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Public Petitions Process Review

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of John Wilson John Wilson Independent

I, too, take great pleasure in speaking in the debate. I think that I am currently the longest-serving member of the Public Petitions Committee, with almost eight and a half years’ membership. Some people would say that that was a punishment, but it has been a pleasure to serve on the committee. I have done so under five conveners, starting with Frank McAveety in 2007. Rhona Brankin took over, then, in this session of the Parliament, David Stewart, John Pentland and, latterly, Michael McMahon.

It has been interesting to see the petitions that come forward and the issues that we are faced with on an almost fortnightly basis.

This report follows on from previous reports that have been presented to the committee. There was one in 2006, by Christopher Carman, and another in 2009, which made a number of recommendations to the committee about how we should take forward our work. The report that has been produced by Gareth James, which we are discussing today, also helps our consideration of how the committee is moving forward.

Other members have referred to the petitions that we have dealt with, some successful, others less so. The drugs policy petitions come to mind. Members have mentioned the mesh implant petition, which has been successful in highlighting that issue to many women in Scotland, and the petition on the register of interests for members of the Scottish judiciary, which still rumbles on and which we hope to conclude fairly soon. Other interesting petitions include the one about funding for St Margaret’s hospice. Those petitions have been supported by local members and other MSPs who have come to the committee to speak on behalf of the petitioners. One of the valuable things about the committee is that members feel confident about coming along to contribute. Their contributions to the debates in the committee are welcomed, because they help us understand the local issues and some issues that the petitioners might not be able to express. With regard to the petition on the Tinkers’ Heart of Argyll, I am sure that Michael Russell would like to take some credit in relation to not only his support for Jess Smith’s petition, but the work that he did behind the scenes.

Most of the petitioners whose petitions we have dealt with have said that they have been satisfied with the process. However, there is a difficulty around those petitions that have not been heard in this session of Parliament. Last summer, an investigative journalist—who is also a former member of the Scottish Parliament and the Public Petitions Committee—identified, via a freedom of information request, that nearly two thirds of the petitions that were submitted to Parliament were not heard by the committee.