Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:16 pm on 5th February 2003.

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Photo of Sylvia Jackson Sylvia Jackson Labour 4:16 pm, 5th February 2003

Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I am sorry about my croaky throat.

The aims of the bill are laudable. In addition to setting up the post of a commissioner for public appointments in Scotland, the bill enshrines the central principles of opening up the appointments system, making it more accountable and ensuring that appointments are made on merit. Amendments this afternoon dealt with issues concerning those principles; notably, what should and should not be in the code of practice with regard to an applicant's political activity, the role of the commissioner with respect to the code, and the role of the commissioner with respect to Parliament. That has been a big issue.

The bill strikes the right balance on those issues and frankly, as was said earlier by Iain Smith, I do not want a rerun of the earlier debate about the post of a freedom of information commissioner. In her evidence in that debate, Dame Rennie Fritchie remarked that we must open up the appointments process to a wider cross-section of people—to those who might not be thinking about standing for such appointments at the moment. I remember that horrendous debate and I did not think that people would be attracted to those posts.

There has also been debate today about charitable status following the McFadden report and, hence, the need to withdraw from the bill the dissolution of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, and to include the establishment of the national survey of archaeology and buildings of Scotland.

A fundamental part of the bill is the degree of autonomy and responsibility that will be given to the commissioner to undertake his or her job. In that connection, sections 7 and 8 of the bill are important; they deal with what should be reported back to Parliament. I am pleased that the minister has listened, as Iain Smith said, to what members of the Local Government Committee said, and that he has found the words that allow us to get over the difficulties that we discussed at stage 2.

Finally, it would be disingenuous not to say something about the earlier debate about Alex Neil's bill. That debate was informative and useful and it formed a basis for what came after it. I do not think there was a need for the amount of negative comments that came from Tricia Marwick, but the debate was useful nevertheless.

As the minister outlined, much work remains to be done; for example, the code of practice and all the other procedural matters need to be dealt with. I wish the bill well.

I give many thanks to Local Government Committee colleagues, to the convener—Trish Godman—and to the clerks.