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It is a pleasure to speak on the review of the public petitions process in the Scottish Parliament. The public petitions system and the Public Petitions Committee are an important element in engaging with the people we serve, to try to shape what the Parliament does for them. In general, the system is viewed as positive.
I want to share some of the feelings that I have had during my period on the committee. I have seen farmers coming to the committee claiming that their human rights had been violated. I actually agreed with them. We knew that there was a case to be answered and that they could not afford to pay to go through the legal system to advance their cause. However, the Government let them down. For the first time ever, I felt that, as a nation, we had let our people down. The committee provided a good democratic way of reaching a consensus. It was important that I at least shared my feelings with the petitioners, because I wanted them to feel that we care.
We have engaged with many other people through the committee. Another issue that touched my heart was that of single parents’ rights. People face huge challenges and difficulties. Sometimes, when a relationship breaks down, parents can be so difficult with each other that they forget how their children are being affected. The children sometimes lose out because the parents are too busy fighting each other. That issue is still going through the process. I hope that we will be able to do justice to both sides because, at the end of the day, we want to ensure that the children no longer suffer. That type of issue normally does not go through the court system or through other parts of our system. The Public Petitions Committee is probably the right vehicle for people to raise that issue. In fact, two petitions have almost come together to try to resolve it.
I sit on the committee and I am proud that we have a system in which ordinary people can bring their cases to us. Sometimes, they are issues that deeply affect people’s everyday lives. Petitioners can come to the committee and speak to people who they perceive to have power and who can engage with others who can try to resolve the issues or, more importantly, consider legislation. A petition can sometimes give the Government another opportunity to look at the legislation that is in place and consider whether it is effective or ineffective. The committee gives people an opportunity to make their point at a very high level, which is important.
I come on to the most important aspect. The review suggests that there will not be a lot of change in the type of cases that come to the committee. It also suggests that most petitions are brought forward by a certain element of the community, with a certain academic background and the ability to research and write down petitions. That is all well and good, but one thing that is missing from the committee is engagement with our minority communities. Very few minority communities have had the opportunity to engage with the committee. We need to do some work on that. That is not in any way meant as a criticism of anybody; it just means that there is an element that we need to engage with.
I am happy and proud to serve on the committee, which does a wonderful job. Everybody who is involved in it is trying very hard. I hope that we all continue to serve the people of Scotland and ensure that their hopes and aspirations are met.