By Matthew D'Arcy
An MEP has fired new criticisms at the government's e-petitions system just hours after she hand delivered a paper based petition to Downing Street with 100,000 signatures calling for a referendum on the UK leaving the European Union.
In an interview with Publicservice.co.uk, UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire said her widely supported paper petition showed the public were "sick and tired" of the argument dragging on, adding that it carried more weight than an e-petition in demonstrating the public's desire for a binding referendum on leaving the EU.
Recalling that 9.2 million people in the UK have never been online, Sinclaire said e-petitions, which are considered for parliamentary debate on reaching 100,000 signatures, excluded a "huge segment of society".
By comparison, she said her petition had collected views from 100,000 people across the country, with their names, addresses and postcodes, something she said was a "substantive achievement" compared to "clicking on a screen".
Natascha Engel, the Labour MP who chairs the Commons Backbench Business Committee told Publicservice.co.uk she would consider any petition, online or offline, that reached such a substantive level of public support. But she upheld earlier concerns that the government has still allocated no time in parliament for petition debates.
Engel did not however fully agree with Sinclaire's concern on exclusion and, although she did acknowledge that millions of people had never used the internet, she said "by the same token" millions of people did, and that this was a preferred way for many to interact with Parliament.
Other concerns over e-petitions were raised by UKIP's Sinclaire. She said she did not "trust" e-petitions, on the basis that "some clever programmer" was likely to attack the website at some point, just as other major government websites around the world had been hacked.
And as her committee now moves to examine how to deal with a number of teething problems in e-petitions, Engel concurred that security was a issue that needed to be addressed.