That was the message yesterday from deputy local government minister Frank McAveety as he presented the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Bill to the Scottish parliament.
The main changes resulting from consultation on the draft Bill are:
- A new independent standards commission will have the power to sanction members of devolved public bodies, as well as councillors.
Mr McAveety said this means Scotland will be leading the way in ensuring the highest possible standards throughout public life.
The Bill also includes the new statutory duty on local authorities in respect of their functions which relate principally to children.
In a written parliamentary question and answer on the Ethics Bill, he said:
'The Scottish executive has today introduced the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Bill in the Scottish parliament.
'The executive issued a draft of the Bill on 18 November and received over 2,200 responses to that consultation. I have today placed a copy of responses to the consultation, except those given in confidence, in SPICe and the Scottish executive's library.
'Many responses to the consultation commented that there should be a right of appeal from decisions of the standards commission. The executive recognises that a right of appeal should enhance public confidence in the new ethical framework. We will take forward discussions on how this should be achieved with those with interests in this area, and will bring forward amendments to provide a right of appeal.
'Many respondents commented that the standards commission should impose sanctions on both councillors and members of devolved public bodies. The executive fully appreciates the importance of providing parity of treatment for all in Scottish public life. Accordingly, we have amended the Bill to provide the standards commission for Scotland with the power to impose sanctions on both councillors and members of devolved public bodies. However crown appointments have a special constitutional position and it would not be appropriate for the standards commissions to impose sanctions on such members. Instead, following an investigation of a crown appointee, the commission will make its recommendation to the queen. The executive will bring forward amendments to provide for such circumstances.
'When we published the draft Bill we said that we would make further changes to the administrative arrangements for the standards commission for Scotland; the chief investigating officer; and staff of these bodies: we have now done so. A number of technical amendments have also been made to the Bill.
'The majority of respondents to the consultation supported repeal of Section 2A. However, throughout the wide public debate on this issue there has been genuine concern expressed by parents that repeal will leave their children vulnerable to inappropriate teaching on homosexuality.
'The executive considers that Section 2A has never offered a real safeguard to the interests of children. Safeguards are provided through the professionalism of teachers, local and national guidelines that are already in place, and the involvement of individual parents. The executive believes that sex education is generally well handled in schools. But to ensure that our children will continue to receive sensitive and appropriate teaching on personal and sexual issues after repeal, the minister for children and education announced on 27 January a package of safeguards. This includes strong and clear guidance to education authorities in a circular, advance consultation with parents by schools when planning sex education, simple direct procedures for parents to raise concerns and a review of the relevant curricular material by a special working group. This review will be completed before repeal takes effect. The minister for children and education announced the remit and membership of the working group to parliament on 10 February. As promised, we have today placed a copy of the draft circular and a summary of the existing curricular material in the parliament's document supply centre.
'The executive believes that a positive statement of values will be helpful to all concerned. On 24 February, the first minister announced to parliament that the executive would introduce a new statutory duty on local authorities in respect of their functions which relate principally to children. Each local authority will be required to have regard to the value of stable family life in a child's development; and to the need to ensure that the content of teaching is appropriate to each child's age, understanding and stage of development. This duty is provided by section 26 of the Ethical Standards in Public Life etc (Scotland) Bill. The executive believes that this provision builds on local authorities' duty of care and gives a statutory basis to the sensitive and appropriate teaching and delivery of services to children.'