HOLYROOD'S Presiding Officer has called for a major reform of the Scottish Parliament in an attempt to strengthen its role holding ministers to account.

Tricia Marwick has proposed enhancing the status of committee conveners, the already-powerful backbenchers who play a key role in staging inquiries and scrutinising legislation.

Under her plan, conveners of Holyrood's 20 committees would be elected by their fellow MSPs, rather than installed by their party chiefs.

The move, which would be one of the most far-reaching reforms of the Parliament since its creation in 1999, would help remove party politics from the often sensitive work of committees, she believes.

Ms Marwick also threatened to put time limits on exchanges at First Minister's Questions and spoke for the first time about her surgery this year for cancer.

The call for elected conveners follows concerns about the politicisation of Holyrood's committee system.

SNP conveners have been accused of blocking inquiries that might embarrass the Scottish Government, while opposition party committees have faced claims of using their committees as a platform to attack ministers.

Ms Marwick believes giving conveners a parliamentary mandate would reinforce their responsibility to act on behalf of all MSPs.

She said: "I have long believed we should have elected conveners of the parliament.

"I believe the responsibility of conveners of the parliament should be first and foremost to the parliament.

"How do you enshrine that? The only way to do that is to get the whole ­parliament to elect the conveners so they derive their authority and mandate from the parliament itself and not through the parties."

She added: "The very act of being elected by the whole parliament gives a message to the conveners and everybody else that the conveners are there primarily to act in the interests of the parliament and not their own ­political party."

Ms Marwick, an SNP MSP before being elected to the politically neutral role of Presiding Officer in 2011, insisted the proposal was not in response to her former party gaining an overall majority, though concerns have grown since First Minister Alex Salmond's landslide election victory two years ago.

She said the move would benefit the working of parliament regardless of whether there was a majority, minority or coalition administration.

The plans raise the prospect of Holyrood conveners becoming as high-profile as the chairmen and women of Westminster select committees. John McFall, the Labour peer and former West Dunbartonshire MP, became a household name during the inquiries his Treasury Select Committee held into the banking crisis.

Ms Marwick will write to Holyrood's procedures committee asking it to hold an inquiry into her proposed reforms. She is hopeful an inquiry would begin a year before the next Holyrood election in May 2016, allowing arrangements to be in place for the next parliament, if MSPs agree.

The committee will be asked to come

up with detailed proposals but parties would expect to keep their share of convenerships, even if they lost the right to appoint the conveners themselves.

The move is part of a package of reforms instigated by the Presiding Officer.

She has already changed the working week at Holyrood to allow "topical questions" to be put to ministers on Tuesdays in an attempt to improve accountability.

A "super-committee" of conveners has also been established to question the First Minister on his legislative programme.

Ms Marwick added: "Across the parties and across the parliament there are people in favour of more change, there are people who believe elected conveners is a way forward.

"It sits within the changes that are happening in the Scottish Parliament.

"We need to drive the parliament forward. We need to make sure the parliament is always relevant, that it is topical, and we should not be afraid of change."