Monday, 30 November 2009

What's up this week

Well, committee meeting tomorrow afternoon. Agenda actually not that bad compared with recent weeks. Did get slightly worried that I had maybe left some petitions off by mistake!
Two oral presentations from petitioners on NHS interpretation/translation services and on availability on NHS of low dose naltrexone.
Visiting the committee this week is Johannes Fritz from the University of Erlangen in Germany who is undertaking a research project on behalf of the Petitions Committee of the German Bundestag on e-petitioning. This follows up an earlier visit from Ralf Lindner at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research two years ago. Johannes will watch the committee's meeting tomorrow afternoon and then I'll have a sit down and blether with him on Wednesday morning before he meets Convener in afternoon. He also has other meetings lined up with various academics. Looking forward to sharing some ideas and thoughts on how public petitioning progress are being developed by the committee here and in Germany.
Also on horizon are discussions with the blood donation services in Germany and Greece in connection with petition before the committee at present. This will follow on from the videoconference held with Paris last week (see post below).
Fergus, Clerk to the PPC

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Videoconference with Paris

The Committee has gone international again, this time with a videoconference with Paris. Frank McAveety (convener), Anne McLaughlin and Robin Harper heard from Dr Gilles Folléa, Leslie Sobaga and Sophie Skotnicki about how France has been promoting and encouraging blood donation (and eventually succeeded) for the best part of the last 10 years. Dr Folléa is one of the top heads of the Etablissement Français du Sang (EFS), the equivalent of the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

The videoconference was on the back of petition PE1274 by Andrew Dannet which seeks to introduce a scheme to pay people each time they donate blood and to consider other measures to encourage more people to donate.

We received valuable information based on the French experience which will no doubt assist the Committee's work on the petition. We learned that in France, there are 156 sites where people can donate blood with 85% of these sites being mobile (going from town to town), all this backed up by local and national awareness campaigns pretty much throughout the year. One good idea that they have is that when people donate blood they are asked to make another appointment so that it is not just a one off (men can give blood up to 6 times a year and women up to 4). Donors are then reminded of the appointment by text message.

This was a videoconf which was well worth it and the petition will be back before the Committee in April.

Just to show you how international we really are, la vidéoconference a apporté des éléments neufs et innovateurs qui vont sans nul doute aider le comité dans ses délibérations. L’approche française est certainement un succès et les examples donnés, à la fois simples et pratiques, illustrent une bonne utilisation d’outils informatiques. Par example, lorsque quelqu’un donne du sang, on demande à cette personne de reprendre aussitôt un rendez-vous pour une prochaine fois. Le donneur recevra ensuite un message par texto pour lui rappeler du jour et l’heure du rendez-vous. Simple et efficace!


Clerking team

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Understanding Parliament conference

Last Saturday (21st), over 100 people from small, local community groups around Scotland came together for the 1st ever "Understanding and Influencing Your Parliament" conference. For nearly everyone who came along, this was their first experience of engaging with the Parliament.

The petitions process was at the heart of what we had to share with them. We started the day in the Chamber with five speakers giving short presentations about the Parliament, the Scottish Government and what it is like to be an MSP - especially how constituents can help Members to do their jobs. As the Presiding Officer emphasized, the day was all about "people power". We wanted to show our delegates how they are at the heart of Scotland's political processes, and how they can use them to get their voices heard on their issues. One delegate coined the phrase "a citizens' democracy", which sparked lively debate from our panel. Here you can see petitioner Tina McGeever talking with some of the delegates.

We were delighted to welcome Michelle Stewart, one of our petitioners, to speak in the Chamber. Michelle's input - from the heart and without any notes - clearly showed why she was named as Campaigner of the Year earlier in the week.
Networking in the Garden Lobby had started first thing over coffee and continued over the lunch break. Delegates had a chance to go on a quick tour of Holyrood and to get their pictures taken for use in their local papers, newsletters and websites.

