Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:21 pm on 5th February 2003.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:21 pm, 5th February 2003

I, too, will begin by thanking the members of the Local Government Committee and its clerks, who worked very hard on the bill. I also thank the minister, who was often available when we needed clarification.

Sylvia Jackson was right to say that there were some parts of Alex Neil's bill with which the Local Government Committee was happy. We considered those aspects carefully and some have been included in the Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc (Scotland) Bill. However, I have been here for four years and it sometimes upsets me that even when one agrees with something, members of the SNP still get on their feet to make negative comments. That is beginning to get us all down.

Most people would like to have a much more transparent system of public appointments. A fair, honest and plainly visible procedure of recruitment and selection of applicants for public appointments will kick into touch once and for all the old boys' network and the equally squalid practice of cronyism. I am in favour of transparency and the introduction of comprehensive checks and balances on ministerial appointments.

We need a separate commissioner for public appointments in Scotland. Among other things, that role will involve monitoring, regulating, advising and reporting on ministerial appointments to public bodies. The commissioner will also prepare a code of practice, investigate complaints and report annually through Parliament.

I am especially keen for the commissioner to promote diversity in public appointments, because that would send a positive message to ethnic groups and to others who, until now, have simply been spectators in the public appointments process. Attracting more women, more people from ethnic backgrounds and more people with disabilities to apply for public appointments should be central to the work of the new commissioner. The commissioner should also encourage applications from younger people.

The commissioner will have responsibility for ensuring that all categories of people are afforded the opportunity to be considered for public appointments. Although it will upset some of those who have benefited from the old and rotten system of appointments, I welcome that move.

In the committee's deliberations on the code of practice, we agreed with the Deputy Minister for Finance and Public Services that the independent position of the commissioner would be eroded by any procedure that was stronger than consultation with the Parliament and ministers. I am pleased that the bill makes that explicit. I am also satisfied that the bill gives the commissioner adequate powers in the event that the code of practice is breached or ignored by a minister. It allows for the commissioner to intervene before an appointment is made and to inform Parliament that he or she believes that the minister in question is ignoring the code of practice, intentionally or otherwise. That is a highly significant inclusion.

The principle behind the bill is to have an independent Scottish commissioner for public appointments. Our public consultation provided strong support for the establishment of such a commissioner with the powers that the bill seeks to confer. It is right and proper that we increase the Executive's accountability in relation to public appointments. In doing so, we will go a long way towards eliminating powerful networks and the plague of cronyism. The principle of appointment by merit alone should be absolute and transparent—nothing less will do. We must assure the public that cronyism is dead and that merit is alive and well.

It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to endorse the bill.