By Ian Dunt
MPs will probably have to debate the return of capital punishment as the first submissions from the government's e-petition scheme are published.
A call by right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes to bring back executions for those responsible for the deaths of children or on-duty police officers is expected to attain the necessary 100,000 signatures, although the e-petitions on the government website currently have only a few hundred backers.
Observers criticised the government for setting the website live only to see it repeatedly crash under the volume of visitors. Almost all recent public service websites have suffered the same fate, prompting questions about whether the government has a system for stress testing new online initiatives.
By mid-afternoon, the pro-death penalty petition had several hundred signatures but a surprise petition to retain the ban on capital punishment was significantly in the lead.
Leader of the House Sir George Young told the Daily Mail parliament should not avoid debating the issue, even though it is unlikely to recieve much support in Westminster.
"The [internet] site has been widely welcomed as a realistic way to revitalise public engagement in parliament," he wrote in the Daily Mail.
"But there have been some who have been concerned by some of the subjects which could end up being debated – for example, the restoration of capital punishment.
"The last time this was debated – during the passage of the Human Rights Act in 1998 – restoration was rejected by 158 votes. But if lots of people want parliament to do something which it rejects, then it is up to MPs to explain the reasons to their constituents. What else is parliament for?
"People have strong opinions, and it does not serve democracy well if we ignore them or pretend that their views do not exist."
It will be up to the cross-party backbench business committee will decide whether the demand is debated in the Commons.
A small group of Conservative MPs, including Philip Davies, Priti Patel, Andrew Turner and David Nuttall, have expressed their support for a change.
Any changeto the law would be hugely problematic politically, not least because it would trigger expulsion from the European Union and force the UK to opt out of the European Convention of Human Rights.
However, regular polls have found that a majority of British citizens support the death penalty and would have it reinstated for serious crimes.
By Ian Dunt