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Monday, 13 March, 2000, 18:26 GMT
Net opens parliamentary doors
E-Petitioner demonstration
The public will be able to create petitions on the internet
BBC Scotland political correspondent Elizabeth Quigley looks at how Scots are to get electronic access to the Scottish Parliament.

It was one of the aims of the Scottish Parliament before even a single vote was cast in the referendum - to be truly open and accessible to the public.

The shop does a roaring trade in souvenirs and the debating chamber's public gallery is often crowded.

But this parliament to involve Scots actively in how their country is run and the public petitions committee was supposed to provide that link.

Chamber scene
MSPs were keen to provide public access
At Westminster, a petition would go to Number 10 Downing Street, the concerned campaigners would pose for a photocall on the doorstep, and then their list of signatures would probably languish at the bottom of a pile of petitions.

The plan in Scotland to make it possible for anyone to write in to the Scottish Parliament about an issue that concerns them has, in a sense, backfired.

The petitions committee has received 130 petitions ranging from protecting racing pigeons from attack by birds of prey, to the controversial decision to site a unit for the mentally ill in the grounds of Stobhill Hospital. No problem, so far.

Around 27 of them are from one man - Frank Harvey. His efforts mean that one in five of the petitions considered by the committee are generated from his home in Glasgow.

Hands on keyboard
You can key in your petition online
The clerk to the committee even wrote to Mr Harvey warning him from going over the top.

The clerk said there would be a real danger that the committee might give less weight to Mr Harvey's petitions than to others they received.

Undaunted, he is set to continue taking the committee at its word and pursuing a wide variety of concerns from overcrowding on trains, the use of "slave labour in Calcutta" to process student loans applications, and problems in Partick Housing Association.

From this week he could try out another way of getting his worries before a wider audience - electronically.

Computer checks

The one obstacle to using the internet had been that it would be difficult to verify who had added their names to a petition.

However, the International Teledemocracy Centre at Napier University thinks it has found the solution.

Using a combination of e-mail and more traditional methods, people can add their names to a petition and then their details will be checked before any petition is submitted.

Hand on mouse
The parliament will be just a click away
The first electronic petition will be heard on Tuesday and is from the World Wildlife Fund Scotland calling on the Scottish Parliament to ensure that Marine National Parks are included in the National Parks for Scotland Bill.

Using the E-Petitioner tool, duplicate names are removed, fictitious names such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck will not be included and postcodes can be checked.

In fact, the electronic petition could actually be much more secure and authentic than the written version.

Rather than simply signing a piece of paper thrust into your hand while you are out shopping, you would have to log onto the internet, search for the site and then sign the petition, giving your name and address as well.

The hard-worked members of the public petitions committee do not have to worry that accepting electronic petitions would mean more missives from the busy Mr Harvey - he does not appear to have a phone line and so would be unable to log on to the net.

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