House of Commons Procedure and Practice

Second Edition, 2009

House of Commons Procedure and Practice - 22. Public Petitions - Contents and Introduction

22. Public Petitions

Photo of a low relief Architectural Sculpture entitled “Dominion Memorial” from the Heritage Collection in the Hall of Honour.

Figure 22.1  Petitions Presented to the House of Commons Since 1917



*    Form


Figure 22.2  Form of a Petition


Written, Typewritten or Printed on Paper of Usual Size

Alterations or Interlineations

Attachments, Appendices or Lengthy Extracts

Subject Matter Indicated on Every Sheet

Language, Wording and Style

*    Content

Matters Under the Authority of the House or the Federal Government

Requesting Expenditure of Public Funds

Signatures and Addresses

Committee Selection



*    Presentation During Routine Proceedings

*    Presentation by Filing with the Clerk of the House

*    Following Presentation

*    Copies of Petitions



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. Public 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, which indicates the number of petitions presented during each session from the Seventh Session of the Twelfth Parliament (1917) to the First Session of the Fortieth Parliament (2008).

Figure 22.1 Petitions Presented to the House of Commons Since 1917


Figure 22.1 Petitions Presented to the House of Commons Since 1917

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”.

[1] Redlich, J., The Procedure of the House of Commons: A Study of its History and Present Form, Vol. II, translated by A.E. Steinthal, New York: AMS Press, 1969 (reprint of 1908 ed.), p. 239.

[2] This may be attributed in part to the fact that the rules permit Members to initiate petitions, solicit signatures and make an oral presentation in the House; and in part to Members’ awareness that presenting large numbers of petitions serves not only to raise issues of public concern, but also to use time and so delay the business of the House (see note 7). The British House of Commons and the Australian House of Representatives have also experienced a similar renewal of interest in petitioning. See House of Representatives Practice, 5th ed., edited by I.C. Harris, Canberra: Department of the House of Representatives, 2005, pp. 612, 831‑3; May, T.E., Erskine May’s Treatise on The Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament, 21st ed., edited by C.J. Boulton, London: Butterworths, 1989, p. 761, note 3; May, 22nd ed., edited by Sir D. Limon and W.R. McKay, 1997, p. 816, note 2.

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