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I am very happy to contribute to the debate, and I do so as an unreserved fan of the Scottish Parliament’s petitions process.
Towards the end of my first session in 2011, I produced my own report on why I thought that in many other respects the Parliament’s procedures unnecessarily straitjacketed the spontaneity that there might otherwise be. There is the hideous process by which we have to submit parliamentary questions well in advance to notify ministers of our intent, which very often means that the questions no longer have any topicality by the time that we ask them, and the dismal and pedestrian nature of many of our debates, in which contributions are weighted by parliamentary representation rather than by any interest or knowledge of the subject about which we are having a conversation.
I exempt the parliamentary petitions process from that. I went on the Public Petitions Committee more or less by accident. My colleague Nanette Milne sat on it, and I was on the Health and Sport Committee. It was felt that Nanette Milne would lead on a bill, and I offered to swap with her. When I got to the Public Petitions Committee, I found that I had no wish to leave it, because members of the committee come free of any party whip and they usually have a completely objective and open mind on the subjects that will be discussed. Members have pursued with great credit—this is the critical issue—not just how petitions came to the committee, but what the committee should do with them.
I have been impressed that members of the committee, who have changed in the time that I have been a member of it, have been prepared to pursue issues without fear or favour. Ministers who come to the committee to give evidence know that they cannot just smile at friends and hope that all will be well; they have to come and answer questions on the detail of the petition in hand.