Ministerial Appointments

Question Time — Scottish Executive – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 7th February 2002.

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Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat 2:30 pm, 7th February 2002

To ask the Scottish Executive how many of the 26 independent assessors appointed to oversee ministerial appointments to non-departmental public bodies have political affiliations. (S1O-4634)

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Of the 26 assessors in post, 14 declared that they were politically active in the five years prior to their appointment. However, details of an individual's political affiliations are not a matter of record, as it would be inappropriate for an individual's voting preference to be known. All appointments are made on merit. As the commissioner's code makes clear, political activity is not, and should not be, a barrier to taking up a public appointment.

Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

It is important to draw a clear distinction between the hundreds of ministerial appointments to quangos and the appointments of the 26 so-called independent assessors. There is quite a difference between the two. Will the minister give an undertaking that, when a Scottish commissioner for public appointments is appointed, he or she will support a change in the rules to ensure that none of the 26 assessors who are appointed to ensure fair play is politically active?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Neither the Executive nor the UK commissioner for public appointments believes that political activity should be a bar to anyone who wants to serve as an independent assessor. A record of political activity does not mean that someone is unfit to hold such a post or to take on any other appointment. The key question is whether they can do the job. The UK commissioner confirmed that our process was fair and open and covered a wide range of people.

Political activity had nothing to do with how the people were selected; indeed, such activity should not prohibit people from carrying out public service. Under the Executive's proposals, the Scottish commissioner for public appointments, who will be appointed by the Parliament—not by ministers—will decide who should be independent assessors. I reassure Mr Rumbles that the new commissioner will also decide whether political activity should debar someone from such a role. Of course, I am sure that we will hear from Mr Rumbles during the consultations on the forthcoming bill.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Does the minister think that our heads button up the back?

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

The minister's head certainly does. Is it not incredible that Labour party membership is equivalent to less than 0.2 per cent of the population, yet 50 per cent of the assessors are Labour cronies? Is it not the case that, because of the way in which the most recent 12 assessors were appointed, the public have no confidence in them? They should be sacked and the whole process—

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You are starting to make a speech, Mr Neil. We have got the point.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I remind the minister that we are living in Scotland, not Sicily.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I do not recall Mr Neil shouting about cronyism when, in July 2000, the then First Minister wrote to him seeking names of people to serve as independent assessors. Mr Neil did not scream cronyism when two out of three of his choices were appointed as independent assessors. He did not complain when he was written to again a year later, as the convener of a committee, or when his party leader was written to in order to get names of people to be put forward as independent assessors. If that is political cronyism, I do not understand his actions. Over the past week, he has sought to undermine the Parliament, the people who choose to act in the service of the Scottish public and those who wish to participate in public service. The fact that he is moaning about the appointments simply shows that he still has nothing positive to say about how public service works.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Minister, you are straying off the point of the question.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

The bill that Mr Neil proposes is more about Mr Neil than about improving public service.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Sorry, Mr Neil. Both the question and the answer are straying away from the lead question.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Does Alex Neil want to see the letters dated 23 July 2000?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr Neil, you are consuming other members' time. This is a political exchange, not a point of order.

Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour

Will the minister advise the Parliament of his involvement in the appointment of the independent assessors?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I shall be happy to correct some of the misrepresentation over this matter. In May 2001, ministers agreed to the process of recruitment. The UK commissioner for public appointments cleared the job description and person specification for the post. The Executive invited nominations from a diverse range of organisations across Scotland—

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

The minister means a diverse cross-section of the Labour party.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I will come back to that point in just a minute, thank you.

The UK commissioner commented that the list of people to whom we wrote was comprehensive. Because of our commitment to increasing diversity in such appointments, we targeted such left-wing, radical organisations as the African and Caribbean Women's Association, the Confederation of British Industry Scotland, the Commission for Racial Equality, Disability Scotland, the Forum of Private Business, the Indian Graduate Society, the Pakistani Media Relations Committee in Bearsden and—of course—the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, the SNP and every other party that is represented in this chamber.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

The Nolan appointments style was adopted throughout the process. There was an independent panel including Dame Rennie Fritchie and two civil servants. Sixty application packs were sent out, 27 responses were received and 19 interviews took place. Not once was I or any other minister involved in the selection process. I was unaware of the political affiliations of those who were nominated to me.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan Independent

If people are really appointed on merit and public bodies are really representative of the population as a whole, why have more than 50 per cent of recent appointments to the super-quango been members of political parties when less than 2 per cent of the population are members of any political party? Are we expected to believe that political parties are endowed with such a disproportionate share of talent and expertise? That is not evident in this place.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

In writing to 100 organisations, putting the advert on our website and, last year, advertising the post widely through the media, we have done our best to bring people forward. The process is undermined by members who attach politics to the appointments instead of the principle that whoever is good enough for the job should get it.