A guide for those who work for an MP
Updated: 14 March 2009
Petitioning 10 Downing Street can be a simple and effective way of publicising a cause. There are two ways of doing it – by post/delivery to 10 Downing Street or in the form of an internet petition. When choosing, bear in mind the purpose of your petition. If you want to get local press coverage, perhaps delivering the petition is preferable, as your local newspaper will want a picture to accompany the story. On the other hand – if you’re after something ‘quick and dirty’ – an e-petition can drum up a lot of interest, but remember that many of your target audience may not have internet access.
Presenting a petition
Presenting a petition to 10 Downing Street can provide an excellent photo opportunity and highlight a campaign in a way that could be attractive to your local press. It’s also a relatively simple thing to organise.
- In the first instance, all petition requests go to have to go to the Downing Street Liaison Office on tel. 020 7321 8165 where all the details will be arranged. The Prime Minister never meets petitioners – even if they are cute children or war veterans.
- Petitions are available 365 days a year, Monday to Sunday 0900 – 1800hrs, excluding Tuesday and Wednesday mornings up until 1230hrs (these might change if alterations are made to PMQ’s or Cabinet days etc and priority is always afforded to matters of State).
- The Police will send you a form to complete and return to them. They need at least five working days from receipt of the information on the forms, to make the necessary arrangements with Downing Street.
- Up to six petitioners may come in a group but you will need to give their names to the Police in advance. MPs and Lords do not need to register in advance and are not included in the six.
- Time slots for delivering petitions are allocated by the Police, so you will need to ask them which times are available. The Police have a lot of people to accommodate, so if your desired time slot is not available, please be flexible. The earlier you apply, the more chance you have of getting the time you want.
- Any journalists or photographers who wish to attend should be properly NUJ accredited and will be counted in addition to the six petitioners allowed.
- If the cause is worthwhile, try to get your MP into the picture.
- Remember, your constituents have probably come a long way to petition the Prime Minister. If you can, give them a short tour of the Palace and buy them a drink in the Terrace Cafeteria. Make them feel they have had a day out!
There are over 6,000 petitions on the Number 10 website on a wide variety of topics. Some are on serious and urgent subjects and others are simply people having a moan, though all petitions must clearly state what action you wish the Prime Minister or government to take. Some petitions call for realistic changes, others are rather more (to put it politely) ambitious. Currently there are petitions calling on the Prime Minister to ‘abolish boarding schools‘, ‘move Christmas to the 29th of February‘, ‘visit a small market town at 2am and see the effects of the government’s new licensing laws for himself‘ and of course, to simply ‘resign‘ (several on this theme).
To set up an e-petition, go to http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/. You can search the existing petitions to see if anyone has petitioned on the same topic, which you might like to be aware of.
To create your petition, you need to give your name, organisation, address, email address, and the title and text of your petition. You will also be asked to give a short, one-word name for your petition. This will be used to give your petition a unique URL that you can use to publicise it. You will then need to enter a date you want to petition to start from and to finish. The site can host a petition for up to 12 months, if you’re working on a long term campaign this might be useful. Most of the time though, a month or two should be adequate, as long as you put in the leg work to encourage people to sign it.
Once you’ve submitted your petition, you will receive an email asking you to click a link to confirm. Your proposed petition will then be delivered to the Downing Street inbox.
Officials at Downing Street will check your petition to make sure that it meets the basic requirements set out in their acceptable use policy and the Civil Service code. Basically, you can’t include party political content, anything libellous, false or defamatory, information that is sub judice, confidential or sensitive material, promotions for products, services or organisations, URLs, names of public body officials or their family members or bad or offensive language.
If Downing Street can’t accept the petition, they’ll write to you to explain why. You can the edit and resubmit your petition. Once it’s approved, you’ll be emailed and informed – usually within five working days.
Once your petition is live, you will be able to publicise the URL you chose when you created your petition, and anyone will be able to come to the website and sign it. They will be asked to give their name and address and an email address that can be verified. The system is designed to identify duplicate names and addresses, and will not allow someone to sign a petition more than once. Anyone signing a petition will be sent an email asking them to click a link to confirm that they have signed the petition. Once they have done this, their name will be added to the petition.
Your petition will show the total number of signatures received. It will also display the names of signatories, unless they have opted not to be shown.
When a serious petition closes, usually provided there are 200 signatures or more, officials at Downing Street will ensure you get a response to the issues you raise. Depending on the nature of the petition, this may be from the Prime Minister, or he may ask one of his Ministers or officials to respond.
Downing Street will email the petition organiser and everyone who has signed the petition via the website giving details of the Government’s response.