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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 David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

I am pleased to close the debate on behalf of the committee. The importance of the petitions process is accepted across the chamber. It is a core part of meeting our founding principles, and interest in our process extends across the world. A willingness to learn from our experience of the operation of the process will keep that process at the forefront of good practice. The insights that we gain through reviewing the system will ensure that we do not lose sight of the wider picture and the value of the process to the public in Scotland.

The Public Petitions Committee is unique in the Parliament in terms of the variety of subjects that it considers and because those subjects are determined by members of the public. The reasons for petitions being brought forward are similarly varied. What each petition and petitioner have in common is an interest in the design or delivery of public services in Scotland.

Petitions can stem from the most tragic of circumstances. People are willing to come forward with sometimes deeply personal stories and a commitment to ensure that others do not face the same difficulties that they have faced. We must have an equal commitment to hearing those stories and carrying out the scrutiny that can help to find solutions.

Petitioners who were interviewed for the review’s research were asked for their view of the purpose of the petitions process. One petitioner, Beth Morrison, said that she thought it was

“To give the ordinary person a voice … to me this has given me, my child, and the other families that I represent, a voice, a legitimate voice, because it’s out there in the Parliament, it’s out there, it’s public information. It’s given me an outlet, and, hopefully, it will bring about real change.”

The research notes that

“as long as people are treated fairly, or perceive that they have been treated fairly, the more trust they will have for political institutions, such as the Scottish Parliament, and the more willing they will be to accept political decisions, including those of the Committee.”

It is important to recognise that point, because the petitions process cannot guarantee the outcomes that petitioners may desire, and it would be misleading to suggest otherwise. What we can guarantee is that every petition that is lodged will be given consideration by the Parliament, petitioners’ views will be taken into account at every stage of consideration and petitioners will be informed of progress throughout the process.

The report recognises the areas where we can do more. Actions that can be taken include better promotion of the process so that people know that it is there for them to use and that the Parliament will listen when they do.

Looking to the future, the collection and use of high-quality data will help us to maintain a robust process, demonstrate fairness and know that all voices are being heard. There is a range of options for doing that and our successor committee will have to adopt and test new practices. If the experience and knowledge that we have gained in this session can be shared and used, I am confident that we will have an even stronger process in the years to come.

Speaking for the current committee, I am grateful to members for their contributions to the debate and glad that they have taken the opportunity to debate and discuss the matter in a meaningful way, to enable us to take forward their recommendations into the next session of Parliament.