Although research reveals people who petition the Scottish Parliament find it a positive experience, the process is to be further strengthened through greater transparency and by asking the public directly what they want from ‘their Committee’, according to a report by the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee.
Research was commissioned by the Public Petitions Committee in May 2015 as part of its ‘watching brief’ on the petitions process. In its report, the Committee sets out its responses to the research findings, including:
- Recommending a system is put in place for recording and publishing information about petition proposals that do not go on to be lodged as petitions.
- Starting with a pilot event in early 2016, the Committee plans to hold external events that target groups and geographical areas known to be under-represented among petitioners, to ask whether the process presents, or is seen to present barriers to participation.
- Limiting the ‘sit and listen’ aspect of external Committee meetings and events by identifying ways petitioners and the public can actively participate.
- Data to be collected on all petitioners, to enable the Committee to better understand the range of people who petition the Parliament.
Convener of the Public Petitions Committee, Michael McMahon MSP said:
“Independent research shows that the Public Petitions Committee has delivered a positive experience to petitioners. There are also encouraging signs that the petitions process is helping to meet the Parliament’s stated goal of being more open and accessible to the people of Scotland. But there is more to be done to strengthen the reputation of the petitions process, and greater transparency and engagement are vital.”
Mr McMahon continued:
“In the remainder of this session of Parliament, we will work to ensure that the petitions process can continue to meet the expectations of petitioners and fulfil the ambitions of Parliament in the future.
“The conclusion of this work will be laid out in the Committee’s legacy paper to assist our successor committee to support a stronger petitions process that allows the voices of the public to be heard.”
To continue the work on reviewing its processes, in May 2015 the Public Petitions Committee commissioned research from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe). SPICe is an independent research service.
Petitions can result in a wide range of actions, including parliamentary debate and changes to law and policy direction. A petition calling for stronger NHS support for chronic pain sufferers led to the Government’s announcement of a new Centre for Chronic Pain earlier this year, and petitions from the public have been a crucial factor in bringing about better access to cancer drugs, lifting the cap on discretionary housing payments for people affected by the bedroom tax, encouraging Caledonian MacBrayne to deliver Wi-Fi on their ferries and even the Scots Pine being designated as Scotland’s National Tree.