All authorities agree that the right of petitioning parliament for redress of grievances is acknowledged as a fundamental principle of the constitution. It has been uninterruptedly exercised from very early times and has had a profound effect in determining the main forms of parliamentary procedure.

SPEAKER GASPARD FAUTEUX

(Debates, June 18, 1947, pp. 4278–9)

Simply defined, a petition is a formal request to an authority for redress of a grievance. Petitions addressed to the House of Commons and presented to the House by its Members constitute one of the most direct means of communication between the people and Parliament. Certainly, it is among the most ancient; the act of petitioning has been described as “the oldest of Parliamentary forms, the fertile seed of all proceedings of the House of Commons”.1

Petitions today may be described as a vehicle for political input, a way of attempting to influence policy-making and legislation and also, judging by their continued popularity, a valued means of bringing public concerns to the attention of Parliament. Petitions also have their place among the tools which Members and Ministers can use to formulate public policy and to carry out their representative duties. In the early 1980s, after many years during which the presentation of petitions appeared to have fallen out of favour, a resurgence of interest occurred, which continues without abatement.2 This is illustrated by Figure 22.1, “Petitions Presented to the House of Commons Since 1917”, which indicates the number of petitions presented during each session from the Seventh Session of the Twelfth Parliament (1917) to the Second Session of the Forty-First Parliament (2013–15).

Figure 22.1 Petitions Presented to the House of Commons Since 1917

Parl. Sess. (Year)

Petitions

12-7 (1917) 2,788
13-1 (1918) 2
13-2 (1919) 364
13-3 (1919) 1
13-4 (1920) 6
13-5 (1921) 11
14-2 (1923) 3
14-3 (1924) 4
14-4 (1925) 5
15-1 (1926) 6
16-1 (1926-27) 32
16-2 (1928) 6
16-3 (1929) 584
16-4 (1930) 178
17-2 (1931) 5
17-3 (1932) 3
17-4 (1932-33) 9
17-5 (1934) 12
17-6 (1935) 3
18-1 (1936) 1
18-2 (1937) 3
18-3 (1938) 8
18-4 (1939) 10
18-5 (1939) 10
19-1 (1940) 2
19-2 (1940-42) 1
19-3 (1942-43) 1
19-5 (1944-45) 22
20-2 (1946) 2
20-3 (1947) 8
20-4 (1947-48) 1
20-5 (1949) 3
21-7 (1952-53) 3
22-2 (1955) 1
22-5 (1957) 1
25-1 (1962-63) 1
26-1 (1963) 1
26-2 (1964-65) 2
26-3 (1965) 3
28-2 (1969-70) 2
28-3 (1970-72) 2
28-4 (1972) 4
29-1 (1973-74) 4
29-2 (1974) 1
30-1 (1974-76) 21
30-2 (1976-77) 12
30-3 (1977-78) 7
30-4 (1978-79) 2
31-1 (1979) 3
32-2 (1983-84) 185
33-1 (1984-86) 3,899
33-2 (1986-88) 5,575
34-1 (1988-89) 16
34-2 (1989-91) 8,928
34-3 (1991-93) 5,282
35-1 (1994-96) 4,271
35-2 (1996-97) 2,361
36-1 (1997-99) 3,681
36-2 (1999-2000) 1,814
37-1 (2001-02) 890
37-2 (2002–03) 2,585
37-3 (2004) 930
38-1 (2004-05) 1,840
39-1 (2006-07) 1,804
39-2 (2007-08) 910
40-1 (2008) 52
40-2 (2009-10) 1,515
40-3 (2010-11) 1,745
41-1 (2011-13) 4,289
41-2 (2013-15) 6,225

This chapter will concern itself with public petitions, the current rules regarding their form, content and presentation, government responses to petitions, and the role and responsibilities of the Clerk of Petitions. Petitions for private bills are dealt with in Chapter 23, “Private Bills Practice”.