In the afternoon, it was back to the hard work with two workshops.
Fergus and Frank McAveety led sessions on petitions, sharing their knowledge and experience. As delegates departed at the end of the day, many of them mentioned that they were away to think about or even draft a petition so they must have captured everyone's imagination!
Michelle stayed on and we were joined by Tina McGeevor as well - they both contributed to sessions about how to run a campaign. Feedback has been very positive with comments about how much people learnt on the day and how pleased they were to experience their "open and accessible Parliament" in action. This event really showed how the Committee and the Education and Community Partnerships team can work together, with other Members and colleagues of course, to promote the work of the Parliament and how people can get involved, as flagged in the Committee's recent inquiry report. I suspect we'll be called on to run the conference again, judging by its success. Well, at least it keeps Fergus and Frank out of the CD shops on a Saturday afternoon.
Rosemary Everett, Head of Education and Community Partnership Team

Monday, 23 November 2009

Vietnamese delegation

A delegation from the Office of National Assembly of Vietnam visits the Parliament this week for a series of meetings and discussions. The main objective of the visit is to provide an opportunity to learn about the development of devolution in Scotland, relations with the UK Parliament and the other devolved institutions, the role of an MSPs, the support services involved in the work of the Parliament such as information and research, the legislative process and the work of parliamentary committees, the scrutiny role of the Parliament.
I will be meeting the delegation on Wednesday when we will have a blether about our public petitioning process. I met with a similar delegation 12 months ago - I must have said something that interested them!
The group comprises parliamentary officials and I am looking forward to meeting with them.
Fergus, Clerk to the PPC

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Tuesday's meeting

A long meeting on Tuesday afternoon, started at 2.00 and ran on until 5.20 pm. At one point I was thinking about the advert that was on the telly years ago for a well known make of tea which featured chimpanzees. The advert had the Houses of Parliament in the background and the chimps are dressed in suits. Anyway, the key line in the advert was "Let's make it an all night sitting" as they pour another cup of tea. In my head on Tuesday, this was funny!
If anyone is still reading this post well here goes. Three oral evidence sessions and you can read posts about the cancer drugs and fairtrade food in schools petitions (see posts below from Frank McAveety and Nanette Milne). The third oral evidence session was on reducing levels of stillbirths and neonatal deaths (PE1291).
It is quite incredible the breadth of subjects which are covered at one meeting. On Tuesday the committee considered 20 petitions on 18 different subjects. It is interesting to watch the discussion amongst committee members change so quickly from one subject to another and for the petition to move forward in a constructive way through the identification of further questions to ask.
All the letters arising from Tuesday were issued yesterday. These are inviting written submissions from a wide range of bodies. Most of these petitions will now roll forward to the meeting the committee is having in February 2010 at which it will consider only current petitions. There are around 40 petitions down for discussion at that meeting. Gulp!
We now turn our minds to the next meeting on 1 December with the papers going out early next week. As the second best band to come out of Scotland (AWB - Blue Nile first, Sutherland Brothers third) once sung, Lets Go Round Again! (me, Edinburgh Oden circa 1981!).
Fergus, Clerk to the PPC

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Tina McGeever petition

I thought you would welcome a post on the outcome of our discussion yesterday afternoon on Tina McGeever's access to cancer drugs petition (PE1108). As you know, the Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, was giving evidence to the committee on progress and action by the Scottish Government in taking forward the conclusions of our inquiry report.

This, I thought, was a really useful and helpful discussion with the Cab Sec in terms of getting clarity and details of what practical steps are being taken to improve the processes at a very local level for patients accessing cancer treatment drugs. The petition came forward on the back of the experience of Tina and her late husband Michael Gray.

