I am anxious to make progress on that agenda."
So before too long, all you'll need is 99,999 friends to agree on an issue and you'll be able to get it debated in Parliament.
Other issues raised at Business Questions by Tory MPs today included:
Lib Dem Collective Responsibility
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Will the Leader of the House arrange for a clear statement to be made on ministerial collective responsibility? I appreciate that established conventions might need to be varied to accommodate a coalition Government, with the coalition partners voting differently in certain circumstances, but it surely cannot be right for Ministers, including the Chief Secretary to the Treasury today, to agonise publicly in newspapers about whether they are going to support the Government in the Division Lobby.
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. It is within his memory and mine that when we had a single-party Government in the 1970s collective responsibility was suspended during the referendum on whether we should stay in the European Community, so there are precedents within single-party Governments for suspending collective responsibility. We have a coalition Government, so some of the normal conventions are not strictly applicable. I draw his attention to section 21 of the coalition agreement, which says in respect of the incident to which I think he is referring, that “arrangements will be made to enable Liberal Democrat MPs to abstain in any vote.”
Protesters camping out in central London
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): Further to questions about the situation in Parliament square, is my right hon. Friend aware that there are now tents on the pavement outside at least one Government Department? Does he not think that that reflects very badly on the Government, the Greater London authority and the Metropolitan police? Why is this part of Westminster the only area in the whole United Kingdom where people can pitch a tent and not be moved on by the police immediately?
Sir George Young: The short answer is that that is because of a somewhat surprising decision—which, of course, one cannot criticise—made by a magistrate, who decided that that pavement was not a pavement because very few people used it. The good news for my hon. Friend is that we have now published the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which deals specifically with encampments on Parliament square. The measures include a power to allow local authorities to attach a power of seizure to byelaws, to allow them to deal promptly and effectively with the nuisances to which my hon. Friend has just referred.
Labour MP supporting student occupations
Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): Staying on the subject of higher education, may we also have a debate about Members of the House who are supporting direct action by students? Earlier, I notified the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) that I would be raising this matter. His Twitter feed this morning said: “Support Support The Occupations!….To all the student occupations I send a message of my support and solidarity.” Will my right hon. Friend join me in agreeing that we should be democratically debating the measures rather than taking part in the disruption of our higher education institutions?
Sir George Young: I entirely agree. All hon. Members should act responsibly and should not do anything that encourages unlawful action. I think I read that the hon. Member to whom my hon. Friend refers was going to have a conversation with the Opposition Chief Whip; his future can be safely dealt with by those authoritative hands.