In a written ministerial statement, Leader of the House, the Rt. Hon. Andrew Lansley announced that any e-petition which received 10,000 or more signatures would receive a response from the Government:
Once an e-petition has passed 10 000 signatures, departments will provide a response that will appear on the website and be e-mailed to all signatories who opted-in to receive updates on that petition. Responses will include a statement of the Government’s policy on the issue, and details of any relevant Parliamentary processes that are ongoing.
All e-petitions currently open for signature on the site, which have more than 10 000 signatures, will receive a response from departments; we expect most of these to be published before the House returns from the Conference recess. Responses to e-petitions that subsequently pass the 10 000 signature threshold will be published on a rolling basis on the relevant page of http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk
Until now, there has been no formal obligation on government departments to respond directly to e-petitions (or paper petitions for that matter). Petitions which garnered 100,000 or more signatures were referred to the Backbench Business Committee for consideration for debate, but they represented a fraction of the e-petitions on the site.
In the House of Commons, during questions on House Business, the chair of the Backbench Business Committee, Natascha Engel, asked Mr. Lansley if he would work with the Committee to ensure that eventually, every single petition receives some sort of feedback. Lansley replied:
I intend to work with the hon. Lady and Members across the House, including my colleagues in the Government, to ensure that those who give their time and energy to bringing issues before the House feel that they are responded to properly and timeously.
To summarize then, any petition (digital or otherwise) which receives 100,000 signatures or more will be automatically referred to the Backbench Business Committee and eligible for consideration for debate, either in the House of Commons or in Westminster Hall. This does not mean that said petition is guaranteed a debate. The Committee itself cannot schedule such a debate unless the petition is brought forward by an MP as a topic for a Backbench Business debate. Even if this happens, the proposal must meet the criteria for debate, and there is still no guarantee that such a debate will occur. Similarly, an MP can propose having a debate on any petition – regardless of the number of signatures the petition may have received, if he or she believes the subject of the petition is an issue which merits a debate.
As well, any petition which receives 10,000 or more signatures is now guaranteed to receive a response from the relevant government department.