It was encouraging yesterday to hear the steps being taken on a number of fronts such as improving local liaison between the health board, clinician and patient, more (and better quality) information for patients on exceptional prescribing to be renamed individual patient treatment requests).
We welcome and appreciate the work that has been done and will be continue to be done by the Scot Govt and we are pleased to have been able to assist in this. Of course we will continue to consider the petition but I think yesterday took us all a good way forward to bringing about the necessary improvements. That is what we are working together to achieve.
You can listen to Tina being interviewed after the meeting on Radio Scotland i-player (about 16m 40s in).
You can also watch the archive of yesterday discussion with the Cab Sec on Holyrood TV (this was the first petition on the agenda).
Frank McAveety MSP, Convener

Monday, 16 November 2009

Visit this week

Another visit this week. A Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation of around 50 elected members will visit the Parliament on Wednesday and Thursday for a series of meetings with MSPs and officials. Highlight of the visit will of course be a discussion on public petitions! The delegation is made up of elected members from a wide range of countries - Australia. Cameroon, Pakistan, Malawi, Ghana, Sri Lanka, Brunei Darussalam, Namibia and many others.
This will be another great opportunity for the committee to talk about and demonstrate the importance of an effective and relevant public petitioning process. The delegation asked that discussing public petitioning was on the programme for their visit.

Well done Dyce Academy!

Well done to Dyce Academy pupils Julia Standing, Erin Young, Laura Stebbings and their teacher, Ruth Teehan, who were at this afternoon's committee meeting. They were talking to us about their petition (PE1292) on Fairtrade food in schools and did a fantastic job putting over their arguments. We had a good discussion with them and the pupils spoke about the particular situation at their own school.

You can watch the archive of our discussion through Holyrood TV (scroll along to about 47 minutes).
We agreed to write to the Scottish Government, Scottish Fair Trade Forum, Scottish Parent Teacher Council and some local councils - including Aberdeen - about the petition. An issue we have raised is about balancing the promotion of healthy eating against that of enterprise education. We also want to know whether guidance issued by the Scottish Government on health eating in schools will have a bad impact on encouraging pupils to think about fair trade and the social, environmental, ethical and community benefits associated with this.

Earlier in the day the pupils had a tour of the Parliament. I hope you each enjoyed your day.
Nanette Milne MSP

Thursday, 12 November 2009

South Australia Legislative Council

The Convener, Frank McAveety MSP, will meet with Bob Sneath MLC, the President of the South Australia Legislative Council and Jan Davis, the Clerk to the Council, this afternoon to discuss the public petitions process here. This is the latest in a series of discussions which the committee has had with Australian legislatures in recent months on petitioning. It held a videoconference with the Petitions Committee at the House of Representatives (the federal Parliament) in September and later that month the Speaker and Clerk to the Victoria Legislative Assembly visited the Parliament. Its good that there is interest across the world in what the committee is doing and the public petitions process that we operate here.
Fergus, Clerk to the PPC

Late. Again!

Terrible performance on my part in not posting before now. We issued all the papers for next Tuesday's committee meeting earlier this week. That should have been my prompt to post details but I never. Can you forgive me!
Anyway, the committee has a further bumper meeting on Tuesday. All papers available on committee's webpage. Meeting starts at 2.00 pm in committee room 2 and you can watch live via Holyrood TV.
First petition on agenda is PE1108 on access to cancer drugs. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing will answer questions about progress made by the Scottish Government and others in improving access to cancer treatment drugs since the committee's inquiry report last year.
Next up are a couple of new petitions (PE1290 and PE1292) along the lines of save our school tuck shops. Some of the pupils from Dyce Academy will speak to the committee about their petition.
The other oral presentation relates to petition PE1291 from SANDS the stillbirth and neonatal death charity.
There are four other new petitions and 13 current petitions down on the agenda. As I say, you can view the online version of the agenda where you can hyperlink to each petition page for more details. Very nifty!
No other items on the agenda. I will post up details of what came out of Tuesday's meeting afterwards.
Fergus, Clerk to the PPC

Friday, 6 November 2009

Committee of the year?

Each year, The Herald newspaper hosts the Scottish political awards. This year, the committee has been shortlisted for the 'committee of the year' award. To be recognised in this way is appreciated, particularly given the many petitions and important issues which it has dealt with this year on behalf of petitioners who have brought issues forward to their Parliament.
The event takes place in a couple of weeks . As they say at the Oscars, just being shortlisted is an honour in itself!!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Special petitions meeting for young people!

