Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:11 pm on 5th February 2003.

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Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 4:11 pm, 5th February 2003

I do not recollect that our group made any such decision on the matter; instead, our members made up their own minds on the merits of the argument. We did not think much of the merits of the SNP's argument and, accordingly, voted the right way. The important point is that the appointment was made—at least by some of the parties—on the merits of the candidates and not on any political basis. The danger with going down Alex Neil's proposed route is that we would start to appoint people for political reasons and make the process more, not less, political. The Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc (Scotland) Bill is important because it will correct such flaws.

It is interesting to note that we will complete consideration of the bill two hours early. That is because the Local Government Committee has a very good working relationship with the ministers, which means that our concerns can be addressed and we can reach agreement on changes early in the process. By doing so, we improved the bill at stage 2 and do not have to waste too much of members' time at stage 3. I thank the minister and his staff for their work in that respect. I also want to thank the Local Government Committee clerks and our other staff for their important work in supporting our consideration of such bills.

The origins of the Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc (Scotland) Bill were not in Alex Neil's bill, as Tricia Marwick claimed; rather, it came out of several discussions and investigations by the Executive about the future of public bodies and public appointments long before Alex Neil introduced his bill.

The Liberal Democrats were not initially convinced by the Executive's position on how it would deal with the Scottish commissioner for public appointments. We were not satisfied that there was sufficient parliamentary involvement in the proposed process. We, as a party, discussed with ministers how to improve that. We did that not because of Alex Neil's bill, but because we wanted improvements. We got agreement from ministers to make the significant improvements that mean that Parliament is the backstop. Parliament will appoint the commissioner and have the final say if the commissioner is not satisfactory. That is as it should be and it is the case because Liberal Democrats and Labour can work together, whereas the SNP cannot work with anyone.