Scottish Police Authority (Process for Appointment of Chair)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 8th February 2018.

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The First Minister:

First, as I have said on two previous occasions at First Minister’s question time, Ruth Davidson is simply wrong in her assertions about the actions of the justice secretary and has produced no evidence to substantiate the claims that she is making.

The justice secretary behaved entirely appropriately; he asked questions about the process that the SPA had followed and when those questions could not be answered, the SPA and the then chair of the SPA reconsidered the decision.

As I have said to Ruth Davidson before, if she continues to maintain that she thinks that the justice secretary acted inappropriately in doing what he did, logically her position must be that the justice secretary should not have asked those questions and the then chief constable should have been allowed to return to work the following day, without the senior command having been informed, without the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner having been consulted about the impact on the on-going investigation, and without any steps having been taken to ensure the welfare of officers who had made complaints. I do not think that that would have been the right course of action. I will leave Ruth Davidson to explain why, as it seems, she thinks that it would.

Of course, we now have a new chair of the SPA in place. We have to act within the law in making such appointments—the process is laid down in law. However, a member of the Scottish Parliament was nominated by the Justice Sub-Committee on Policing to take part in that process. The Government was happy to accommodate that and we are open to looking at how further changes can be made. We have to be frank in telling Parliament that substantial changes to that appointments process would require primary legislation, but we are open to discussing that. I am sure that the debate will be taken forward in the months ahead.

What happened in between was that an MSP was appointed to take part in the process. Therefore, in that intervening period, the change that was made was one that could be made within the law that we are, frankly, bound by in making the appointment.

Ruth Davidson may think—she may well be right—that there are in place for other bodies different processes that would be preferable. The point is that the process that we have to abide by right now is laid down in statute. We cannot simply ignore it. If we want to make more substantive changes in the future, we will need to do so through primary legislation. It would be entirely appropriate for Parliament to consider that, but that is what would be required.

On the appointment that has just been made, we involved Parliament in a way that is consistent with the law by which we are bound. That was the right thing to do. We now have a new chair of the SPA in place: I hope that we will all support her in getting on with the job that she is doing. She has made an excellent start in that job.