Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:05 pm on 5th February 2003.

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Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick Scottish National Party 4:05 pm, 5th February 2003

Although we will celebrate the passage of the bill today, we need to look back to where it was born, which was out of the bill that was introduced by Alex Neil as the Public Appointments (Parliamentary Approval) (Scotland) Bill. That bill went much further than the Executive was prepared to go in the bill that we are debating today.

At stage 1 of Alex Neil's bill, the minister was asked to come to the Local Government Committee to give evidence on the bill. The minister, however, took that opportunity to announce that—lo and behold—the Executive was to have a similar bill all of its own. The Executive told its members, the Liberal Democrat members and everybody else on the committee to vote down Alex Neil's bill because a better one would come along in a minute.

The Executive bill is not a better bill than the one that Alex Neil introduced, but it is a bill and we will support it today despite the fact that it does not go far enough. The true test of the effectiveness of the bill will be in four years' time. We will know then whether between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of all appointments to public bodies still come from one political party—the Labour party. If that is the case, the bill will have failed.

When Dame Rennie Fritchie, the UK commissioner for public appointments, appeared before the Local Government Committee, she said clearly that there was a role for a Scottish commissioner who would know the situation in Scotland. I look forward to the appointment of the commissioner and to the day when people will be appointed to public bodies in Scotland on merit and not because of their political affiliations. One of the reasons why so many Labour party members are appointed to public bodies is simply that people from other political parties realise that there is absolutely no point in putting themselves forward because they will not be appointed.

Alex Neil cited the very good example of appointments to the Gaelic board. Everyone recognises that the number of Labour party members—and, indeed, Liberal Democrat members—on that board does not reflect the Gaelic community. It is also not reflective of the balance of the political parties in Scotland.

Although I welcome the bill because it is a step forward; it is not the giant leap forward that was needed and it is certainly not the giant leap forward that would have been achieved by Alex Neil's bill. That said, we will support it, all the same.