I wanted to post up a quick note on the outcome of our discussion this afternoon regarding our idea for a special public petitions committee meeting to consider petitions from young people. I am really pleased that we agreed to take this forward (we highlighted the idea in our petitions inquiry report (para.33) earlier this year).
So what happens next? Well, we have already started discussions with Young Scot and the Scottish Youth Parliament about how to make this happen. It's great that we are going to work with these key bodies and tap into the skill and expertise they have. We want to encourage a number of petitions from across Scotland, which will emerge from the grassroots and cover issues that matter to young people. We will provide the forum for these petitions to be discussed and to hear from the young petitioners themselves. Provisionally we have agreed 15 June for this meeting at a venue to be agreed. It may be here at Holyrood, it may be external - perhaps linking in with a project which SYP is taking forward.
Of course I'll keep you updated on how we move forward with this.
Frank McAveety MSP, Convener of the PPC

Petition on display of sexually graphic magazines and newspapers

You will recall at our last meeting on 6 October, we heard from the Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill MSP, and Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Tam Baillie, about petition PE1169.
We had a further discussion on this petition this afternoon. Focus was on whether to take forward research on compliance with the voluntary code on this issue (we had questioned the Cab. Sec. about this). There is a recognition that this voluntary code is perhaps not working as it should.
So what happens now? Well, we will write to the Scottish Government to follow-up on what the Cab Sec said and ask whether it intends to undertake any research. However, we will also consider the scope for us to commission research into this issue should the Scottish Government say it has no plans to do so. Precisely what this research will look at we will need to think about very carefully but, initially, we identified issues around the levels of non-compliance with the code, people's perceptions of sexually explicit front covers being in view of children in some shops, the social cost of the problem in terms of the exploitation of women and children, improvements to the code, should it have a mandatory footing rather than be voluntary.
We will of course keep followers of the petition in touch with this.
Marlyn Glen MSP, PPC

School bus safety petitions

We discussed the two petitions on school bus safety again this afternoon. For those following these important petitions, you will know that the committee has taken a close interest in this issue. The petitions are PE1098 from Lynn Merrifield and PE1223 from Ron Beaty. While the petitions deal with different issues, central to them both is improving school bus safety.
We have already heard from the Scottish Government's Minister for Transport, Stewart Stevenson MSP, when we held a meeting at Fraserburgh Academy earlier this year. What we have agreed to do next is invite Malcolm Bruce MP (who is promoting the School Bus Safey Bill through the House of Commons), Josh Kane MSYP, Convener of Scottish Youth Parliament Transport, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, David Blunkett MP, Chairman, Yellow School Bus Commission and a representative from Aberdeenshire Council along to our meeting on 15 December for a round table discussion on this matter.
We want to see what else can and should be done to make our children's journey to and from school safe and enjoyable and we hope our discussion on 15 December will help.
Nanette Milne MSP

Catholics in Scottish prisons petition

The committee discussed petition PE1073 this afternoon. This calls on the Parliament to investigate and establish the reasons for the apparently disproportionate number of Catholics in Scottish prisons. The webpage gives you the background to this petition and the consideration we have given to it so far. You will see that we wanted to widen the scope of the petition to also cover the disproportionate number of Muslims in prisons.
At our last meeting we agreed to consider whether research in this area was desirable. This afternoon, we discussed the initial responses we have received from academics in this field.
The committee has been particularly interested in this issue which is why we think it might be worthwhile taking forward some bespoke research. What we will now do is approach some academics to take forward a more detailed scoping study which would provide more information on precisely what we might want to research.
Once we have this more refined information we will consider whether to commission research. We hope to look at the petition again before the end of the year.
Frank McAveety MSP (Convener) and John Wilson MSP, PPC

Monday, 2 November 2009

Ryan McLaughlin petition update

In my last post I flagged up that the committee, tomorrow afternoon, would be looking at Ryan McLaughlin's MS and vitamnin D supplementation petition. You might want to watch this You Tube clip to hear Ryan talk about his petition.
Fergus, Clerk to the PPC