Schedule 1 — Water Industry Commissioner and Customer Panels: Further Provision

Part of Water Industry (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:30 pm on 14th February 2002.

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Photo of Ross Finnie Ross Finnie Liberal Democrat 12:30 pm, 14th February 2002

Amendment 36 is, I hope, fairly self explanatory.

Amendments 92, 93 and 95 deal with the appointment of the water industry commissioner, conveners and non-executive directors. We have rehearsed that debate in detail in recent weeks and in the chamber. The SNP has made it clear where it stands on this matter.

I should make clear to the Parliament that each of those three appointments will be conducted under the Nolan principles. Therefore, the procedures that the Parliament agreed will apply to the appointments. I point out that the Scottish Executive will be consulting on improving the way in which persons are appointed under the Nolan procedures. The question of the independence of those appointments should not arise—Mr Ingram's nonsensical comment about political appointments simply does not apply. The three appointments will be made under the Nolan principles and the Parliament should be clear about that when it considers rejecting those appointments.

Tavish Scott and John Scott talked about the membership of the customer panels. We must consider what we are trying to create. We are trying to give the water industry commissioner a status that no one has had in the past. We are trying to create someone who has an overview of customer complaints across Scotland. It is important that that individual is not just made aware of the complaints but is actively involved in dealing with them. In that way, he can draw both bad and—which is important—good practice to the attention of Scottish Water. Because of the status that we wish to afford the commissioner, the bill provides that, through the commissioner's offices, reasonable costs and expenses will be paid to that individual. That elevates dramatically the importance of the commissioner.

Tavish Scott raised two specific points. The directions that we will give on the nature of persons who will be appointed will make two quite clear points. One is that there must be regard to business interests. That is imperative as we cannot have customer panels that take account only of domestic customers. The panels must also take into account the interests of small businesses, which Tavish Scott asked about.

The other element is to ensure that the balance of the membership is such that the concerns of local people can be clearly articulated. Members of local authorities will not be barred from being considered for that purpose. The only point that I will stress is that they would not be on the panel to ensure democratic accountability. The democratic accountability of Scottish Water is to the Parliament. If it were felt that the local councillor was, in the circumstances, best placed to be on the panel, that would be entirely appropriate.

I urge members to support amendment 36 and to reject the other amendments in the group.