Deputy minister for finance and public services Peter Peaconck described the Bill as an important step forward in the Executive drive to guarantee greater openness, accountability and transparency in the public appointment process.
The Bill reinforces measures taken by the Executive to make government more open and accountable, through the Freedom of Information Act and the public sector ombudsman service.
Speaking as the Bill was introduced, Mr Peacock said:
'We are determined to ensure greater independence in the public appointment process. Transparency, openness and accountability will be our watchwords.
'Establishing the commissioner for public appointments in Scotland represents another decisive step in our commitment to developing a public appointments system based on the very highest standards. The people of Scotland can be confident that those who serve on Scottish public bodies have all been selected on merit.
'There is no doubt we need to make those people more representative of the modern Scotland we live in. The commissioner will be given specific responsibility to promote diversity to ensure that a wider cross-section of the Scottish people come forward and are appointed to public bodies.
'And, underlining the commitment to the independence of the commissioner, the appointment will be by the Queen on the recommendation of the parliament. The commissioner will have the power to investigate any allegations - acting as a 'whistle-blower' to ensure the very highest standards are adhered to.
'We are also continuing with our review of public bodies, which is taken forward by the Bill. Since last year's review, more than 40 bodies have been merged, declassified or abolished.
'The bodies highlighted in the Bill require primary legislation in order to be abolished. The total number of public bodies will continue to reduce over the coming weeks and months - leaving fewer, fitter and fairer quangos.'
The Public Appointment and Public Bodies Bill has four objectives:
To establish a commissioner for public appointments in Scotland;
To abolish five non-departmental public bodies, namely the Scottish Conveyancing and Executry Services Board, the Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland, the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland, the Scottish Hospital Trust, and the Scottish Medical Practices Committee;
To establish notarial powers for independent qualified conveyancers; and,
To recreate the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) as a national statutory body.
The establishment of a commissioner for public appointments in Scotland was first raised and considered in the consultation paper Appointments to Public Bodies in Scotland: Modernising the System issued in February 2000. Responses to that paper provided strong support for such a commissioner and these were set out in Public Bodies: Proposals for Change. Key functions of the commissioner will be to:
Regulate the appointments process, by prescribing and publishing a Code of Practice for Public Appointments;
Oversee compliance with a Code of Practice by the Scottish ministers, including power to inform parliament if the code is breached;
Monitor the appointments process by appointing, training and evaluating the performance of independent assessors;
Conduct ad hoc inquiries into appointing policies and practices;
Investigate complaints; and
To promote diversity in public appointments, the Executive envisages that the SCPA will:
Draw up a diversity strategy for public appointments in consultation with the;
Contribute to public appointments training for Scottish Executive staff;
Participate in public events/speaking engagements aimed at increasing awareness of public appointments; and
Review targets for under-represented groups in consultation with the Executive.
The Executive delivered a fundamental review of public bodies in Scotland in June 2001. As a direct result of the review, recommendations were made for the abolition, reform or further review of 113 public bodies. The recommendations were published in the report of the review public bodies:
Proposals for Change on 21 June 2001. Most of the changes detailed in the report could be, or are being effected without the need for primary legislation. However, the five public bodies cited for abolition in this Bill, and the proposed changes to the status of Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), were identified as requiring primary legislation to effect the report's recommendations. It is for this reason that these bodies alone are included in this Bill.
It was announced in Review of Public Bodies that RCAHMS was one of the public bodies which Ministers believed continued to have an important role to play in recording the archaeological and historical man-made environment of Scotland and should be retained but that its status should be reviewed. Having explored alternative models, Scottish ministers have concluded that an alternative to NDPB status for RCAHMS would be unacceptably expensive and run counter to the intention of the review which was to enhance rather than reduce accountability. It is proposed however that RCAHMS be recreated as a statutory national body with its duties set down in statute, and be given a new name, and as a consequence it should cease to operate under a Royal Warrant. This should result in the body having a clearer identity, and foster a greater understanding of its activities and of the facilities it provides.
Public Bodies: Proposals for Change included the proposal to abolish the SCESB and transfer regulatory responsibility for qualified conveyancers and executry practitioners registered by the Board to the Law Society of Scotland. The Scottish Ministers have, however, agreed that both the professions of executry practitioner and qualified conveyancer should be retained, but that with effect from the date of transfer of responsibility no new independent qualified conveyancers should be registered. Ministers have agreed that independent qualified conveyancers be provided with notarial powers with direct relevance to their conveyancing duties. The proposed notarial powers will ensure a level playing field for solicitors and independent qualified conveyancers when the latter are transferred to Law Society supervision.