Public Appointments and Public Bodies etc (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:24 pm on 5th February 2003.

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Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 4:24 pm, 5th February 2003

I pay tribute to all those in the Local Government Committee and the Executive who have contributed to the bill. I also pay tribute to Alex Neil, who deserves credit for raising the issue. Perhaps he thinks that he offered the Parliament a full bottle of malt whisky and that the Executive is now offering a half bottle of a blended whisky. However, at least we are getting whisky. It is often the role of the Opposition or back benchers to propose ideas—one does not get what one wanted, but one gets quite a bit.

I will try to talk about political appointments without putting my foot in it. It is not a sin to be a supporter of the Labour party or of any legitimate democratic party. However, in some of the discussion that has taken place, there has been an undertone that people with any political involvement or political past are rather dubious when it comes to appointments. That is wrong. Such people should have a fair chance, like everybody else. People should not have their past hung around their necks. Throughout history, many people in politics have started on the extreme left and ended up on the extreme right—members of the Cabinet in London typify that. I naughtily say that Gladstone and I started on the right and became steadily more radical in growing older.

It is important that people with a political background should not be excluded. However, we must accept that, over the past 50 years or more, one party has become dominant in some parts of Scotland and many applicants for jobs come from a political background. That is fair enough, but people in those areas need to be careful not to exclude talented people who do not happen to be members of that party. A balance must be struck.

SNP members spoke about allegations of bad appointments—that matter must be pursued with people who make such appointments. The person who is appointed is not necessarily a bad person. If, through prejudice of any kind—political or otherwise—a person makes a bad appointment, they should be held to account. The bill will help to ensure that that happens.

On people's political positions, my experience is that any person who is half-decent leans the other way in favouring people. If one is a Presiding Officer or a judge on any matter, one is conscious of one's background and says to oneself, "I must be very careful not to favour someone." If anything, the other side is favoured. Perhaps I have been lucky, but that is my experience.

The bill is a great step forward. It may lead to further steps forward in the future and I hope that the commissioner and the whole system will help us to produce a fair and open system of appointments from which the whole community will benefit.