MPs are considering moving e-petition debates out of the House of Commons debating chamber and over to Westminster Hall instead, in an attempt to prevent them being forced out of the debate schedule on time grounds.
Any move to axe e-petition debates from the main House of Commons debating chamber is likely to anger many organisers of petitions and their supporters. They may see Westminster Hall as "second rate", according to the parliamentary House of Commons Committee.
Nevertheless, it is that committee that has proposed the move, because it insisted the change would allow proper debating time.
All e-petitions that attract 100,000 signatures on the government's e-petition website are entitled to a debate in the House of Commons, but the committee, while welcoming the e-petition site, says there are "practical problems in the arrangements for debates".
It said: "Time in the chamber is finite and already under much pressure. A large number of debates in the chamber on matters raised by e-petitions would risk reducing the time available for scrutiny of policy and legislation, and would thereby reduce the ability of members to hold the government to account on behalf of their constituents."
As of early December 2011, the e-petition site hosted over 10,000 e-petitions, of which six had passed the 100,000 signature threshold, said the committee.
The committee's report recommends that Westminster Hall should be used on Mondays from 4.30pm to 7.30 pm to help address the need for e-petition debates. The sitting would take place only if the Backbench Business Committee had scheduled a debate on an e-petition.
The change should be introduced as "an experiment and reviewed after a year", said the procedure committee.
The report also recommends changes to the government's e-petitions website so that the information provided to petitioners is "clearer, fuller and more accurate".
Committee chair Greg Knight said: "The government's failure to provide extra time in the House of Commons for debates on e-petitions with over 100,000 signatures has been disappointing for petitioners and has caused difficulties for the Backbench Business Committee. So we have proposed a new three hour slot dedicated to debates on e-petitions."
Last December an online petition launched to pardon "the father of computing" Alan Turing for past convictions of gross indecency. The e-petition, which currently has over 21,000 signatures, calls on the government to posthumously pardon Turing and quash his conviction for gross indecency. The computer pioneer was convicted of the offence in 1952, when homosexual acts were illegal in the UK.